Best graphics card... given the bare shelves

Best graphics card

What's the best graphics card around today? Well, it’s the $1,099 Nvidia Titan Xp, obvs. Until we know exactly how those top-end AMD Vega cards are specced, the beefy new GeForce GPU is the one with all the transistors, all the shaders, all the ROPs and all the FLOPs, which means it's the best. All sorted. We can all go on to live rich, full lives safe in the knowledge the big questions are all taken care of.

Check Amazon US and Amazon UK for the latest deals and specs on graphics cards.

Except that’s not really how it works. It may be an incredibly powerful slice of graphical silicon, but performance alone does not make one great, young padawan. The full-fat GP102 in the Titan Xp might be quicker than both the original Pascal-based Titan X and the cheaper GTX 1080 Ti, but they're all almost entirely out of reach for pretty much anyone with a penchant for PC gaming or the need to ask exactly how much anything costs.

High-end cards, like the Titans and the GTX 1080 Ti, are luxury components, the McLaren 650S of graphics cards, aspirational GPUs. Few will have been made, the costs are seriously prohibitive and I bet there are only a handful of gamers who've bought a Titan and thought ‘I’m glad I dropped a grand on that’ a year down the line.

To us, what makes the best graphics card for you to buy right now is that heady mix of architectural elegance, impeccable gaming performance, and excellent value. An expensive card isn’t necessarily bad value if it blazes a trail none can follow, nor is a cheap GPU inherently good value – as with all things PC gaming the best graphics card is all about striking the perfect balance.

There are so many questions that need answering  what's the best graphics card, what graphics card do I have, do I want an Nvidia graphics card or an AMD one? Click on the quick links below to find out all the answers.

Best graphics card

Best graphics card

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB

GPU: GP106 | CUDA cores: 1,280 | VRAM: 6GB GDDR5 | Memory bus: 192-bit

Approx. $300 / £240 

Sorry, everyone, the graphics card market has gone rather nutzoid recently. New cryptocurrencies, such as Elereum, have suddenly made it viable to mine at home using a bunch of mid-range graphics cards and that's meant the GPU shelves across the world look like everyone's stockpiling for the end of the world.

Historically, crypto-mining has been most effective on AMD GPUs, so they took the hit first, meaning there are now precisely zero Polaris 10-based GPUs available. That's why we're no longer recommending the 8GB Radeon RX 480 or 580 as the best graphics card right now. We've had to switch to recommending Nvidia's GTX 1060 instead.

But that's no real trauma as we originally had the GTX 1060 as our go-to GPU from when it launched. But when the prices of the 8GB RX 480 dropped dramatically that became the card we'd recommend at this end of the market. When the Polaris cards were cheaper (and available) it made sense for them to take pole position, but even though prices for the GTX 1060 have risen now too (again thanks to the miners), they are at least there to buy. The GTX 1060 is also, for the most part, the faster GPU.

The GTX 1060 doesn’t have everything its own way, however. The competing AMD Radeon RX 480 is generally a little off the pace by comparison, except when you start to throw new graphics APIs down its ample pipes. In the Hitman DX12 benchmark even the RX 470 is able to deliver gaming performance on par with the GTX 1060, while the RX 480 leaves it trailing in its volumetric dust. The same thing happens in Doom when using the Vulkan build, where the RX 480 is over 50% quicker than the GTX 1060.

On the whole, though, Nvidia’s GTX 1060 is a value card that will deliver fantastic performance in current-gen games even if its DirectX 12 and Vulkan performance could do with a little work. We're also a little reassured, now that some retailers are starting to limit the number of cards that can be purchased in one go, that there will continue to be stock around for us gamers. At least in the UK...

Read the full Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 review.

The best GeForce GTX 1060 6GB prices we've found today: 

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Best graphics card runner-up

Best graphics card runner-up

AMD Radeon RX 480

GPU: Polaris 10 | GCN cores: 2,304 | VRAM: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory bus: 256-bit

Out of stock :(

Yeah, sad times. If you wanted a quality mainstream graphics card this is the one we'd have been recomending up until recently. Both it, and its Radeon RX 580 refresh, offered a great mix of excellent value and serious gaming performance. Unfortunately the miners are now hoarding them.

That's led to the impressive Polaris GPUs being almost impossible to find; especially for a price that doesn't feel like extortion. Though that has benefitted some – one of our readers sold his old RX 480 for $415 on eBay – if you're holding out on a replacement for an in-warranty b0rked card, like another of our readers, you're going to be in for a long wait.

