If you’re looking for other parts as well, be sure to check out some of our other guides:
How to Choose PC Parts: The Processor
How to Choose PC Parts: The Motherboard
How to Choose PC Parts: RAM
How to Choose PC Parts: The Power Supply
How to Choose PC Parts: SSDs and Hard Drives
How to Choose PC Parts: The Case
But before we dive into picking our graphics card, or GPU, we need to answer some basic questions:
What is your budget? The first question you should ask, as this determines what type of price and performance you can look at. The GPU is usually the most expensive part of the build, so keep that in mind when choosing which one you want.
What kind of games are you playing? Different games have different graphics requirements. Games like Fortnite and League of Legends are less GPU intensive, so you don’t need a super top-tier GPU to get good quality. Games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, on the other hand, will require a lot of GPU power if you want to run at higher settings.
What is your intended resolution/framerate? This goes together with the previous question. If your goal is to play games at 1080p/60 FPS, even the budget cards will run most titles without a problem. You’ll need to lower your settings in the more GPU intensive games, but they’ll get the job done. If you want higher resolution, FPS, or quality in more demanding titles, you have to look at more powerful GPUs.
VRAM (video RAM) is memory on your GPU used to store image data for your display. It works kind of like the RAM on your computer, where data is stored that needs to be accessed very quickly for programs that are open on your system, except in this case, instead of an open program, it’s specifically the images being displayed. Your CPU feeds data to your GPU, which is then stored in VRAM and then accessed and displayed.
Everyday tasks require very little VRAM. Gaming requires more, depending on what settings and resolution you’re using. Some professional/workstation type tasks rely heavily on VRAM. For the majority of you out there, the amount of VRAM isn’t that important. If you make a good choice for your budget and performance target, the VRAM on whatever card you choose should be adequate.
If you’ve looked up video cards on your own at all, you probably noticed how different manufacturers will have their own versions of each card, sometimes multiple ones. If you’re not sure how that works or why they do it, it’s pretty simple:
AMD and NVIDIA design the GPUs, and manufacturers tweak them to develop the different models you see on sale. You’ll see different cooler designs and RGB features. Some may be “overclocked” (i.e., they’re running a little faster than the base specifications NVIDIA or AMD have set). All those things together will contribute to the price differences across the same type of card.
Some of those price differences may be pretty large. An RTX 3070 has a starting MSRP of $500, but the beefier partner models could be $600+. A $100 swing is pretty big, so surely the performance changes to reflect that, right? Unfortunately, no. The least expensive version of a given card will typically only be a few percent slower than the most expensive. What you’re usually paying for is better cooling, quieter operation, and/or aesthetics. Or, if you’re going to overclock a GPU yourself, paying for a card that has higher overclocking potential.
If you check the specs for a GPU, you’ll see they all have a “recommended power supply.” Basically, that’s the manufacturer saying, “this is how powerful your PSU should be to run this comfortably.” Keep in mind that these are factoring in your total system power consumption and giving a “safe” estimate. If you have a GPU that recommends a 750W power supply, it’s not consuming that full 750W on its own. High-end cards can draw 300-400W when they’re maxed out, and high-end overclocked CPUs can also potentially hit 300+W, plus whatever else in your system needs power. Those manufacturer recommendations take all those things into account, so depending on your system configuration, you don’t always have to stick exactly to those. Just make sure you don’t go too far under.
AMD makes their return in another Great Debate, this time compared to Nvidia. There was a time when NVIDIA and AMD video cards would trade spots with both value and performance, but eventually, NVIDIA solidified itself as the premier video card maker, and until very recently, AMD was only competitive in the budget category. AMD is still a strong budget contender, and with the release of their RX 6000 series, they're taking the fight back to NVIDIA at the top-end as well.
AMD and NVIDIA offer different features on their cards that provide different benefits, so we need to talk about those a bit. Modern games are starting to incorporate ray tracing technology. Put simply, ray tracing is realistic lighting based on actual physics, and it requires a lot of processing power. Both NVIDIA and AMD offer ray tracing on their newest cards, but NVIDIA has the edge in ray tracing performance, so if it’s a feature you care about, then you really should be looking at NVIDIA for now.
NVIDIA also currently offers DLSS (deep learning super sampling). DLSS is an AI-based upscaling solution that allows your GPU to render the game internally at a lower resolution but rebuild the image at a higher display resolution to keep your performance and framerate high while maintaining image quality. AMD is currently working on its own equivalent to this technology, but it hasn’t been released yet.
AMD has a unique feature called Smart Access Memory that optimizes how your CPU accesses your VRAM utilizing PCIe bandwidth, increasing performance, depending on the game. NVIDIA currently does not offer a comparable feature, though they have plans to do so in the future.
If you’re interested in live-streaming, NVIDIA also offers their NVIDIA Broadcast suite of features, which includes things like RTX Voice. They also have their excellent NVENC encoder, which is fantastic for live-streaming.
For those who are workstation oriented and are doing graphics-accelerated work in professional applications, NVIDIA and AMD both manufacture cards specifically for workstations, separate from their gaming stack. That said, for most cases, you’ll find that the gaming cards' relative performance will translate somewhat to production, i.e., the more high-powered it is as a gaming card, the better it will usually be for workstations. That’s not always true, depending on your specific needs, and even the top-tier gaming cards can perform very poorly compared to proper workstation cards depending on the use case, so make sure you’re doing your research.
If you’ve already chosen your processor or CPU, you’ll need to start considering how your parts will match up with each other.
Bottlenecking is the idea that you’re held back by whatever the slowest part is. For example, you bought a Ryzen 9 5900X, but that took up 80% of your budget, and now you can only afford a small video card like the GT710. No matter how good your CPU is, that GPU is always going to hold you back because it’s just not powerful enough, and you’ve just wasted money on that 5900X. The reverse is also true; a super powerful video card paired with a dual-core Intel Pentium G4400 is just wasting your GPUs potential because the CPU just isn’t powerful enough.
All that said, bottlenecking is a simple problem to address. Modern CPUs have gotten really good. Even a “budget” gaming CPU like the Ryzen 5 3600 won’t be a bottleneck unless you’re pairing it with a high-end GPU. A 3600 + RTX 2060 is going to perform basically the same as a 5900X + 2060 because of the GPU limitation, except in games that are light on graphics requirements and therefore aren’t “GPU bound.” Esports titles like CSGO and League of Legends would fall into this category.
This is especially true at higher resolution because as resolution goes up, the reliance on your GPU also goes up. Even with a top-tier card like an RTX 3080, if you play at 1440p, the differences between CPUs will be small. At 4k, they’re practically nonexistent: a 3600 + 3080 is going to perform identically to a 5900X + 3080 because 4k gameplay is so GPU intensive.
Now that we’ve got all that stuff out of the way let’s talk about the video cards themselves. Keep in mind when we’re talking about the price recommendations on these, it’s generally a “starting” point. Every card will have different versions, and the farther you go up the ladder, the larger the differences are between each variation. Some of the high-end cards can have models that are $200+ more expensive than the base versions.
Disclaimer: Recent GPU prices have been affected heavily by availability, demand, as well as tariffs. Pricing has been inflated above normal expectations due to these factors, so keep that in mind if you see the prices not matching up.
These cards will be good for 1080p gaming at a low cost. You may have to lower the settings in certain games to get 60 FPS, but they’ll get the job done. All these cards perform pretty closely with one another, so the main question will be pricing and availability. You should be able to find versions of each of these around or under $200.
NVIDIA GTX 1650 Super: The 1650 Super replaced the standard 1650 and is currently the best budget card overall. If this one is available and the other cards listed here aren’t priced better, this is my budget recommendation.
AMD RX 5500XT 4GB: This card is effectively the replacement for the previous RX580. There’s a 5500XT model with 8GB of VRAM, but it usually has no effect on gaming performance at this tier and costs a little more.
AMD RX580: The RX580 has been around for over three years now and has been a mainstay in the budget category for a while. It’s hard to go wrong with this choice.
These cards are better than the previous cards by enough of a margin to be in their own category but don't break into the next performance tier enough to be considered proper "mid-range" cards. They're still oriented more towards people on a budget with 1080p gaming in mind, but you'll be able to get better framerates or higher graphics settings than the cards right below this.
NVIDIA GTX 1660 Super: The 1660 Super is usually around $250, depending on which specific model you go for. It has completely replaced the standard 1660 at the same price, and around $250 this is generally your best choice.
NVIDIA GTX 1660ti: The 1660ti is around $280-300 and sees a small performance bump over the 1660 Super. However, now that you’re pushing up to that $300 price point, it’s starting to get into pricing territory with the next tier of GPUs, so the value isn’t very compelling.
Now we’re starting to play with the big boys. The cards in this category will run pretty much any game at 1080p/60FPS at high settings with no issue; 1440p/60FPS becomes accessible, but you may need to compromise on settings depending on the card and game. These cards may even be capable of gaming at 4K in lighter graphics titles or with heavy compromise on settings.
NVIDIA RTX 3060: The RTX 3060 is an interesting card. It's slightly better in gaming performance than the previous generation RTX 2060 Super, so relative to the previous generation it sees the "least" performance uplift. However, it comes with 12GB of VRAM. That means that at $329.99 MSRP, it has a unique position as a strong value if you're doing things that are more VRAM intensive such as video editing.
AMD RX 5600XT: The 5600XT can be had for around $300. It goes head-to-head with NVIDIA’S RTX 2060. Performance is typically the same or very close, trading the lead depending on the game.
NVIDIA RTX 2060: The RTX 2060 can range anywhere from $300-400, depending on the model you get. If you can get it at that near $300 price point, it’s worth the price and competes well with the 5600XT.
If you're playing at 1080p, these cards can sometimes be overkill because most games at 1080p are less GPU bound and more CPU bound for your performance. While you will often see performance uplift at 1080p over the mid-range cards, it won't always match the price increase. At this level, we're getting into reliable 1440p/60+FPS at high/max settings, and 4k gaming becomes accessible.
NVIDIA RTX 3060ti: The 3060ti has the same performance as the previous generation's 2080 Super. It handles 1080p and 1440p like a breeze and can even do 4k pretty well. The 3060ti starts at $400, and there’s nothing else that beats it in this price tier.
AMD RX 5700 XT: This was AMD’s most powerful gaming card until the debut of the RX 6000 series. It competed closely with the RTX 2070 Super on release and offered great value at the time. Still a reliable card for 1080p and 1440p gaming at the beginning of the “high end” category, and can provide good quality for AMD enthusiasts.
At the top-end of the GPU spectrum, you can run any game at 1440p with maximum settings at 60FPS in even the most graphically-intense titles. 4k gaming at 60+ FPS with good settings is attainable. This is also where ray tracing becomes “playable,” though it still comes with a lot of performance compromise.
The 2070 Super and 2080 Super were in this category previously but have been effectively replaced by the 3070/3080 at a similar price point, so they’re no longer in our recommendations.
NVIDIA RTX 3070: This card is identical in performance to a 2080ti, last generation’s $1000+ card, starting at $500. Not much else needs to be said. It only has 8GB of VRAM vs. the 2080ti’s 11GB, but that won’t matter for most users.
RTX 2080ti: The 2080ti, once the king of gaming, has now lost its place at the top and is replaced by the RTX 3080 and 3090. It's still an amazing gaming card and worth a look if the price is right.
AMD RX 6800: The RX 6800 competes closest with the 3070 but is a bit more expensive, starting at $570. In non-ray-tracing situations, it pulls ahead of the 3070 and sits a little behind the 3080. It also has double the VRAM of the 3070 with 16GB total, so if you have a specific case where that’s useful for you, it’s something to consider. However, in ray-tracing situations, the 3070 pulls far ahead.
NVIDIA RTX 3080: The RTX 3080 is a beast starting at $700, seeing a 30% performance increase over the 2080ti and 3070. The 4k performance on this card is stellar, and this is the start of a new era of high-resolution gaming. If you're interested in high-end performance with ray tracing, this is where to look. If you're not interested in ray tracing, it's still great, but you may want to consider the 6800XT in that case.
AMD RX 6800XT: AMD is finally taking the fight back to NVIDIA on the high end. Starting at $650 MSRP, this is positioned to compete with the 3080. In non-ray tracing situations, the 6800XT contends well: at 1080p and 1440p, it tends to pull ahead of the 3080, and at 4k, it falls a bit behind but remains very close. However, in ray-tracing situations, the 3080 performs much better. The 6800XT comes with 16GB of VRAM, so that's a point in AMD's favor compared to the 10GB of the 3080 if you're doing something that can take advantage of that extra VRAM.
Cards up in this category tend to see a vast increase in price relative to the previous tiers. In some cases, they can start branching away from pure gaming focus and become more workstation oriented, usually indicated by a significant VRAM increase.
The RTX Titan was in this tier previously but has been removed.
NVIDIA RTX 3090: The RTX 3090 is an interesting card. While NVIDIA has marketed this card with a heavy gaming focus, it's only about 10-15% faster in gaming than the RTX 3080 and costs double the price, with MSRP starting at $1500. And when you look at the specs and see a massive 24GB of VRAM, it becomes clearer what this kind of card is for. This is a card for people that aren't just looking to game but are looking for strong workstation performance in applications that rely heavily on large amounts of VRAM, such as high-res GPU-based rendering in programs like Maya. While NVIDIA did say this was something of a replacement for the Titan, it's still using their normal gaming drivers and does not have the same special driver optimizations and features that a proper Titan-class card has. If you're using software that takes advantage of those optimizations, you'll be better off with a Titan or one of NVIDIAs workstation GPUs. But if you don't need those, this card is insanely powerful in any application that can make use of all that VRAM and is technically the most powerful gaming GPU on the market right now.
AMD RX 6900XT: The 6900XT is positioned between the 3080 and the 3090 at $999 MSRP. It's a faster version of the 6800XT. For non-ray tracing performance, it will usually pull ahead of the 3080 but sit behind the 3090. However, in ray-tracing scenarios, even the 3070 can pull ahead.
If you have follow-up questions, feel free to comment below, and if you’re still looking for part recommendations, we have guides for Processors, Motherboards, RAM, Power Supplies, Hard Drives, and Cases.
Hello all! The CPU and GPU articles had some great info but it didn't compare the GTX cards. I'm wondering where the GTX 1080 Ti ranks on this list? I'm researching for my 1st gaming PC build. I want a PC powerful enough to play games at 1440p at 100 fps and for VR games. There's a small chance me or my daughter will stream game play or post to youtube. My budget is $2k for the system ($2500 including monitor). I'm considering the 1080 ti as it's less expensive than the RTX 2080s but will it meet my expectations? I'm leaning towards the Intel 10600k but willing to go up a level with budget. Suggestions for a strong VR gaming set up? Thanks for reading!
If you're not planning on gamming, is a graphics card required?
Thanks for the feedback Tony. I may want to run 2 monitors, but never 3. Sounds like I will be ok. I could always add a GPU if needed I presume.
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