If you’re looking to build a gaming rig, one of the most important bits of hardware to look for is the graphics card. While it’s not the only factor to pay attention to, the difference between the best graphics card and a merely average one can have a dramatic impact on the graphical settings you can run your favorite games on.
But the strings of numbers and letters that make up most GPUs can be incredibly hard to parse, even if you’re an experienced gamer. We’ve highlighted 10 of the best graphics cards for gaming, but you can also consider this guide a cheat sheet that will provide you with quick access to the information you need when shopping for the best graphics cards.
Quick Look: 10 Best Graphics Cards for Gaming
- XFX AMD Radeon RX 5700
- ASUS ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2080 TI
- XFX Radeon RX 570 RS XXX Edition
- GIGABYTE NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Super
- ZOTAC Gaming GeForce GTX 1650 Super Twin Fan
- XFX AMD Radeon VII
- MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1660 Super
- XFX RX-590P8DFD6 AMD Radeon Rx 590 Fatboy
- PNY GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Graphics Card
- EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti SC Black Edition
The AMD Radeon 5700 series is already one of the most impressive GPUs on the performance, but XFX manages to push as much juice as possible out of it. This overclocked graphics card can hit speeds of up to 1750 MHz, and a full 8 GB of RAM is built in for quicker and more responsive performance.
There's no doubt that this is a powerful graphics card, but XFX has done a decent job of making sure that overheating won't be a serious problem. The dual 100 millimeter fans should keep everything running cool even when you're running the latest AAA games.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Republic of Gamers doesn't joke around when it comes to PC internals. And while this graphics card is going to cost you well over a thousand dollars, you can expect some of the best performance the already powerful NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti can produce. This graphics card comes with a boosted clock speed right out of the box, but it can be improved even more with OC mode. It's rare to find that level of improvement over the already best in class Founders card.
And rather than go bigger with the cooling system, ROG has opted to go smarter. The fans are relatively compact for the size of this graphics card, but a uniquely tilted design to them allows for better cooling with a smaller amount of space. You can further adjust your cooling needs thanks to the BIOS switch that can alternate between power and speed modes.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Are you looking for a graphics card for gaming that can also suit a more practical purpose? This Radeon graphics card from XFX is available for a very affordable price of around $150, but it supports dual BIOS modes, making it just as well suited for cryptocurrency mining as it is for running the latest and greatest games. It's not the best in terms of raw performance, but that versatility is not to be underestimated.
XFX has earned a reputation for designing some of the best cooling systems efficiently and affordably, and that's certainly the case with this graphics card. A combination of thermal compound, smartly designed fans, and steady airflow produces results that shouldn't be a concern even in more cramped computer cases. It also supports FreeSync 2 technology for smoother graphics and less jagged edges.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The RTX 2070 isn't the best GPU on the market, but Gigabyte manages to squeeze a lot of value out of it with overclocking, turning it into an incredibly reasonable deal for less than $700. And the fan system is set up pretty impressively as well. The Windforce 3X system includes three fans that alternate direction to reduce the turbulence of that accelerated airflow and some pretty hefty heat pipes.
And since this is built off of the fundamentals of the NVIDIA Turing technology, you'll get access to some of the best and latest graphical gaming technology as well. Your computer will be future proofed for the next generation of games thanks to the programmable shading, advanced artificial intelligence rendering, and support for ray tracing technology. For cosmetic purposes, you get access to 16.7 million RGB lighting options.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Zotac's graphics card doesn't use the latest and best NVIDIA GeForce GTX chip, but it draws from the newest Turing architecture and is designed to fit a more budget priced gaming rig in terms of both price and dimensions. It's small enough to fit in all but the tightest of gaming PC cases and wears a tantalizing prize tag of around $150. It excels at Full HD resolution and can even perform decently with 1440p gaming, making it one of the best choices for more casual gamers.
The cooling system consists of dual static resistant fans and heat sinks that cover the entire card for even dissipation. It may be simple, but it works. But perhaps the biggest selling point for this graphics card for gaming is the Firestorm interface that makes it easy to fine tune your specs so you can more easily optimize your gaming computer.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
If there's one thing that XFX always offers, it's consistency. Their take on the AMD Radeon VII makes the most out of one of the best graphics cards for gaming on the market, and this take on the Radeon VII uses XFX's trademark best in class cooling systems to produce reliable results without running too hot or too loud. Vulkan and DirectX 12 are both supported with this graphics card, and it can run smoothly at 1440p or even 4K resolution.
