Most people use graphics cards that are several years old, which is a shame because there have been some big leaps in tech over the last couple of years. Because of that, graphics cards that are only a couple years old can feel like antiques. Whether you're a hardcore PC gamer, a video editor, an animator or anything in between, you need the power of modern graphics cards. They utilize technologies, such as smart resolution upscaling, ray-tracing and a whole lot more. Everything has become much more demanding, and your PC deserves to meet those tasks confidently.
Even if you only need the basics for streaming video or surfing the web, a modern graphics card can make your system feel snappier overall compared to an equivalent older model. The best graphics card options will improve video decoding acceleration, redraw your screens faster and give better performance to any of a plethora of processing tasks that you don't think about.
But this is still a bad time to shop for a new video card. They're actually a lot easier to find than they were a year ago, but some continue to be in the LOL-try-to-get-one-for-a-rational-price phase. Prices for anything you can find remain out of control, and while they're not nearly as high as they were eight months ago, they remain substantially higher than the manufacturers' fantasy launch-target prices: Some casual calculations I made showed a range of about +30% to +130% difference between the press-release prices and the cheapest recommendable card I could find for a given current-generation chip.
Still, if you're ready to throw down some cash for a new graphics card now, we hope this can offer some guidance on the best graphics card options around. Learn what to look for and which GPUs make sense for your budget and needs. While you can make some judgments based on specs like the manufacturer, graphics chip, amount of video memory, memory and gaming clock speeds, power requirements and other factors, they're imperfect predictors of how any particular model will perform in your games or creative applications.
If you've got an old desktop with integrated graphics that don't support the current versions of graphics programming interfaces such as DirectX 12 or Vulkan, or you have a game that won't run unless it detects dedicated graphics memory (these have 2GB) or if you just want to make your Windows experience feel a little more snappy or smooth, a GT 1030-based card can help. It's designed with lower power requirements than most other discrete GPUs, so it can fit in systems with small power supplies and compact designs. Unlike most gaming graphics cards, 1030-based cards can be low-profile and take up just a single slot for connectivity, and are quieter because they only require a single fan.
Don't expect to game with the GeForce GT at 1080p -- 720p at best, unless a game is very lightweight. But Fortnite, CS:GO, League of Legends and other popular multiplayer games generally fall under the "can play on a potato" umbrella, so you don't need to worry as much if they're your go-tos. In some cases, games may simply go from unplayable to a little less unplayable. If you do want to play games, though, spring for versions with DDR5 memory, not DDR4; it can make a noticeable difference. That's why you'll see some offerings for less than $130. For a simple speedup, the cheapest decent one I've seen was $115, though prices can fluctuate.
Since much basic photo editing still isn't very GPU-intensive, a fast, high-core-count CPU still gives you a lot more performance value for the money than a higher-powered graphics card. The GPU does matter for the experience and smooth display rendering, but for smallish images and single-screen editing you shouldn't have any issues.
The RX 6500 XT kind of wins here by default; it hits the basics and its price is much lower than step-up cards, which seem to run upward of $400. That's partly because the markup over its $199 manufacturer-recommended price is the least of any cards I looked at, leaving it in the sub-$300 range. You'll find it in two-fan and three-fan configurations (the latter is usually overclocked).
Once again, this becomes my pick somewhat by default because AMD's real prices are far less out of whack than Nvidia's; its performance falls between the RTX 3060 and RTX 3060 Ti, where its manufacturer's price sits, but its actual price is lower overall than the RTX 3060, and far lower than the 3060 Ti, which would normally be my pick here. If you can find a decent model of the latter for between $600 and $700, then you might want to go with it.
Originally $900, such a steep price felt like an awful lot to pay for this card, but it was already a lot better than the $1,100-plus the RTX 3070 Ti. Its performance weaves below and above the RTX 3070 Ti, but the extra memory, 12GB vs. 8GB, can make a big difference in game quality choices and video editing performance, making it a good option. The RTX 3070 Ti is $950 now, but at $410, that only makes this offer even more appealing.
The RTX 3070 Ti is generally a better GPU than the 3070 (but not worlds better) and the prices currently overlap significantly -- they're roughly the same as the closest AMD competitors -- making it a toss-up. You can find individually cheaper RTX 3070 cards, though. The RTX 3070 Ti has higher memory bandwidth, which can impact video editing fluidity and some workstation graphics applications, so you might want to lean that way if you need to. I still think that $1,000-plus is a lot to pay for either of these cards, which were originally targeted to cost within the $500 to $600 range.
