We’re only two months into 2019 at the moment, but already we’ve had just as many new graphics card releases – and both of them have sent shock waves throughout the world of today’s best graphics cards. In January, we had Nvidia’s latest mid-range champion arrive on the scene, the RTX 2060, and just this week we’ve had AMD unleash the world’s first 7nm consumer graphics card in the form of the 4K pixel-pusher, the Radeon 7. And, if the rumour mill is to be believed, we may even be getting a third new graphics card very soon in the form of the Nvidia GTX 1660.
Now that we’ve seen what the Radeon 7 can do, however, it’s time to re-evaluate our best graphics card list for 2019. With all the old AMD and Nvidia graphics cards still going strong as well, we’ve now got more graphics cards to choose from than ever before. Fortunately, help is at hand, as I’m here to aid you in finding the best graphics card for you and your budget. Whether it’s for playing games at 1920×1080, 2560×1440 or 4K, I’ve got you covered.
Best graphics card 2019 guide
Here are the rules. For each resolution, you’ll find two recommendations: the best graphics card for playing games at 60fps on max settings at said resolution, plus the card you should actually buy if you’re not that fussed about having the bestest best graphics. This way, the list caters for both the budget conscious among you, and those who’d rather spend a little extra to max out their current monitor setup.
As for which particular brand of graphics card you should buy, that’s a little more difficult to pin down. More expensive cards tend to have superior, custom cooling mechanisms or slightly faster factory overclock speeds, but in terms of performance increase, you’re really only looking at a couple of frames per second difference – as my RTX 2080Ti benchmark showdown shows. My advice is to simply go for the cheapest one you can find, as I’m not overly convinced you’re really getting that much more for your money by opting for something more expensive.
If you’re building a mini-ITX PC, you’ll also want to look at for ‘mini’ versions of some cards, too, which Zotac tend to specialise in. These often have smaller or a single fan as 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 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 580
What you should actually buy: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti or AMD Radeon RX 570
Sure, there are cheaper 3GB versions of the GTX 1060 and 4GB models of the RX 580 out there, but in terms of giving yourself a bit of future-proofing against the ever-increasing memory demands of today’s big blockbusters, 6GB / 8GB will put you in much better stead in the years to come. Both cards can capably handle almost every game available today at max or very high settings at this resolution, making them our top picks for flawless 1080p gaming. Right now, you also get two free games with the RX 580 (out of Devil May Cry 5, the new Resident Evil 2 remake and The Division 2), arguably making it better value overall than the GTX 1060, which only nets you a Fortnite gear bundle.
However, for those who’d rather not spend the better part of 200 big ones on a graphics card, the 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti or 8GB AMD Radeon RX 570 will do you just fine. This is as good as it gets under £200 / $200, and is about as close as you’ll get to a perfect budget graphics card. The GTX 1050Ti’s modest-sounding 768 cores put in a surprising amount of work, pushing it to visibly better performance levels than you’d see from a regular GTX 1050 or AMD’s Radeon RX 560, while the RX 570 comes with a healthier 8GB of memory for superior future-proofing. As long as you stick to 1080p, many games will achieve a certain silkiness with maxed-out quality, while the tougher ones can usually be tamed with Medium settings.
The RX 570 is a new addition to this category, as until very recently it was almost as expensive as the RX 580, making it a rather silly choice when its considerably more powerful sibling only cost a fraction more. However, with prices now as low as they are, the 8GB model is now a much better bet for 1080p gaming than it was six months ago. It’s not as power efficient as the GTX 1050Ti, requiring a power cable from your PSU instead of drawing it straight from your motherboard, but it does come with the added bonus of the same two free games offer as the RX 580. The GTX 1050Ti, on the other hand, doesn’t come with free game bundles at all right now.
Best graphics card for 1440p: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
What you should actually buy: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
A new entry in this category – and the only one that doesn’t have a cheaper alternative because it’s already such a great price for the amount of performance you’re getting – Nvidia’s new RTX 2060 is an absolutely stonking 1440p GPU.
Previously, you would have had to have forked out another £100 / $100 for something like Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070Ti or AMD’s Radeon RX Vega 56 to get proper 1440p perfection on maximum or high quality settings, but now the RTX 2060 can do everything they can and more for a heck of a lot less.
Even better, Nvidia are currently doing a game bundle with the RTX 2060 that gets you a copy of either Battlefield V or Bioware’s upcoming jetpack RPG, Anthem, both of which can make use of the card’s fancy Nvidia RTX features such as its reflection-enhancing ray-tracing tech and performance-boosting DLSS.
