Replacing your graphics card is the number one upgrade you can make for your PC and the most profound in terms of improving gaming performance, so it makes sense to spend a little time researching your options. We've streamlined that process for you right here, with strong graphics card recommendations for budget boxes all the way up to high-end battlestations, including Nvidia's latest RTX GPUs.
One advantage of a gaming desktop PC, in comparison to a console or gaming laptop, is that it can last a long time. If you've chosen a strong motherboard and processor, you can expect to keep them for five years or more. For example, Intel's classic Core i5 2500K still takes centre stage in many systems and is capable of handling modern games. However, to run the latest games with console-beating features and performance, a modern GPU is essential.
If you just want our direct, no-nonsense GPU upgrade recommendations, that's not a problem. Right now, the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti is our top pick for the best graphics card, thanks to its performance advantage over the GTX 1080 Ti and support for exciting new tech too. If you're looking for the best price vs performance offering, the trusty GTX 1060 remains our out-and-out best value graphics card. In terms of our lower tier picks, we've targeted a degree of longevity and better-than-console throughput for our best budget graphics card - in this case, the recently released GTX 1050 3GB.
Choosing the right graphics card is important because this is the component that does most of the heavy lifting that brings your games to life. Graphics hardware capable of easily running triple-A titles starts at around the £120/$120 mark, with Nvidia's GTX 1050 and AMD's RX 560 offering (on paper at least) significantly more graphics processing horsepower than the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That means that every major multi-platform title should run at least with ballpark equivalent performance. From there, it's all about paying more and scaling up, with GTX 1060 our choice as the best 1080p GPU and the GTX 1080 Ti standing tall as the best of the best - and the most viable video card for 4K gaming at 60 frames per second without making graphical fidelity sacrifices.
Of course, it's also important to avoid building a bottle-necked system, so you should aim to pair your video card of choice with a suitably powerful CPU, RAM and other components. We generally recommend system builders aim for 8GB of system RAM, with 16GB being a worthwhile upgrade. If you're using an AMD Ryzen or a mainstream Intel CPU, using two RAM modules in dual channel mode gives you better performance. Your choice of processor is also crucial to building a balanced system. AMD's Ryzen 5 and Intel's Core i5 are the price/performance champions for 60fps gaming, but if you're looking to run the latest games at the highest possible frame-rates on a high refresh rate display, we would recommend the Intel Core i7 8700K or its successors.
Thankfully, we've reached the point where even the cheaper end of the discrete GPU market offers some good results if you're prepared to put just a little effort into tweaking your in-game graphical settings. Beyond that, there's seemingly a graphics card for every kind of use-case - and that's where this guide comes in. Every GPU worth considering is included in this exhaustive guide, and if you're looking for more detailed performance metrics, we can link you through to the some of the most detailed gaming benchmarks around so you can see exactly what kind of performance you should expect.
Best graphics card
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti: 4K gaming at 60fps or more, plus some exciting new tech.
The RTX 2080 Ti is the culmination of decades of work from Nvidia, and it shows. The 2080 Ti comes with significant improvements to raw graphical horsepower over the GTX 1080 Ti card it nominally replaces, plus exclusive access to new technologies like real-time ray tracing (RTX) and deep learning super sampling (DLSS) that can improve the looks and performance of supported games. While few games support these features at launch, Nvidia is pushing hard to drive developer adoption and we should see dozens of titles include one or the other in the next few months - see our full RTX 2080 Ti review for more details!
Outside of new technologies, the powerful RTX 2080 Ti can handle resolutions up to 4K with ease, and performs well at high refresh rates too - just remember that high refresh rates also demand a powerful processor, so don't spend all of your cash on a new RTX card without at least a Core i7 7700K or 8700K in your build. The RTX 2080 Ti is also a brilliant choice for VR gaming, especially for new high-res VR headsets such as the HTC Vive Pro.
With the right system to back it up, you can roughly expect your RTX 2080 Ti to deliver at least 144 frames per second at 1080p, 100 frames per second at 1440p and 60 frames per second at 4K. Obviously, more recent and intensive titles may show poorer performance, while older esports-focused games are likely to perform significantly better.
- Fastest consumer graphics card available
- Excellent performance at 4K and under
- New tech like real-time ray tracing and DLSS have great potential
- Most expensive consumer graphics card available
- Widespread RTX and DLSS support is still potentially months away
Best value graphics card
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB: A good balance of price, performance and memory for 1080p gaming.
