A good graphics card is essential for high performance, but which one should you get?
The lines between Nvidia and AMD are becoming more blurred and all the different model variations can make your head spin.
Fortunately, we’ve scoured them all to deliver a detailed roundup of the best graphic cards.
We cover the best general card as well as the best for 1080p vs 4k gaming, laptops, video-editing and budget users.
Read on to find out which GPU is best for you.
What Makes a Good GPU?
There are many features of GPUs, but here’s the main three to look out for:
Bandwidth and memory
Bandwidth is the maximum rate of data transfer and, for example, GDDR5 provides twice as much bandwidth as GDDR3 (clocked at the same rate).
4GB is really necessary for 1080p, whilst 8GB memory is ideal for 4K gaming.
CUDA Cores (Nvidia) or Stream Processors (AMD) are the same type of thing across the two manufacturers. They’re akin to parallel processors, and process all the data that is fed into and out of the GPU.
For example, they perform graphic calculations that are resolved visually to the user.
Therefore the more you have, the more powerful the GPU will be and better it will be able to render stunning visuals.
It’s important to be aware that the number of CUDA Cores and Stream Processors can’t be directly compared as they are built differently; for example, a card with 2000 odd stream processors may be equivalent to around 1000 CUDA cores.
RT and Tensor cores, the latest big development in graphics cards, are crucial if you want to take advantage of ray tracing technology.
Ray tracing shows things like shadows, reflections, refractions, and global illumination much more accurately, making images appear life-like. This is beginning to take off in gaming.
Clock speed is the number of times the silicon oscillates per second, e.g. 1000MHz means it oscillates 1 million times a second.
Clock speed usually gives a slight edge over two similar competing GPU’s, particularly boost speed.
There’s the core/base clock speed (e.g. 1500 MHz) and the boost speed (e.g. 1750 MHz). The boost speed is designed to allow it to work faster for short bursts temporarily when necessary. Some users like to take advantage of manual overclocking.
Finally, it’s important to stress that a good GPU for you must be one that is actually compatible with your computer.
There’s no point spending a ton of money on something that won’t fit, or will be limited by your computer’s display.
So make sure you get one that supports your native resolution, and will fit into your slots. Many need two slots, and take care that it can release its heat comfortably.
Another thing to check is that it has the correct ports so you don’t need to buy an adaptor, and also that you have an adequate power supply.
How We Choose GPUs
Features and Performance
Of course we take the above features into account.
But it’s hard to tell how GPU’s will perform in real life just from the specs, especially if they are similar.
Therefore, real-world testing and benchmarks are incredibly important. Although benchmarks are often only tested in gaming and aren’t 100% reliable, they give a much better picture of how different GPUs perform against each other than specs alone.
Testing heat and noise is also very useful, as effective cooling is essential to ensure peak performance and longevity.
Instead of just picking the most powerful card, we always bear the user purpose in mind.
It’s easy to get sucked into wanting the best specs, but in a lot of cases, you just don’t need them all.
For example, if you’re a gamer that only plays 1080p games, the power needed for 4k gaming or the latest RT technology isn’t a requirement.
Value for money
Money is obviously a top priority for consumers.
The question can’t be just how good it is (otherwise we’d easily recommend a 3k Titan), but how much bang you’re getting for your buck, and whether you can get better value elsewhere.
Best Overall GPU
Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060 Super
Clock Speeds: 1470 MHz (1,650 MHz boost)
VRAM: 8 GB GDDR6
Memory Bus Width: 14 Gbps
- Affordable price tag
- Excellent 1080p and 1440p performance
- Ray tracing capabilities
- Not powerful enough for 4k gaming
- High power consumption
This is the best mid-range offering available.
With 2176 CUDA cores, 34 SMs, and a boost clock of up to 1650 MHz, it’s definitely got enough power for the vast majority of people.
The increase in VRAM to 8GB means it can easily handle most creative tasks, including video editing and content creation, and also gives it a longer shelf-life.
It outperforms the RTX 2060 by 10%, and even nearly matches the RTX 2070.
Gaming-wise, it handles 1080p with ease. Even at 1440p, most games don’t reveal any loss in detail.
For example, Metro Exodus plays fine on Ultra settings, at 1440p, and was still playable with ray tracing enabled.
With the added bonus of Tensor cores, this is also the graphics card to get if you want ray tracing on a budget.
