TL;DR – These are the Best Graphics Cards:
1. Nvidia RTX 3070
Best Graphics Card
For an incredible marriage of performance and price, you can’t do better than the new Nvidia RTX 3070 (read our review). This card costs just $500, but it is capable of offering performance levels exceeding even the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti, which had been retailing often for more than three times the price of the RTX 3070.
This new graphics card offers up 5,888 CUDA cores that can run at a decent clip with a 1,730MHz boost clock. It also includes 8GB of GDDR6, so you’ll have plenty of memory for game textures and frame buffer. This card can do some 4K if that’s your aim, but it’s best suited for maxing out on 1440p. We’re not talking 1440p/60Hz either, but rather high-speed and high-resolution gaming.
2. Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition
Best 4K Graphics Card
There’s a new king when it comes to high-performance gaming, and that’s the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition (read our review). At just $700, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition jumps over the performance threshold of the previous reigning champ, the RTX 2080 Ti (read our review), which was much more expensive. The RTX 3080 achieves this thanks to a new architecture that allowed Nvidia to pack 8,704 CUDA (double that of the RTX 2080 Ti) cores onto the chip and run them at up to 1,710MHz.
Though the RTX 3080 has less VRAM than the 2080 Ti, it’s now a faster GDDR6X memory. There’s enough power under the shroud to let the RTX 3080 achieve 4K gaming at 60fps with ray-tracing enabled. There’s something to be said of the new cooling shroud as well, as it manages to keep the RTX 3080 cooler than the RTX 2080 Super and 2080 Ti in our testing. So, if you’re looking for the best option for 4K gaming, this is it, and the inclusion of HDMI 2.1 means you’ll even have the option of pairing this with some 4K/120Hz gaming TVs.
3. AMD Radeon RX 6800
Best 1440p Graphics Card
AMD’s latest graphics cards are performance powerhouses, and the Radeon RX 6800 (read our review) shows its stuff especially well when it comes to 1440p gaming. This new card performs exceptionally well in rasterization, which plays a big part in game graphics, and it can muscle out some seriously fast frame rates at 1440p. Thanks to its high VRAM capacity, you won’t be likely to run into any shortage when it comes to frame buffer at 1440p even when pulling in high-resolution textures.
The fact that you can get excellent performance paired with the visual quality of 1440p makes the Radeon RX 6800 a strong choice for anyone that wants to enjoy the competitive edge high frame rates without having to drop down to a 1080p monitor or lower in-game graphics settings. And, since this card only uses 250 watts of power, it’ll be an easier upgrade than the other new offerings from Nvidia and AMD, which can pull more than 300 watts.
4. Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti Founders Edition
Best 1080p Graphics Card
4K and 1440p may be exciting, but they can also be an entry into the stressful world of constantly trying to optimize your gaming rig to run at either high quality or high frame rates. Playing at 1080p still provides clear visuals and makes it so much easier to just crank everything to the max without worrying too much about low frame rates. And, the new Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti Founders Edition (read our review) is geared for epic performance in 1080p.
This graphics card comes with the slick stylings of its RTX 30-Series siblings, but tones down the performance for a corresponding reduction in price. We’re talking just $400. That’ll land you a card that’s got more than enough VRAM to handle high-quality game assets and enough muscle to spit out high frame rates a 1080p. And, unlike the GTX 1660 Ti, the RTX 3060 Ti is built with dedicated hardware for ray tracing and Deep Learning Super Sampling. In many cases, the RTX 3060 Ti can even outperform the RTX 2080 Super.
5. Asus TUF Gaming RTX 3070
Best Nvidia RTX Graphics Card
One of the best ways to enjoy Nvidia’s excellent new RTX 3070 graphics card is through the options available from Nvidia’s board partners. Asus’s TUF Gaming RTX 3070 is an excellent option. You’ll still get the same 5.888 CUDA cores and boost clock, but you’ll be getting a different design that comes a few perks of its own.
There are a couple of chief differences between this card and Nvidia’s reference model. For one, you’ll get multiple HDMI 2.1 ports, letting you take advantage of the supported 4K/120Hz signal on multiple displays that lack DisplayPort. You’ll also find two 8-pin power connectors instead of the new 12-pin connector that Nvidia has implemented. And then there’s the triple-fan design, which should have no trouble keeping this card cool and quiet, just as the RTX 3080 version of this card did in our review.
6. AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
Best AMD Graphics Card
At $649, AMD’s Radeon RX 6800 XT (read our review) clears a niche for itself in the market of recently released graphic cards. It’s more affordable than Nvidia’s RTX 3080, and it’s only a bit more expensive than the non-XT RX 6800 while increasing the number of compute units and clock speeds. That makes it an especially potent choice for anyone that’s optimizing for value.
