Best graphics cards 2018: every major Nvidia and AMD GPU tested


After months of inflated prices due to the cryptocurrency mining craze, the best graphics cards on the market are finally returning to more sensible cost levels. Even though new Nvidia technology is in the works at the higher-end, the more reasonable prices still make it a good time to get a new GPU, whether you’re looking to get the fastest card on the market, a budget option or something in the middle.

If you just want the straight recommendations, this is our current top pick for the best graphics card, and if you’re looking for the best price vs performance offering, this is our current best value graphics card. In terms of our pick for the best value offering, we’ve targeted a degree of longevity and better-than-console throughout for our best budget graphics card.

Getting the right graphics card is critical because it does most of the heavy lifting that brings your games to life, influencing performance more than any other component in your system. Graphics hardware capable of easily running triple-A titles starts at around the 120/$120 mark, with Nvidia’s GTX 1050 and AMD’s RX 560 offering (on paper at least) significantly more graphics processing power than PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, meaning that every major multi-platform title should run at least with ballpark equivalent performance. From there, it’s all about paying more and scaling up, with GTX 1060 our choice as the best 1080p GPU and the GTX 1080 Ti standing tall as the best of the best – and the most viable video card for 4K gaming at 60 frames per second.

But it’s important to ensure that your graphics card is matched with surrounding hardware that’ll ensure that it isn’t bottlenecked. Our recommendation would be to ensure that your system has at least 8GB of system RAM (16GB is preferable). If you’re using an AMD Ryzen or mainstream Intel CPU, ensure you use two modules for dual-channel bandwidth. Choice of CPU is crucial in a balanced system. AMD’s Ryzen 5 and Intel’s Core i5 are the price/performance champions for 60fps gaming and if you’re looking to run the latest games at the highest possible frame-rates on a high frequency display, our recommendation would be the Intel Core i7 8700K.

But we’ve reached the point where even the budget end of the discrete GPU market offers some good results. Beyond that, there’s seemingly a GPU for every kind of use-case, and that’s where this guide comes in – every card worth considering is summed up here, and if you’re looking for detailed performance breakdowns, we can link you through to the more detailed and intensive benchmarks around.

Best graphics card

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti: 4K gaming at 60 frames per second? Yes, please.

1080_ti2
GPU Cores: 3584 | Base Clock: 1480MHz | Boost Clock: 1582MHz | TFLOPS: 11.3 | Memory: 11GB GDDR5X | Memory Clock: 11Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 484GB/s

The top dog, the numero uno, the best choice for PC gaming: it’s the GTX 1080 Ti. This powerful card stands head and shoulders above other cards in the consumer market, and only lags behind Nvidia’s incredibly expensive Titan V workstation card when it comes to raw performance.

This powerful card will work well for resolutions up to 4K, and performs well at high refresh rates too (remember that high refresh rates also demand a powerful processor, so don’t spend all of your cash on a GTX 1080 Ti without at least a Core i7 7700K in your build.) The GTX 1080 Ti is also the standout choice for VR gaming, especially for newer high resolution VR headsets such as the HTC Vive Pro.

Expect to see around 120 frames per second at 1080p, 90 frames per second at 1440p and 60 frames per second at 4K, assuming the rest of your build is up to snuff. Obviously, more recent and intensive titles may show poorer performance, while older esports-focused games are likely to perform better.

Until Nvidia announces a successor or AMD offers up a real rival, the GTX 1080 Ti is the best graphics card for gaming, bar none.

Pros:

  • Fastest consumer graphics card available
  • Excellent 1440p and good 4K performance
  • Relatively cool and power efficient

Cons:

  • Most expensive consumer graphics card available
  • The most demanding games still struggle at 4K
  • A more powerful replacement isn’t that far away from release

Best value graphics card

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB: A good balance of price, performance and memory for 1080p gaming.

gtx_1060
GPU Cores:1280 |Base Clock:1506MHz |Boost Clock:1708MHz | TFLOPS:4.4 |Memory:6GB GDDR5 |Memory Clock:8Gbps |Memory Bandwidth:192GB/s

Nvidia’s GTX 1060 is our pick as the best value video card, principally because it offers superb 1080p gaming performance – and full HD resolution remains the most popular display type in the market. Typically, GTX 1060 can run PS4 quality visuals – or better – in multiplatform games at around twice the frame-rate, provided you pair it with a decent CPU.

