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Best graphics cards 2021: the top gaming GPUs

Our top graphics card picks for 1080p, 1440p and 4K

If your PC is struggling to play the latest games at decent frame rates, then upgrading to one of today's best graphics cards is the perfect way to turbocharge your PC's gaming performance. Having a fast CPU and SSD can help, but nothing will give your PC a shot in the arm like a new GPU. To help you find the best graphics card for your PC, I've put together this list of all my top GPU recommendations for 1080p, 1440p, 4K and ultrawide. Whether you're looking for something cheap and cheerful or a 4K powerhouse, we've got you covered.

Before we begin, I must stress that now is not the best time to be buying a new graphics card. Despite several new launches from Nvidia and AMD at the end of last year, stock levels across the board are practically non-existent, making it difficult to find anything (even older cards) that's actually available to buy. Low stock levels have also driven up prices as a result, so even if you do manage to find a GPU in stock, it's probably much more expensive than it should be. As such, I'd strongly advise waiting until things calm down a bit, because you'll likely end up spending a lot more than you need to over the coming months. To help you gauge how much you should be paying for these graphics cards, I've listed their starting prices in their specs box.

Best gaming CPU | Best gaming monitors | Best 4K gaming monitors | Best gaming headsets | Best gaming keyboards | Best gaming mouse | Best SSD for gaming | How to install a new graphics card | Ray tracing games

Once prices settle down, though, the following graphics cards all come with the RPS seal of approval. I've ordered them by resolution, as I find this is one of the best and most practical ways of gauging what kind of graphics card is most suitable for you PC. Our top picks are all capable of playing the latest games on max settings at 60fps, but you'll also find cheaper budget options for each resolution that are still perfectly capable of hitting 60fps on lower graphics settings if you're not that fussed about maxing out your PC. With all that in mind, here are our best graphics card picks for 2021.

The best graphics cards for gaming


AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT

The best cheap 1080p graphics card

For those who don't want to spend more than £200 / $200 on their graphics card, the 4GB version of the AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT offers more than enough performance to play games at 1080p. It's also available in a more expensive 8GB model, but you're not really getting that much more for your money. The 4GB version is still a fantastic graphics card in its own right, offering near-60fps speeds on High quality settings in pretty much every big game going, and well over 60fps when playing on Medium.

The 8GB version is worth picking up if you can find one at a good price, but my tests showed it delivered 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 really not gaining much overall. For 60fps hunters, then, the 4GB offers a nigh-on identical experience for a much lower cost.

It's likely to be replaced later this year with one of AMD's new RX 6000 series graphics cards, though, so this entry may well change in a few month's time. For now, though, we recommend AMD's Radeon RX 5500 XT over nearly all of Nvidia's rival GTX 16-series GPUs, as under normal circumstances we think it's much better value for money.

What we like:
✔️ Great 1080p performance on a budget
✔️ Much faster frame rates than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1650
✔️ Identical performance to the (normally more expensive) GTX 1660

Read more in our AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT review


AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT

The best 1080p graphics card, and best cheap 1440p graphics card

The RX 5500 XT is a great little graphics card, but if you want to play games at max settings at 1920x1080 and have the option of pushing into the realms of 2560x1440 gaming, then the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT is hands down the best graphics card for the job. It's faster than Nvidia's similarly-priced GeForce GTX 1660 Super and GTX 1660 Ti, and offers smooth speeds of 60fps in pretty much every one of today's biggest blockbusters on Ultra quality settings at 1080p - and even faster frame rates on High if you have a high refresh rate gaming monitor, often hitting at least 80fps.

The RX 5600 XT is just as fast as Nvidia's RTX 2060, too, producing identical speeds at 1080p and 1440p for a lot less. It can hit a steady 60fps on High or Medium quality settings at 1440p, and can even manage playable speeds on max quality settings in some games as well. It doesn't support ray tracing, but in terms of overall value, the RX 5600 XT is a tough act to beat.

