Are you a PC gamer? Then as you probably already know, the graphics card rules the roost.
Yes, your monitor and even your mouse matter. But nothing has more impact on what settings you can play your games at than your graphics card. Problem is, at any moment there are scores of cards to choose from and they typically all claim to have pixel-pushing perfection, even when that’s drastically untrue.
The simple solution is to go for the best of the best, the cream of the crop. In other words, the most expensive. For those of us whose money in fact does not grow on trees, this means shooting for the best bang-for-buck deal on a set budget. Keep in mind that you’ll need to choose the rest of your parts wisely once you’ve found your perfect match GPU.
If you have a super-high resolution monitor, for instance, you’re going to need a high-end graphics card to make the most of it. But, equally, there’s little point unloading on the finest GPU money can buy if it’s being bottlenecked by an old CPU or feeding a feeble screen.
With all that in mind, here’s our guide to the fastest,best value graphics hardware money can buy.
1. EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition
Stream Processors: 2,560 | Core Clock: 1,607MHz | Memory: 8GB GDDR5X | Memory Clock: 7,010MHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin | Length: 266.7mm | Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
Great all around performance
Makes 4K gaming viable
Great all around performance
Makes 4K gaming viable
If you want proper entry into 4K gaming, the Titan X no longer reigns supreme. With the launch of Nvidia’s Pascal architecture, you can get the performance of two 980Tis for a fraction of what you’d spend on an EVGA Titan X SuperClock. Of course, no graphics card is perfect. This GTX 1080 falls prey to an early adoption tax in what Nvidia calls the “Founders Edition” model, based on the reference set by the company and manufactured by EVGA. Though you may want to wait for the inevitable launch of more affordable, more powerful GTX 1080 GPUs from third parties, the GTX 1080 is undoubtedly the best in its class right now – as if it’s even a contest.
2. Zotac GeForce GTX 980Ti AMP Extreme Edition
Nearly 1080 power without the 1080 cost
Stream Processors: 2816 | Core Clock: 1253MHz | Memory: 6GB | Memory Clock: 7220MHz | Power Connectors: 2 x 8-pin | Length: 267mm | Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
Nearly equal to GTX 1080
Even closer to GTX 1080 with OC
Nearly costs as much as GTX 1080
Only worth it for high-res gaming
Though it can’t match the GTX 1080 in terms of video memory (6GB versus 8GB GDDR5X), the GTX 980Ti offers a higher clock speed. And, with the right amount of overclocking, it can even beat that card. Cards with the “AMP” moniker usually mean business, and this card lives up to its name. It’ll let you game in resolutions up to 4K, even if can’t reach that glorious 60 fps standard at that pixel count. The 980Ti AMP Extreme Edition may be better value than the GTX 1080 Founders Edition, but it’s far from cheap, costing around the same as a budget (or entry level, mid-range) gaming PC.
3. Gigabyte Radeon R9 Fury X
Uses an all-in-one liquid cooling system and new High-Bandwidth Memory
Stream Processors: 4096 | Core Clock: 1050MHz | Memory: 4GB | Memory Clock: 1000MHz | Power Connectors: 2 x 8-pin | Length: 195mm | Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI
High bandwidth memory
Over 4,000 stream processors
Only 4GB of HBM, struggles at 4K
Water-reservoir takes up space
The first AMD entry in our list features an all-in-one liquid cooling system that’s similar to ones that keep computer processors cool. It means you’ll need a spare fan mount inside the case to fit it, but the advantage of having one is quieter operation and lower temperatures than what you’d get without such a setup.
The R9 Fury X is AMD’s answer to the Nvidia GeForce 980 Ti, and although it isn’t quite on par in terms of performance, its 4096 stream processors, 256 texture units and a massive 4068-bit memory bus helps it shift more pixels than ever before. Oh, and the card also saw AMD make the leap from GDDR5 to faster HBM memory, although there’s only 4GB of it. That means the R9 Fury X can struggle if you’re playing particularly demanding titles in 4K.
4. Sapphire Radeon R9 Nano
Tiny graphics card packs a big punch
Stream Processors: 4096 | Core Clock: 1000MHz | Memory: 4GB | Memory Clock: 1000MHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 8-pin | Length: 152mm | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 2 x DVI
Low power consumption
Small size doesn’t make it cheaper
Not quite as powerful as the Fury X
Building a small PC no longer means passing on power thanks to new graphics cards like the Sapphire Radeon R9 Nano. AMD’s dinky video card is short enough to squeeze into the smallest of PC cases without sacrificing the raw grunt that you get from high-end cards. Highly efficient for a Fiji GPU, it has the same 4GB of 4096-bit HBM memory found in the Fury X, with an identical number of texture units and ROPs. The clock speed is 5% lower, but on the plus side you won’t need as huge power supply to go with it due to the power envelope dropping to just 175W.