You should be able to play ray tracing games at lower resolutions.
It’s a great option for 120Hz or 144Hz gaming monitors.
It’s got a wealth of ports: 2 DisplayPort, 1 HDMI, 1 DVI, and 1 USB-C/VirtualLink, so you can plug in VR headsets.
On the downside, it consumes 175 Watts of power, which is hefty and quite an uptick on its predecessor. But there’s a large heat sink at the top edge of the card, meaning it keeps relatively cool.
AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT – equivalent 1440p performance, but no RT cores.
Best GPU Value
GeForce GTX 1660 Super 6GB
Clock Speeds: 1530 MHz (1785 MHz boost)
VRAM: 6GB GDDR6
Memory Bus Width: 14 Gbps
- Super 1080p performance
- Great value for money
- Not too hot
- No ray tracing
- Limited ports
- A bit noisy
This is the best budget graphics card on the market, no question.
It’s got 1,408 CUDA cores, the same as its predecessor.
But the VRAM is just as fast as the super powerful (and expensive) RTX 2080 Ti, which is crazy at this price point.
And the performance at 1080p is also within spitting distance of the 1660 Ti, a much more expensive card. Overall, it’s literally just 3-5% slower than the 1660 Ti. This makes it excellent value for money.
In terms of gaming, it’s definitely the best card for 1080p gaming at ultra-high settings.
It ran a very impressive 79 fps average at 1080p with Ultra quality settings on Middle Earth: Shadow of War. And 41 fbps for Metro Exodus, which is just behind the Ti at 44 fbps.
At 1440p, gameplay was also respectable for Middle Earth, but couldn’t handle more intensive games like Metro Exodus so well, falling to just 32 fbps.
On the downside, there’s no RT and Tensor cores so ray-tracing is unusable. But this is totally unsurprising at budget level, and a lot of people just don’t need it.
Ports are a bit limited, with only DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort. A second HDMI or even USB-C would be nice. External power is also needed.
It consumes 175 watts, which is an uptake on its predecessor, but still not terrible.
Unfortunately it’s not the quietest of graphics cards, since it has a smallish heatsink and no heatpipes, measuring 60 dB(A) from 5cm away. However, on the plus side it keeps relatively cool at 74C.
AMD’s RX 5600 XT – coming very soon and aims to directly compete with our winner at a similar price point, so watch this space.
Best GPU for Gaming
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
Clock Speeds: 1350 MHz (1635 MHz boost)
VRAM: 11 GB GDDR6
Memory Bus Width: 14 Gbps
- Superb 4k performance
- Excellent ray-tracing
- Cool and quiet
- Super expensive
If you’re looking for the best of the best for gaming, this is it. It’s the fastest GeForce graphics card available, with excellent ray-tracing capabilities on top.
The specs are staggering: 4,352 CUDA cores, 11GB of GDDR6 VRAM, and a boost clock of 1,635MHz, with a 90MHz factory overclock.
It’s also got 68 RT Cores and 544 AI-focused Tensor Cores. This type of technology was revolutionary upon its release, but not all that practical as there wasn’t really any game support out there.
However, now ray-tracing is getting into full-swing and you can enjoy its beauty in games like Metro Exodus, Battlefield V, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
It looks like ray-tracing is likely only going to get more prevalent in gaming, which makes the 2080 Ti a wise investment.
Performance-wise it’s extremely impressive, performing at over 60 fps in 4K in all the best PC games (TechRadar), and beating all others in most benchmarks.
It also incorporates sophisticated cooling techniques, a dual fan cooling system with 13-blade fans and a full-length vapor chamber, which keeps it running cool and quiet.
However, all this power and cooling means it does require a strong 650W power supply, a lot more than competitors.
The price tag is also extremely steep, and will be out of budget for a lot of people.
However, specs-wise it represents extreme value for money. And there’s no real competition at the moment at the same price point.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super – if the Ti behemoth is just plain out-of-budget, the Super is the next best thing for a much lower price, still delivering excellent 4k performance and also excellent VR gaming.
Best GPU for Data Mining
AMD Radeon RX580
Clock Speeds: 1257 MHz (1340 MHz boost)
VRAM: 8 GB GDDR5
Memory Bus Width: 8Gbps
- Decent hash rate
- Good cooling
- Great price
- Often sold out as extremely popular
Though this came out in 2017, it’s still the best value for money option out there.