Much like the RX 5500 XT, though, AMD will likely replace the RX 5600 XT with a more powerful RX 6000 model later this year. At the moment, we don't know if the inevitable RX 6600 XT will support ray tracing just yet, but we should know more before the end of June.

What we like:
✔️ 60fps speeds on max settings at 1080p
✔️ Capable of hitting 60fps on Medium to High settings at 1440p
✔️ Identical performance to Nvidia's RTX 2060 for less

Read more in our AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT review


Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti

The best 1440p graphics cards

Playing games on max settings at 2560x1440 requires a lot more horsepower than it does at 1920x1080, but Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3060 Ti is currently the card to beat for 60fps speeds on maximum settings. Like all graphics cards at the moment, it's sold out pretty much everywhere right now, but if you're looking for flawless, 1440p perfection, this card should definitely be at the top of your list once prices and stock levels start to settle down.

There's simply nothing else like it in its price range right now, as AMD are yet to announce their next-gen successor to the RX 5600 XT. We might see a new competitor from AMD before the end of June, but until then, the RTX 3060 Ti is the one to put on your wish list. Not only is it capable of hitting 60fps speeds on max settings in today's latest games, such as Assassin's Creed Valhalla, but it's also capable of delivering frame rates upwards of 70-80fps in slightly older blockbusters as well.

The RTX 3060 Ti also has significantly improved ray tracing performance compared to Nvidia's previous generation of RTX cards, meaning you can actually play today's crop of ray tracing games at 1440p instead of having to settle for 1080p. If ray tracing is particularly important to you and you've got the budget, you may want to think about the RTX 3070 instead, though, especially if you've got a high refresh rate monitor. For more info and benchmark results, check out our RTX 3060 Ti vs RTX 3070 article.

What we like:
✔️ Delivers 60fps speeds on max settings at 1440p in all of today's biggest games
✔️ More than doubles the performance of the GTX 1070
✔️ Offers RTX 2080 Super levels of power for a lot less

Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti review


Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070

The best graphics card for ultrawide gaming monitors

Playing ultrawide PC games is almost as demanding as playing them at 4K, but thankfully the lower 3440x1440 resolution of most ultrawide monitors means you can get away with a slightly cheaper graphics card as a result. For us, that's the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070, although an older RTX 2070 Super or AMD's new Radeon RX 6800 will also get the job done as well based on our testing.

In fairness, Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3080 is another fine choice for ultrawide monitor owners, and those determined to play games at the highest possible settings and the fastest refresh rates will no doubt get a lot of benefit from its extra horsepower. For us, though, the cheaper RTX 3070 is much better value overall, capable of delivering highly playable frame rates at 3440x1440 and below, and it's probably the closest thing to a 'cheap 4K graphics card' you're going to get, too, if you don't have the budget for the RTX 3080.

Indeed, the RTX 3070 is more than capable of hitting 60fps in most of today's big games that support ultrawide resolutions, and it's got buckets of power for playing games at a regular, 16:9 resolution of 2560x1440, too, when games don't have any ultrawide resolution support. Indeed, the RTX 3070 can hit speeds of at least 70-80fps on max settings at 2560x1440, and 60fps at 4K on Medium to High settings. It's a great card for ray tracing at 1440p as well, making it one of the most versatile graphics cards around for high resolution monitor owners.

What we like:
✔️ Sets a new benchmark for 1440p speeds in its price range with 80fps+ on max settings
✔️ 4K 60fps performance on High quality settings in all of today's big blockbusters
✔️ More or less doubles the performance of the GTX 1070

Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 review


Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080

The best graphics card for 4K

I haven't included a 'cheap 4K graphics card' option here, because let's face it, when you're spending this kind of money on a new GPU, it pays to get the best, and currently that's the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080. Not only is it capable of delivering a smooth 60fps on max settings in pretty much all of today's big blockbusters (there are, naturally, a couple of exceptions but they're few and far between), but it's also a much better buy than AMD's next-gen 4K rival, the Radeon RX 6800 XT.

Like all new graphics cards right now, the RTX 3080 has been sold out for months, making it very difficult to get of. In theory, the RX 6800 XT is technically a smidge cheaper than the RTX 3080, but it's just not quite as fast as Nvidia's new flagship, both in terms of raw performance and how it fares with ray tracing.

