The best graphics cards for PC gaming
Nvdia or AMD? High-end or low-end? No matter what you're looking for, our choices for the best video cards have you covered.
- Best budget graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050
- Best 1080p graphics card: AMD Radeon RX 480 (4GB)
- Best 1440p graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
- Best enthusiast card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
- Price is no limit: Nvidia Titan X Pascal
- What to look for in a custom card
Last updated November 23, 2016 to reflect current graphics card pricing, which is finally at or below stated MSRPs.
“What graphics card within my budget gives me the best bang for my buck?”
That simple question cuts to the core of what people hunting for a new graphics card look for: The most oomph they can afford. Sure, the technological leaps behind each new GPU can be interesting on their own, but most everyone just wants to crank the detail settings on Far Cry and get right to playing.
Answering the question can be a bit trickier than it seems. Raw performance is a big part of it, but factors like noise, the driver experience, and supplemental software all play a role in determining which graphics card to buy, too. Making matters more confusing is the sudden flood of graphics cards built using AMD and Nvidia’s cutting-edge new processors, which represent a two-generation technological leap forward. Their arrival has thrown pricing for last-gen graphics cards into disarray.
Let us make it easy for you. We’ve tested damned near every major GPU that has hit the streets over the past couple of years, from $100 budget cards to $1,200 luxury models. Our knowledge has been distilled down into this article—a buying guide with recommendations on which graphics card to buy, no matter what sort of experience you’re looking for.
Note: There are customized versions of every graphics card from a slew of vendors. For example, you can buy different Radeon RX 470 models from Sapphire, XFX, Asus, MSI, and PowerColor.
We’ve linked to our formal review for each recommendation, but the buying links lead to models that stick closely to each graphics card’s MSRP. Spending extra can get you hefty out-of-the-box overclocks, beefier cooling systems, and more. Check out our “What to look for in a custom card” section below for tips on how to choose a customized card that’s right for you.
Best budget graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the PC gaming waters without getting dunked, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 ($110 and up on Amazon) is the clear choice for entry-level gaming, though the cards are still slowly working their way into the market.
Nvidia’s pitching the GeForce GTX 1050 as a superb upgrade option for e-sports enthusiasts and PC gamers on a budget. The card delivers on that mission in spades. You can crank in-game graphics to High and blow past 100 frames per second in Dota 2, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and more. (That’s a huge step up from integrated graphics.) The GTX 1050 hovers around the 60 frames per second gold standard in most games at Medium graphics settings at 1080p, or can pump out Ultra-quality visuals if you don’t mind a more console-esque 30 fps.
The GeForce GTX 1050’s small size and sub-75-watt power requirement means it’ll fit in tight places, and without additional power connections. That makes it an ideal option for upgrading prebuilt “big box” systems from the likes of HP and Dell—most of which lack extra power connectors and extra space—into gaming machines with minimum hassle. When you combine those advantages with the card’s HDMI 2.0b and high-dynamic range video support, the GTX 1050 also becomes an enticing prospect for home-theater PCs. Be careful while you shop, though, as some overclocked models of the GTX 1050 require an extra six-pin power connector, which prebuilt PCs may not have available.
If a bit more graphical oomph, is what you seek, Nvidia also offers the step-up GeForce GTX 1050 Ti ($140 and up). The GTX 1050 Ti doubles the onboard RAM to 4GB and offers more under-the-hood firepower than the GTX 1050, making it a worthwhile upgrade if you plan on playing newer traditional games like Far Cry or Rise of the Tomb Raider. The GTX 1050 Ti allows you to hit nearly 60f fps at High graphics settings in most modern games, and its 4GB of memory is much more future-proof than the GTX 1050’s 2GB.
AMD’s rival to the Nvidia duo is the similarly priced Radeon RX 460, at $100 for a 2GB version and $140 for a 4GB version. The Radeon graphics cards are slower, hotter, and more power-hungry than the GeForce GTX 1050s, however. The GeForce cards are the obvious pick unless you’re looking to pair a Radeon RX 460 with a FreeSync monitor.
If you have the extra cash and power connectors, the Radeon RX 470 is a big step up in performance, especially if you can find one for the $170 holiday price.
Best 1080p graphics card: AMD Radeon RX 480 (4GB)
Things bunch up a bit more in the $200 to $250 range, the so-called PC gaming sweet spot. Here, you’ll find a slew of contenders for the title of “Best 1080p graphics card”: the Radeon RX 470 ($175 and up on Amazon), the Radeon RX 480 4GB ($200 and up on Newegg), the Radeon RX 480 8GB ($230 and up on Newegg), and both the 3GB GeForce GTX 1060 ($200 and up on Amazon) and the standard 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 ($240 and up on Amazon), which feature different innards despite sporting the same name.
You can’t go wrong with any of these cards. They’re all excellent gaming options, though the RX 470’s surprisingly high price makes the RX 480 a much more attractive buy for just $20 more. Using the Radeon RX 480 (4GB) as a baseline, the RX 470 performs a little worse, falling just shy of a no-compromises 1080p gaming experience, while the cooler, more power-efficient 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 performs a little better. The 3GB GTX 1060 slightly outperforms the Radeon RX 470.