And there are some very cool gaming specific features packed in the Radeon VII as well. Day zero driver support ensures that you're always ready to hit the ground running with new releases, and Radeon Chill adjusts the cooling system of the Radeon VII to match your processing demands in the moment. You can even establish custom profiles for different use cases, and the Radeon overlay lets you make changes without having to close your games.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The NVIDIA GTX 1660 Super is appropriately named. It builds from the fundamentals of the GeForce GTX 1660 and boosts it slightly above what you'd expect from mid-range cards. The GTX 1660 isn't going to provide you with the latest performance on the hottest titles, but it does offer all the cool new functions you could expect from NVIDIA's Turing architecture along with a nice boost to the standard GTX 1660 performance.
And the new features here are absolutely worth it. NVIDIA's trademark G-SYNC technology in this GTX 1660 is further bolstered by NVIDIA Ultra Low Latency (NULL) technology that decreases latency when running games at lower settings, while the ReShade filters help you make the most out of features that are largely exclusive to PC gamers: user created mods.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
If you want a graphic card that's prepared for the latest revolution of virtual reality gaming but you aren't trying to spend a fortune, your best bet may be the Radeon RX Fatboy from XFX. This card takes up less space and power than many of its contemporaries while still managing to squeeze a pretty high clock power out of the equation, and that makes it a top contender for PC builders with more limited case real estate.
Full HD and WQHD gaming are both well supported here, but you shouldn't come to the table expecting to be streaming your favorite games in 4K. XFX TrueClock technology gives you a highly customizable amount of control over your overclocking, so you can tweak a setup that's suited to your gaming demands, but it's hardware controlled, so it should work perfectly well even without user input.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the leader in modern graphics card design, but if you want to squeeze every last inch of juice out of it, your best option is this impressive but expensive graphics card from PNY. The overclocking potential is pretty much in step with what you'd find from the Founders Edition card, but in terms of benchmarks, GPUs simply can't compete with the PNY. In practice, this variation of the RTX 2080 Ti offers a lot more than it can on paper.
A big part of that comes down to the fact that this RTX comes with some of the best and most impressive cooling we've found in a card. The heat sinks here are truly massive, and that allows this card to run two degrees cooler than the Founders Edition it's based on. That may not sound like much, but at this level of performance, every little bit can help.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
For less than a thousand dollars, this GTX graphics card from EVGA can handle just about anything you can throw at it. This is a card that can achieve the holy grail of 4K performance at a smooth frame rate of 60 frames per second. And while it requires a minimum power supply of 600 watts, you'd be hard pressed to find a graphics card that can perform as well as this in game.
As you might expect from a card with such a substantive power draw, the cooling system here is truly top of the line. L-shaped fins provide a low tech method for providing better heat dissipation over the entire surface of the graphics card, the GTX can even compete with the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 in most games, just as long as you're willing to sacrifice the latest features like real time ray tracing.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Graphics Card for Gaming Buyer’s Guide
You may be asking yourself how important finding the best graphics card really is for gaming. But while GPUs are arguably somewhat overrated by gamers, the graphics card is generally the second most important hardware component in a PC for gaming (behind the CPU itself). Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion about the specs and features that affect the performance of a graphics card.
Below, we’ll break down all of the important specs of a graphics card for you, provide you with an understanding of what different graphics card models bring to the table, and answer some of the most common questions we hear from customers shopping for a graphics card. Whether you have your heart set on an AMD Radeon RX 5700 or a top of the line NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660, we’ll help you understand exactly what you can expect from your graphics card.
Understanding the Brands
There are hundreds of graphics cards on the models from countless manufacturers you may have never heard of. But once you understand the difference between GPUs and graphics cards, sorting through the available graphics cards isn’t all that difficult.
The GPU is the actual processor that handles graphical rendering in games. For the most part, a GeForce RTX 2080 will perform like a GeForce RTX 2080, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX will perform like a NVIDIA GeForce GTX. While there will be some variance between different graphics cards (which we’ll get into below), the actual performance of a GPU isn’t going to vary that much from graphics card to graphics card. For that reason, we suggest that you pick out a GPU that’s appropriate to your gaming needs to start and use that as a baseline for the GPUs you’re looking at.
While Intel has announced their interest in entering the graphics cards market in 2020, there are really only two names to look at when shopping for graphics cards: AMD and NVIDIA. Neither is objectively better than the other, but they both have their own niches where they really excel.
- Graphics cards that employ a NVIDIA GeForce GPU easily lead the market in terms of raw performance. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti can offer hands down better performance over everything that AMD has to offer, and that’s not even the most powerful card that NVIDIA The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the best graphics cards for gaming anywhere. But as you might expect from the company that produces the best graphics, NVIDIA graphics cards don’t come cheap. Even the cheapest NVIDIA RTX 2080 is going to cost you close to a thousand dollars, and it can go well above that for more advanced NVIDIA cards.