- Digital Foundry GTX 1060 review | Full DF GTX 1060 benchmarks
- Buy the GTX 1060 6GB from Amazon [?], starting at £249.98
Nvidia's GTX 1060 is our pick for the best value video card, principally because it offers superb 1080p gaming performance - and full HD resolution remains the most popular display type in the market. Typically, GTX 1060 can offer PS4 quality visuals - or better - in multiplatform games at around twice the frame-rate you'd expect on a console, provided your system includes a decent processor.
In fact, the GTX 1060 offers about 60 per cent of the performance of the top-rated GTX 1080 Ti at around a third of the price. That calculus makes the 1060 our obvious value pick. Confusingly, there are both 3GB and 6GB GTX 1060 cards available, and you should expect around a five per cent performance gap between the two variants. We generally recommend the 6GB option as it should give your system better longevity, but the 3GB card should still be able to cope if you're willing to accept reduced texture quality in some games.
AMD's equivalent offering is the Radeon RX 580 - an exceptionally good card overall, but we've noted that driver optimisations for key titles can arrive later and AMD's DirectX 11 driver requires more CPU time than Nvidia's.
- Good performance for the price
- Low temperatures and noise
- Retains more of its performance when paired with a lower-end CPU than AMD alternatives
- A good 1080p card is only a mediocre one at 1440p
Best budget graphics card
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 3GB: compact and capable for 1080p gaming.
If you're looking for the best budget card, our pick is the new Nvidia GTX 1050 3GB. It offers around 90 per cent of the performance of our previous pick, the GTX 1050 Ti, at 80 per cent of the price. Just remember that the GTX 1050 3GB should cost about the same as the 2GB card, but thus far only a few models (such as the Gigabyte Low Profile offering we tested) are available at reasonable prices - around $120 / £120.
Compared to last-gen cards, the GTX 1050 3GB offers similar raw performance to the GTX 960. It also sports extra VRAM, with 3GB on tap, which should prevent it from tanking heavily in VRAM-intensive titles - something its 2GB 1050 stablemate couldn't avoid. The 1050 3GB is also power-efficient and is available in compact designs, making it a sensible option for media PCs or pre-built systems that can't accommodate larger and more powerful graphics cards.
In-game, you should expect around 30 frames per second in modern titles on ultra settings. If you're willing to compromise and adjust key settings such as shadow quality and anti-aliasing, then hitting 60 frames per second at 1080p becomes possible. Of course, this can vary massively depending on the game - esports titles like Fortnite, CS:GO or DotA 2 are likely to hit much higher frame-rates.
It's worth keeping in mind that going for a relatively low-end card means your system will need to be upgraded sooner rather than later. However, if you're working to a tight budget or need a card with minimal power requirements, the 1050 3GB is still a sound choice. Our recommendation would be to choose a model without a PCI Express power input, as it overclocks almost as well as more expensive versions and can be integrated into more systems.
- Excellent performance for its price
- Full HD resolution at 60 frames per second is within reach
- Consumes little power, available in small form factors and most models don't require PCI Express power input
- Won't hit 1080p and 60 frames per second on highest settings
- Poor retail availability, with only a few models on sale near RRP
Best value AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB
- Digital Foundry RX 570/580 review | Full DF RX 570/580 benchmarks
- Buy the Radeon RX 580 from Amazon [?], starting at £280.47
The best value option for AMD fans is the RX 580, which boasts better performance than the GTX 1060 but at a slightly higher cost, with a higher CPU overhead in DX11 titles and not-as-robust driver performance. By and large, it's still a great product and you can expect to game at 1080p and 60 frames per second comfortably, rivalling the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in terms of graphical fidelity at double the frame-rate. The card can even stretch to 1440p gaming, usually hitting at least 40 frames per second in modern games at high or very high settings.
There are two variants available for the 580: a full-fat 8GB card and a cheaper 4GB option; we recommend the better-performing 8GB model. If you're considering a 4GB model, you should also consider a good quality RX 570, as this card overclocks to near 580 performance and usually saves you a decent amount of money.
- Slightly better performance than GTX 1060
- Good option for 1080p; can sometimes stretch to 1440p
- Usually more expensive than the GTX 1060
- Just a faster version of the RX 480, no Vega tech
Best AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX Vega 56
- Digital Foundry RX Vega 56 review | Full DF RX Vega 56 benchmarks
- Buy the Radeon RX Vega 56 from Amazon [?], starting at £479.99
The Vega 56 is a slightly cut-down version of AMD's flagship Vega 64 GPU, losing eight compute units and some memory bandwidth. The good news is that the HBM2 memory can be overclocked to match Vega 64, helping to close the performance gap, while under-volting can cool the card considerably and open up more overclocking headroom on the core.
