The modern AAA titles are swarmed with epic landscapes, exhilarating fights, and incredible details, and you need one of the best graphics cards to completely submerge yourself in the virtual world.
For a gaming PC, the graphics card is unarguably the most important component, but unfortunately, choosing the best graphics for your needs can be a tardy and weary task.
You need to keep a few crucial factors such as your target performance, power requirements, and most importantly, budget constraints in mind while shopping for a graphics card.
We’ve prepared a thorough guide, complete with extensive testing and complete specs to help you get the best bang for your buck while shopping for a graphics card.
At the moment, the graphics industry is going through a revolution with the introduction of the Ray Tracing technology and fortunately, there are a ton of great options for everyone out there.
Both AMD and Nvidia are offering robust and capable graphics card that covers the complete budget spectrum from a $100 to $1000 and beyond.
Before we jump into the complete list of the best graphics card to buy, there are a few pointers that we’d like to go over.
These pointers will go over a number of specifications and, ultimately, simplify and aid your decision-making.
How To Choose a Graphics Card For Gaming?
1. Target Performance
The target performance should be your main concern while shopping for a graphics card dedicated to gaming.
The two main standards to measure the target performance in a gaming-oriented environment are resolution and frame rate.
Nowadays, developers are adding native 4K resolution to their games, especially AAA titles. The fast-paced competitive shooters, on the other hand, lean on more frames per second.
The maximum frames per second are limited only by your system’s graphical capabilities. Generally speaking, you should aim for a minimum resolution of 1080p and 60 frames per second.
The settings can be further tweaked according to your personal settings. The target performance is virtually limited by your monitor as well.
There is no point in rendering a game with 4K resolution at 100 FPS if your monitor is limited to 1080p with a refresh rate of 60Hz.
Thus, be sure to check your monitor’s specifications before investing in the appropriate GPU.
A game from 2015 will require less power to run at 1080p and 60 FPS while a recently released AAA title will require double or even triple that power to run at the same settings.
So, to get the best graphics card for gaming, determine which games you want to play and at what settings.
The GPU is the most power-thirsty component in a gaming PC. As a rule of thumb, the better the GPU, the more power it will require.
Although, modern graphics card manufacturers are putting in considerable efforts to power optimize their GPUs.
The two things that you need to keep in mind with regards to power are the connection pins and the actual power supply.
Most of the discrete GPUs use either a six-pin connector or an eight-pin connector. The more demanding GPUs also use a mix of the two. The second thing to note is the actual power that is consumed by your GPU.
Both of these factors are directly related to the power supply unit. You’ll need to make sure that your PSU has the appropriate connectors and sufficient output to power the GPU of your choice.
3. Memory and Memory Speed
GPUs have their own memory, just like RAM, where crucial data is stored to render and process graphics.
The amount of memory required to play a certain game is ultimately dedicated by the game developer and the optimizations.
As a rule of thumb, the more onboard memory, the better. However, the manufacturers never fit more memory than a GPU can actually use as it would simply inflate the price without providing any actual performance upgrade.
You should opt for a GPU with at least 4GB onboard memory to run the modern AAA titles at 1080p and 60 FPS.
Memory speed also affects the graphical performance. GDDR6 GPUs are almost 15% faster than GDDR5 GPUs with the same memory.
4. Interface and Size
The interface and size of the best graphics card for you are governed by your choice of motherboard and cabinet.
On the subject of Interface, all the GPUs plug into the PCIe slot on the motherboard. So make sure your motherboard has a PCIe slot.
If you’re thinking about a multi-GPU setup, then opt for a motherboard with multiple PCIe slots. Most of the gaming motherboards have two PCIe slots that can be used for multi-GPU set-up or a capture card and GPU set-up for streaming and recording.
Coming to the size of the GPU, you’re constrained by the cabinet. If you’re using an ATX tower, the choice of first time builders, you need not worry about any space constraints.
However, if you’re leaning towards a small and compact set-up, then you’ll need to measure out the space you have for the low-profile GPU (smaller GPUs).
Larger GPUs have multiple fans that help in cooling. On the other hand, smaller GPUs have just one fan, making them prone to thermal throttling under heavy pressure.
When comparing the same GPU from a different manufacturer, a higher clock speed translates into better performance.
Take the GeForce GTX 1080 for example. The base clock speed of the said card is 1,733Mhz, while the base clock speed of a GTX 1080 manufactured by Asus ROG is 1,759Mhz.
The later card is said to be factory overclocked. Some cards can be overclocked by the user as well.
That being said, clock speeds aren’t everything. The memory and core architecture is also taken into consideration while measuring the performance of a GPU.
An overclocked GPU, factory or custom, will also produce more heat.
While shopping for a GPU, one should ideally opt for the highest clock speed on the GPU of their choice.
However, the higher models will always perform better due to the core architecture.
A few overclocked GTX 1060 cards are sold for the same price as the RTX 2060 with the base clock. Evidently, the RTX performs better than it’s GTX counterpart due to 25% more cores.
6. Noise and Cooling
The noise and cooling of a GPU are determined by the architecture and the clock speeds.
Compact and small GPUs usually have just one fan which tends to be loud and it’s cooling capability will be less than a multi-fan set-up.
On a multi-fan GPUs, which are usually bigger in size, the noise levels will be lower and the colling will be better. Clock speeds also add to the heat generation and noise output.
The simplest way to keep noise and cooling in check is to opt for a bigger card with more fans and sound thermal structure. Alternatively, you can also go for liquid cooling.
The budget is a truly personal constraint of any PC builder. The GPU is usually the most expensive component of any build, followed closely by the CPU. So the amount of money you shell out on a GPU will dictate the amount you’ll need to spend on rest of the build.