- Most gamers aren’t going to have over a grand to drop on their graphics cards alone, and if budget is at all a consideration, you should look beyond high end graphics cards like the GeForce RTX 2070 and instead turn your attention to AMD. AMD doesn’t come close to hitting the performance ceiling the NVIDIA GeForce can promise, but they offer the best value of price to performance when seeking out the best graphics cards at the entry to mid-range level.
How much space is there in your motherboard for a graphics card? That can have a major impact on what graphics cards will work for your computer, but it can also limit the amount of space within your computer dedicated to more hardware components. Before you can find a card that’s right for you, you’ll have to make sure that there’s space available. Fortunately, there aren’t that many choices available.
- Graphics cards are most commonly identified as dual slot graphics cards. That means that you’ll need two PCIe ports available inside your case as well as two expansion slots to function. While that may sound like a lot, you have to keep in mind that the graphics card is going to probably be the most important singular hardware component that you put in a gaming computer. Getting it right is worth it, even if you find yourself having to make sacrifices elsewhere.
- Graphic cards identified as taking up 2.5 slots don’t require you to use a third PCIe slot, they do overlap a significant amount of space beyond the second PCIe slot, and that means that your third PCIe slot may be rendered inoperable by other hardware components. 2.5 slot graphics cards still only require two expansion slots, but you may have to get creative with how you line your hardware up in the motherboard if you want to make the most of your space and really optimize your PC for gaming.
- Some graphics cards are listed as taking up 2.7 slots. As you might expect, they tend to be a little larger than graphics cards that take up 2.5 slots. That gives you even more limited options for making use of the third PCIe slot, but they aren’t that much larger than 2.5 slot graphics cards.
The bottom line is that the GPUs you want should be a bigger priority when building a gaming rig than the motherboard. If you need a specific card to get the gaming performance you need, scale up your motherboard rather than scaling down the graphics cards. Graphics cards are significantly more expensive, and they have a much larger impact on the quality of gaming performance.
In terms of which slots you insert graphics cards, it sometimes matters and sometimes doesn’t. The PCIe slot closest to the CPU is generally considered the primary slot, and it’s recommended that you try to install graphics cards there directly. Sometimes the secondary slots don’t offer the same performance or capabilities as the primary slot.
Dual Card Setups
Some motherboards come with the ability to install two graphics cards into place and combine their performance essentially into a single system, but there’s a reason that we didn’t feature any single slot graphics cards on our list. Even with Crossfire and SLI compatility, you’re generally better off getting one powerful card rather than two weaker ones.
In other words, while a two slot setup has its own appeal (largely that you can start with a cheap graphics card and upgrade later), we suggest that you wait until you can afford an appropriate single card that requires two slots or more.
How much should you expect graphics cards to cost for your gaming rig? That really depends on what you’re looking for. You obviously get what you pay for, but top line graphics cards aren’t going to matter to the vast majority of gamers. Below, we’ll break down the most common graphics cards at important price tiers.
- Ultra budget graphics cards include the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1030 and the AMD Radeon RX 550. These graphics cards didn’t make it to our list because they’re really not up to the needs of most gamers. But if you’re a casual gamer in need of a card that costs less than $100, they’re what you should be looking for.
- Entry level graphics cards are pretty well equipped to handle even the best and latest modern games, though you shouldn’t expect them to offer great performance at the best settings. They include the AMD Radeon RX 560 and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 (as well as the Ti model), and you can expect to pay between $100 and $200 for either. You can comfortably expect 1080p (Full HD) performance out of an entry level card.
- The AMD Radeon RX 570, AMD Radeon RX 580, and AMD Radeon RX 590 barely cost more than their entry level counterparts, while the NVIDIA GTX 1060 and NVIDIA GTX 1070 represent the first huge financial disparity between NVIDIA and AMD card design. In either case, these mid-range cards are the types of cards we recommend for most gamers. While you’ll still mostly be gaming in 1080p, they offer about the smoothest performance you could want at Full HD as well as compatibility with the current generation of VR headsets.
- High end graphics cards are where the market really starts to get crowded. The NVIDIA GTX 1070 Ti and 1080 Ti bridge the gap between mid-range and high end, while the GeForce RTX 2060 , NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070,and GeForce RTX 2080 sit comfortably in the luxury category. AMD’s offerings in this range begin to thin out, with the AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 and the AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 being the best and most prominent examples. The best step up for these all around best graphics cards is the ability to comfortably play games and stream video at 1440p gaming resolution.
- Top shelf cards aren’t going to be practical for all but the most serious gamers. These best graphics cards require pretty beefy specs elsewhere on your gaming PC if you really want to do them justice, and they easily cost over a grand. At this level, NVIDIA is really the only competitor. The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, and the NVIDIA Titan V offer the best graphics performance on the market, and they’re the only GPUs reasonably equipped for 4K video at decent settings. They also employ the latest technologies like ray tracing.