The Polaris-based Radeon cards perform better than the GTX 1060 competition in a handful of DX12 titles and in Doom's Vulkan build. They also have a superior memory setup, too. Not only does the RX 480 have an extra 2GB of VRAM at its disposal, useful for high-res textures and large open-world games,it's also got that running over a wider, 256-bit, aggregated memory bus.

We recently rebenched a pair of Asus STRIX RX 480 and GTX 1060 cards and, overall, the GTX 1060 still just about had the benchmark lead across our revised testing suite, but it was a mighty close run thing. 

Read the full AMD Radeon RX 480 review.

The best Radeon RX 480 prices we've found today:

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Best 4K graphics card

Best 4K graphics card - Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

GPU: GP102 | CUDA cores: 3,584 | VRAM: 11GB GDDR5X | Memory bus: 352-bit

Approx. $699 / £640

The GTX 1080 Ti is the best 4K graphics card around right now, bar none. Nvidia have used the hyper-expensive Titan X as a shield for their new card, making the $700 price tag seem remarkably reasonable in comparison to the $1,200 they asked for the Pascal-based Titan X. The fact they’re almost identical means the GTX 1080 Ti is an outstandingly fast graphics card with a frame buffer that chews through high-fidelity 4K content.

Even with Nvidia now releasing the Titan Xp for nigh-on twice the price of the GTX 1080 Ti, this is still the card we'd realistically recommend for anyone desperate to get in on 4K gaming.

If you want to be playing games at this Ultra HD 4K resolution then you’re going to need some serious graphics power to cope with the 8.3 million pixels you’ll be throwing around your screen. The step up from the two million pixels of 1080p, or even from the 3.7 million of 1440p, is massive, so you need something with the GPU juice of the GTX 1080 Ti to smooth out the jagged edges of 4K gaming.

This is the first sub-$1,000 card that’s able to consistently deliver around 60fps at 3840 x 2160 with the bells and whistles of PC gaming firmly on. There are still exceptions to that rule, the punishing DirectX12 Deus Ex: Mankind Divided with everything turned on is still able to bring the GTX 1080 Ti’s performance down to a slow grind.

Gaming on a 4K monitor at native resolutions, especially on a sub 30-inch panel, means you can be a little more relaxed on such niceties as anti-aliasing. The tight pixel pitch of a 4K display means you shouldn’t experience too many obtrusive jaggies when running at 2x MSAA, as opposed to x4 or x8, for example. So even when tough game engines do out-muscle the GTX 1080 Ti’s GPU there will be some simple, non-invasive cuts to the graphics settings that will net you serious frame rate boosts.

Read the full Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti review.

The best GeForce GTX 1080 Ti prices we've found today:

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Best 4K graphics card runner-up

Best 4K graphics card

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080

GPU: GP104 | CUDA cores: 2,560 | VRAM: 8GB GDDR5X | Memory bus: 256-bit

Approx. $521 / £494

Nvidia’s inaugural Pascal-powered GPU was built to tackle gaming at 3840 x 2160 and was the first GeForce card to really be able to deliver on that promise. The Maxwell-powered GTX Titan X, and subsequent GTX 980 Ti, got close to delivering 4K gaming, but the GTX 1080 took that just a little further. Though we’re still not talking about nailing 60fps in every modern game at the top settings here – that’s the purview of the new GTX 1080 Ti in all its glory.

Across our testing suite the GTX 1080 is mostly operating in the range between 40fps and 60fps on average. Serious frame rate compulsives may baulk at such ‘low’ performance, but those results are with the post-processing and texture settings pushed pretty much as high as they’ll go in-game. When you’re paying this much for your graphics card the idea of compromising on image quality might be a painful one, but with some smart cuts here and there you’ll definitely be able to nail a solid 60fps. 

The GTX 1080 Ti is now here, rocking the same GP102 GPU as the latest Titan X, making it the go-to 4K graphics card of today. But it still commands a more egregious price premium than the GTX 1080. Though I guess it all depends on how much you’re willing to spend in the pursuit of smooth Ultra HD gaming.

The best GeForce GTX 1080 prices we've found today:

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Best 4K graphics card runner-up

Best 4K graphics card runner-up

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070

GPU: GP104 | CUDA cores: 1,920 | VRAM: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory bus: 256-bit

Approx. $399 / £318

The GTX 1070’s more reasonable cost makes it a much more wallet-friendly option for 4K gaming, though it still occupies the sort of price point the top end of graphics cards of yesterday used to call their own. Bemoaning Nvidia’s super-high pricing gets us nowhere though, so when this cheaper card is so close to the 4K performance of the GTX 1080, the GTX 1070 begins to look like the best Ultra HD value proposition.

