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 some 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, considering everything on the market up to AMD's new Radeon 7 and Nvidia's latest GTX 1660 GPU.
While gaming desktop PCs tend to be more long-lived than the average games console or gaming laptop, the graphics card is one component you'll need to replace regularly if you want to keep getting good performance in the latest games. Where processors might get faster by only a few percentage points every few years, graphics cards can see gains of 25 per cent or more from one generation to the next. For example, Intel's classic Core i5 2500K and Core i7 2700K are still legitimate choices for modern gaming systems, but graphics cards of this era aren't able to handle modern games without heavy overclocking - and sometimes, not even then.
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 value offering, recent price drops mean that the AMD RX 580 beats out our old selection, the GTX 1060, to become the new 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 discounted Radeon RX 570.
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 £110/$110 mark, with Nvidia's GTX 1050 and AMD's RX 560 offering (on paper at least) significantly more graphics processing horsepower than the base 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 RX 580 being our choice for the best 1080p GPU and the RTX 2080 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 plump for at least 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 or even quad-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, particularly on a high refresh rate display, we would recommend the Intel Core i7 8700K or its ninth-generation 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 2019 - 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 better 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 remains an unfulfilled promise
Best value graphics card
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660: A powerful card for 1080p gaming.
The best value graphics card is the GTX 1660, Nvidia's successor to the best-selling GTX 1060. While it's tempting to spring for the RTX 2060, which recently saw a price drop and packs more advanced features like hardware accelerated ray tracing, you can save quite a bit of money by going for the lesser GTX option. The promise here is solid 1080p gaming performance - we're talking a comfortable 60+fps at max settings in all but the most demanding games - with the option to spring for 1440p if you're willing to turn down the settings or accept an average frame-rate closer to 30fps. At just over £200/$220, the 10-15 per cent extra performance you're getting over our previous pick - the venerable RX 580 8GB at £170/$180 - seems worthwhile.
- Moderately better performance than GTX 1060
- Good option for 1080p; can sometimes stretch to 1440p
- More future-proof than its RX 580/GTX 1060 competitors
- Slightly less VRAM than the RX 580 8GB, although this shouldn't matter in most games
- The lack of RTX and DLSS could limit this card's utility in the future
Best budget graphics card
AMD Radeon RX 570: an older mid-range card available at an entry-level price.
With the release of a new generation of Nvidia graphics cards, older AMD cards are seeing significant price drops that bring them into new relevancy. Case in point is the RX 570, a once mid-range card now available for less than our previous budget pick, the GTX 1050 3GB. This card offers good performance at 1080p, even in the latest games, although you may have to turn down a few settings in some games to guarantee a 60fps average.
However, the RX 570 does have its share of drawbacks. Chief among these is higher CPU utilisation than similarly powerful cards from Nvidia, so we recommend at least a quad-core processor - preferably a recent AMD Ryzen or Intel Core model - to avoid CPU bottlenecking. The RX 570 also tends to draw more power than the GTX 1060 3GB or GTX 1050 Ti, so it may not work well in systems with limited or non-standard power supplies.
If you're up for overclocking, you can wring more performance out of the RX 570. How much depends as always on the silicon lottery, but some units - especially those with beefier cooling solutions - will be able to nearly match the RX 580.
- Unparalleled performance for its price
- Full HD resolution at 60 frames per second is within reach
- Can't always hit 60fps at maximum settings
- Requires a quad-core processor to avoid bottlenecking
Best value graphics card for 1440p: AMD RX 5700
AMD's RX 5700 is one of the best cards the company has made in recent memory, thanks to an attractively low price point and surprisingly decent performance from the card's new RDNA architecture and 7nm manufacturing process. This allows for strong 1080p and 1440p performance, while producing less heat and consuming less power than AMD's previous designs. New features, such as Radeon Image Sharpening and Radeon Anti-Lag, are also included to enhance fidelity and improve responsiveness in DX9, DX11 and Vulkan games (older AMD GPUs don't support Anti-Lag in DX9).
The RX 5700 compares favourably to the RTX 2060 in terms of performance, although the RTX 2060 Super does take the crown back. The Nvidia cards also feature hardware-accelerated ray tracing, which adds new visual effects to a handful of games and could become more essential in the future. Compared with older GPUs, you can expect performance on par with the Nvidia GTX 1080 - sometimes lower, sometimes higher, depending on the game - and about 15 per cent better than the outgoing RX Vega 64.
