It’s been a busy 12 months in the race to become to next best graphics card, and 2020 doesn’t show any signs of it stopping, either. While we’ve had nearly all the best graphics cards we’re likely to see from Nvidia this generation, AMD are just getting started, and will be releasing their hotly anticipated 1080p best graphics card contender, the RX 5600 XT, next week.
Before that happens, though, these are my best graphics card recommendations for 1080p, 1440p and 4K gaming as things currently stand. For each category, you’ll find the best graphics card for playing games at a smooth 60fps on max settings at each resolution, followed by the best graphics card you should actually buy if you’d rather save a bit of money and aren’t that fussed about having the best graphics settings.
In each case, our best budget graphics card recommendation will still be able to play games at 60fps on Medium to High settings at their chosen resolution, making them a great choice for those of you who just want something that will get the job done, fancy graphics settings be damned. With that in mind, then, here are my best graphics card recommendations for 2020.
Best graphics card (1080p): Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
What you should actually buy: AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT (4GB)
If you want to play games at max settings at 1920×1080, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti is hands down the best graphics card for the job right now. Offering smooth, 60fps speeds in pretty much every one of today’s biggest blockbusters on Ultra graphics quality (and even faster frame rates on High if you have a high refresh rate monitor), this card will stand you in good stead for many years to come. Anything more powerful is just overkill.
That said, it’s about to face some stiff competition from AMD’s Radeon RX 5600 XT graphics card, which is being pitched as the “ultimate 1080p graphics card”. Launching on January 21st for $279 (the same price as Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Ti) this will definitely be one to watch over the coming weeks, and I’ll update our best graphics card list again once I’ve put it through my benchmarking suite.
However, those looking to keep costs down under £200 / $200 will almost certainly do just as well with the 4GB version of AMD’s Radeon RX 5500 XT. It’s also available in a more expensive 8GB model, but the 4GB version is still a fantastic graphics card in its own right, offering near-60fps speeds on High graphics in pretty much every big game going, and 60fps+ when playing on Medium.
What’s more, you don’t actually get any more for your money with the 8GB version on these settings, as my tests show they deliver nigh-on identical frame rates on Medium and High quality settings. The only area where the 8GB version really comes into its own is giving you a bit more room to play with on Ultra, as some games demand more than 4GB of memory for their fanciest texture packs. The 8GB version isn’t quite powerful enough to hit 60fps on max settings, though, so you’re not really gaining much overall. For 60fps hunters, then, the 4GB offers a nigh-on identical experience, for a much lower cost. Plus, you get a free three month subscription to Xbox Game Pass on PC with it, too, giving you access to over a hundred games for absolutely nothing, as well as a free copy of Monster Hunter: World‘s Iceborne Master edition.
Best graphics card (1440p): AMD Radeon RX 5700 or Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
What you should actually buy: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
Playing games at 2560×1440 takes a much bigger toll on your graphics card than 1920×1080, but thankfully we’ve got plenty of options when it comes to picking our best graphics card for 1440p category. Theoretically, you could spend as much as you want here, with cards like the Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Super and AMD’s Radeon RX 5700 XT offering peerless performance on max settings at this resolution, but they also cost an absolute bomb. The RTX 2070 Super, for example, currently comes in around the £500 / $500 mark, while the RX 5700 XT will set you back around £400 / $400.
For my money, I think you’ll be just fine with the next tier down from that with the AMD Radeon RX 5700 or Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060. Both of these cards offer excellent 60fps performance in nearly all of top’s top games on max settings, with the RX 5700 coming in just a teensy bit faster than its Nvidia rival – just see my big RTX 2060 vs RX 5700 vs RTX 2060 Super vs RX 5700 XT comparison piece to find out more.
However, there’s another thing you’ll want to consider when buying one of our best graphics card recommendations for 1440p, and that’s whether you want a card that can do ray tracing or not. Put simply, ray tracing allows for more realistic shadows and reflections, and you can see demos of it in action in my Nvidia RTX article. Right now, only Nvidia’s RTX cards offer ray tracing support, with the RTX 2060 being the cheapest one currently available. AMD’s graphics cards, on the other hand, don’t have any ray tracing support whatsoever.