You still get very playable 4K frame rates from the GTX 1070, though you’ll have to be more aggressive about the fidelity cuts when it comes to dialling back the graphics settings in-game to hit 60fps.

The best GeForce GTX 1070 prices we've found today:

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Best budget graphics card

Best budget graphics card - Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti

Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti

GPU: GP107 | CUDA cores: 768 | VRAM: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory bus: 128-bit

Approx. $126 / £129 

The Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti is a fantastic little card, slotting neatly in between the low-performance RX 460 and quicker RX 470 cards from AMD. That's maybe not a huge surprise given its relative pricing and specs, but what might be more of a surprise is just how capable the new GP107 GPU is when dealing with the latest games running at their highest 1080p settings.

With seriously GPU-taxing titles, like the DX12 variants of Hitman and Rise of the Tomb Raider, you'll need to knock back your in-game graphics settings a touch, but for something like Grand Theft Auto V you can hit just under 60fps comfortably. And it's pretty robust, too, maintaining comparatively high minimum frame rates.

Unfortunately, we're not yet looking at the sort of pricing the previous GTX 750 Ti was retailing for. If the GTX 1050 Ti was selling for closer to $100 (£100) it would be an absolute no-brainer as the ultimate budget graphics card, but the pricing is a bit higher than we were hoping for. That's even more evident when you see the price premium many manufacturers are putting on it with their mostly unnecessary overclocked editions.

Interestingly, we're also starting to see silent, passively-cooled versions of the GTX 1050 Ti, such as the one from Palit. For a noiseless gaming machine that would be a good shout. Though we did beat Palit to the punch by making our own passively-cooled GTX 1050 Ti...

Where the GTX 1050 Ti really stands out is in opening up PC gaming to a wider audience. Because its efficient GPU draws all its power from the PCIe bus, without needing an extra connection from the PSU, it can be an instant upgrade for any off-the-shelf office PC. For just $130 (£129), then, you can turn pretty much any ropey old PC from the last five years or so into a 1080p gaming machine to be proud of. You can't ask much more than that.

The best Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti prices we've found today:

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Best budget graphics card runner-up

Best graphics card runner-up - AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB

AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB

GPU: Polaris 20 | GCN cores: 2,048 | VRAM: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory bus: 256-bit

Out of stock :(

I'm still hopeful AMD's partners are going to be getting more stock into the channel that us gamers will actually be able to buy, rather than being gazumped by the cryptocurrency miners. Because if they do, and prices of the RX 570 return to normal (a more faint hope...), then the 4GB RX 570 is mighty close to a great budget GPU.

It might be stretching the notion of 'budget,' but considering the level of performance you can get out of a 4GB AMD Radeon RX 570 at its old ~$190 price point it's pretty damned impressive. 

Thanks to the mature Polaris architecture you ought to be able to get the same level of overclock we saw in the Sapphire version we tested from even the cheapest, stock-clocked Gigabyte version you can buy today. Obviously that's leaving the hard work up to you and means you have no warranty if anything goes wrong, but what could? Just follow our guide to overclocking and you'll be grand. If you can find one on sale anywhere, obviously.

Read our full AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB review.

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How to buy a graphics card

Graphics cards

As a PC gamer your graphics card is probably the single most important purchase you will make, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore all the other components in your rig and expect to get the most out of your new card. I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say pretty much the same thing again: balance is absolutely key to getting the best possible performance from your gaming PC.

There’s no point picking up a Titan Xp if you’re only ever going to run it on a 1080p monitor and support it with a ropey AMD APU. Sure, you’ll still be able to nail 60fps, but you will have hobbled your expensive new GPU by saddling it with a poor processor and bottlenecking it at a low resolution. At 1080p, your processor choice becomes very important – we’re at a time now where certain games are becoming CPU-limited at that resolution, and sometimes even at 1440p.

Multiplayer Battlefield 4 is one such game and so is Total War: Attila – even with our test rig’s Core i7 6700K there is no difference in performance between a GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 because it’s the CPU holding things back. Switching to an 8-core 5960X though and frame rates push on much further. Intel processors are still currently your best bet for getting the most out of your card. AMD’s CPUs and APUs traditionally struggled to deliver enough single-threaded performance to keep the GPU fed and could significantly hold back a graphics card’s frame rate capability. That hasn't completely changed with the advent of Ryzen, with Intel still able to maintain a performance lead in gaming terms, but there is much less of a difference between the CPU rivals these days.

