Update: Despite being a slight upgrade over last year’s RX 480, the AMD Radeon RX 580 is here, and it reclaims the value crown back from Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060. As such, we’ve added the AMD Radeon RX 580 to our list as the now best mid-range graphics card of 2017. Read on to find out more!
There’s no doubt about it – PC gaming is in its prime. Though Project Scorpio could soon rival the native 4K capabilities of a high-end rig, PCs bolster an open infrastructure that allows for endless hardware improvements to be made over time at your own discretion.
When it comes to pushing the limits of how a game can look and feel, computers are the ultimate. While console makers have mastered the art of uniform cooling solutions and thrifty optimization techniques, you can build a PC that outdoes anything Sony and Microsoft could possibly cook up in their labs – and PCs do more than just gaming.
An integral part of a gaming PC is the GPU, or graphics card. Without a discrete graphics card on board, you’ll become reliant on integrated CPU graphics, which often stumble in comparison to what’s offered by the likes of Nvidia and AMD. With the help of the newly added RX 580, for example, you’ll get 1080p and 1440p gaming that puts built-in graphics solutions to shame.
That being the case, there’s no point in anteing up for an excessively mighty graphics card if it’s being bottlenecked by a stingy processor or held back by a low-resolution display. Conversely, you don’t want to be stifled by, say, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti if you’re rocking one of the very best monitors cranked all the way up to the idealized 4K gold standard.
Prefacing out of the way, here are our picks for the best graphics card makes for high-end, mid-range or low-end budgets. 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 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
The GTX 1080 Ti is, if we’re being honest, exactly what the Titan X Pascal should have been. It’s lavish, but not egregiously priced, and it’s powerful enough to move mountains, even at Ultra HD resolutions. Don’t expect 4K 60 fps in every game that releases at the highest settings, but at this price point, nothing else compares. Compared to any of the other Pascal-series graphics cards, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is hardly distinguishable looks-wise, aside from the mysterious absence of a DVI port. Take a gander inside, however, and you’ll notice a sophisticated cooling system needed to keep that 11GB of VRAM from catching fire.
Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
Best mid-range GPU: AMD Radeon RX 580
Polaris at its finest, even if it's just a tweaked RX 480
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. Sporting the same modest price tag of the RX 480, the AMD Radeon RX 580 offers a 1,441MHz boost clock (compared to the 1,266MHz boost clock of the 480). It still hangs on to the same 8GB of DDR5 memory, but overall it delivers better 1080p and 1440p gaming performance for the same reasonable price, even if you can (without guaranteed success) flash your BIOS and get the same performance from an RX 480.
Read the full review: AMD Radeon RX 580
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
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.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article