As PC games get ever more detailed and demanding, equipping yourself with one of the best graphics cards makes ever more sense. As much as the best CPUs and the best SSDs can bump up performance and reduce loading times, it’s won’t shock anyone to learn that the bulk of any gaming PC’s graphical horsepower comes from the GPU. Upgrading it, then, will give your rig a strength and speed boost like nothing else.
The catch? Right now is a pretty horrible time to attempt buying a new graphics card, especially the latest and greatest models. Slow supply and massive demand has made dedicated GPUs vanishingly rare, and because of that scarcity, any stock that is available – however fleetingly – usually comes price-gouged up the proverbial. This sorry state of affairs has been the norm for over a year now, and although there are numerous new graphics cards launching in 2022, it remains to be seen whether they can experience happier fates.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
Either way, our stance is thus: try to hold off on buying a new GPU, unless you get extremely lucky and find one in stock for the RRP (or close enough to it). This can happen if you’re vigilant, and reputable retailers like Scan sometimes replenish their stock at fair prices, but at the very least you should go in prepared with the knowledge of which specific GPU you want. With that in mind, here’s our picks of the best graphics cards we’ve tested.
The best graphics cards for gaming
- AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
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.
AMD has announced a replacement GPU, the RX 6500 XT, but we don't yet know how readily available it will be. For now, we still 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
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
The best 1080p graphics card
Although it's about to get some brotherly competition from the RTX 3050, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 is currently your best bet for combining affordability with 1080p performance...with a handful of extra features on top. These come largely in the form of ray tracing and DLSS support, both of which are lacking on more traditionally "budget" cards.
At 1920x1080, you can generally expect average framerates to exceed 60fps, even when deploying maxed-out graphical settings. The RTX 3060 even has some 1440p chops, though the souped-up RTX 3060 Ti (below) is better suited for Quad HD duties.
What we like:
✔️ 60fps speeds on max settings at 1080p
✔️ Can handle High settings at 1440p too
✔️ Lower power usage than the RTX 3060 Ti
Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 review
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
The best 1440p graphics card
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 questionsWhy 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; Nvidia previously warned that the current GPU situation may not resolve itself until 2022, and lo and behold, it hasn't. 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. 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 2022, 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 3050 to RTX 3090 Ti, while AMD's ray tracing GPU family starts at the RX 6500 XT and ends at the RX 6900 XT.
Intel are also due to release graphics cards with ray tracing support in 2022, the Arc Alchemist range. We're not sure exactly when, though - Intel originally claimed a Q1 2022 launch before removing this release window from their website.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. AMD does have FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR), which is upscaling tech that works sort-of similarly to DLSS in that it can significantly boost frames-per-second in games that support it - but without AI smarts or its own built-in anti-aliasing, the results are rarely as visually impressive as DLSS. Besides, FSR works on GeForce GPUs as well, where DLSS is Nvidia-only.