Read the full review: Sapphire Radeon R9 Nano
5. Palit GeForce GTX 980 Super JetStream
A potential bargain, despite only 4GB of memory
Stream Processors: 2048 | Core Clock: 1203MHz | Memory: 4GB | Memory Clock: 7200MHz | Power Connectors: 2 x 6-pin | Length: 269mm | Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 2 x DVI
Can be found at decent prices
Plenty of gaming performance
Only 4GB of memory is a bit mean
Heavily OC’d models are pricey
If you’re looking for a card that will handle 4K games on Medium quality settings, look no further than the Palit GeForce GTX 980 Super JetStream. This card used to be Nvidia’s fastest non-Titan offering before the 980Ti came along, so it’s no slouch. Featuring 2,048 stream processors, a 1,203MHz core clock speed and 4GB of memory, it offers a decent blend of clout and value.
6. Sapphire Radeon R9 Tri-X 390X
AMD’s card has the GTX 980 in its sights
Stream Processors: 2816 | Core Clock: 1055MHz | Memory: 8GB | Memory Clock: 6000MHz | Power Connectors: 2 x 8-pin | Length: 308mm | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 2 x DVI
Lower price than GTX 980
Triple-fan cooler from Sapphire
GDDR5 memory rather than HBM
375W power consumption
When it comes to cost, the Radeon R9 Tri-X 390X sits somewhere between Nvidia’s GTX 970 and 980 cards. It often gets the better of the former card, though the 970 performs better in some games. The Tri-X 390X produces blistering frame rates at resolutions up to 2,560 x 1,440 with all graphic details dialled up to 10. Featuring 2,816 stream processors and a core clock speed of 1,055MHz, it doesn’t quite pack the muscle required for 4K gaming unless you’re playing lesser demanding titles.
7. MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming Edition
Value meets performance in Nvidia’s capable card
Stream Processors: 1664 | Core Clock: 1140MHz | Memory: 4GB | Memory Clock: 7010MHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin | Length: 269mm | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 2 x DVI
Best performance for under £300
Still equipped to handle 1440p
Struggles with high detail at 4K
Still a whole lot of cash
A variant of one of the most popular graphics cards around, the GTX 970 Gaming edition is a 1080p monster. You could even get away with gaming at 2,560 x 1,440, though you’ll have to temper expectations when it comes to 4K. Featuring 1,664 stream processors, a core clock of 1,140MHz and 4GB of memory, the GTX 970 offers the mainstream performance you may be looking for without breaking the bank.
8. Asus Radeon R9 380X OC STRIX
Consoles beware, the OC STRIX delivers stunning 1080p performance
Stream processors: 2,048 | Core Clock: 1,030MHz | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 1,425MHz | Power connections: 2x 6-pin | Length: 271mm | Outputs: 2x DVI, 1x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI 1.4
Great 1080p performance
Excellent Asus cooling
Middling 1440p prowess
Quicker GPUs aren’t much pricier
In a similar vein to the MSI GTX 970 card above, the Asus Radeon R9 380X OC Strix handles 1080p gaming with ease, and can deliver impressive frame rates at QHD too. AMD’s mid-range card is closer positioned to the GTX 960 in terms of raw performance, which is impressive considering the cost. And because it uses Asus’ STRIX cooling design, the card stays relatively quiet when being put through its paces, with the fans only kicking in when it tops 60 degrees C.
Read the full review: Asus STRIX R9 380X OC review
9. Asus GeForce GTX 960 DirectCU2 OC Strix
On a budget? The affordable GTX 960 still delivers the goods
Stream Processors: 1024 | Core Clock: 1253MHz | Memory: 2GB | Memory Clock: 7200MHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin | Length: 215mm | Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
Absolutely fine for gaming at 1080p
Short and easy to fit into most cases
Lags behind AMD’s R9 380X
Only 2GB video memory
The GeForce GTX 960 is an affordable card and a great option if you’re looking to game on a budget. With a short design that makes it easy to slip into PC cases, the card delivers great gaming performance at 1080p thanks to its 1,024 stream processors, core clock speed of 1,253MHz and 2GB of video memory. Performance-wise, Nvidia’s card lags behind ones in the price bracket above, so things start to get choppy when you begin to raise the resolution. Still, you can’t go wrong if you’re looking to game at what is still the most popular resolution today.
Read the full review: Asus GeForce GTX 960 DirectCU2 OC Strix
10. EVGA GeForce GTX 750Ti SC
A graphics chip that’s super (and super cheap)
Stream Processors: 640 | Core Clock: 1176MHz | Memory: 2GB | Memory Clock: 5400MHz | Power Connectors: None | Length: 170mm | Outputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI, 1 x VGA
Great value at under £100
Fine to at run 1080p games
More cash spent = more performance
Can’t handle the latest games
Based on Nvidia’s Maxwell architecture, the GTX 750Ti SC is an affordable card that still packs the latest technology. This entry-level offering is still up to the task of playing the latest games if you’re happy with playing on Low or Medium quality settings at 1080p resolution, and because it’s small it’s easy to drop into a basic PC to give it some extra graphical grunt. Just don’t expect it to work miracles.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
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