As with the step-down price segment, the RX 6800 XT generally outperforms the RTX 3080, though it can be roughly the same as the RTX 3080 Ti, especially at higher resolutions and in professional graphics applications, thanks to the better memory bandwidth and more video memory. And this is one case where the AMD cards are just as overpriced as their Nvidia equivalents, costing upward of $1,500. But if you use workstation or video-editing software that takes advantage of Nvidia CUDA acceleration, the 3080 Ti is your best bet.
Graphics Card FAQs
What's important to consider when shopping for a graphics card?
- Power requirements: Always check the power needs of a card against your power supply's output. Don't forget to take the other cards and devices in your system into account concerning power usage.
- The most powerful GPU on the planet won't make a difference if your CPU is the bottleneck (and vice versa) -- think overkill.
- You'll see a lot of price variation across cards using the same GPU. That's for features such as overclocking, better cooling systems or flashy (literally) designs.
- Dual-card setups are usually more of a pain than they're worth. Video editing is usually the exception, depending upon application support.
- If you want a card for content creation, game benchmarks aren't usually representative. To research those, start by running a search on "workstation GPUs" or, for example, "best GPU for Premiere." It's important to match the GPU to the application, because, for instance, Nvidia RTX A-series GPUs (the workstation GPUs formerly known as Quadro) are generally more powerful than their AMD Radeon Pro or WX series equivalents, but application developers who are tight with Apple -- which doesn't support Nvidia GPUs -- optimize their applications for AMD GPUs. The biggest example of this is Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve video editor.
- For photo editing, it may no longer suffice to use a low-end or middling graphics card, though it depends on your software. With the latest generations of Photoshop and Lightroom, Adobe has begun to expand its use of AI-related technologies in meaningful ways. For instance, Photoshop's new Replace Sky and Neural Filters can take advantage of GPU hardware designed to accelerate AI to speed them up, such as the Tensor cores in Nvidia's RTX cards. But if you don't have at least 32GB of memory, graphics applications may get a bigger boost from upgrading that before the GPU, unless the graphics card is really old.
- For video editing, the amount of memory on the card can have a big impact on real-time performance as you work with higher-resolution video (4K and up).
- Running games at 4K requires significantly more video memory than 1440p or lower, at least 8GB.
Does Nvidia G-Sync or AMD FreeSync make a difference?
If you're sensitive to screen artifacts caused by a disconnect between the rate at which your monitor updates and the frame rate at which you're playing, or you're interested in proprietary technologies like Nvidia's Latency Analyzer to help improve your gameplay by reducing lag, then you should definitely at least look into what each of them offers. Otherwise, get the appropriate GPU for your needs and work with what you get.
Read What are Nvidia G-Sync and AMD FreeSync and Which Do I Need?.
Relative performance of recent GPUs
|Maingear Turbo (RTX 2080 Ti)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (2004); 3.8GHz Ryzen 9 3900XT; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,600; 11GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti; 1TB SSD + 4TB HDD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RTX 3050)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (21H1); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200; 8GB EVGA GeForce RTX 3050 XC Black ; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RTX 3060 Ti)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (2004); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,000; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RTX 3060)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (2H20); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,000; 12GB EVGA GeForce RTX 3060 XC Black Gaming; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RTX 3070 FE)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,000; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RTX 3070 Ti)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (21H1); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti ; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RTX 3080 Ti)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (21H1); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200; 12GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti ; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RX 6500 XT)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (21H1); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200; 4GB Gigabyte Eagle 4G Radeon RX 6500 XT; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RX 6600 XT)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (21H1); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200; 8GB Asus ROG Strix Radeon RX 6600 XT OC; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RX 6700 XT)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (2H20); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200; 12GB AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RX 6800 XT)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,000; 16GB AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Aegis RS (RX 6800)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,000; 16GB AMD Radeon RX 6800; 1TB SSD|
|MSI Trident X (RTX 2070 Super)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); (oc) 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,932; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super; 1TB SSD|
|Origin PC Chronos (RTX 3080)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (2004); Intel Core i9-10900K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,200; 10GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 (EVGA); 1TB SSD + 500GB SSD|
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