Something strange has been going on lately: gaming GPUs, even some of the best graphics cards of the current generation, have been getting... cheaper? What is this madness. It’s not yet a return to proper, pre-2020 normalcy, but after nearly two years of graphics cards being so audaciously overpriced (and difficult to even find in stock), more and more are dropping back down towards their RRP.
Indeed, RPS deals hound Will has recently found un-awful prices on GPUs like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 and the RTX 3060. I’ve even seen an AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT going without any price gouging at all, though you can do a lot better than this underpowered card. Such as with any of the ones on this list, which represent the finest dedicated graphics hardware for smooth running at a choice of resolutions.
Having a capable GPU is (literally) only one part of a high-performing PC; we also recommend one of the best CPUs for gaming, as well as one of the best gaming monitors to show off the results. But the graphics card is also the single most impactful component for gaming power, so whether you’re budgeting for a whole new build or are looking to make just one key upgrade, this is where to put your money. Hopefully less of it than a few weeks ago, too.
The best graphics cards for gaming
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050
The best cheap 1080p graphics card
“Cheap” is kind of a nebulous term in these dark days of graphics card stock shortages and inflation, but here’s what we do know: the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 is the cheapest GPU on the market to offer Nvidia’s RTX features, namely ray tracing and DLSS support. Even last-gen cards like the RTX 2060 can set you back more, and while the competing Radeon RX 6500 XT is even more affordable, I found AMD's GPU performs really quite poorly in comparison to the RTX 3050.
Granted, the MSI-built RTX 3050 I tested costs £380 / $339, and for that UK price in particular, you may as well upgrade to an RTX 3060. But if you find a cheaper model, which are plentiful, you’d get a far better deal for this highly capable 1080p GPU (which also has some limited 1440p capability). Especially thanks to DLSS, which is essentially free FPS, and is missing from both AMD’s cheaper cards and the RTX 3050’s own predecessors, like the GTX 1650 Super.
One other point in the RTX 3050's favour? It's in stock far more often than most GeForce RTX cards, which should give you more freedom to shop around for the best prices.
What we like:
✔️ Can get most games to 60fps on high/maximum settings
✔️ DLSS and ray tracing support
✔️ Faster than the AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT
Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 review
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
The best 1080p graphics card
Provided you can spare the cash over the RTX 3050, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 is currently your best bet for combining affordability with 1080p performance. You still get DLSS and ray tracing support, and with the latter, you probably won't need to cut as many other quality settings to maintain a good frame rate as you would on the RTX 3050.
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. It does seem to be one of the more stubborn graphics cards in terms of price drops, but if you can catch it in a sale, you won't regret the purchase. 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 comparison.
What we like:
✔️ Delivers 60fps speeds on max settings at 1440p in all of today's biggest games
✔️ More than double 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 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.
Nvidia has also launched a slightly more powerful (and more expensive) alternative in the RTX 3070 Ti, though the performance is difference is so small that the standard RTX 3070 remains the better deal.
What we like:
✔️ Great 1440p performance with 80fps+ on max settings
✔️ 4K 60fps performance on High quality settings in most AAA games
✔️ 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
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 actually has a growing list of higher-ranking Nvida GPUs above it - namely the RTX 3080 Ti, the RTX 3090, and the RTX 3090 Ti - but while it's very much a premium GPU, you don't really need anything pricier for 4K. 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.
AMD's offering is technically a smidge cheaper than the RTX 3080, at least on average, but it's just not quite as fast, both in terms of raw performance and how it fares with ray tracing. And despite being hit as hard as anything by stock shortages and pricing lunacy, the RTX 3080 is becoming increasingly easy to nab without having to join a months-long waiting list.
The RTX 3080 also has the benefit of Nvidia's DLSS tech to help boost its ray tracing performance in compatible games - with this, the dream of 4K / 144fps is within reach. AMD's equivalent, FidelityFX Super Resolution, can provide similar FPS gains, but it neither looks as good as DLSS nor has its own, smart anti-aliasing. As a result, FSR isn't as much of a draw for AMD cards as DLSS is for Nvidia's, especially since FSR works on both manufacturers' cards anyway. DLSS, by contrast, is only available with an Nvidia RTX GPU.
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 since about September 2020, you'll know how hard it can be to get hold of one, and how nigh-impossible it is to do so at a fair price. Tentatively speaking, the situation does appear to be improving somewhat, though most cards are still nowhere near their respective RRP/MSRP outside of brief sales.
There have been a few different reasons for this here mess. One is the series 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. Another is 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 miners means there are even more people vying for these cards than normal, making it difficult for regular folk to get our hands on one. If you were around for the great graphics card shortage of 2018, it's been like that, but worse.
This nasty combination of high demand and low supply led, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, to skyrocketing prices. It's taken the best part of two years for more sensible prices to emerge, however briefly, and even in a best-case scenario it could be a few more months before they settle down to 'normal' levels.Which graphics cards have ray tracing?
Ray tracing can be a huge upgrade to how your games handle lighting, shadows and reflections, but you need compatible GPU to take advantage of it. Right now, that includes 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 the RTX 2060 to RTX 2080 Ti, and the RTX 3050 to the RTX 3090 Ti, while AMD's ray tracing GPU range starts at the RX 6400 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. These should launch around summer, bringing with them Intel XeSS: an upscaling system similar to DLSS and FSR.Which is better, AMD or Nvidia?
An age old question, the answer to which seems to change with every generation of new GPUs. Right now, Nvidia graphics cards are the best for playing games at high resolutions, such as 1440p or above. In the past, AMD cards have been more affordable than their Nvidia equivalents, though nowadays that isn't always the case - especially with prices SO far out of whack. Between the RTX 3050 and the RTX 3060, Nvidia arguably has the more compelling options for 1080p as well.
AMD does have 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. FSR 2.0 comes closer than the original FSR 1.0, but DLSS remains king of the upscalers for now. Besides, FSR works on GeForce GPUs as well as Radeons, where DLSS is Nvidia-only.