The RTX 3080 also has the benefit of Nvidia's DLSS tech to help boost its ray tracing performance in compatible games (which is increasingly a lot of the big ray tracing games), and AMD's DLSS equivalent isn't currently available. It's possible the RX 6800 XT may supplant the RTX 3080 once AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution tech is out in the wild, but in the meantime, the RTX 3080 is the 4K graphics card to buy right now.

What we like:
✔️ 4K 60fps performance on max settings in almost every game going
✔️ Significantly improved ray tracing and DLSS performance over Nvidia's RTX 20 series
✔️ Sets the benchmark for next-gen 4K graphics cards

Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 review


Frequently asked questions

Why are graphics cards so expensive right now?

If you've tried to buy a new graphics card recently, you'll know it's been nigh-on impossible to get hold of one. Stock levels are at all-time lows, and demand for new hardware has never been greater - and it doesn't look like it's going to get much better any time soon, either, as Nvidia have warned that the current GPU situation may not resolve itself until 2022. It's the same situation for those trying to buy a new console, too, with the Xbox Series X and Series S and PlayStation 5 all suffering from similar delays and stock shortages.

On the graphics card front, this is due to a combination of Covid-19-related manufacturing delays from 2020, with many factories shutting down just as they should have been gearing up to get ready for all the new hardware launches due to take place at the end of the year, and a new boom in cryptocurrency mining. GPUs are hot commodities for crypto-miners, as many rely on having lots of GPU power to mine their respective currencies. The cryptomining situation is likely to affect SSDs soon, too, and may result in further hardware shortages later this year. It's a grim situation, as the extra demand from cryptominers means there are even more people vying for these cards than normal, making it difficult for regular folk to get our hands on one. This situation isn't unique to 2021, though, as we saw in the great graphics card shortage of 2018. Things will sort themselves out eventually, but we could be in for a long wait before prices return to normal.

Which graphics cards have ray tracing?

Ray tracing is the hot new graphics tech of next-gen hardware, but you need a special graphics card to take advantage of it. Right now, that's all of Nvidia's RTX 20 series and 30 series GPUs, and AMD's Radeon RX 6000 cards. On the Nvidia side, that includes everything from an RTX 2060 to RTX 2080 Ti, and RTX 3060 to RTX 3090, while AMD's ray tracing GPU family starts at the RX 6700 XT and ends at the RX 6900 XT.

Intel are also due to release graphics cards with ray tracing support later this year with the launch of their upcoming Xe GPUs, but we don't know when these will be available yet.

Which is better, AMD or Nvidia?

An age old question that changes with every generation of graphics cards. Right now, Nvidia graphics cards at the best for playing games at high resolutions, such as 1440p or above. AMD cards are better for those on a budget, as they're often better value than their Nvidia counterparts - and you can see that split pretty clearly in the cards we've picked above.

Indeed, while AMD's new Radeon RX 6000 cards are often just as powerful as their Nvidia counterparts at high resolutions, both in terms of their raw performance and ray tracing capabilities, they suffer from two big problems. The first is that they're not as keenly priced as Nvidia's high-end GPUs, and often offer less performance for a similar amount of money. They also don't have the benefit of Nvidia's performance-boosting DLSS tech, either, which can really make a difference to your frame rate when you've got ray tracing switched on. AMD are due to release their own version of DLSS, currently known as FidelityFX Super Resolution (or FSR), later this year, so it's possible they may be able to claw back some high-end cred as a result, but until then, Nvidia's RTX 30 cards are the next-gen cards to beat.

About the Author

Katharine Castle avatar

Katharine Castle

Editor-in-chief

Katharine is RPS' editor-in-chief, which means she's now to blame for all this. After joining the team in 2017, she spent a lot of time in the RPS hardware mines, testing all the bits that go inside our PCs, but now she gets to write about all the lovely games we play on them, too. She'll play pretty much anything she can get her hands on, and is very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests.

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