Your chosen display – or your next panel purchase – is also an important factor too. You’re not going to want to run your games on a 1080p monitor if you’ve just spent the best part of a grand on a new GPU. If you do only have a 1080p screen there’s little point spending more than £250 on a GPU unless you’re also looking to upgrade your monitor in the next 12 months.

What graphics card do I have?

Do you know exactly what graphics card you have in your system? Yes? Well done, gold star for you. But if you haven't had the side off your PC for an aeon then chances are you may not remember what make or model of GPU you have chewing through the pixels in your favourite games. It's quick and easy to find out though – all you need do is hit Win+R to bring up the run box and type 'dxdiag' then hit enter. That launches the DirectX Diagnostics Tool and, once it's gathered all the data it needs about your rig, you can click on the 'Display' tab at the top and get all the details you need about your current GPU.

Do I want an AMD or Nvidia graphics card?

That’s the age-old question: do you buy from the red team or the green team? There are positives and negatives to each, but in general terms, if you want the outright best gaming performance then you go for an Nvidia graphics card, but if it’s more about pricing and value, then AMD’s Radeons are normally a better bet.

Multi-GPU gaming

Each have their own technologies, with Nvidia leading the way in terms of frame synchronising. AMD, on the other hand, have FreeSync, which is almost as effective as Nvidia’s G-Sync, but has the benefit of being an open standard and therefore cheaper when it comes to buying a compatible monitor. Both are capable of creating an incredibly smooth, tearing-free gaming experience.

Nvidia also has the edge in terms of software. Their GeForce Experience program is incredibly useful and Shadowplay’s an impressively simple game-capture app. That said, AMD's new Radeon Settings software is greatly improved over the old Catalyst Control Centre and includes a powerful overclocking application, WattMan, as standard.

AMD and Nvidia have also made great strides in the efficiency stakes in their latest generations, with AMD making up for their poor showing over the last few years. Though with a bit of a head-start, Nvidia are still rocking the performance per Watt game.

We're about to see a shake up in the high-end of the graphics card market, as AMD's upcoming Vega architecture will bring Team Radeon their first high performance GPU in an age. Fingers crossed it lives up to the hype.

Last-gen cards

You'll notice we've only covered the latest graphics cards in this guide. But there are still many last-gen cards from both AMD and Nvidia available out there. We've approached this roundup as products we'd recommend for people to buy as a brand new card, or for their next PC build/purchase. For the sort of money we're talking about spending we'd always recommend going for the latest technology to give you at least a little bit of a chance at future-proofing your purchase. It also doesn't necessarily follow that last-gen cards will suddenly be super cheap the moment a new generation gets released – as stock gets run down the availability drops, but so does demand and that means prices generally stay unattractively high. There is going to be a quick drop in GTX 9-series prices, for example, but do you want to buy a GTX 980 Ti for the same price as a GTX 1070? You will find eBay filled with older cards, though, but the second-hand market in components can be a bit of a minefield depending on how they've been treated previously.

That said, if you're already sitting on a GTX 970 – my pick of the last-gen cards – then picking up a second one, for a little less than the money you might drop on a new GTX 1060, could be a good way of boosting your gaming performance. Recommending an SLI setup isn't something I'm that comfortable with, though. The vagaries of multi-GPU gaming mean that, while you ought to be treated to a significant performance uplift with a second card, sometimes you'll hit a new release which steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the existence of subsequent GPUs leaving one card twiddling its thumbs. There are also games which never get SLI or CrossFire support in their lifetimes. In short: multi-GPU gaming can be a gamble.

Video memory

How much VRAM do you need to have attached to your graphics card? It used to be a way for manufacturers to pretend their budget cards were better than they were, but these days having a hefty amount of video memory is becoming more and more important. As texture quality improves and resolutions creep ever higher more VRAM is a definite bonus.

In the mid-range, the GTX 1060 and RX 480 are sporting 6GB and 8GB respectively. There are RX 480s and now RX 580s with half the video memory with the 4GB variants not displaying too much of a performance delta outside of the highest resolutions. At the top you’ve got the GTX Titan X and Xp with a full 12GB of video memory, and for super high-resolution gaming that will come in handy, especially a little way down the line.

Lower down the order it becomes a mite trickier choosing between 2GB and 4GB versions of a card. When it comes to a $100 (£100) budget GPU you can arguably get away with 2GB, especially considering the price premium that we've seen attached to the 4GB options.

