If you're looking to upgrade or buy a new graphics card today, don't mind all the testing, marginal fps gains, power consumption figures, or overclocking potential. TechSpot's Best Graphics Cards is written to get a simple question answered: Given a certain budget, which is the graphics card you should buy? Fret no more.
With that said, for the past year or so buying a graphics card has been messy, tricky, and for the most part expensive. GPU pricing has been all over the place for reasons we've explained, inflating demand and making it less appealing to buy new or upgrade. But of course, things can always change and they've done so recently for the better.
Our picks are based on current retail pricing, but we’ll also be discussing choices assuming GPUs were selling at the MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) and that’s the price consumers can expect to find under normal conditions. We’ll be giving you our top choices (highlighted in orange) for five different price ranges, starting at $100 or less right up to $700+.
- Entry-Level GPU ($100)
- Mainstream GPU ($200)
- Mid-Range GPU ($300)
- High-End GPU ($400)
- High-End GPU ($500+)
Best Entry-Level GPU ($100 or less)
Radeon RX 550 vs. GeForce GT 1030
When we directly compared the GeForce GT 1030 and Radeon RX 550 last year in what we called an eSports shootout, the GT 1030 was the faster of the two for the most part. It also consumed slightly less power and overclocked better. However since then AMD finally sorted the drivers, and now the RX 550 is considerably faster than the GT 1030 in most games.
The RX 550 is also adaptive sync technology ready. If you have a Freesync monitor or plan on getting one, the Radeon RX 550 is going to be the better buy.
Now pricing is where it gets tricky. The GT 1030 is selling $20-30 above its $70 MSRP, so you're going to pay at least $90 for it. While the RX 550 is going for $115 and above, making both cards roughly the same value and not entirely appealing when in theory they should be sub-$100 offerings.
Best Mainstream GPU ($200 or less)
GeForce GTX 1050 vs. Radeon RX 560
GeForce GTX 1050 Ti vs. Radeon RX 570
For those with more than $100 to spend but aren’t comfortable going over $200, there are esentially four options with the GeForce GTX 1050, 1050 Ti and Radeon RX 560 and RX 570.
The RX 560 and GTX 1050 are meant to cost $100 and at that price you could go either way. They are similar in terms of performance with a slight edge for the GeForce. Right now they are both overpriced by about $50-60 which happens to be the slot where the GTX 1050 Ti should normally be. If this is all you can spend, I'd opt for the cheapest possible card you can find from either camp.
The slightly faster GTX 1050 Ti is selling for a hefty $200-230. Under normal circumstances, we'd opt for the Radeon RX 570 on top of the GeForce for $170 (MSRP), though sadly due to poor availability the Radeon is currently selling for an insane $300+.
At today's prices, we'd either stop at $160 for the less expensive options on this bracket or jump all the way to the GeForce GTX 1060 3GB (see below), which offers a big jump in performance over the GTX 1050 Ti for just a little more money.
Best Mid-Range GPU ($350 or less)
GeForce GTX 1060 3GB / 6GB vs. Radeon RX 580
Gamers looking to spend between $200 and $350 also have a few options, though only three GPU choices. You can get the GeForce GTX 1060 with either 3GB or 6GB of memory -- technically we do have two different GPUs here as the 3GB version is slightly cut down -- and AMD's RX 580 which can be configured with 4GB or 8GB of memory.
The GTX 1060 3GB is a great value option for those gaming at 1080p and right now at ~$240 it’s fairly good considering the scenarios we're seeing elsewhere. The 6GB model is marginally faster and is selling for $330. At MSRP the distance between the two cards should be around $50, while on current market conditions that gap gets as big as $70 which we would prefer not to pay.
Then we have the Radeon RX 580 which should cost $200 for the 4GB version or $230 for the 8GB model. At those prices, we'd pick the RX 580 8GB every day of the week, but sadly right now the asking price for that card is an eye watering $350, writing it off completely. This might be shocking to some but given the pricing (we hate to overpay) and performance margins, we're going with the GTX 1060 3GB right now.
Best High-End GPU - Under $600
GeForce GTX 1070 Ti / GTX 1070 vs. Radeon RX Vega 56
If you have around $400 to spend your choices are limited, or should we say non-existent.
The GeForce GTX 1070 is a beastly card and one of the best values you'll find on the high-performance GPU segment, however instead of the suggested $400 list price, the most affordable offerings with that GPU are coming in at around $480.
Honestly if you can afford it, you'll find the GTX 1070 to be inmensely rewarding. Going through different retailers and brands, most cards based on the 1070 are going for $520, while the GTX 1070 Ti which is a souped up version of the same GPU is going for just $10 more, making it the obvious choice.
There is a third GPU on offer on this price segment and that’s the AMD Radeon RX Vega 56. Vega isn’t very efficient, not scoring favorably compared to what the GTX 1070 produces in terms of performance per watt.
However Vega 56 is faster for the most part and under certain conditions a lot faster than the GTX 1070. The low-level API performance in modern titles is particularly encouraging. So if you don't mind power consumption and if both the GTX 1070 and Vega 56 were selling at their ~$400 MSRP, we’d get the Radeon.
Out of the box, the 1070 Ti sits between factory overclocked 1070 and 1080 graphics cards. If you're feeling adventurous, the 1070 Ti can be overclocked which enables GTX 1080-like performance for less money.
Best High-End GPU - Over $600
GeForce GTX 1080 vs. GTX 1080 Ti vs. Radeon RX Vega 64
The GTX 1080 and RX Vega 64 should be evenly matched at $500 but by now you should have realized that's not going to happen, so the last battle takes place at the $600+ mark. At MSRP picking between the two would be tough and we might buy a custom Vega 64 card over the GTX 1080. The AMD reference card is not that good with its blower style air-cooler.
But of course, with the GeForce GTX 1080 selling in the $600 range while the Vega 64 is reaching about $750, it's a no-go for the Radeon. Then again, the GTX 1070 Ti gets you close enough to this mark already, so if budget is less of a concern and want the best possible performance at 4K, the best option right now is the GTX 1080 Ti.
The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti offers considerably more performance than the non-Ti version of the GPU, with base models starting at about $950 (MSRP is $700), though the premium right now is a hefty one. There's also the Vega 64 Liquid Cooled which is nice, but in terms of price vs. performance it just can’t compete with the 1080 Ti in the vast majority of games out there, not to mention it's very hard to obtain.
There's no way around it, for the past year if you've had to purchase a new graphics card, it's been at a premium. AMD and Nvidia are very competitive on MSRP pricing and have matched competing GPUs in terms of performance. For further research and head to head GPU comparisons check out some of our coverage:
- Radeon RX 570 vs. GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
- Best $100 GPU: Radeon RX 560 vs. GeForce GTX 1050
- FreeSync vs. G-Sync
- The Ultimate 44 Used Graphics Card Pricing & Benchmark Guide
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Review
- eSports Benchmark: GeForce GT 1030 vs. Radeon RX 550
- The Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid, Vega 64 & Vega 56 Test: 32 Games Benchmarked
- Radeon RX 580 vs. GeForce GTX 1060: 27 Game Battle
- Then and Now: 6 Generations of GeForce Graphics Compared