In fact, the GTX 1060 offers about 60 per cent of the performance of the top-rated GTX 1080 Ti at a third of the price. That calculus makes the 1060 our best value pick, offering good results for gaming at lower resolutions. It’s worth noting that there are both 3GB and 6GB GTX 1060 cards available, with about around a five per cent performance delta between them. For better future-proofing, we recommend the 6GB option, though the three gig card can still deliver the goods if you are willing to cut down on texture quality.

AMD’s equivalent offering is the Radeon RX 580 – an exceptionally good card overall, but we’ve noted that driver optimisations for key titles can arrive later and AMD’s DirectX 11 driver requires more CPU time than Nvidia’s.

Pros:

  • Good performance for the price
  • Low temperatures and noise
  • Retains more of its performance when paired with a lower-end CPU than AMD alternatives

Cons:

  • A good 1080p card is only a mediocre one at 1440p

Best budget graphics card

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti: compact and capable for 1080p gaming

1050_Ti
GPU Cores: 768 | Base Clock: 1290MHz | Boost Clock: 1392MHz | TFLOPS: 2.1 | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 112GB/s

If you’re looking for the best budget card, we like Nvidia’s GTX 1050 Ti – at least until we’ve managed to test the upcoming GTX 1050 3GB.

This card just about outperforms last generation’s GTX 960 in terms of raw performance and also sports twice as much VRAM, with 4GB on tap. It also sips power and doesn’t take up much space, making it a good choice for pre-built systems that wouldn’t work with more powerful graphics cards.

In-game, you should expect around 30 frames per second in modern titles on ultra settings. If you’re willing to compromise and adjust key settings such as shadow quality and anti-aliasing, hitting 60 frames per second at 1080p becomes possible, depending on the game.

It’s worth keeping in mind that going for a relatively low-end card means your system will need to be upgraded sooner rather than later. However, if you’re working to a tight budget or need a card that doesn’t consume much power, the 1050 Ti is still a wise choice. Our recommendation would be to choose a GTX 1050 Ti without the PCI Express power input – it’ll integrate into more systems and it overclocks almost as well as the more expensive versions.

Pros:

  • Excellent performance for its price
  • 1080p and 60 frames per second is within reach
  • Consumes little power, available in small form factors and most models don’t require PCI Express power input

Cons:

  • Won’t hit 1080p and 60 frames per second on highest settings
  • Higher-end versions with PCI Express power inputs don’t offer any performance boost you’ll notice

Best value AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB

rx_580
GPU Cores:2304 |Base Clock:1257MHz |Boost Clock:1340MHz | TFLOPS: 6.2 |Memory:8GB GDDR5 |Memory Clock: 8Gbps |Memory Bandwidth: 256GB/s

The best value option for AMD fans is the RX 580, which boasts better performance than the GTX 1060 but at a slightly higher cost, with a higher CPU overhead in DX11 titles and not-as-robust driver performance. By and large, it’s still a great product though, and you can expect to game at 1080p and 60 frames per second comfortably, rivalling the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in terms of graphical fidelity at double the frame-rate. The card can even stretch to 1440p gaming, usually hitting at least 40 frames per second in modern games at high or very high settings.

There are two variants available for the 580: a full-fat 8GB card and a cheaper 4GB option; we recommend the better-performing 8GB model. If you’re considering a 4GB model, you should also consider a good quality RX 570 – this card overclocks to near 580 performance and usually saves you a decent amount of money.

Pros:

  • Slightly better performance than GTX 1060
  • Good option for 1080p; can sometimes stretch to 1440p

Cons:

  • Usually more expensive than the GTX 1060
  • Just a faster version of the RX 480, no Vega tech

Best AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX Vega 56

vega_56
GPU cores:3584 |Base Clock:1156MHz |Boost Clock:1471MHz |TFLOPS:10.5 |Memory:8GB HBM2 |Memory Clock:1.6Gbps |Memory Bandwidth:410GB/s

The Vega 56 is a slightly cut-down version of AMD’s flagship Vega 64 GPU, losing eight compute units and some memory bandwidth. The good news is that the HBM2 memory can be overclocked to match Vega 64, helping to close the performance gap, while under-volting can cool the card considerably and open up more overclocking headroom on the core.

The Vega 56 is capable of handling 1080p and 1440 with ease (though be prepared to hit CPU limits at full HD under DX11) and can stretch to 4K gaming as well, as long as you’re realistic with settings management. In this space, a FreeSync monitor works wonders in providing smoother performance. At launch, Vega 56’s key advantage was its performance leadership over GTX 1070. The issue now is that AMD’s card is significantly more expensive, propelling it into competition with GTX 1070 Ti, which is the faster performer overall.

Pros:

  • Excellent 1080p and 1440p performance
  • When combined with a FreeSync display, 4K gaming is possible
  • Cooler and more power-efficient than the Vega 64
  • Offers good value for money in a relatively future-proof package

Cons:

  • Can’t comfortably run 4K games without compromise
  • Power consumption remains an issue compared to Nvidia cards

Best value graphics card for 1440p: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070

gtx_1070
GPU Cores: 1920 |Base Clock:1506MHz |Boost Clock: 1683MHz |TFLOPS: 6.4 |Memory:8GB GDDR5 |Memory Clock: 8Gbps |Memory bandwidth: 192GB/s

The GTX 1070 is an excellent card at the price, straddling the high to ultra-high performance tiers in the marketplace. It offers a noticeable performance increase over the GTX 1060 for a reasonable price premium. To give you some perspective on its prowess, the 1070 marginally outperforms 2015’s Titan X Maxwell – which was once the very best of the best in terms of graphics hardware.

The performance level on tap allows the 1070 to tackle higher resolutions (1440p versus 1080p) or higher refresh rates (like 144Hz). If you’re willing to experiment with lower detail settings or you’re playing less demanding esports-focused titles like CSGO or Rocket League, your PC could easily drive a popular 1440p/144Hz monitor combo flat-out. Remember that high refresh rates and low resolutions shift more of the load to your processor, so ensure you’ve got a worthy CPU on board; we recommend a Core i7 7700K or its 8700K successor for optimal performance.

Pros:

  • Great 1080p and 1440p performance
  • Can stretch to 4K gaming, particularly with a G-Sync monitor
  • Relatively cool and efficient

Cons:

  • GTX 1070 Ti offers better performance, often at a similar price
  • Can’t deliver 4K at 60 frames per second

Fastest AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX Vega 64

vega_64
GPU Cores: 4096 |Base Clock: 1247MHz |Boost Clock:1546MHz | TFLOPS: 12.7 |Memory:8GB HBM2 |Memory Clock:1.89Gbps |Memory Bandwidth:484GB/s

The Vega 64 is the most powerful graphics card produced by Team Red, capable of matching the GTX 1080 in most games and benchmarks.

You can expect good performance from 1080p all the way up to 4K, and good support for ultrawide resolutions and VR gaming as well. However, the card still falls short of our top pick, the GTX 1080 Ti, particularly at higher resolutions and in more demanding titles. The Vega 64 also draws a lot of power and runs quite hot, so the Vega 56 remains a better option for most people.

However, if you’re outfitting the ultimate AMD rig, complete with a fast Ryzen CPU, the Vega 64 should take the place of honour in your PCI Express slot. Just make sure you’re using a third party Vega 64 card, such as the Asus Strix model – the standard cooler (pictured above) isn’t particularly impressive.

Pros:

  • Reasonable 4K performance
  • Comfortable performance at 1440p

Cons:

  • More expensive and not much more powerful than Vega 56
  • Can’t match the GTX 1080 Ti for horsepower

Best value graphics card for 4K or high refresh rates: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080

gtx_1080
GPU Cores: 2560 | Base Clock: 1607MHz | Boost Clock: 1733MHz | TFLOPS: 8.9 | Memory: 8GB GDDR5X | Memory Clock: 10Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 320GB/s

If you can’t quite stretch to GTX 1080 Ti, the second-placed 1080 is worth considering.

It won’t handle 4K anywhere near as comfortably but you can get close to 60fps with careful settings tweakery. Similarly, the high-resolution, high refresh rate combo of 1440p/144Hz monitors can also be tamed by the 1080. Finally, the 1080 also works well for new monitors capable of hitting 240Hz, although you’re not likely to see these frame-rates in the most demanding titles even at 1080p. It’s important to remember that running many games at high refresh rates but low resolutions requires a strong processor, so a seventh or eighth generation Core i7 is just as important to high performance as the choice of video card.

Pros:

  • Delivers a big chunk of GTX 1080 Ti’s 1080p frame-rates
  • Lots of breathing room at 1440p
  • Reasonable power efficiency for the performance delivered

Cons:

  • Still an expensive card, often priced higher than RRP over two years from launch
  • 4K gaming is viable on most titles, but careful settings management is required



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