One of the best graphics card advantages that come from a discrete rather than integrated design is that your GPU can get access to its own dedicated RAM. That will allow your CPU to make the most of its processing power and also allow more sophisticated graphical rendering. The RAM can be used for everything from storing textures to performing anti-aliasing and post-processing, so if you want the best graphics card with access to the widest range of features, having at least some dedicated memory is a necessity.
But how much memory do you need for the best performance? The truth is a bit more complicated than manufacturers would like you to believe. Because while the amount of memory packed in is important, it’s arguably one of the least important factors.
Memory quantity has an impact on the best graphics performance settings you can run your games on, but it’s an everything or nothing kind of deal. If a card matches a game’s stated requirements, it will gain all the benefit, and anything extra is overkill. That means that finding a memory level that matches the performance level of a card is more important than just packing in higher quantities. 4 GB of RAM is what you should be looking for with GPUs built for 1080p games, but you may want to upgrade to 8 GB of RAM for 4K or 1440p gaming.
If you are looking to game in 4k, be sure you’ve got yourself the right gaming monitor for job.
Clock speeds are generally a pretty cut and dry and straightforward indicator of what sort of graphical performance you’ll get out of a NVIDIA GeForce or AMD Radeon. Fortunately, the fact that \all cards use standardized core GPUs from one of two manufacturers means that you can more or less know exactly what you’re going to get from a model name. A NVIDIA GeForce RTX will outperform a NVIDIA GeForce GTX. All GPUs have their clock speeds listed, and there’s an almost entirely direct correlation between clock speed and frame rate for each video resolution.
One of the two main variances between graphics cards is the option for overclocking. Overclocking allows the manufacturer to actually squeeze better performance out of a dedicated card, and the results can be easily quantified in MHz in the same way you’d clock the standard clock speed. The best graphics card is the one that can safely promise an overclock rating higher than all of its competitors, and a great card like the high-level NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti represents the pinnacle. It’s a distinction that can be readily measured via clock speed.
But ultimately, overclocking isn’t going to give you that much of a performance boost. Even a supercharged NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 or Radeon RX 2080 Ti will likely just provide you with an extra couple dozen MHz of performance. That may not be noticeable for a lot of games, but it can definitely constitute a jump in frame rate performance. Just keep in mind that overclocking speeds will only be modest.
So what’s the advantage of having variable clock speeds? The ability to avoid overtaxing your system. Just as big a contributor to that is the quality of the cooling systems themselves. Manufacturers make use of a variety of different components to keep their AMD and NVIDIA GeForce GPUs from overheating. The most common inclusion here is fans, but many manufacturers include heat sinks and other factors to keeping overheating at a minimum.
The description of GPUs will often be so overwhelming with technical jargon that it’s hard to compare them, so it’s best to look to reviewers rather than manufacturers here. GPUs are best calculated in very controlled circumstances with very specific specs. Many sites offer you the means to evaluate the cooling system in terms of pure statistical temperature numbers.
Ray Tracing and A.I.
The latest name in GPU technology is ray tracing and artificial intelligence, but you’ll need a powerful chip like the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 or RTX 2080 Ti if you want to make the most of it. It’s a common inclusion in RTX chips, but AMD doesn’t offer the option at all, and these features really start to become apparent in GeForce RTX 2070 models.
But it’s really hard to predict how important ray tracing and A.I. will be in the next generation. It’s really hard to predict. Ray tracing is a new process of rendering that allows for more sophisticated and realistic lighting and rain effects. Artificial intelligence can similarly be used to make asset generation more spontaneous and detailed.
But how much upcoming developers will be using this tech has yet to be seen. We suggest that you look for the best graphics performance and don’t worry too much about these special features. By the time these technologies become prevalent, you’ll probably need an upgrade to get the best graphics performance anyway.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best AMD GPU for Gaming?
The AMD Radeon Vega 56 and the AMD Radeon Vega 64 represent the best graphics cards that AMD produces. The best graphics cards AMD produces are pretty equivalent to the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070. These are the best AMD graphics cards if you’re looking to play games at a 1440p resolution.
Is the GeForce GTX 1080 Good for Gaming?
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 is a great mid-level processor. While the GeForce GTX can’t keep up with the GeForce RTX, the GTX 1080 is a capable choice for playing games at 1080p Full HD with quick and peppy frame rates.
Is the NVIDIA GeForce MX250 Good for Gaming?
The GeForce MX250 didn’t earn a place on our list, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place for users. If you’re looking for a portable gaming rig and don’t have much to spend, it’s a great alternative for more casual gamers.
Tracking down the right GPU for your computer can be a difficult process, but our guide can help you understand the difference between AMD and NVIDIA and the difference between an RTX and a GTX. And if yo need more help building your first gaming PC, check out our guides to the best CPUs for gaming and the best power sources.