Despite the manufacturer of the GPU you want to buy, the actual chip will be supplied by either AMD or Nvidia, the two graphics card giants that have battled for market domination.
The complete GPUs are manufactured by companies such as Asus, MSI, and Zotac who add their own spins on the design and tweak the internals.
Historically, Nvidia had an upper hand in the market when it came to gaming-oriented graphics, but AMD’s newest chips offer the best bang for your buck. As a rule of thumb, go for an AMD based GPU if your budget is constrained to $400.
Anything above $400 and Nvidia is bound to provide better performance.
A recurrently told myth states that AMD GPUs work better with AMD CPU’s and Nvidia GPUs perform better with Intel CPUs.
In reality, this is not true. There are no optimizations or customizations for AMD-AMD or Intel-Nvidia combos, so the performance of the GPU will be based on the sheer horsepower.
9. Gsync vs Freesync
Gsync and Freesync are two proprietary adaptive sync technologies developed by Nvidia and AMD respectively.
Both of them serve the same purpose, eliminate screen tear, and smoothen the gameplay. The choice between the two is based on your monitor of choice.
If your monitor supports Gsync, opt for an Nvidia card to make use of this feature and vice versa if your monitor supports Freesync.
However, if your monitor supports neither of the two, then you can totally ignore this point. That being said, high-end gaming monitors support both Gsync and Freesync, in which case this point can be overlooked as well.
The graphics market moves fast. Changes are sudden and often substantial.
Recently, Ray Tracing technology was introduced and that is bound to change gaming as we know if. However, at the moment, only a handful of games support Ray Tracing and that seems half baked at best.
Yet, the RTX series that supports Ray Tracing will cost you an arm and leg.
So, should you buy an expensive GPU in order to future proof your PC?
The games developed and released in 2020 and beyond will make use of the Ray Tracing technology.
The upcoming Unreal Engine 5 added native support for ray tracing, as shown in the tech demo.
Buying an expensive GPU that supports ray tracing will definitely future proof your PC, but at the cost of a heavy dent on your bank account.
On the other hand, if you’re short of surplus cash, you can opt to wait for a few years until ray tracing technology becomes more accessible and cheaper.
List Of The Best Graphics Card For Gaming
1. Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti
If your budget has no bar, then the new Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti is the best consumer graphics card to buy in 2021.
The RTX 2080 Ti promises the best performance, be it 4K resolution on Red Dead Redemption 2 or over 144 FPS on Valorant, this bad boy can handle it call.
The key selling point of the RTX 2080 Ti, and the RTX series in broad terms, is its ray-tracing capabilities and the 2080 Ti excels at that with an awe aspiring performance.
The upgraded framework and an abundant 11 GB of video memory make it almost 40% faster than the likes of the GTX 1080 Ti.
It’s the best 4K graphics card on the market. The top-notch internals and the latest specs make it future proof as well, so you don’t need to worry about updating your graphics for at least the next five or so years after shelling out the initial $1000 price tag.
If your budget has a bar that expires way below the starting price of RTX 2080 Ti but you’re still lusting after the phenomenal 4K performance and ray-tracing capabilities, then the RTX 2070 Super is the perfect graphics card for you.
The 2070 range kicks off at $499, almost half the price of a 2080 Ti but the performance is just a few yards shy.
Essentially, the RTX 2070 is a better and future-proofed version of the GTX 1080 and costs less than the asking price on a GTX 1080.
It’s our recommended choice of graphics card for a budget-oriented, 4K build.
The AMD Radeon VII is AMD’s highest-end consumer offering in the graphics market. AMD boasts the Radeon VII as the world’s first 7NM gaming GPU, which results in optimized power consumption and better performance overall.
The card is capable of delivering stellar 4K performance at a list price comparable to Nvidia’s lineup.
Unfortunately, the Radeon is missing out on Ray Tracing, which happens to be Nvidia’s most marketable feature of the RTX line.
While it certainly decreases the future-proofing prospects of this card, there is nothing to say that it’s a second-rate graphics card in 2021.
Framerates are dependent on a game’s requirements along with the power of the graphics card. Even a budget GPU like the Nvidia GTX 1060 can run CS: GO at 240 FPS. While on the other hand, even the most powerful and capable of GPU like the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti can’t push beyond 100 FPS on Red Dead Redemption 2 at Ultra settings. The framerates can also be improved by lowering the resolution of the game.
Is RTX Better Than GTX?
The RTX series is equipped with real-time Ray Tracing capabilities that is missing from the GTX line. Additionally, RTX GPUs have more cores and higher clock speeds than their GTX counterparts. So the RTX GPUs are better than GTX GPUs.
Which Is The Best GPU For Ray Tracing?
At the moment, only Nvidia RTX line-up is equipped with real-time Ray Tracing capabilities. The RTX 2080 Ti, the highest-end card in the RTX series, is the best GPU that money can buy for Ray Tracing.
That was our rundown for the best graphics card for gaming. Here are our handpicked best graphics card recommendations at a glance-
Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti
Nvidia RTX 2070 Super
AMD RADEON VII
AMD RX 5700 XT
Nvidia RTX 2060
AMD RX 5600 XT
Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti
Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti
AMD Vega 64
AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB
In order to pick the best graphics card for your specific needs, be sure to go over the 9 point guide to pick graphics card at the beginning of this article. To wrap it all up in a sentence, opt for Nvidia cards if you want a future proof machine and opt for an AMD card if you want the best bang for your buck. That being said, there are plenty of options for every budget and need, so you’re certain to find the graphics card that was made for you.