The best graphics cards for PC gaming: Great deals before next-gen GPUs arrive

The best graphics cards for PC gaming: Great deals before next-gen GPUs arrive

Most people who are in the market for a new graphics card have one primary question in mind: Which card will give me the most bang for my buck? Obviously, the answer will vary depending on your budget. Beyond that, there are a number of factors to consider: Raw performance is important, but so are things like noise, the driver experience, and supplemental software. And do you want to pay a 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 $1,800 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.

And yes, you can finally buy a GPU again. After over two years of an insane graphics card crunch spurred by chip shortages and an insane cryptocurrency surge, the dam has finally burst. End result? GPU prices are finally plummeting across the board, with higher-end graphics cards seeing especially steep sales. While you can buy a used GPU for less cash, picking up a new model with a full warranty and no risk is a lot more enticing with prices finally approaching sanity.

Rumors of next-gen Nvidia GeForce RTX 4000-series graphics cards abound, and AMD has publicly said that its new RDNA 3-based Radeon GPUs will launch later this year. A new contender, Intel, also appears ready to release its debut Arc GPUs later this summer, gunning for the RTX 3060 (at least in newer games) with the world’s first game-changing AV1 GPU encoder for streaming in tow. But if you need a new graphics card today, here are your best options. Street pricing for these cards still fluctuates wildly, and these rankings take real-world costs into account—which currently give AMD’s Radeon GPUs an edge.

Note: There are customized versions of every graphics card from a host 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 complete review for each recommendation, but the buying links lead to models that hew 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.

The best graphics cards for PC gaming

AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT – Best budget graphics card

Prices may be relaxing, but currently, the much-maligned Radeon RX 6500 XT is still the only semi-reasonable sub-$250 option around. If you can find it for a good price, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050 is a much more capable modern graphics card, but its pricing is typically inflated at around $300. The Radeon RX 6500 XT is less appealing thanks to its nerfed memory, PCIe lanes, and limited ports, not to mention lower performance, but you can often find them going for around $200 on the streets these days. Those hardware limitations mean you’ll need to stick to Medium or High graphics settings at 1080p resolution in modern games in order to achieve playable frame rates, but if you do that, you’ll enjoy the experience.

Read our full
Radeon RX 6500 XT review

AMD Radeon RX 6600 – Best 1080p graphics card

AMD’s Radeon RX 6600 and Nvidia’s rival GeForce RTX 3060 both ostensibly carry the same $329 MSRP, but on the streets, there’s a much wider gap. You can find the 6600 going for prices starting around $300, while the cheapest RTX 3060 begins at $400. Those are both steep entry costs for 1080p gaming—at least compared to the GPUs of yesteryear—but with 8GB of fast GDDR6 memory, insanely good power efficiency, and AMD’s Radeon Super Resolution in tow, the Radeon RX 6600 is a great graphics card for people looking to game at 1080p resolution at 60fps or higher without compromising on visual fidelity. (Or breaking the bank.)

Read our full
Radeon RX 6600 Swft 210 review

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 – Best 1080p graphics card for ray tracing

Nvidia is on its second-generation of dedicated ray tracing hardware, and its killer DLSS upsampling feature is in hundreds of games to claw back the performance lost to turning on ray tracing (which carries a steep performance penalty). At $330-plus, it ain’t cheap, but if enabling those cutting-edge lighting effects is a priority, you’ll want to go with GeForce. The RTX 3060 is another solid option, but it’s $400 on the streets and delivers performance on par with the $300 Radeon RX 6600 in games that don’t use ray tracing.

Read our full
GeForce RTX 3050 review

AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT – Best 1440p graphics card

Best Prices Today:

$500 at Newegg

In a sane world, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3060 Ti would dominate 1440p gaming at its $400 MSRP. It’s that good, and it offers superior ray tracing performance to AMD’s Radeon rivals. But we still aren’t living in a sane world, and the RTX 3060 Ti is going for $500+ on the streets, and often $550 to $600. Nvidia’s RTX 3070, ostensibly $500, goes for $650 to $700 online. Get AMD’s Radeon RX 6700 XT instead. It’s plenty fast for 1440p gaming at 60fps+ without compromise, while its beefy 12GB of GDDR6 memory provides plenty of headroom for flipping on all the most intense graphical features. The one downside? AMD’s card is only capable of playing ray-traced games at 1080p resolution unless you activate Radeon Super Resolution, or FSR 1 or 2 in games that support it. One the flip side, the Radeon RX 6700 XT can take advantage of AMD’s awesome performance-boosting Smart Access Memory feature if you’re running a modern Ryzen system that supports it.