Both the Radeon RX 480 and the 6GB GTX 1060 deliver uncompromising 1080p gameplay at 60fps with all the bells and whistles cranked to 11, damned fine 2560x1440 resolution play at High settings (especially with a FreeSync/G-Sync monitor), and even the ability to play VR games on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
We feel the $200 Radeon RX 480 4GB is the best option for most people. This card’s bang-for-the-buck is undeniable, and it enables all sorts of potential gameplay experiences, as outlined above. Sure, the GTX 1060 pushes out a bit more performance, but with the Radeon RX 480 already delivering 60fps on Ultra settings at 1080p, we feel saving the extra $50 is worthwhile. That savings is compounded by the price difference between buttery smooth FreeSync and G-Sync monitors, if you’re considering upgrading your entire setup.
If you’re planning to game at 1440p or in VR, consider stepping up to the $240 8GB RX 480 or the $250 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 to better accommodate the higher resolutions. With prices that close, both models are attractive buys. The GTX 1060 has slightly more oomph, but the 8GB Radeon RX 480 has 2GB more memory.
There’s a wrinkle, though: All of these cards are in short supply at retail, often selling at inflated prices or out of stock completely. If you need to stick to as close to $200 as possible and can’t find a 4GB RX 480 at a reasonable price, the RX 470 and 3GB GTX 1060 are still solid buys for great 1080p gaming (and only 1080p gaming).
Of the two, we slightly prefer the 3GB GTX 1060 for its better performance, power-efficiency, and cooling. That said, 3GB of RAM doesn’t feel especially future proof, and there are already instances where that limited capacity prevents the use of super high-end texture options in games. To be fair, those sorts of options really aren’t needed at 1080p resolution. Nevertheless, if you plan to hold onto your graphics card for several years, you might consider opting for the Radeon RX 470 and its larger 4GB memory buffer instead. Check out PCWorld’s 3GB GTX 1060 review for deeper discussion.
Best 1440p graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
Move beyond the $250 price range and Nvidia’s the only option in town. There’s a massive price gulf between the $250 options and the $380 GeForce GTX 1070, but it’s hard to recommend any older-gen cards that bridge that gulf. If you can find last-gen stars like the Fury X or GeForce 980 Ti for $350 or lower, or a Radeon Fury for $300, jump on it—but steep discounts like that are rare.
You get a tremendous amount of performance for your money with these graphics cards. The GTX 1070 delivers just as much performance as last-gen’s Titan X. In practice, that means you’ll be able to hit 60fps with everything cranked at Ultra settings at 1440p resolution. You’ll also be able to play most games at 4K resolution at High settings, if you don’t mind a lower 40fps-plus rate.
If you’re interested in that, a G-Sync monitor can help smooth out the visual hitches—but 4K G-Sync monitors cost a pretty penny. The 60Hz Acer XB280HK is the cheapest one available on Amazon at $519, but its TN panel looks washed-out next to IPS displays. Moving to IPS costs even more, with 4K G-Sync displays from Acer and Asus exceeding $800.
Really, the GTX 1070’s optimum position is as a no-compromises 1440p graphics card. Don’t even think of buying it for 1080p resolution unless you’re looking to max out a 144Hz monitor in the latest, greatest games.
Oh, the cherry on top? Nvidia’s new Pascal GPU runs cool and has extreme power efficiency: The GTX 1070’s massive leap in performance uses the same power levels as the older GTX 970!
Best enthusiast card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 is badass incarnate—and it’s priced accordingly. Despite sporting an extravagant $600 MSRP, demand is high, though we're starting to see custom-cooled models sell for $595 and up on Amazon. (Don’t bother with Nvidia’s own “Founders Edition” versions of any of the GTX 10-series cards.)
The GTX 1080 absolutely spanks the older GTX 980, delivering frame rate improvements of more than 70 percent in every game tested while simultaneously achieving massive power efficiency for a card in this class. This is the graphics card you want to push a 144Hz 1440p monitor to its limits, or inch ever-closer to 60fps at 4K resolution. Though the GTX 1080 can’t quite achieve that gold standard in every game at 4K resolution, it comes damn close in most of them, and many times 60fps is achievable with a few graphics tweaks.
The performance story is even more compelling when you factor in the extreme overclocking capabilities of Nvidia’s 16nm Pascal GPU. While we weren’t able to sustain a usable 2GHz overclock with our GTX 1080 Founders Edition, we surpassed 2.1GHz (on air!) with the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW ($680 on Amazon), which features a hefty custom cooling system and an extra 8-pin power connector for additional juice.
That EVGA card still wasn’t able to hit 60fps with everything cranked to 11 at 4K resolution—but it came close.
Price is no limit: Nvidia Titan X Pascal
If you demand the pinnacle of PC gaming performance and don’t care how much it costs to achieve it, the ridonkulously powerful Nvidia Titan X Pascal is your card. Reviews say this is the first and only graphics card capable of hitting 60fps with Ultra settings at 4K resolution. This beast is so powerful that when we slapped two Titan Xs in a Falcon Northwest FragBox 2, we needed to max out games at 5K resolution in order to see a measurable increase over a pair of GTX 1080s.
The new Titan X is downright decadent…and it’s priced just as extravagantly, at $1,200 on GeForce.com.
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