That’s not to say the RX 5700 is a complete waste of money, though. Personally, I don’t see ray tracing becoming an absolutely vital bit of tech for another couple of years – there are some ray tracing games available now, with more coming this year, but I wouldn’t say any of them (apart from maybe Remedy’s Control) are worth buying a ray tracing-enabled graphics card for right this second. Instead, ray tracing is only likely to really take off in a big way once developers have got to grips with it for Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen consoles, which aren’t coming out until the end of 2020. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up taking another year or two before we started seeing enough good and worthwhile ray tracing games to make it a viable proposition, by which point you’ll probably be in the mood to start thinking about upgrading your graphics card again.
Plus, there’s the current performance cost of ray tracing to take into account as well. While the RTX 2060 is one of the best graphics cards for general 1440p performance right now, it’s not really powerful enough to do 60fps ray tracing at that resolution. Instead, you’re more likely going to have to turn the resolution down to 1920×1080 if you want to play games with ray tracing switched on with the RTX 2060, which may not be to your satisfaction. In this case, the RTX 2070 Super would be a better choice if you’re determined to play everything you possibly can with ray tracing at 1440p, but you’ll have to pay considerably more for the privilege.
Of course, if you’re not fussed about ray tracing or playing games on max settings at 1440p, then Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Ti is definitely the next best graphics card to buy. As you can see from our Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti vs RTX 2060 comparison article, the GTX 1660 Ti isn’t actually that far behind the RTX 2060 in a lot of cases, and is still able to offer 60fps on Medium to High settings at this resolution, making it an equally good choice for those after a highly capable 1440p card that doesn’t cost the earth.
Best graphics card (4K): Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
What you should actually buy: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super
It’s ludicrously expensive, but if you’ve got the cash and are after the best graphics card for 4K gaming, then the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the only card around right now that can do a silky smooth 60fps at 4K on High to max settings without compromise. With one of these graphics cards inside your PC, you probably won’t have to upgrade your GPU again for a considerable number of years.
The thing is, the RTX 2080 Ti continues to be crazy expensive right now, and you can still get a pretty decent 4K experience for a heck of a lot less – provided you’re not too fussed about playing on the highest graphics settings, that is. Previously, I recommended Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Super as the 4K graphics card you should actually buy, but now that the RTX 2080 Super has arrived, I think you’d be much better off spending the extra cash on that instead of settling for the 2070 Super. The RTX 2070 Super is still a decent card for entry-level 4K, but it’s really only suitable for playing on Low to Medium settings at best, whereas the RTX 2080 Super will let you push up to Medium and High on a much more regular basis. Just have a look at my RTX 2070 Super vs RTX 2080 Super article for more information.
AMD, on the other hand, don’t have a current 4K contender in this space right now, making Nvidia the way to go here. That will likely change later in the year, but at time of writing AMD’s high-end RX 5000 graphics cards are likely still a long way off. These, however, are rumoured to support ray tracing, so it may be worth waiting to see exactly what AMD have got planned here if your PC isn’t in dire need of an upgrade.
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: Three Kingdoms
- The Witcher III
- Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
- Forza Horizon 4
- Monster Hunter: World
- Final Fantasy XV
- Metro Exodus
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.
What type of graphics card should I actually buy?
Graphics cards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and deciding which one to go for can be a bit of a headache. A lot will come down to personal choice, but more expensive cards tend to have superior cooling and faster clock speeds, making them better suited for those who really want to get the most out of their graphics card through overclocking and the like.
In terms of performance, though, you’re probably only looking at an increase of a couple of frames per second by opting for one of these more expensive cards, so unless you’re going to set about overclocking them once you’ve got it out of the box, my advice is to simply go for the cheapest one possible. I’ve done a couple of graphics card group tests now, and I’m just not convinced you’re really getting that much more for your money by opting for something more expensive – just have a look at my RTX 2070 Super benchmark showdown, RTX 2080 Super benchmark showdown and RTX 2080 Ti benchmark showdown to see what I mean. For what it’s worth, I always try to test graphics cards at the cheaper end of their respective categories to give a more accurate assessment of the type of performance you’ll get straight out of the box.
That said, it’s also important to think about the size of your case. If you’re building a mini-ITX PC, for instance, then you’ll want to look for “mini” versions of your chosen graphics card. These often have a single fan and are marginally less powerful than their full-sized siblings, but they’re a great alternative for smaller PC cases or anyone looking to save a bit of money. Zotac make a lot of excellent mini cards, for example, but you’ll also see smaller model from Asus and Palit as well.
Looking for more of the best PC components for that all important upgrade? Be sure to also check out our best gaming monitor and best gaming CPU recommendations for all of our latest and greatest hardware picks, or our RPS Rig guide for everything you need to build a PC from scratch for less than £1000.