The RX 6800 XT can hold its own against the RTX 3080 in a lot of cases, with exceptional performance at 1440p and decent chops in 4K. It may not have much to offer when it comes to ray tracing, but that’s still not a widely implemented feature in games, and the RX 6800 XT may yet regain some ground when AMD eventually launches its FidelityFX Super Resolution feature. So, if you’re not overly concerned about uncertain performance in ray-tracing, the Radeon RX 6800 XT offers a compelling alternative to Nvidia’s RTX 3080 while costing less and drawing less power from your wall.
7. MSI RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio
Best for High-End Gaming for Most Gamers
If you’re looking at the RTX 3080, you definitely are looking for speed. The MSI RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio (read our review) takes the already excellent GPU card, and makes it even faster. In our testing, it was one of the faster RTX 3080 models. Those speeds come right out of the box as well, so with some tweaking, you could potentially see even more.
The MSI RTX 3080 Gaming X Trio is fairly beefy, as it’s stacking on a triple-fan cooler to keep temperatures in check, and it’ll require you to have three 8-pin connectors. That extra power may come in handy if you’re trying to overclock this card for even more performance. MSI tops it all off with a bit of RGB lighting. All that’s on offer here makes up for the $50 price hike over the Nvidia reference RTX 3080.
8. MSI RX 5500 XT Mech 8G OC
Kick-Off Your Esports Career with this Graphics Card
AMD’s RX 5500 XT (read our review) is very much a 1080p graphics processor. It can keep around the 60fps ballpark even at Ultra settings. It even musters acceptable performance at 1440p in some titles, and could put up some decent speed in 1080p or 1440p if settings were dialed down.
That makes it particularly well suited toward budget builds with esports in mind. If you’re willing you balance your in-game settings a bit, you should be able to hit the high frame rates that make competitive play that much easier. Thanks to the compact size of the MSI RX 5500 XT Mech 8G OC, you can even build this into a smaller PC that’s ready for travel to LAN parties and back.
9. Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition
The Out of Your Mind Graphics Card
If you need a machine that won’t sweat in even the most demanding situations, then you’ll want the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Founds Edition (read our review). Nvidia decided to make this the top dog in its new graphics card stack, forgoing a Titan card or 3080 Ti. The RTX 3090 more than doubles the CUDA cores found on the earlier Titan RTX that used to hold this ranking in our guide, and it runs all of those cores at an even higher base clock.
You’ll need a beefy power supply to run the RTX 3090 in your system, but you’ll get that energy back in the form of serious performance. The RTX 3090 can achieve smooth 4K gaming. Depending on the type of game you throw at it and whether it has any enhancements like DLSS, it can even make 8K playable. In our tests, we saw games like Rocket League and Rainbow Six Siege run at well over 60fps in 8K with no DLSS, and even Control and Death Stranding were in the ballpark of 60fps at 8K with DLSS in Ultra Performance Mode. And, when you’re not gaming, this graphics card can put earlier Nvidia cards to shame in rendering and 3D modeling tasks.
10. PNY GeForce GTX 1650 Super
Best HTPC Graphic Card
The GTX 1650 Super is hardly a slightly boosted GTX 1650 but more like a lower-spec GTX 1660, especially on account of its implementing the same TU116 GPU. This graphics processor offers substantially more CUDA cores, higher clock speeds, and better memory than the standard GTX 1650. Those upgrades translate to an excellent 1080p gaming experience.
If you were in the market for a GTX 1650, the upgrade to the Super model is definitely worthwhile. The extremely compact size of the PNY GTX 1650 Super graphics card also makes it great for small PC builds, so you can build a home theater PC that won’t stand out in your living room next to your TV but will be ready to kick in for gaming or media.
Where to Get the Best Graphic Cards in the UK
There aren’t too many differences when it comes to the graphics cards you can pick up in the UK, but the main takeaway is where you can purchase them. All of the following links have been updated with UK vendors, saving you some time and money if you’re interested in picking up any of the graphics cards we’ve mentioned. Don’t see the graphic cards below? Click here.
What to Look for in a Graphics Card
Below we explain how to pick the GPU for the display you have, why there are so many variants of the same Nvidia and AMD graphics cards, and a few factors you should consider when buying a GPU. Above all, you should buy the graphics card you need for the display you’re using.
If you’re gaming on a Full HD monitor, it would be a huge waste to buy a graphics card designed to play games at 2160p or 1440p. Likewise, you’ll want a powerful graphics card to drive games playing on that premium 4K gaming monitor or 4K TV.
We’ve laid out what are the best graphics cards to play games at 1080p, 1440p, and 2160p resolutions above, but here are some more general rules. For a decent to high-frame-rate Full HD experience, you should look at GPUs ranging from the GTX 1650 to the GTX 1660 Ti on Nvidia’s end. If you’re looking at AMD’s graphics card family, you’ll want a Radeon RX 5500 or up.
Jumping up to QHD resolutions will require a more capable graphics card, ideally an Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti or AMD Radeon RX 5600 and up. 4K gaming using a single card is still a tough proposition, but thanks to recent developments it’s actually approachable with the latest graphics cards like the Nvidia RTX 2080 Super and AMD Radeon VII.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing the right graphics card for your gaming monitor (or vice versa) is what kind of variable refresh rate technology can you take the most advantage of. For the uninitiated, variable refresh rate (VRR) technology basically syncs the number of frames shooting out of your GPU to the frame rate of your display.
