The best graphics cards for PC gaming: RTX 3070 and AMD Radeon 6000 shake up the high-end

“What graphics card within my budget gives me the best bang for my buck?”

That simple question cuts to the core of what people hunting for a new graphics card look for: the most oomph they can afford. Sure, the technological leaps behind each new GPU can be interesting on their own, but most everyone just wants to crank up the detail settings on Battlefield and get right to playing.

Updated October 29, 2020 to crown the GeForce RTX 3070 as the best 1440p graphics card, and mention AMD’s impending Radeon RX 6000-series graphics cards throughout.

Answering the question can be a bit trickier than it seems. Raw performance is a big part of it, but factors like noise, the driver experience, and supplemental software also play a role in determining which graphics card to buy. And do you want to pay Nvidia’s RTX premium to get in on the bleeding edge of real-time ray tracing?

Let us make it easy for you. We’ve tested nearly every major GPU that’s hit the streets over the past couple of years, from $100 budget cards to $1,200 luxury models. Our knowledge has been distilled into this article—a buying guide with recommendations on which graphics card to buy, no matter what sort of experience you’re looking for.

Note: There are customized versions of every graphics card from a slew of vendors. For example, you can buy different GeForce GTX 3080 models from EVGA, Asus, MSI, and Zotac, among others.

We’ve linked to our formal review for each recommendation, but the buying links lead to models that stick closely to each graphics card’s MSRP. Spending extra can get you hefty out-of-the-box overclocks, beefier cooling systems, and more. Check out our “What to look for in a custom card” section below for tips on how to choose a customized card that’s right for you.

Graphics card news

  • Nvidia’s hotly anticipated GeForce RTX 30-series is here, powered by a new-look “Ampere” GPU architecture and Samsung’s 8nm transistor process. The $700 GeForce RTX 3080 is staggeringly powerful and instantly became the 4K or high refresh rate 1440p graphics card to buy, trouncing even the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, last generation’s $1,200 flagship. The more powerful $1,500 RTX 3090 launched September 24, and while it’s the most power gaming graphics card available, it’s not much faster than the 3080 for the price. It’s a stunning value for creators, though. The $500 GeForce RTX 3070 delivers frame rates on par with last generations $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti, making it a killer 1440p or entry-level 4K graphics card.
  • Nvidia’s RTX 30-series GPUs earned top marks in our reviews, but their reign could prove short-lived. For the first time since the Radeon R9 290X era seven long years ago, AMD plans to challenge Nvidia at the high-end. AMD says the $579 Radeon RX 6800 offers more performance and twice the memory of the RTX 3070, the $649 Radeon RX 6800 XT will battle the pricier RTX 3080, and the $999 flagship Radeon RX 6900 XT could rival the GeForce RTX 3090 for a whopping $500 less. These RDNA 2-based graphics cards also come with all sorts of nifty new technologies like a massive Infinity Cache and Smart Access Memory’s deep, intrinsic ties with Ryzen 5000 CPUs. Learn all about the Radeon RX 6000 GPUs here.

  • All these high-end announcements have rendered several former flagships obsolete, but those older cards are still selling for full price at retailers. Don’t be a sucker. Here are seven GPUs you absolutely shouldn’t buy right now.

  • Intel’s highly anticipated “Xe” graphics architecture will debut in 2020 as promised, but not in desktop form. Expect to see Xe “LP” integrated onto ”Tiger Lake” mobile laptop chips and offered as a discrete option for notebooks. The first desktop discrete Intel graphics card is planned for 2021, packing a beefed-up Xe “HPG” architecture and real-time ray tracing. Xe LP options will not support ray tracing, Intel says.

Best budget graphics card

Editor’s note: We’re leaving our recommendations for budget cards intact below but be aware that Nvidia and AMD have begun rolling out their latest generations of graphics cards. Both companies started at the high end but we’re likely to see more affordable new GPUs with much higher performance than the cards we recommend below start to roll out over the next few months. Our picks below stand if you need to purchase a graphics card immediately, but consider waiting for the upcoming releases if you can.

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super is a superb 1080p graphics card that can hit the hallowed 60 frames per second mark at High or Ultra settings in virtually all modern games—a hell of a feat for just $160, or $170 for the feature-loaded ROG Strix model we evaluated. It comes packed with 4GB of ultra-fast GDDR6 memory, and Nvidia’s latest and greatest Turing NVENC video encoder, something the original GTX 1650 lacked. Better yet, Nvidia’s GPU is incredibly power efficient, and that means these graphics cards run cool and quiet, too.

You’ll need a six-pin power connector to run the card, which is much more potent than its non-Super cousin, the $150 GeForce GTX 1650. The only reason to consider the non-Super version is if you’re upgrading a big-box office PC into a gaming rig and have no extra power cabling available, since the vanilla GTX 1650 can draw all its more from your motherboard. Otherwise, the GeForce GTX 1650 Super is far superior, especially for just $10 more.

Unfortunately, the ROG Strix isn’t available at retail at the time of publication. Two other Asus GPUS—the $165 GeForce GTX 1650 Super Phoenix Fan Edition and $160 Asus TUF GTX 1650 Super—are, and you should expect similar bottom-line gaming performance out of them, though these alternatives don’t pack all the same extras as the Strix.

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