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Best graphics card 2018: Top GPUs for 1080p, 1440p and 4K

Playing your cards right

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The great graphics card drought is finally over. At long last, prices have returned to normal (all right, semi-normal) levels, and shops – shock horror – have finally wrestled their stock back from those pesky cryptocurrency miners, making now a great time to pick up one of today’s best graphics cards and give your PC a long overdue update. To that end, we’ve rounded up the best graphics cards you can buy right now for playing games at 1080p, 1440p and 4K, seeing which cards can capably handle 60fps at each resolution for the least money.

Best graphics card guide

After months of months hikes and stock shortages, the big question on everybody’s lips is: ‘Is now finally a good time to buy a new graphics card?’ In many ways, yes – prices are a lot better and you won’t have to punch a cryptocurrency miner in the face to nab one from their overheated collection.

Or is it? With the next generation of graphics cards rapidly approaching, you may actually want to hold off a bit until we know what the deal is. At the moment, Nvidia’s Turing GPUs are hotly tipped for a staggered release starting at the end of August, with one new 11-series GTX card releasing each month. Until we hear more from Nvidia at Gamescom (also at the end of August), though, it’s all a bit up in the air. Those looking to buy an AMD card, however, are probably a bit safer. While AMD’s Navi cards are very much in production, it’s currently looking like they’ll take a lot longer to reach shop shelves, giving you more time to enjoy what’s currently on offer.

For those that want to buy a graphics card right now, however, there are a few things you should bear in mind before buying. Firstly, you should seldom actually buy one of Nvidia or AMD’s original reference cards. Partner cards from third parties like MSI, Asus, Zotac, Gigabyte, EVGA and others 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.

Secondly, 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 fps. Obviously, this raises internal temperatures, but that’s why it helps to have a good fan cooler.

This is also the main reason why, as you’ll see below, some models of the same graphics card are a lot more expensive than others – you’re paying for that extra cooling or faster internal clock speed, or a combination of both. You’ll also see ‘mini’ versions of some cards, too – these often smaller fans or only one opposed to two, making them slightly less efficient than a normal sized-model, but they’re a great alternative for smaller PC cases, or those looking to save a bit of money.

Best graphics card for 1080p: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti

Prices: From £150 in the UK / $170 in the US

This souped-up GTX 1050 is about as close as you’ll get to a perfect budget card. Will it run every single game smoothly at its best settings at 1920×1080? Heavens no – for that, you’re probably better off with a GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 580 (see below). However, for under £200 / $250, the GTX 1050Ti is definitely as good as it gets.

The card’s modest-sounding 768 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 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 the latest and greatest 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.

Best graphics card for 1440p: AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB

Or, if you can find it cheaper: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
Prices: From £255 in the UK / $270 in the US

The fight for best mid-range card and our top pick for 1440p gaming has always been a closely fought race between the 8GB version of AMD’s Radeon RX 580 and the 6GB edition of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060. It’s important to make that distinction, as the RX 580 is also available with 4GB of memory, while the GTX 1060 can be found with 3GB. The cards with less memory are, naturally, quite a bit cheaper than their respective 6GB and 8GB siblings, but as we mentioned above with the GTX 1050Ti, the more memory you have, the more future-proofing you have for playing the most demanding games.

Prices are pretty much neck-and-neck at the moment, but in our books, the RX 580 just edges ahead in terms of overall value. The main advantage it has over the GTX 1060 is – you guessed it – its extra 2GB of memory. This gives it a teeny performance boost 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, RX Vega 54 or better, the 8GB RX 580 is arguably a better use of your money. That said, the 6GB GTX 1060 is a fine alternative if you can find one that’s less expensive.

Read more in our AMD Radeon RX 580 review and our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 review.

Best graphics card for 4K: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080

Prices: From £450 in the UK / $470 in the US

When the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070Ti came along, everyone got really excited. It promised almost GTX 1080 levels of power for significantly less cash, and for a while we suggested it as another alternative for our best 4K card. Now, however, prices are more or less neck-and-neck, making the GTX 1080 by far the better deal overall.

Fundamentally, the GTX 1080 is more powerful than the GTX 1070Ti, 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 to feel sufficiently playable, which for the £50-odd / $70 jump in price is 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 / $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.

Read more in our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 review.

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.

1080p alternatives:

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 £10 / $20 or so and go for the RX 580 or GTX 1060 instead.

1440p alternatives (and a teensy bit of 4K):

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 review: The GTX 1070 is arguably a safer bet than the GTX 1060 and RX 580 when it comes to absolutely flawless 1440p gaming at the very best settings, but it also costs nearly twice as much. Most GTX 1070s still cost north of £380 / $450 at time of writing, so if you’re looking to spend that kind of money, you’d be much better off opting for the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070Ti 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. Prices are getting a bit better, with the very cheapest cards now in the region of £440 / $480, but other models (the few that there are) will set you back even further, edging into £580 / $670 territory. When the GTX 1070Ti is going for as little as £395 / $450, and the GTX 1080 for just £460 / $470, the Vega 56 just isn’t a good deal right now.

4K alternatives:

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080Ti review: Arguably the ultimate card for 4K gaming, it’s also still ludicrously expensive, demanding at least £730 / $700 depending on which model you go for. As much as we were impressed by Zotac’s GeForce GTX 1080Ti Mini (which is what I used to test Final Fantasy XV in 4K in my big GPU-off), that’s still almost double the amount of money for definitely not double the amount of performance. This may change, but right now the GTX 1080 is a much better use of your money.

AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 review: The RX Vega 64 is AMD’s top of the line graphics card right now, but performance-wise it’s more a match for the GTX 1080 than GTX 1080Ti. Prices have, admittedly, been getting better in recent weeks – where it once commanded the same mad prices as the GTX 1080Ti, it can now be found for around £550 / $580 – but that’s still around £100 / $100 more than the GTX 1080.

How we test:

Whenever a new graphics card comes in for testing, we put it through a number of gaming tests using both in-game benchmarking tools and real-world gameplay, where the aid of frame rate counters help us 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:

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 one and an idea of what kind of compromises you’ll have to make.

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Who am I?

Katharine Castle

Hardware Editor

Katharine writes about all the bits that go inside your PC so you can carry on playing all those lovely games we like talking about so much. Very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests.

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