TL;DR – These are the Best Graphics Cards:
1. MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Ventus XS
Best Graphics Card
Whether you want a modest resolution and fast frame rates or a high resolution at a playable frame rate, this GTX 1660 Ti graphics card can hit the sweet spot. It costs less than $400, but it’s ready for buttery 1080p and even smooth 1440p gaming. If you want to jump up to 4K gaming, it won’t dazzle but can deliver a playable 30fps in some games. It’s even capable of keeping up with VR gaming.
You’ll miss out on some of the fancy features Nvidia offers only on its RTX cards, but this card can offer performance close to the RTX 2060 without costing as much. Because of the balance this card strikes for affordability and performance, it’s our top pick.
2. Asus ROG Strix GeForce RTX 2080 Ti OC Edition
Best 4K Graphics Card
Seriously, the Asus ROG Strix GeForce RTX 2080 Ti OC (read our review) is an amazing graphics card if you want to run the latest games at a full 60 fps, or faster, at 4K and Ultra quality settings. Alternatively, this is the GPU you want to run high-res VR games on your Oculus Rift or Valve Index Also, if you want to live in the Nvidia’s world of ray-traced graphics, look no further, you won’t find another consumer GPU better equipped to give you realistic reflections in Battlefield V.
Out of all the RTX 2080 Ti GPUs we’ve tested, including the Zotac GeForce RTX 2080 Ti AMP (read our review), this card came out on top in terms of performance. The Asus ROG Strix GeForce RTX 2080 Ti OC’s overclocking goes a step further than the Zotac and the other 2080 Ti cards, putting it at the top of our list when it comes to 4K.
While this is the absolute most powerful consumer GPU you can get, the power increase doesn’t march lock-step with its price. You will pay significantly more for a 2080 Ti over a 2080, with only a slight jump in performance. If you absolutely require the best of the best, by all means, but if you don’t see the value in it, consider any of the other GPUs on our list.
3. MSI Radeon RX 5700 XT Mech OC
Best 1440p Graphics Card
The AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT (read our review) is an incredible value graphics processor, with performance that makes it a competent competitor for the Nvidia RTX 2070 given its strikingly similar specs. You’ll find that it’s capable of high-speed gaming at 1080p, smooth 1440p, and even passable 4K gaming.
While we already found it a solid piece of hardware as a reference model, MSI’s Mech OC version makes some valuable changes. The dual-fan cooling shroud should offer better heat dissipation and lower noise levels compared to the reference model, solving our two gripes with the card. If that’s not enough to justify the slightly increase in price, then the out-of-the-box overclock may do the trick.
4. MSI RX 5600 XT Gaming X
Best 1080p Graphics Card
AMD’s Radeon RX 5600 XT is built to be the king of 1080p with enough memory and bandwidth to readily handle the games and all of their textures. If you want to step it up to 1440, the graphics processor is even ready to muster fairly playable frame rates without you needing to dial back any of the settings.
While that’s all good for the 5600 XT, that’s just what it can do at stock speeds. MSI has taken it to another level with the Gaming X model, which raises boost clocks from the stock 1,560MHz up to 1,750MHz. If that’s not enough to justify the uptick in price, you might also find good value in Nvidia’s RTX 2060.
5. MSI RTX 2060 Gaming Z
Best Nvidia RTX Graphics Card
Nvidia’s RTX 2060 (read our review) might have you thinking it’s a 1080p graphics card because of the pricing and mid-range placement of it, but we’ve seen in our benchmarks that it’s more than up to the task of offering playable frame rates at 1440p even with in-game settings maxed. The slightly reduced memory capacity and bandwidth compared to its bigger siblings may hold it back from 4K gaming, but this card has some wiggle room to go faster with settings dialed down.
Our experience with the RTX 2060’s performance was also based on the Founder’s Edition, but this MSI Gaming Z model has boost speeds that are 150MHz higher, giving it some extra performance headroom. If you want a card that’s good to go for just about whatever game you want to throw at it while also having the ability to dip your toes into ray tracing, this is the card.
6. XFX AMD Radeon VII
The Best AMD Graphics Card
The highest-end GPU from AMD, the Radeon VII (read our review), is also its best GPU yet. The “world’s first 7nm gaming GPU” delivers great 4K and stellar 1440p performance, and its list price is unsurprisingly better than a comparable card from Nvidia. You don’t get the fancy ray-tracing promised by the new RTX series cards, but given how few games take advantage of the new technology, it’s probably still not worth the trouble yet. In our testing, the Radeon VII proves to be a great GPU for both gaming and compute tasks. It’s 16GB of video RAM might look excessive on paper, but it comes in handy in more games than you would think, as multiple modern titles end up using more than 8GB of video memory. If you’re an AMD diehard, or you’re just looking for a great way to dive into the world of 4K gaming without paying the Nvidia tax, the Radeon VII is a great choice as both the best AMD card around right now and one of the best graphics cards for the money.
7. PNY GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB XLR8
Best for High-End Gaming for Most Gamers
The RTX 2080 Super (rear our review) takes the original 2080 to the next level by packing in extra CUDA cores and running them all at faster base and boost clocks. It even steps up the memory speed. It offers enough speed to max out settings and still get playable frame rates at 4K in many games (just leave RTX off). If we start looking at 1440p and 1080p, it’s easily able to deliver high enough speeds that you’ll want to have at least a 144Hz monitor. While that’s the performance on offer from the reference model, we’ve seen PNY’s XLR8 iteration of the RTX 2060 beat Nvidia’s Founder’s Edition in nearly all of its benchmarks, so it’s clear PNY has nailed down a solid design for high performance. This version kicks up the boost clocks and ensures the card can stay cool with a triple-fan cooling shroud.
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 Titan RTX
The Out of Your Mind Graphics Card
When you absolutely, positively need the most powerful graphics card money can buy, you should look no farther than the Nvidia Titan RTX. For the kingly price of $2,500, the Titan RTX is fully loaded with an absurd 4,608 CUDA cores, 24GB of GDDR6 video memory, and 1,770 MHz boost clock. With these supreme specs, it offers 4K Ultra gaming at frame rates well above 60 fps that no other single GPU can offer. But honestly, buying this card just to play games would be a waste, as it’s also rendering powerhouse for video editing, 3D rendering, and other creative pursuits. If you have the money and the need for a GPU this powerful, the Nvidia Titan RTX is the graphics card of your dreams.
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 isn’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 card we’ve mentioned.
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 ore 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.
Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark