As you're well aware, when it comes to GPUs we go fully in-depth. We test dozens of graphics cards year in and year out, and we keep evaluating them months after release as new games and drivers come about.
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 feature 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, a little background information you should know. These days, buying a graphics card is a bit messy and tricky. GPU pricing is all over the place, especially for AMD GPUs, because of cryptocurrency mining, which has inflated demand for many card models. Nvidia graphics cards are not as heavily impacted, so they may be more affordable, but we didn’t want to just recommend Nvidia because of that. In addition to mining, a global memory shortage is causing an uptick in graphics card pricing. Considering that between now and year's end things could change, and could be back to normal (or get worse), by giving you the tools to decide we'll be doing our best possible job.
Our picks will be based on current retail pricing, but we’ll also be discussing choices assuming they 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 for five different price ranges, starting at $100 or less right up to $500+.
- 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)
GeForce GT 1030 vs. Radeon RX 550
The best entry-level GPU was a pretty easy draw since we compared the GeForce GT 1030 and Radeon RX 550 in a range of games less than a month ago. For the most part the GT 1030 is the faster of the two, consumes slightly less power, overclocks better and is more affordable.
So, a slam dunk for Nvidia in this price range.
The only hiccup is adaptive sync technology. If you have a Freesync monitor or plan on getting one, the Radeon RX 550 is probably going to be the better buy, so keep that in mind. Short of that though, the GT 1030 is a no brainer.
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 quite a few 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 very similar in terms of performance. Right now they are both overpriced by $20 to $30, which is interesting as the GTX 1050 Ti is a mere $10 over the MSRP and at $150 is actually a better value option.
Under normal circumstances, instead of the GTX 1050 Ti, we'd opt for the Radeon RX 570 for $170, though sadly due to poor availability that same card is currently selling for an insane $260. Making the GTX 1050 Ti the obvious choice without hesitation.
Best Mid-Range GPU ($300 or less)
GeForce GTX 1060 vs. Radeon RX 580
Gamers looking to spend between $200 and $300 also have a few options, though only three GPU choices. You can get the GeForce GTX 1060 with either 3GB or 6GB of memory and technically we do have two different GPUs here as the 3GB version is slightly cut down. Then we have the RX 580 which can be configured with 4GB or 8GB of memory.
The GTX 1060 3GB is a good value option for those gaming at 1080p and right now at $210 it’s also very affordable. Meanwhile the 6GB model is currently retailing for $280 and it's only marginally faster. The reason for this is that the 3GB model is only $10 above MSRP, while the 6GB version is $30 above because it’s a more desirable card for miners and because of the increased memory pricing.
Then we have the 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 $310, 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 (~$400)
GeForce GTX 1070 vs. Radeon RX Vega 56
If you have around $400 to spend your choices are very limited, though they are a little less limited than they were a few months ago, or at least they should be. Along with the GeForce GTX 1070 there is now a second GPU on offer on this price segment and that’s AMD Radeon RX Vega 56.
In some other regions the price gap is much smaller, but still paying more for Vega 56 right now isn’t ideal for a few reasons. First, only reference cards are available and AMD’s stock cooler is pretty rubbish to be honest. Second, Vega isn’t very efficient, not scoring favorably compared to what the GTX 1070 produces in terms of performance per watt.
For the most part Vega 56 is faster 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 the ~$400 MSRP, we’d get the Radeon. However at the current prices the GTX 1070 is the smarter choice.
Best High-End GPU (Over $500)
GeForce GTX 1080 vs. Radeon RX Vega 64
The last battle takes place at the $500+ mark. Looking at the MSRPs we have the GTX 1080 and RX Vega 64 GPUs. At that price picking between the two would be tough and I think once we get custom Vega 64 cards that might be the way to go.
However right now we only have shoddy reference cards -- to be clear the PCB design and components are fine, it’s the blower style air-cooler that’s utter trash. Unless you have a 20 meter display cable and house your PC in a separate room, then the reference cooler isn’t too bad. Short of that though, you're going to need some impressive ear plugs to help you avoid throttling issues.
For now the GeForce GTX 1080 is the best option here, and there’re some decent options at $530 to $560. I don’t recommend spending more than $600 on a premium GTX 1080 model, though the 1080 Ti does offer considerably more performance and base models start at about $750.
There's no way around it. Those unfortunate enough to be purchasing a new graphics card in the current climate will have to pay a premium. AMD and Nvidia are very competitive on MSRP pricing and have matched competing GPUs in terms of performance.
Also we didn’t cover the extreme GPUs but if you're a gamer spending more than $500 the only worthwhile option right now is the GTX 1080 Ti. The Radeon Vega 64 Liquid Cooled 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.
Those wanting to do further research check out some of the links below for all the GPU comparisons we’ve put together this year:
- The Best $100 Entry-Level GPU: Radeon RX 560 vs. GeForce GTX 1050
- The Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid, Vega 64 & Vega 56 Test: 32 Games Benchmarked
- FreeSync vs. G-Sync
- Radeon RX 570 vs. GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
- eSports Benchmark: GeForce GT 1030 vs. Radeon RX 550
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Review
- Radeon RX 580 vs. GeForce GTX 1060: 27 Game Battle
- Then and Now: 6 Generations of GeForce Graphics Compared
- Similar GPU, Half the RAM: MSI GeForce GTX 1060 3GB Review