As games grow ever more detailed and lifelike, graphics cards continue to get faster and faster in that never-ending arms race. That means that eventually you’re going to need an upgrade to get the best, most immersive experience possible. There are many great graphics cards for all budgets provided by AMD, Nvidia, and their third-party partners. Our current favorite is AMD’s RX 5700, which provides the best value for your buck.
But keep in mind that new GPUs from AMD and Nvidia are expected to appear in the second half of 2020. Although Nvidia’s “Ampere” chips currently target servers and workstations, mainstream RTX 3000 Series cards for gamers should appear before the end of the year. AMD’s Big Navi GPUs, based on the RDNA2 architecture, will likely arrive in the same timeframe. Intel’s Xe add-in cards should finally be available then too.
If you want to upgrade sooner than that though, these are the best cards to pick from.
The best graphics cards
The best graphics card
Why should you buy this: It’s a great 1440p gaming card with full support for AMD’s new fidelity-boosting features.
Who’s it for: FreeSync gamers and AMD fans who want the best bang for buck near the high-end.
Why we picked the AMD RX 5700:
It might only be $50 less than the more-powerful 5700 XT, but the 5700 represents a much better value proposition. It keeps up with its bigger brother in most cases, falling only a few frames behind, especially at its 1440p sweet spot. It’s loud and warm, but if you’re willing to pop a few washers on it, you can improve that factor considerably. Third-party options offer vastly improved cooling too.
Built on AMD’s new RDNA architecture, this card offers much better performance per watt than older Vega and Polaris graphics cards, while delivering performance comparable to Nvidia’s new mid-range cards, like the RTX 2060 and 2060 Super. It doesn’t have ray tracing or DLSS, but it does have AMD’s new image sharpening and Radeon Boost, for higher frame rates and better in-game visuals.
If you like overclocking, there’s at least 10% of additional headroom to unlock with a little power modding. That can bring this card rather close to a 5700 XT’s performance if you do it right.
The most powerful graphics card
Why should you buy this: You want to play the latest games at the highest frame rate and resolution.
Who’s it for: 4K monitor owners and PC gaming enthusiasts.
Why we picked the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti:
There’s nothing budget-friendly about the massive GTX 2080 Ti. Aside from the Nvidia RTX Titan, which is even more absurdly expensive and not that much faster, the RTX 2080 Ti is the most powerful gamer graphics card on the planet.
Other cards in its range, like the 2080 Super, the Radeon VII, the RX 5700 XT, or the 1080 Ti, remain viable cards for delivering 4K resolution. However, the 2080 Ti offers much greater performance potential whether you’re gaming at just 4K, or want to bring in some of the additional visual features of the Turing generation, like DLSS and ray tracing. Considering how hardware intensive the latter of those two features is, if you want to take full advantage of everything modern games like Battlefield V have to offer, the 2080 Ti delivers the best frame rates and the best overall experience.
When put through its paces, we found the RTX 2080 Ti capable of delivering more than 12,000 points in 3DMark Time Spy. It also hit more than 100 FPS in Battlefield 1 at 4K with all settings at Ultra and even hit near 50 FPS at 4K in the always-taxing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
If you can find a 1080 Ti at a reasonable price, it’s still a viable alternative, and the 2080 Super gets closest in overall performance. But for now, the 2080 Ti is head and shoulders above them in terms of its raw power and graphical capabilities.
Best graphics card under $400
Why should you buy this: Nvidia’s RTX 2060 Super offers great performance at a decent price, with entry-level ray tracing and DLSS.
Who’s it for: Gamers who want serious performance without breaking the bank.
Why we picked the Nvidia RTX 2060 Super:
Nvidia’s Super refresh of its RTX lineup might have been forced by AMD’s new Navi cards, and could likely have been implemented far sooner if Nvidia desired, but it’s here now nonetheless and the results are impressive.
Far more capable than the standard RTX 2060, with a full complement of 8GB GDDR6 and more CUDA cores, the 2060 Super performs relatively close to that of the standard RTX 2070. That’s a huge jump up in performance, and with a price that’s still just shy of $400 too.
It goes head to head with AMD’s RX 5700 and is even often competitive with the 5700 XT, with a better cooler and greater power efficiency. It offers improved bang for the buck over the standard RTX 2060 for only $50 more. You might find a little more value and longevity in the 2070 Super, but that card is at least $500, so the RTX 2060 Super remains a much more affordable and accessible GPU for the average gamer.
