Take one look at the guts of one of the best gaming PCs, and you’ll quickly discover that the graphics card – or GPU – is at the heart of it all. Usually one of the beefier components housed in your computer’s chassis (if it doesn’t rely on integrated CPU graphics), the best GPUs are powerful and discrete. They have their own set of memory (VRAM), stream processors, video ports and even their own coolers whose quality varies depending on the manufacturer.
For PC gamers and high-end video editors, the graphics card is one of the most integral pieces of kit in your system. From playing games like The Witcher 3 at top-end resolutions to rendering high quality videos of the top 10 sickest skate tricks, owning the best graphics card can assuredly come in handy. The challenge is finding a premium graphics card without an equally premium price tag. That’s where we come in with our own set of recommendations.
There are a ton of GPUs to choose from, all of which built on top of AMD and Nvidia architectures. Luckily, even with the whole market having been dominated by two companies, there are plenty of graphics cards to choose from, thanks to aftermarket cards from the likes of EVGA and Asus flooding the market as well. Though you may want to wait to see what’s in store from AMD’s Radeon RX Vega, these are the best graphics cards you can buy right now.
Best high-end GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
Titan X performance without the Titan X cost
Stream Processors: 3,584 | Core Clock: 1,480MHz | Memory: 11GB GDDR5X | Memory Clock: 11GHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 6-pin; 1 x 8-pin | Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI
If we’re being honest, the GTX 1080 Ti is exactly what the Titan X Pascal should have been. Thanks to its 11GB of GDDR5X VRAM, the 1080 Ti is wildly more capable than the GTX 1080 proper without costing an arm and a leg. Performance-wise, the GTX 1080 Ti can’t compete with dual-wielding 1080s, but it is cheaper and it does support a larger pool of games than two lesser cards with SLI. Aside from the mysterious absence of a DVI port, the GTX 1080 Ti is indistinguishable looks-wise from any of the other Pascal-series GPUs. Take a gander inside, however, and you’ll notice a sophisticated cooling system needed to keep all of your games running smoothly in resolutions up to 4K.
Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
Best mid-range GPU: AMD Radeon RX 580
AMD just overclocked your RX 480 for you
Stream Processors: 2,304 | Core Clock: 1,340MHz | Memory: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8GHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 8-pin | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DV-I
More of a souped-up version of last year’s Radeon RX 480 than a brand-new graphics card, the Radeon RX 580 takes the Polaris architecture and amps it up to new levels of performance at the same affordable price point. Although it clings to the same 8GB of GDDR5 memory as the RX 480, there are still clear cut performance upgrades in tow. The boost clock, for instance, is now up to 1,441MHz, which you can compare to the 1,266MHz boost of the 480. It still struggles to maintain a consistent 30+ frames per second (fps) running most triple-A titles in 4K, but for 1080p and 1440p gaming, the AMD Radeon RX 580 rules even harder than its predecessor.
Read the full review: AMD Radeon RX 580
Best entry-level GPU: AMD Radeon RX 460
A modest entry point for esports and the like
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
Like the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti from Nvidia, the RX 460 runs cheap. Versions of it can be had from XFX, Powercolor, Sapphire and other aftermarket card makers who have all sought out to accomplish the same task of producing a value GPU that can effortlessly run just about every game in your Steam library, so long as you don’t mind parting with the prospect of running The Witcher 3 at 60 fps on Ultra graphics settings. Capable and energy efficient, drawing all of its power straight from the motherboard without any 6- or 8-pin connectors required, the RX 460 is worth the money if you plan on spending a lot of time playing MOBA and RTS games. Otherwise, you’re better off saving for one of the other best graphics cards above.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article