This way the GPU isn’t overworking itself for nothing while also helping to eliminate screen tearing on your monitor. Without this VRR tech, your GPU might end up clogging the frame bugger with two or more frames, which your display might then try and display two different shots of gameplay at the same time. If you have a TV and gaming monitor that supports FreeSync, you should get an AMD graphics card.
Alternatively, if you happen to be playing primarily a G-Sync gaming monitor or one of the latest LG CX OLED TVs then you’ll want an Nvidia GPU. Luckily for you, the line separating G-Sync and Freesync is quickly disappearing as more and more displays that offer the latter are adding support for the former.
G-Sync-compatible gaming monitors are all the rage now because they offer a tear-free and smooth gameplay experience when connecting to either an AMD and Nvidia graphics card.
Graphics card variants
Ok, you’ve decided which graphics card you want, great! However, even with this monumental decision out of the way, the world of GPUs isn’t done being confusing and daunting just yet. Although there are only two companies—Nvidia and AMD—that actually manufacture GPUs, there are dozens of different variants of the same graphics card
For example, when the most recent graphics card launched, the Nvidia GTX 1650, there was a multitude of different versions from Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, EVGA and the list goes on. In this case, while Nvidia may have introduced only one new GPU model, vendors or board partners will introduce their own versions featuring different overclock settings, cooling systems, and other differentiating factors we will explain below.
Length: One of the number one factors you should consider before plopping down cash for that shiny new graphics card is whether it will actually fit. If you’re building your PC in a Mini ITX case, you should be looking at the smallest or mini graphics cards that will actually fit inside.
Overclocking: Most third-party cards—and even Nvidia’s own Founders Edition cards—will often come factory overclocked, and this means the graphics card has been tuned to operate above its rated maximum clock speed. As you might expect, the higher the number the faster it will perform.
At this point, you won’t find many, including the entry-level cards, without some amount of ‘overclocking from the factory.’ However, even without a factory overclock, it’s easy enough do it yourself using software such as EVGA Precision X or MSI Afterburner.
Cooling solutions: In your quest for the best graphics card, you might have noticed that some models come with one, two, or up to three fans. As you might expect, more fans equal better cooling, but there are also two distinct ways of keeping your graphics card chilled. GPUs equipped with a single fan often use a blower-style cooler, which means the card sucks in air and blows it out the back like a leaf blower.
Dual and triple fan setups are often used in conjunction with ‘open-air cooling systems,’ which are designed to move cool air through the open heatsinks and exhaust heat in every direction.
Blower style coolers are typically most useful for PCs built into small Mini ITX cases because they help exhaust heat out of a compact chassis with restricted airflow. If the system you’re building is in a Micro ATX PC case or a larger Mid tower chassis, you’d be better off with an open-air cooled graphics card, as there are more mounting points for multiple case fans to do the brunt of cooling while the GPU’s own two (or three) fans blow heat off the card itself.
RTX vs GTX: With Turing, Nvidia didn’t just introduce better, faster graphics cards it also debuted RTX GPUs with hardware designed to support real-time ray tracing, and AI-powered supersampling and anti-aliasing (known as Deep Learning Super Sampling). So far, Nvidia premium RTX 20-series cards—including the RTX 2080 Ti, RTX 2080 Super, RTX 2080, RTX 2070 Super, RTX 2070, RTX 2060 Super, RTX 2060, and all their mobile counterparts—are the only GPUs to feature these dedicated components.
Thankfully, Nvidia decreed in early April 2019 that you don’t need an RTX card with dedicated RT Cores to process real-time ray tracing. So any of the GTX 16-series cards and (most) older 10-series cards can run games with ray tracing turned on. DLSS is still an RTX exclusive since it requires Tensor cores to function, but it’s a niche performance smoothing feature compared to the strikingly realistic reflections and complex shadows effects that ray tracing produces.
Bargain your way to getting a graphics card
Strangely, one of the more affordable ways to get yourself the latest graphics card is to buy a gaming PC while it’s on sale. Gaming PCs from brands like Asus, Dell, MSI, Acer, and HP will often see discounts for hundreds of dollars off, so not only are you saving a ton of money, you’re also avoiding potential headaches that can accompany a DIY build—and you also get a warranty.
Prebuilt PCs have come a long way, too. They aren’t proprietary machines with randomly soldered-on components. They’re mostly as upgradeable as anything you might put together on your own.
Another way of enjoying the latest graphics cards is through gaming laptops. There are plenty of Nvidia RTX 20- and GTX 16-series gaming laptops out there right now. New GTX gaming laptops have also hit the streets and they’re far more affordable than the RTX-equipped models thanks to the laptops introduced during IFA 2019 like the new Acer Predator Triton 300.
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Kevin Lee is IGN’s Hardware and Roundups Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam
Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark