With graphics card prices soaring once again thanks to the lovely exploits of nefarious cryptocurrency miners, choosing what graphics card to buy has never been more difficult – which is why this here article is all about identifying the single best GPU you can get for playing games at 1080p, 1440p and 4K at a price that suits you. Read on for advice on what and how to pick your next graphics card for 2018.
Before we begin, here’s a short list of every graphics card review we currently have on RPS. This should hopefully make it easier to find out what we think of specific cards, as well as provide a handy index should you want to compare our top picks with other types of graphics cards. We’ll also be updating this list every time we get a new graphics card in for testing so everything’s in one place.
Graphics card buying guide
To clarify what I mean by ‘best’, it won’t just be the card that can get the highest frame rate regardless of all other factors – otherwise it’d just be the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti for every resolution. I’m more concerned, as I’m sure you are, with what cards can capably handle 60fps at each res for the least money.
At most price points and performance levels, you’ve essentially got a choice between Nvidia or AMD cards; these aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but generally, Nvidia’s tend to be more efficient (thanks to the current generation’s Pascal manufacturing architecture), while AMD’s tend to cost less. Less at the low- and high-end, anyway – mid-range Radeons are currently being battered particularly hard by the aforementioned crypto-mining volatility.
That said, you should seldom actually buy one of the original reference cards. Partner cards are the way to go, especially if they come with an upgraded, open-air fan cooler. Nvidia and AMD’s designs use noisy, less efficient ‘blower style’ coolers. Partner cards also typically benefit from small, but factory-tested (and thus safe and stable) core speed overclocks, improving performance even if it’s just an extra few frames-per-second. Obviously, this raises internal temperatures, but that’s why it helps to have a good fan cooler.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the cards you should be considering for flawless 60fps gaming.
Best graphics card for 1080p: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti
Should I buy it now? YES
This souped-up GTX 1050 (souped-up in the sense Nvidia didn’t intentionally disable any of its processor cores) is about as close as you’ll get to a perfect budget card. Will it smoothly run every single game at its best settings on Full HD? Heavens no, but that’s a pipe dream even for parts costing twice as much.
Besides, for less (far less) than £200, this is easily as good as it gets. The modest-sounding 768 CUDA cores put in a surprising amount of work, pushing the GTX 1050Ti to visibly better performance levels than you’d see from a regular GTX 1050 or AMD’s Radeon RX 560. As long as you stick to 1080p, many games actually will achieve a certain silkiness with maxed-out quality, and even the tougher ones can be tamed with Medium settings.
It comes equipped with 4GB of memory (the same as some mid-range cards), though at 1080p this alone won’t make much of a difference compared to the 2GB of cheaper options. Then again, it might be wise to have that extra VRAM on hand for the future, what with AAA games getting sharper and shinier all the time.
In any case, it’s not just price or performance that makes the GTX 1050Ti so good. It’s also incredibly efficient, only requiring a 300W power supply to run (again, good news for cash-strapped budget builders), and unlike any of the other cards in this article, can go without any six- or eight-pin power cable. Instead, it simply drinks all the juice it needs directly from the mobo’s PCIe slot.
Best graphics card for 1440p: AMD Radeon RX 580 in the UK, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 in the US
Should I buy it now? NO, UNLESS YOU HAVE A BUCKET OF CASH UNDER YOUR MATTRESS
Mid-range cards are increasingly difficult to get hold of right now, with many retailers’ stock utterly depleted by those pesky miners. Short of breaking into a Bitcoin miner’s house and stealing one from their collection, however, our favourite mid-range card to get for 1440p gaming is, in our books, the AMD Radeon RX 580. Or at least it is if you can find one for a decent price.
At the moment, its nearest competitor, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, is actually a smidge cheaper, although you’re still looking at paying at least £360 as opposed to £400. There are 4GB versions of the RX 580 available for £350, but opting for 4GB instead of 8GB of memory will cost you in 1440p performance as well as future-proofing potential. We’re also starting to see games launching with Ultra-quality graphics settings (mainly textures) that require 8GB, such as in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, so unless you fancy dropping nearly twice as much on a GTX 1070, Vega RX 54 or better, an 8GB RX 580 is the way to go.
The main advantage the 8GB RX 580 has over the GTX 1060 is that it has an extra 2GB of memory. This gives it a teeny performance advantage when playing at resolutions above 1080p (except in VR, where the GTX 1060 wins out). Frame rates are typically close enough that you couldn’t tell them apart by eyeballing, but other telltale signs of a struggling card – like micro-stuttering in The Witcher 3 – are slightly less prevalent on the RX 580.
As such, the RX 580 remains our objective choice for best graphics card at 1440p, but if you’re looking to get a graphics card RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT (which we wouldn’t recommend, given current prices), then the GTX 1060 is probably a better bet, if only by virtue of being a tad cheaper and actually in stock. This Asus GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Dual OC option is currently £380 (or £330 if you don’t mind waiting a few weeks), whereas this triple-fan Asus AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB Strix OC edition will set you back a hefty £400. Those in the US, meanwhile, should consider the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming version that starts at $480. Otherwise you’re looking at paying $640 for the Asus Radeon RX 580 O4G OC.
Best graphics card for 4K: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Should I buy it now? NO, UNLESS YOU HAVE A SECOND CASH BUCKET
Again, this is almost a toss-up between two cards: Nvidia’s GTX 1070 and the GTX 1080. It’s incredibly tempting to suggest the former; it’s cheaper (just), yet still manages to run most games at 4K with reasonably high settings. Indeed, the GTX 1070 actually uses the same GPU as the GTX 1080, the GP-104, just with a chunk of its cores disabled. Both have 8GB of memory, too.
Why, then, go for the GTX 1080? Fundamentally, it’s more powerful, and not by an insignificant amount – at 4K specifically, it can make the difference between a game chugging along and it just finding enough frames-per-second to feel sufficiently playable. And at current prices, that’s definitely worth the extra £100 it will cost you over the GTX 1070.
This isn’t remotely surprising given the GTX 1080’s additional cores, but there’s also the VRAM. These two cards might have an equal 8GB apiece, but some memory is more equal and others, as the GTX 1080 employs GDDR5X-type VRAM to the GTX 1070’s older GDDR5. Basically, GDDR5X memory works faster while using slightly less power, allowing the GTX 1080 to access all that juicy graphics data – and get the results on your monitor – a little bit faster.
Again, we wouldn’t recommend buying a high-end graphics card at all right now until prices settle back down to normal, but if you’re desperate to get a new card for Final Fantasy XV, say, and don’t want to spend nearly £850-900 on the recommended GTX 1080 Ti for all that 4K crystal goodness, then the GTX 1080 is really the best-value-for-money option at the moment – such as this £650 EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB FTW Gaming ACX 3.0 model.
Speaking of money, here’s why Nvidia’s other 4K-ready options (AMD’s Vega cards are, if you’ll forgive the bluntness, not as good) can be safely passed over: the GTX 1070Ti only offers tiny improvements on the GTX 1070 for more cash than they’re really worth, and the top-of-the-line GTX 1080 Ti is just silly expensive. Sure, it’s got what purists would say is more of true high-end GPU, the GP-102, but this only translates into – again – marginally better performance than that of the GTX 1080.
Or at least it does if you’re in the UK. US folk are actually probably better spending a fraction more on the GTX 1080 Ti, as prices are pretty much neck-and-neck at the moment – see this Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 OC 8GD for $820 versus this MSI GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Duke 11G OC for $900.