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Best graphics cards 2021: the best GPUs for gaming

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

If you're building a new gaming PC, finding the best graphics card for it is essential. It's the beating heart of any of new gaming system, and it's one of the best ways to dramatically improve your PC's performance. Having a fast CPU and SSD can help, but nothing will turbocharge your games like a brand-new graphics card. To help you get the best graphics card for your PC, I'd put together this list of all my top recommendations. Whether you're looking for a cheap and cheerful GPU for playing games at 1920x1080 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. Similarly, low stock levels have also driven up prices as a result, so even if you can find a GPU in stock, it's probably massively 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. To help you gauge how much you should be paying for these graphics cards, I've listed their starting prices in their specs box. You can also check our regularly updated graphics card deals hub for all the best prices, and if this is your first GPU buy, check out our guide on how to install a new graphics card as well. Once prices settle down though, the following graphics cards all come with the RPS seal of approval.

There are a couple of things to consider before buying a new graphics card, though. While Nvidia and AMD do make certain versions of their cards themselves, most models are made by third party manufacturers such as Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, Zotac, Powercolor and more. More expensive cards tend to have more advanced 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. As a result, unless you're dead set on overclocking them once you've got it out of the box, my advice is to simply go for the cheapest one possible.

It's also important to think about the size of your PC case. If you’re building a PC that's only a mini-ITX system, for instance, then you’ll want to look for "mini" versions of your chosen graphics card. These are much smaller than their full-sized siblings, often coming with a single fan, but are only marginally less powerful . 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 models from Asus and Palit as well.

Best graphics cards for gaming in 2020


A photo of two AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT graphics cards

AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT

The best cheap 1080p graphics card

Fr 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 is currently the best cheap graphics card you can buy today. 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 graphics 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 not really gaining much overall. For 60fps hunters, then, the 4GB offers a nigh-on identical experience, for a much lower cost.

A photo of the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT

AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT

The best 1080p graphics card

The RX 5500 XT is a great little graphics card, but if you want to play games at max settings at 1920×1080 and still have room to spare, then the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT is hands down the best graphics card for the job right now. 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 graphics quality - 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 more expensive RTX 2060, too, producing identical speeds for a lot less. It doesn’t support ray tracing, but in terms of overall value, the RX 5600 XT is a tough act to beat. However, I should also note that 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. As a result, I'd strongly recommend holding fire on buying a new 1080p graphics card at the moment, as current models will likely get replaced in just a couple of months time.

An upright photo of the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT

AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT

The best cheap 1440p graphics card

The brilliant thing about buying a powerful graphics card for playing at 1920x1080 is that they usually double up as great value 1440p options as well - which is 100% the case with AMD's Radeon RX 5600 XT. Again, this may well change once AMD launch their new RX 6000 successor to the RX 5600 XT (and once Nvidia's RTX 3060 arrives at the end of February), but until then the RX 5600 XT is a great pick for those after a 1440p graphics card on the cheap.

It offers playable speeds in nearly all of top’s top games on max settings, and can hit a steady 60fps on High or Medium. Again, its lack of ray tracing may be a deal breaker for some - in which case, I'd suggest holding out for Nvidia's imminent RTX 3060, or waiting to see if AMD's next-gen model adds ray tracing support to the mix.

A photo of Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti Founders Edition

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti

The best 1440p graphics cards

Playing games on Ultra settings at 2560x1440 requires a lot more horsepower than it does at 1920x1080, but Nvidia's RTX 3060 Ti is currently the card to beat for 60fps speeds on maximum settings. It's sold out pretty much everywhere at the moment, 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. It 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.

A photo of the Asus TUF Gaming GeForce RTX 3080 OC edition graphics card.

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 so-called 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.

A photo of Zotac's GeForce RTX 3070 Twin Edge GPU.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070

The best graphics card for ultrawide gaming monitors

Playing games in ultrawide is almost as demanding as playing them in 4K, but the lower 3440x1440 resolution of most ultrawide monitors means you can also get away with a slightly cheaper graphics card as a result. In fairness, Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3080 is still a fine choice for ultrawide monitor owners, but the cheaper Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 is much better value overall (and 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).

The RTX 3070 is more than capable of hitting 60fps at 3440x1440 in most of today's big games, and it's got buckets of power for playing games at a regular 2560x1440, too, when they don't have any ultrawide resolution support. Indeed, the RTX 3070 can hit speeds of at least 70-80ps 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.


How we test our graphics cards

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 Valhalla
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Monster Hunter: World
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Metro Exodus
  • Control
  • Cyberpunk 2077

In each case, I see what's possible at the highest graphics setting at 1920x1080, 2560x1440 and, if it can handle it, 3840x2160 (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. Where applicable, I also test a graphics cards' ray tracing performance in supported games, as well as what kind of boost you can expect to see with Nvidia's DLSS tech switched on if applicable.

About the Author

Katharine Castle avatar

Katharine Castle

Hardware Editor

Katharine writes about all the bits that go inside your PC so you can carry on playing all those lovely games we like talking about so much. Very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests. She's also RPS' resident deals herald.

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