There has never been a better time to pick up one of today’s best graphics cards. It’s taken a while, but graphics card prices are finally coming back down to normal, bringing the likes of Nvidia and AMD’s latest and greatest finally within reach again.
To help you choose the best graphics card for your needs and budget, we’re here to help. This 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 our in-depth buying advice on what and how to buy your next graphics card for 2018.
To clarify what we 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. Instead, we’re more concerned with what cards can capably handle 60fps at each res for the least money.
That said, you should seldom actually buy one of Nvidia or AMD’s original reference cards – even if they are the only ones in stock sometimes. Partner cards are the way to go, especially if they come with an upgraded, open-air fan cooler. Nvidia and AMD’s reference 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.
How we test:
Whenever a new graphics card comes in for testing, we put it through a number of gaming tests using both internal benchmarking tools and real-world gameplay, where the aid of frame rate counters help us to determine what kind of average frame rate you can expect at various different quality settings.
Currently, we test each graphics card with the following games: Hitman, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Total War: Warhammer II, The Witcher III, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Doom, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Assassin’s Creed Origins and Final Fantasy XV. In each case, we see what’s possible at the highest graphics setting at 1920×1080, 2560×1440 and, if it can handle it, 3840×2160 (4K). We then aim to get each game running at 60fps at each resolution, giving you the best case scenario for each game and an idea of what kind of compromises you’ll have to make.
Is now a good time to buy a new graphics card?
In the grand scheme of things, yes, absolutely. Prices have never been better and stock levels are gradually returning to normal after the great cryptocurrency mining drought of 2017-2018. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that Nvidia may well be about to announce their next-gen graphics cards very soon, which are currently going under the codename of Nvidia Turing. We don’t know much about these potential 11-series (e.g.: the GTX 1180 or GTX 1170), or even 20-series (GTX 2080 or GTX 2070) of graphics cards just yet, but all the current gossip points towards a release date sometime this autumn, so you may want to hold off until then to see what Nvidia come up with.
For now, though, let’s take a look at the cards you should be considering today for flawless 60fps gaming.
Best graphics card for 1080p: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti
This souped-up GTX 1050 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 than £200 / $250, 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 you’ll find on 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.
Read more in our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti review.
Should I buy it now? YES
$183: Asus GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Cerberus O4G 4GB
$200: Zotac GeForce GTX 1050 Ti ZT-P10510E-10L 4GB
$200: MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4G OC 4GB
$204: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 Ti DirectX 12 GV-N105TOC-4GD
Best graphics card for 1440p: AMD Radeon RX 580
Or, if you’d rather something slightly cheaper: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
Mid-range cards have been pretty hard to get hold of recently, demanding prices in the region of £350-400 / $400-450. Thankfully, stock levels are finally returning to normal and prices have dropped accordingly, with many of our favourite mid-range cards now well below £300 / $350.
Previously, we’ve recommended both the 8GB version of the AMD Radeon RX 580 (which is also available as a cheaper model with just 4GB of memory) and the 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (which, confusingly, is also available with 3GB of memory) in this category, but now that prices have returned to something resembling normality, the RX 580 is, in our books, the better value card for 1440p gaming.
Right now, the GTX 1060 is currently the cheaper card of the two, but you don’t have to spend that much more (around £50 in the UK and just $10 in the US) to get the RX 580. The main advantage this has over the GTX 1060 is its 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.
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, the 8GB RX 580 is arguably a better use of your money if you want to give yourself a bit of future-proofing. For those looking to save themselves a bit of money, though, the 6GB GTX 1060 is a fine alternative.
Should I buy it now? YES
Best graphics card for 4K: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Or, if you don’t mind a bit of compromise and would rather save a bit of cash: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070Ti
Again, this is almost a toss-up between two cards: Nvidia’s GTX 1070Ti 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 decent-ish settings as long as you’re happy with a frame rate somewhere in the 30fps ballpark as opposed to a full 60fps.
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, which for the £60-odd / $70 jump in price absolutely worth it.
More importantly, prices are finally getting back to normal, making it the first time in ages where we’d actually recommend buying a card of calibre. Yes, we know Final Fantasy XV recommends you get a GTX 1080Ti for playing in 4K, but unless you’ve got a spare £700-800 lying under your mattress, then the GTX 1080 is by far and away the best value option for 4K chasers at the moment.
Should I buy it now? YES (FINALLY)
And the rest…
The graphics cards we’ve listed above may be our top choices across our chosen three resolutions, but there are plenty more cards out there that you may prefer instead – so here’s a short list of every other graphics card review we currently have on RPS. We’ve ordered them in rough resolution order, so you know which cards are capable of what kind of power, as well as a few lines about why, in our eyes, they don’t quite match up to the cards listed above.
AMD Radeon RX 570 review: The slightly less powerful sibling of the RX 580, this card is a great all-round option for 1080p gaming that offers a little more horsepower than the GTX 1050Ti, but really, it’s just too expensive for what it is. When most cards will set you back somewhere in the region of £250-270 / $-, you may as well plumb the extra and go for the RX 580 or GTX 1060 instead.
1440p alternatives (and a teensy bit of 4K):
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 review: As mentioned above, the GTX 1070 is arguably a safer bet than the GTX 1060 when it comes to flawless 1440p gaming, but it also costs twice as much, even with graphics cards prices on the descent. Most cards still cost north of £400 / $450 at time of writing, if not closer to £500 / $550, so if you’re looking to spend that kind of money, you’d be much better off opting for the GTX 1070Ti (such as the Zotac GeForce GTX 1070Ti Mini for £400) and get a lot more oomph for around the same amount of cash.
AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 review: As powerful as AMD’s RX Vega 56 is, this is also far too expensive right now to consider as a viable alternative, whether it’s at 1440p or knocking on the door of 4K. The cheapest cards we’ve found still cost in the region of £550 / $600, but other models will set you back even further. When the GTX 1070Ti is going for as little as £400, and the GTX 1080 for just under £500, the Vega 56 just isn’t a good deal right now.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080Ti review: Arguably the ultimate card for 4K gaming, it’s also still ludicrously expensive. Whereas the GTX 1080 can be found for as little as £490, the GTX 1080Ti currently demands a sizable £700-850 / $950-1000 depending on which model you go for. As much as we were impressed by Zotac’s GeForce GTX 1080Ti Mini (which is what we used to test Final Fantasy XV in 4K in our big GPU-off and can currently be found for £720), that’s still almost double the amount of money for definitely not double the amount of performance. This may change as stock levels increase, but right now, the GTX 1080 is a much better use of your money.
AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 review: The number of Vega 64 cards from third party manufacturers is still quite small at the moment, and it’s reflected in its price, too, which is pretty much in the same ballpark as the GTX 1080Ti: around £700-750 in the UK and $700-800 in the US. If you really want to spend that much on a graphics card, though (which we’d definitely advise against doing), then the GTX 1080Ti is definitely the clear winner. The Vega 64 has always been a closer match to the GTX 1080 in our eyes, so the fact it commands GTX 1080Ti level prices at the moment is just mad. Again, this situation may well change once more models start coming through (and prices get better), but at the moment, 4K chasers should definitely choose Nvidia.