There’s no denying that PC gaming is in its prime right now. Console makers are trying to copy it by making their own mid-generational iterations to keep up with the 4K standards set by PC, and meanwhile, graphics cards are getting more powerful for the price than ever.
At the same time, computers have managed to take a page from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo’s book by going to desperate measures to avoid overheating. New graphics card designs, such as those from EVGA, ensure that that your PC’s components are compressed terms of size but pack a punch in performance and cooling.
That said, if portability is less of a concern, you might be tempted to go after the most lavish GPU on the market. If that’s the case then prepare your wallet for the end of the month where not only AMD is expected to show off its latest Vega cards, but Nvidia may even reveal the GTX 1080 Ti at long last.
Nevertheless, there’s no point in anteing up for a graphics card with Xtreme Edition, ‘90s spunk if it’s being bottlenecked by a weak processor or held back by a cheap display. Conversely, you don’t want to be stifled by AMD’s budget-friendly yet timid Radeon RX 460 if you’re rocking one of the very best monitors at 4K resolution.
Prefacing out of the way, here are our picks for the best graphics cards around. Whether your budget allows for high-end, mid-range or low-end pricing, you’ll find an up-to-date list of recommendations as well as the latest review from one of our test benches.
Best high-end GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Major-league Pascal performance in a single card
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 | Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
Great all around performance
Makes 4K gaming viable
Expensive launch price
Aftermarkets will do more for less
If you want a proper foray into 4K gaming, you’re looking at it. With the launch of Nvidia’s Pascal architecture, you can get the performance of two 980 Ti’s for a fraction of what you’d spend on a Titan X. You might have to turn down the graphics settings in certain games to keep a steady frame rate, but overall, the GTX 1080 finally makes the legendary, native resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels an affordable reality. No longer do you need to strap two cards together in an SLI configuration to experience the latest PC games the way they were meant to be played; the GTX 1080 does 4K with just one.
Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Best mid-range GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
One of Nvidia’s best price-to-performance cards ever
Stream Processors: 1,152; 1,280 | Core Clock: 1,506MHz; 1,594 | Memory: 3GB; 6GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8,008MHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 6-pin | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x Dual Link-DVI
Brilliant 1080p performance
No SLI compatibility
Founder’s Edition Price
Though it bears resemblance to the GTX 1070 and 1080, the GTX 1060 draws more parallels to Nvidia’s last-gen GeForce 980. In an attempt to compete with the affordable RX 480, which promises 1080p, VR gaming at an aggressive price point, Nvidia was under pressure to come out with something in the same class. The GTX 1060, a mid-range graphics card with a firm grip on 1080p, or even 1440p graphics to a degree, is just that. Given the ubiquity of full HD displays, the GTX 1060 is an inexpensive middle-ground solution for those in need of an energy-efficient GPU that demolishes in terms of performance.
Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
Best entry-level GPU: AMD Radeon RX 460
Proof that Polaris pushes the envelope for budget GPUs
Stream Processors: 896 | Core Clock: 1,210; 1,250MHz | Memory: 2GB; 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7,000MHz | Power Connectors: None | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
Beats integrated graphics at light 1080p gaming
4GB version less affordable
Like the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti from Nvidia, the latest in AMD’s Polaris catalog runs cheap, thanks to various takes on the Radeon RX 460 by XFX, Powercolor and others. The RX 460 proper is quite possibly the most affordable means of 1080p gaming outside of integrated CPU graphics. So long as you’re not looking to run The Witcher 3 at 60 fps on Ultra settings, the Radeon RX 460 is a capable, energy efficient piece of kit. Plus, by compromising on memory, it’s able to draw all its power straight from the motherboard, negating the need for any 6- or 8-pin connectors.
Our latest review: Asus ROG Strix GTX 1050 Ti
Iterative at best, this isn’t the budget card we hoped for
Stream Processors: 768 | Core Clock: 1,290MHz | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7,008MHz | Power Connectors: None | Length: 241mm | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
Solid 1080p performer
Good overclocking potential
Poor upgrade from last-gen
Greater than 75W TPD
With so many lucrative successes this generation, we were admittedly disappointed to see the latest addition to the Pascal family almost completely miss the mark. As indicated in our review benchmarks, the Asus ROG Strix GTX 1050 Ti in particular is an overclocker with the 1080p gaming capabilities you might be in dire need of if you haven’t upgraded your graphics card in a few years. Otherwise, you’re better off saving for a 3GB GTX 1060 instead.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article