Yes, I appreciate not everyone wants to spend upwards of £330 / $350 on a 1440p graphics card, and if you’re looking for something a little bit cheaper, then there’s still a strong case to be made for opting for Nvidia’s 6GB GTX 1060 or AMD’s Radeon RX 590 if you’re not that fussed about having the best-looking polygons. Both of these cards make excellent companions for playing games at 1440p, as well as nearly maxed out 1080p, and will only set you back around £200 / $280. The RX 580 is also a fine choice here if you can’t quite stretch to the RX 590, but AMD’s latest mid-range graphics card is by far and away the better card out of the three cheap options.
Really, though, you should aim for the RTX 2060 if you can, as this really is the best value for money 1440p graphics card I’ve ever seen – and if you need more convincing then have a look at our GTX 1060 vs RTX 2060 comparison graphs to see just how much faster it is in some of today’s toughest games.
Read our Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 review for more info.
Best graphics card for 4K: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080Ti
What you should actually buy: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 or AMD Radeon Vega 64
It’s ludicrously expensive, but if you’ve got the cash and are after the best of the best that 4K has to offer, then the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080Ti is the only card around right now that can do a silky smooth 60fps at 4K on max settings without compromise. You’ll also benefit from all of Nvidia’s best RTX features as and when developers eventually patch in support for all the confirmed ray tracing and DLSS games, and you probably won’t have to upgrade your graphics card again for a considerable number of years.
The thing is, you can still get a pretty damn good 4K experience for almost half as much money. With the GTX 1080 becomingly increasingly scarce, Nvidia’s RTX 2070 is now a much better proposition for would-be 4K-ers. The RTX 2070 is a smidge faster than the GTX 1080, plus it does all the neat RTX bits and bobs that the RTX 2080Ti can do, and comes with a free copy of Battlefield V or Anthem to show them all off as well. You won’t be playing on max settings unfortunately, but if you’re fine with somewhere between 45-50fps (or indeed 60fps in some cases) on either Medium or High, then the RTX 2070 is much better value for money than its ludicrously expensive sibling.
If that doesn’t sound quite good enough for you, then you can always opt for either the RTX 2080 or Radeon 7. Both of these offer much smoother frame rates on High at 4K, but they’re also a lot more expensive – around £650 / $700 at time of writing, with the RTX 2080 just edging out the Radeon 7 in terms of overall value – see our Radeon 7 vs RTX 2080 comparison piece for more info.
The main reason why I haven’t recommended either of these cards as the 4K cards to buy here, however, is because I’ve found they both seem to bottleneck when paired with my Core i5 CPU, which hinders their overall performance. The RTX 2070, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to suffer from such problems, and neither does my other recommendation in this category, the AMD Radeon RX Vega 64. As a result, I’d only recommend splashing out on the RTX 2080 or Radeon 7 if you have a Core i7 or Ryzen 7 CPU at your disposal, otherwise you’ll be doing yourself a disservice.
Indeed, the Vega 64 is a particularly enticing prospect at the moment, as prices have just been getting better and better. It’s not quite as powerful as the RTX 2070, truth be told, but its cheaper price (at least in the UK) plus the same three free games deal available with the RX 590 (and Radeon 7, I might add) all add up to make it another tempting offer for those looking to keep costs down.
Is now a good time to buy a new graphics card?
With Nvidia’s RTX 2060 and AMD’s Radeon 7 now out in the wild, there are currently no more big graphics card releases on the horizon that we currently know about. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there’s a question mark over whether the so-called GTX 1660 will arrive sometime this month, but so far, Nvidia have kept schtum about it. Either way, something is clearly in the works for those after a 1080p graphics card, so it might be wise to hold fire for the time being until we know what the deal is.
We also don’t really know what’s going on with AMD’s next-gen Navi cards either. They could be another bunch of high-end cards like their recently released Radeon 7, or they could be an entire suite of budget to mid-range cards. We just don’t know. It’s possible we may see some more announcements in June when Computex takes place over in Taiwan, but we may well have to wait until Gamescom in August like Nvidia did with their original RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti launch last year. It’s just too early to say.
Personally, you’re probably fine buying a high-end graphics card at the moment, but if you want to be 100% sure that something isn’t about to come along and replace it, then I’d say the only truly safe bet right now is the 1440p category. I’d be very surprised if AMD come up with an RTX 2060 competitor any time soon, so anyone after something at the border between mid-range and high-end should be able to buy a new graphics card right now with relative confidence.
How we test:
Whenever a new graphics card comes in for testing, I 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 me determine what kind of average frame rate you can expect at various different quality settings. Currently, I test each graphics card with the following games:
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- Total War: Warhammer II
- The Witcher III
- Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
- Forza Horizon 4
- Monster Hunter: World
- Final Fantasy XV
In each case, I see what’s possible at the highest graphics setting at 1920×1080, 2560×1440 and, if it can handle it, 3840×2160 (4K). Then I 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.
If you’re also looking for a new monitor to go with your new graphics card, make sure you check out our best gaming monitor recommendations as well.