Price is the name of the game for mining, as you first need to recoup your costs to start making a profit.
Which is why it’s still the most popular choice for data miners, with the RX580 and its predecessor the RX570 accounting for a whopping 50% of all AMD graphics cards.
Coinsuggest also reports extremely high hash rates for other crypto types such as Equihash (285-290 h/s) and Cryptonight (680-690 h/s).
It also has relatively low power consumption, another key factor for mining. Officially, it states power consumption is 185 watts, but users report lower consumptions of 100-130 watts. This is a lot lower than its predecessor, especially with multi-monitor configurations.
It also comes with a dual fan design for effective cooling.
In terms of general specs, the 580 comes with 2304 Stream Processors, 36 Compute Units, 144 Texture Units, 32 ROPs, an 8 Gbps memory clock and a 256-bit memory bus.
This means it can handle 1080p gaming too.
There’s 2 DisplayPorts, 2 HDMI connectors, and 1 DVI.
Nvidia GTX 1070 – a close contender. A lot more expensive than the AMD RX580, but another massively popular choice for data miners.
AMD Radeon VII – some say this is better than the RX580. It has a better hash rate, but higher power consumption and is more expensive.
Best GPU for Video Editing
AMD Radeon VII
Clock Speeds: 1,400 MHz (1,750 MHz boost)
VRAM: 16 GB HBM2
Memory Bus Width: 4 Gbps
- Huge memory
- Can be overclocked
- Keeps pace with the RTX 2080
- Not the most quiet
- No ray tracing
This graphics card is on the high-end but is a great option for video editors, and will enable stellar video editing and rendering in Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects, etc.
It’s standout feature is it’s unbelievably high VRAM. To be clear, this is only beaten by ultra top-end cards like the $2k Nvidia Titan RTX. Bandwidth is also high at 1028 Gb/s.
It also features 3,840 Stream Processors and improved second-generation Vega 20 architecture.
This means more tasks can be performed simultaneously for video editing, with no lags or delays in generating edited clips.
You can easily work with 4k at a high refresh rate, especially in Open CL environment, and the decent overclocking frequency ensures system stability.
Performance-wise, it keeps pace with the RTX 2080.
The only downside is there’s no dedicated RT cores or AI enhancements, so ray tracing is not an option, and also no VLink port for VR headsets.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super – a step up if you need ray tracing support.
GeForce GTX 1060 – a good mid-range option if you prefer to spend more of your budget on a decent CPU.
Best GPU for Laptops
Nvidia RTX 2070 Max-Q
Clock Speeds: 885 MHz (1185 MHz boost)
VRAM: 8 GB GDDR6
Memory Bus Width: 12 Gbps
- Great 1080p and even 4k performance
- Can fit into smaller laptops
For laptops, the Max-Q is a perfect balance of performance and compatibility, bringing decent graphics to modern thin and light laptops.
Before Max-Q GPUs, most laptops for 1440p gaming were ultra-heavy and bulky affairs.
However, the Max-Q’s changed all that, making slimmer options like the latest Alienware models available.
Max-Q are variants of the desktop GPU versions that are underclocked.
This means they produce less heat than most, so they can fit into slimmer laptops with less cooling capabilities.
Obviously, this makes them less powerful than desktop versions, a necessary sacrifice for portability.
The 2070 Max-Q produces a lot more power than its predecessor, owing to more CUDA cores.
It has 20% more CUDA cores than the Geforce GTX 1070, and 6Gbps faster GDDR6 video memory.
Gaming-wise, it performs decently in 1080p games using Ultra settings. It’s got a 10% overall performance gain over its predecessor, for the same price.
However, 4k gaming is also playable and surprisingly RT and Tensor cores are present at 38T RTX OPS and 5 Gigarays per second, so ray-tracing also works.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Which GPU Should I Buy?
To sum up, if you’re just looking for generally high specs overall at an affordable price, you can’t go wrong with the Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060 Super.
It delivers decent performance at a mid-range price. The VRAM means it can handle most tasks, plus you can play 1440p games, and it’s even future-proofed with ray-tracing cores.
However, if 4k gaming is your bag and you’re not looking to settle, it’s definitely the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. If you only play 1080p games, or are just looking for a general budget option, GeForce GTX 1660 Super is currently the best budget option on the market.
But most of all, make sure the GPU is compatible with your setup before you buy.