Factory-overclocked cards

MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X temperature

These are my current bete noire, especially when it comes to lower order graphics cards. Factory-overclocked GPUs come with an out-of-the-box boost to their clockspeeds, sometimes as little as 10MHz, or as potentially high as 100MHz, but if you’re paying the premium price attached to such cards just for an immediate performance boost you might well be disappointed. Often factory-overclocked cards won’t deliver that much better performance than you'd get with a stock-clocked model.

What they do offer, though, is the option for an enthusiast to take the GPU further. If you’ve got a manufacturer boosted card then the likelihood is they will have picked the best chips for those pricier versions, the chips with the most overclocking headroom available. That means you’re potentially able to push them further than a reference-clocked version could go. Sadly, that's not always the case, as we saw with Zotac's GTX 1080 Ti Amp edition card.

But they still only really make sense if you’re serious about getting elbow deep in voltage tweaks and fan-profiles. If you’re more of a casual overclocker then you’ll probably get the little performance boost you crave from a standard version of a GPU. Overclocking is genuinely easier than it’s ever been and as close to risk-free as modifying a PC component could possibly be.

It's worth bearing in mind that factory-overclocked cards quickly lose relevance the further down the price ladder you go. A budget GPU is unlikely to have a huge amount of overclocking headroom anyways, not that will make a tangible performance difference anyway, so their extra expense pushes them towards pointlessness. The latest RX 460 is a prime example. The extra 30% price premium for the overclocked version I’ve tested pushes it incredibly close to the cost of a 4GB RX 470, a GPU which is around twice as fast in-game, making it a tough card to love.

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War Thunder
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0V3RKILL avatarDave James avatarpatelbrij99 avatarGsquat avatarStreetguru avatarvoidhelix avatar+1
0V3RKILL Avatar
293
8 Months ago

I'm gonna go with a furyx with a sealed water cooled system from XFX this time around. Performs amazing and it is the coolest card in the market. I had enough of cards hitting near or over 80c. Any kind of heat in your card creates stuttering and those air cooled ones like the twinfrozer don't have great fans. Give it a week and everything will be full of dust not being able to breath. Water cooled systems are easy to clean from the out side of the case. No need to take your video card apart to clean those thermal fins

1
Dave James Avatar
298
8 Months ago

You're right about water-cooled cards having excellent cooling, but I'd caution against the Fury X if you're talking about the original, Fiji-powered one.

It's only got the same gaming performance as an overclocked GTX 1060 these days, and because those GPUs run so hot the water-cooler can only keep it down to 64degreesC at peak operation - the same level as the TwinFrozr fans of the MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X.

But if you're waiting for XFX to rock out a Vega-powered RX Fury X, that could be one beast of a card!

1
0V3RKILL Avatar
293
8 Months ago

I'm planning on buying the regular R9-FURY-4QFA. It does I think 56c at full load which is still the coolest of them all and easy to clean. I hear ya about the 1060 but I am an amd fan. Turned my back on NVidia after the 295. Was an NVidia guy since the 5200 lol and only bought their best. I had very bad experience and none so far with amd. Been very happy, since the first one I had which was the 3870x2

1
Dave James Avatar
298
5 Months ago

Ouch, not surprised you turned your back on the green team after the GTX 295 nightmare... support, what support?

The RX 480 8GB is now a great price and it's a real close run thing between that and the GTX 1060 for my favourite card right now.

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patelbrij99 Avatar
1
5 Months ago

Should I buy an i5 6600k and gtx 1070 now, or wait for zen?

1
Gsquat Avatar
1
5 Months ago

Depends. Is there something out or out soon that you really want to play but can't with your current setup? If not, definitely wait. AMD Ryzen/Vega will produce a better option for your money. I'm actually going to wait until I can get a Vega card used.

1
Streetguru Avatar
10
4 Months ago

Gotta update the shadowplay bit with AMD's ReLive competing now

Also given the results here I'd have to give it to the 480, Mostly on the back of Free-sync, but also for DX12/Vulkan in the future, and the fact that you can crossfire if you happen to have some spare cash and get a really good deal on a 480 or even a 470

Driver updates have put it on par in DX11 with the 1060, plus you get a bit of Extra VRAM which is just nice to have.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s12S74umruY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEw3CaNSbUo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiYQqNiqQKU

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voidhelix Avatar
1
4 Months ago

Hi. I`m trying to upgrade the GPU in my Alienare M15X laptop. I`ve decided on either a Geforce GTX1050 TI, Firepro M6100 or Geforce GTX970M. But I can`t find any to buy. Can you direct me to place I can buy them, or give me some advice on a current gen card I should buy? Ty in advance.

1
Soxekaj Avatar
81
3 Weeks ago

Is it possible to include when tests where performed?

1