If you're willing to void your warranty and comfortable with advanced tools, you can even flash a matching RX 5700 XT BIOS onto this card to unlock some extra performance - a trick that has worked on AMD cards for several generations now. Of course, we don't condone this sort of behaviour as it could result in a bricked card, so attempt it at your own risk.
- Strong 1080p and 1440p performance, outperforming RTX 2060 with more VRAM
- The 7nm process brings better power efficiency than prior generations
- Supports all of the latest AMD software features, like RIS and Radeon Anti-Lag
- RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070 are faster and offer ray tracing
Best Nvidia graphics card for 1440p: RTX 2060
The RTX 2060 is an excellent card at the price, offering solid mid-range performance plus the RTX and DLSS features that define Nvidia's 20-series cards - and at a new lower price point, thanks to the release of the RTX 2060 Super. To give you some perspective on its prowess, the RTX 2060 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 2060 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. With DLSS in play, you could shoot for even more demanding resolutions and refresh rates. However, 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 8700K or better for optimal performance.
Finally, against expectations the RTX 2060 can indeed power ray-traced visuals at 1080p60 in games like Battlefield 5 - even though some graphical tweaks may be required. With DLSS available in some games to offset the extra horsepower requirements, the RTX 2060 should only get better with time. If you're not convinced by these new features though, the new GTX 1660 Ti might be worth checking out - it is only slightly slower than the RTX 2060 but much cheaper, thanks to its omission of newfangled RT and Tensor cores.
- Great 1080p and 1440p performance
- Can stretch to 4K gaming, particularly with a G-Sync monitor
- Relatively cool and efficient
- Inclusion of RTX and DLSS could be big bonuses later
- Significantly more expensive than the last-gen GTX 1060
- Only 6GB of VRAM compared to 8GB on the GTX 1070
- Can't deliver 4K at 60 frames per second
- RTX, DLSS and VRS features only sparsely adopted as of early 2019
Fastest AMD graphics card: AMD RX 5700 XT
While the Radeon 7 is technically the fastest AMD card, it's no longer being produced and doesn't offer any semblance of value. Therefore, the RX 5700 XT gets the nod as the top Radeon card you should actually consider. The 5700 XT performs well at 1080p and 1440p, outperforming the RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070, and can even stretch to 4K gaming if you're willing to accept a few compromises in the settings menu.
Like its little brother, the RX 5700, the 5700 XT is based on a more advanced 7nm process than AMD's previous cards or Nvidia's exisitng lineup. That allows for impressive power efficiency, although the XT card does draw significantly more than the vanilla model. Thankfully, a wide range of custom cards are available - something that never happened for the Radeon 7 - so you should be able to find a card that will fit your needs and provide a robust cooling solution.
The RX 5700 XT includes support for the latest AMD software features, including Radeon Image Sharpening (a filter that makes edges in an image more noticeable) and Radeon Anti-Lag (a feature that synchronises CPU and GPU to minimise input lag in DX9, DX11 and Vulkan titles). The card doesn't support hardware-accelerated ray tracing though, which may be a complete non-issue or a total deal-breaker depending on your views..
- Strong gaming performance, particularly in DX12 and Vulkan titles
- Cooler and more power-efficient than previous Radeon cards
- Provides access to the latest Radeon software features
- Performance in DX11 games, especially at 1080p and 1440p, leaves a lot to be desired
- No support for hardware-accelerated ray tracing in the handful of titles that support it
Best value graphics card for 4K or HFR: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super
- Digital Foundry RTX 2070 Super Review
Nvidia's newly upgraded upper-mid-range card offers 1440p performance in spades, while also packing in the new features that define the Turing generation: real-time ray tracing (RT) and deep learning super sampling (DLSS). The significant frame-rate boosts provided by the latter could transform this card from a close GTX 1080 competitor to an absolute beast that outperforms the GTX 1080 Ti, although DLSS remains a relatively rare inclusion.
The RTX 2070 Super handles 4K resolutions better than the 2060 Super and RX 5700 XT, allowing a comfortable 60fps with a bit of settings tweakery - and that's without factoring in DLSS. Similarly, the high-resolution, high refresh rate combo of 1440p/144Hz monitors can also be tamed by the 2070. Finally, the 2070 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, eighth or ninth generation Core i7 or third-generation Ryzen chip is just as important to high performance as the choice of video card.
- Strong 1080p and 1440p performance in even the toughest games
- 4K gaming is viable on most titles, with some settings tweaks
- DLSS and real-time ray tracing can be transformative - when they're available
- Expensive for a GeForce xx70 card; more costly than the GTX 1080
- The eventual value of DLSS and ray tracing remains largely unknown