The Vega 56 is capable of handling 1080p and 1440p resolutions with ease (though be prepared to hit CPU limits at full HD under DX11). It can even stretch to 4K gaming as well, as long as you're realistic with settings management. In this case, a FreeSync monitor works wonders in providing smoother performance. At launch, Vega 56's key advantage was its performance leadership over GTX 1070. The issue now is that AMD's card is significantly more expensive, propelling it into competition with GTX 1070 Ti, which is the faster performer overall.
- Excellent 1080p and 1440p performance
- When combined with a FreeSync display, 4K gaming is possible
- Cooler and more power-efficient than the Vega 64
- Offers good value for money in a relatively future-proof package
- Can't comfortably run 4K games without compromise
- Power consumption remains an issue compared to Nvidia cards
Best value graphics card for 1440p: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
- Digital Foundry GTX 1070 review | Full DF GTX 1070 benchmarks
- Buy the GTX 1070 from Amazon [?], starting at £379.97
The GTX 1070 is an excellent card at the price, straddling the high to ultra-high performance tiers in the marketplace. It offers a noticeable performance increase over the GTX 1060 for a reasonable price premium. To give you some perspective on its prowess, the 1070 marginally outperforms 2015's Titan X Maxwell - which was once the very best of the best in terms of graphics hardware.
The performance level on tap allows the 1070 to tackle higher resolutions (1440p versus 1080p) or higher refresh rates (like 144Hz). If you're willing to experiment with lower detail settings or you're playing less demanding esports-focused titles like CSGO or Rocket League, your PC could easily drive a popular 1440p/144Hz monitor combo flat-out. Remember that high refresh rates and low resolutions shift more of the load to your processor, so ensure you've got a worthy CPU on board; we recommend a Core i7 7700K or its 8700K successor for optimal performance.
- Great 1080p and 1440p performance
- Can stretch to 4K gaming, particularly with a G-Sync monitor
- Relatively cool and efficient
- GTX 1070 Ti offers better performance, often at a similar price
- Can't deliver 4K at 60 frames per second
Fastest AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX Vega 64
- Digital Foundry RX Vega 64 review | Full DF RX Vega 64 benchmarks
- Buy the Radeon RX Vega 64 from Amazon [?], starting at £529.99
The Vega 64 is the most powerful graphics card produced by Team Red, capable of matching the GTX 1080 in most games and benchmarks.
You can expect good performance from 1080p all the way up to 4K, and good support for ultrawide resolutions and VR gaming as well. However, the card still falls short of our top pick, the GTX 1080 Ti, particularly at higher resolutions and in more demanding titles. The Vega 64 also draws a lot of power and runs quite hot, so the Vega 56 remains a better option for most people.
However, if you're outfitting the ultimate AMD rig, complete with a fast Ryzen CPU, the Vega 64 should take the place of honour in your PCI Express slot. Just make sure you're using a third party Vega 64 card, such as the Asus Strix model - the standard cooler (pictured above) looks neat but doesn't offer the best thermal performance.
- Reasonable 4K performance
- Comfortable performance at 1440p
- More expensive and not much more powerful than Vega 56
- Can't match the GTX 1080 Ti for horsepower
Best value graphics card for 4K or high refresh rates: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
- Digital Foundry GTX 1080 Review | Full DF GTX 1080 benchmarks
- Buy the GTX 1080 from Amazon [?], starting at £469.99
If you can't quite stretch to RTX 2080, RTX 2070 or GTX 1080 Ti, the older GTX 1080 is still worth considering.
It won't handle 4K resolutions at high settings anywhere near as comfortably but you can get close to 60fps with careful settings tweakery. Similarly, the high-resolution, high refresh rate combo of 1440p/144Hz monitors can also be tamed by the 1080. Finally, the 1080 also works well for new monitors capable of hitting 240Hz, although you're not likely to see these frame-rates outside of esports-focused titles even at 1080p. It's important to remember that running many games at high refresh rates but low resolutions requires a strong processor, so a seventh or eighth generation Core i7 is just as important to high performance as the choice of video card.
- Delivers a big chunk of GTX 1080 Ti's 1080p frame-rates
- Lots of breathing room at 1440p
- Reasonable power efficiency for the performance delivered
- Still an expensive card, often priced higher than RRP over two years from launch
- 4K gaming is viable on most titles, but careful settings management is required
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