This card often switches places with the RX 5700 as our favorite GPU, but at close to $400, it’s just that bit too expensive to offer the kind of value of the 5700. That said, the 2060 Super is slightly faster, so if you have a $400 budget, get this card instead if you want a little more power.
The best graphics card under $300
Why should you buy this: The 1660 Ti is plenty fast, without the RTX performance and price overhead.
Who’s it for: Gamers who aren’t interested in ray tracing.
Why we picked the Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti:
Nvidia’s entry-level graphics cards haven’t received quite as much attention as its ray-tracing RTX GPUs, but the Turing-generation GTX cards are no slouch. The 1660 Ti is a solid replacement for Nvidia’s stellar GTX 1060 6GB, offering 20-30% uptick in performance, beating out strong contenders from AMD like the RX 590.
The GTX 1660 Ti does lack the RTX features, like ray tracing and DLSS, which have so characterized this generation of graphics cards from the green team, but that’s what helps keep its price so attractive. Just make sure that you buy the most affordable one you can find, as the more expensive ones, even with modest overclocks, don’t come close to RTX 2060 performance, whilst edging far too close to its price.
If you want an AMD alternative at around this price, the RX Vega 56 is a great option. It needs a little tweaking to get the most from it (look up undervolting guides) and it’s not easy to find, but if you can get one at a good price it’ll outstrip anything up to the RTX 2070.
The best graphics card under $200
Why should you buy this: It gives you fantastic 1080p performance without breaking the bank.
Who’s it for: Gamers on a budget who still want high frame rates.
Why we picked the AMD Radeon RX 590:
The latest refresh in a long line of refreshed cards, the RX 590 was never supposed to be a standout. A slightly overclocked RX 580 at its heart, it offers surprisingly capable performance considering its pedigree. At just under $200 it outpaces its predecessor and keeps up with the more-expensive GTX 1660, and AMD’s more recent RX 5500 too.
It’s quite a hot card and we’d caution against buying the more expensive, overclocked versions, as their price gets a little too high for what you get. But at its base $200 price, the RX 590 is an absolute killer card for 1080p and 1440p.
There are many different options available with improved cooling and higher clocks, but even the budget offerings with only a couple of fans are a great buy. They often come with additional money off, and many now ship with three months of Xbox Game Pass for free along with a free game, too.
If you’re on an even stricter budget, you can grab an RX 570 for substantially less, and that still represents a great budget gaming option. There’s also the option of the RX 580 and AMD’s new RX 5500, but none of them can quite keep up with the 590.
The best mobile graphics
Why should you buy this: It offers great performance without adding undue bulk to modern laptops.
Who’s it for: Power gamers on the move.
Why we picked the Nvidia RTX 2070 Max-Q:
Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Max-Q is the latest iteration of its leaner mobile gaming solutions, but that doesn’t mean it lacks power. It offers a greater number of CUDA cores than its 10-series Max-Q counterparts and that ends up delivering a sizable performance improvement over the past generation.
Although the RTX 2070 Max-Q falls behind its full-scale desktop and mobile counterparts, its real strength lies in not outputting anywhere near the level of heat generated by big-scale GPUs. That means you’ll still find the RTX 2070 Max-Q in laptops that are sleek and thin and don’t weigh too much. The Razer Blade that we used in our testing weighs just 4.5 pounds and offers performance that in years gone by you’d only find in chunky gaming machines that weigh close to double that.
There are some solid alternatives in this space with both AMD and Nvidia offering mobile options with greater and lesser performance depending on your needs. However, for our money, the RTX 2070 Max-Q provides the best blend of performance and compatibility with the kind of thin and light laptops that have come to dominate the gaming and general-purpose notebook scene in recent years.
How we test
When we test graphics cards, we tend to focus on three major factors: Feature set, performance, and price.
The feature set is often determined by brand and platform, which we always consider as we review a card. It’s not just about whether it can handle a virtual reality headset, or how many monitors it supports. We check out graphical standard and API support, and special features like Nvidia’s Ansel or AMD’s Image Sharpening.
Performance is what’s most important though. We run review units through a series of synthetic and real-world benchmarks, even beyond those we report. We keep detailed records of frame rate trends, frame times, and any anomalous metrics, like noise, heat, or artifacts.
Ultimately, it all comes down to cash. With so many GPUs, board partners, and differences in clock speed and memory, there’s no shortage of options, and it’s all too easy to overpay. We check the price of each card and even help determine availability at launch.