Read our full
Radeon RX 6700 XT review

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti – Best 1440p graphics card for ray tracing

Yes, the RTX 3060 Ti remains overpriced compared to its MSRP, going for $500+ rather than the expected $400—but that’s because it’s that good. If you want a killer 1440p gaming experience with top-notch ray tracing as the cherry on top, this is the card to buy even at an inflated price. The step-down GeForce RTX 3060 is also worth considering, though you may need to turn down some graphics settings when you enable ray tracing, while the step-up RTX 3070 doesn’t deliver enough of a performance boost to justify spending yet more.

Read our full
GeForce RTX 3060 Ti review

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition – Best 4K graphics card

If you’ve got a 4K monitor and want to put all those pixels to work, the RTX 3070, 3070 Ti and AMD’s Radeon RX 6750 XT and RX 6800 are all decent cheaper options. But if you want the best possible experience without any visual compromises, spend $800 and pick up the 10GB version of the RTX 3080. (The $1,000 12GB model isn’t worth the upcharge despite being slightly more future-proof.) The GeForce RTX 3080 packs enough power to blow through games even at 4K resolution with eye candy cranked, including ray traced games thanks to Nvidia’s killer combo of second-gen ray tracing hardware and DLSS.

The one problem? This is an insanely popular GPU, and it can still be difficult to find models around the 3080’s $800 MSRP (though they’re definitely popping up). AMD’s rival Radeon RX 6800 XT is easier to find, just as fast, and packs a whopping 16GB of GDDR6 memory, but Nvidia’s superior ray tracing and DLSS chops earn it the nod for this price point if you’re able to find one around MSRP.

All that said, new GPU generations from both Nvidia and AMD are expected before the end of the year, and when those launch, paying MSRP price for the two-year-old RTX 3080 or any of its rivals may sting, since new graphics families usually demolish the performance of last-gen’s high-end GPUs for a similar price. Consider whether you want to hop on board now, or risk waiting a few months to see what’s brewing.

Read our full
GeForce RTX 3080 review

AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT – Best high-end 4K graphics card

Graphics cards that cost $1,000 didn’t used to exist, but now they’re commonplace, with the $1,000 12GB RTX 3080, $1,000 Radeon RX 6900 XT, $1,100 Radeon RX 6950 XT, $1,200 GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090, and $2,000 RTX 3090 Ti all available in this price range.

Their steep price increases don’t translate into a lot of extra performance over the more affordable RTX 3080 or Radeon RX 6800 XT, so we recommend most people stick with those instead. But prices are being slashed rapidly at the high-end, and if you’re looking to splurge, we recommend the Radeon RX 6950 XT for most people.

The Radeon RX 6950 XT is faster than the RTX 3090 for $400 less, and comes with an ample 16GB of memory. Heck, it even surpasses the $2,000 RTX 3090 Ti in performance in some games. If you simply want to play some games with face-melting speed and fidelity, the 6950 XT is a killer value option, and it will deliver a killer experience—especially if you use AMD features like Radeon Super Resolution, Smart Access Memory, and FSR. (The same holds true for the Radeon RX 6900 XT, which we’ve seen on sale for less than $900 now that the GPU crunch is letting up.) It isn’t as good as Nvidia’s GPUs at ray tracing, however, so opt for the RTX 3080 Ti instead if you’re a gamer looking to flip on all those cutting-edge lighting effects. Note that the Sapphire Nitro+ Pure model we reviewed is an ultra-luxe enthusiast-class version that costs more, and deservedly so, though you can find other RX 6950 XTs for MSRP.

