The best graphics cards for PC gaming

Nvidia 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 Graphics Card hub primary image Credit: Rob Schultz

Last updated June 20, 2017 to discuss cryptocurrency mining demand causing extreme price and availability issues for both Nvidia and Radeon graphics cards, from the Radeon RX 570 all the way to the GeForce GTX 1070. It's a bad time to build a mainstream gaming PC.

“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. 

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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 570 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 ($108 and up on Amazon) is the clear choice for entry-level gaming. Even better, you can often find custom models on sale for $99 after rebates.

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 2OverwatchCounter-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.

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The EVGA GTX 1050 Ti SC Gaming and MSI GTX 1050 2G OC.

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 on Amazon), which can also run off motherboard power along in some models.  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 60fps at High graphics settings in most modern games, and its 4GB of memory is much more future-proof than the GTX 1050’s 2GB.

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The Radeon RX 550.

AMD’s rival to the Nvidia duo is slightly cheaper Radeon RX 460, at $100 for a 2GB version and $120 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—though AMD’s RX 560 will replace the RX 460 in early May, packing an overclock and 16 compute units enabled, over the RX 460’s 14. That could push AMD’s card past Nvidia’s in pure performance. We’ll have reviews available as soon as possible.

People interested only in e-sports or bolstering a home theater PC’s media chops might want to check out the Radeon RX 550 ($80 and up on Newegg). It’s stellar for those use cases, but struggles in traditional AAA games. Most people would probably be better off with a RX 460 or GTX 1050.

Best 1080p graphics card: AMD Radeon RX 580 (4GB)

Important note: Cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Zcash require GPUs to mine new coins, similar to bitcoins. Extreme pricing bubbles for cryptocurrencies have sent graphics card demand through the roof, resulting in low stocks and wildly inflated pricing for Radeon and GeForce hardware alike. It's virtually impossible to buy any mainstream graphics cards for anywhere near the suggested retail price right now, though GeForce prices tend to be somewhat less extreme than Radeon prices.

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 570 ($170 and up on Newegg), the 4GB Radeon RX 580 ($200 and up on Newegg), the 8GB Radeon RX 580 ($240 and up on Newegg), and both the 3GB GeForce GTX 1060 ($190 and up on Amazon) and the standard 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 ($230 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. Using the Radeon RX 580 (4GB) as a baseline, the RX 570 and 3GB GTX 1060 perform a little bit worse, while the cooler, much more power-efficient 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 performs a little better.

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Sapphire’s Radeon RX 580 Nitro+.

The Radeon RX 570 is the card to get if you’re interested only in pure 1080p gaming. It can hit 60 fps with all graphical options cranked to maximum levels in most games, delivering no-compromise performance at a damned fine price. Its ace in the hole is the 4GB of onboard RAM, which is the minimum needed for flawless 1080p gaming these days. The 3GB GTX 1060’s smaller memory capacity can already be exceeded in some games—that affects performance and causes stuttering.

But if you have an extra $30 to spare, we’d highly recommend picking up the 4GB Radeon RX 580. Both it and the 6GB GTX 1060 deliver even better 1080p gameplay at 60 fps 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. That’s a tremendous amount of value for your money. Consider spending extra for the bigger memory capacities of the 6GB GTX 1060 or 8GB Radeon RX 580 if you’re planning to play at 1440p or in VR, though.

Best 1440p graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070

Important note: The extreme demand by cryptocurrency miners discussed in the previous section has devastated GTX 1070 prices and availability, too. Most available GTX 1070 models are selling for as much (or more than) the more potent GTX 1080. If you're in the market for a graphics card right now, the GTX 1080 is a much better choice for gamers, although it costs much more than the GTX 1070 is supposed to. Bummer.

As we said in the previous section, the Radeon RX 580 and 6GB GTX 1060 are fine options for a decent 1440p/High gaming experience, but you won’t be able to crank graphics options to the max and still hit 60fps in many games.

Move beyond the $250 price range and Nvidia’s the only option in town, at least until AMD’s Radeon Vega launches at the very end of July. 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. 

The GeForce GTX 1070 can be found starting at $375 on Amazon. Most people should opt for custom versions with advanced cooling systems instead of the less efficient, but somehow pricier Nvidia Founders Edition versions. 

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Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 Founders Edition.

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 60 fps with everything cranked at Ultra settings at 1440p resolution. You’ll also be able to play many 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. 

Really, the GTX 1070’s optimum position is as a no-compromises 1440p graphics card for 60-fps gaming. 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—though 144Hz enthusiasts with 1440p monitors may want to move up to the GTX 1080 for even more performance.

Next page: High-end graphics cards, what to look for

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