Read our full
Nitro+ Pure Radeon RX 6950 XT review

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 – Best high-end 4K graphics card for content creation and ray tracing

If you want some of the best gaming performance on the planet, including ray tracing, and also want to do some work on the side, the $1,500 RTX 3090 is the graphics card to buy. This card works hard and plays hard thanks to a massive 24GB of ultra-fast GDDR6 memory that makes it excel at content creation and machine learning tasks, especially high-res video rendering. And it slings gaming frames with the best of them. The newer RTX 3090 Ti offers slightly faster GPU and memory performance, but costs $500 more, making the non-Ti 3090 a much more (somewhat) practical choice. You pay for the privilege, however, with the Radeon RX 6950 XT and GeForce RTX 3080 Ti delivering similar gaming performance for significantly less.

Read our full
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 review

How we test graphics cards

We test graphics cards on a dedicated test system used only for this purpose, with minimal extra software involved. That ensures that any performance changes we see are generated solely by the graphics card being tested and new GPU drivers, without the variability of other hardware or software changes. Here is the configuration of our current testbed:

AMD Ryzen 5900X, stock settingsAMD Wraith Max coolerMSI Godlike X570 motherboard32GB G.Skill Trident Z Neo DDR4 3800 memoryEVGA 1200W SuperNova P2 power supply 2x 1TB SK Hynix Gold S31 SSD

As far as games go, we use a fixed set of games to test every graphics card that comes out in a given generation, and update the suite when a new generation of GPUs is introduced. We test a variety of games spanning most major game types (tactics, racing, FPS, etc.), engines (Unreal Engine, Unity, Anvil, etc.) and underlying graphics APIs (DirectX 11, DX12, Vulkan). We use the built-in benchmarks for each game, but only after validating the accuracy of the results by running the benchmarks and comparing the results to performance witnessed by third-party GPU measurement tools like OCAT. Each game is tested at least three times per resolution, generating an average from those runs, with additional tests run if we encounter any hiccups. We may also perform additional testing with tools like OCAT if any performance oddities are noticed. Power draw is measured on a whole-system basis, listing both idle and fully stressed states as measured via a Watts Up meter that the system is plugged into.

What to look for in a custom graphics card

If you want to shop beyond the scope of our picks, know that finding the right graphics card can be tricky. Various vendors offer customized versions of every GPU. For example, you can buy different Radeon RX 6700 XT models from Sapphire, XFX, Asus, MSI, and PowerColor.

To help narrow down the options and find the right card for you, you should consider the following things when doing your research:

Overclocks: Higher-priced custom models are often overclocked out-of-the-box to varying degrees, which can lead to higher performance. Most modern custom cards offer the same essential level of performance,however.

Cooling solutions: Many graphics cards are available with custom coolers that lower temperatures and fan noise. The vast majority perform well. Liquid-cooled graphics cards run even cooler, but require extra room inside your case for the tubing and radiator. Avoid graphics cards with single-fan, blower-style cooling systems if you can help it, unless you have a small-form-factor PC or plan on using custom water-cooling blocks.

Size: Many graphics cards are of a similar size, but longer and shorter models of many GPUs exist. High-end graphics cards are starting to sport especially massive custom cooling solutions to tame their enthusiast-class GPUs. Double-check that your chosen graphics card will fit in your case before you buy.

Compatibility: Not all hardware supports a wide range of connectivity options. Higher-end graphics cards may lack DVI ports, while lower-end monitors may lack DisplayPorts. Only the most modern Radeon and GeForce graphics cards support HDMI 2.1 outputs. Ensure your graphics card and monitor can connect to each other. Likewise, make sure your power supply meets the recommended wattage for the graphics card you choose.

Real-time ray tracing, FSR, and DLSS: AMD’s Radeon RX 6000-series graphics cards and all of Nvidia’s RTX offerings can play games with real-time ray tracing effects active. Nvidia’s RTX 30-series GPUs hold a massive advantage over everything else though, propelled even further by dedicated tensor cores for processing machine learning tasks such as Deep Learning Super Sampling, which uses AI to speed up the performance of your games with minimal hit to visual fidelity. GeForce RTX 20-series GPUs also support DLSS, while AMD’s rival FSR 2.0 and Radeon Super Resolution technologies are gaining traction by the day.

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