Best graphics cards 2018: choose the best GPU for your next build | PC

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Best graphics cards 2018: choose the best GPU for your next build | PC

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No other component can have as big of an impact on your gaming experience as your graphics card. Your CPU and memory are still important, but the GPU is the beating heart of a gaming PC, pushing pixels onto your display at mind-boggling rates. And the good news is that prices continue the recent trend downward, with sales on the best graphics cards now routinely bringing prices below MSRP.

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Graphics cards consist of a dedicated graphics processor (GPU) coupled to high-speed video memory (VRAM). Most modern cards have at least 3-4GB VRAM, with high-end models including 8GB or more. Having enough VRAM is important, as is memory bandwidth. With GDDR5 as the primary memory type, even budget cards provide over 100GB/s to keep your GPU fed.

Check out this week's best graphics card deals

With cryptocurrency mining profits dropping and the hot days of summer coming to the northern hemisphere, it's now possible to upgrade to a good midrange card for $200-$250, and budget cards are now closer to $100 on sale. High-end buyers might want to hold off until the rumored launch of Nvidia's GTX 1180 (or GTX 2080, maybe?), currently pegged at late July, but don't expect prices to be reasonable on the new parts. I've heard rumors of $1000 as the baseline for the 1180, which I sincerely hope turns out to be bogus speculation.

We've revamped our guide with a streamlined format. Detailed testing results are at the end, and we have additional options that cater to gamers of all types and budgets. These are the best graphics cards right now.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB

Great 1080p performance and a good price

GPU Cores: 1,280 | Base Clock: 1,506MHz | Boost Clock: 1,708MHz | GFLOPS: 4,372 | Memory: 6GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 192GB/s

Good price and performance
Efficient and quiet
May need lower settings in the most demanding games

Many gamers are on a budget, and while faster cards might make you envious, if you're running a 1080p display they're often overkill. Mainstream GPUs like the GTX 1060 and RX 570/580 were hit hard by the mining craze, but we're finally close to the original MSRPs, and sales can even drop below MSRP. The GTX 1060 3GB and 6GB trade blows with AMD's RX 570 4GB and 580 8GB, and Nvidia wins out with typically slightly lower prices and lower power use.

$200 to $250 is the sweet spot for mainstream gamers, and while the GTX 1060 3GB might seem tempting, the 3GB VRAM is a concern. Most games don't really need more memory, as the difference between high quality and ultra quality textures is often negligible, particularly on a 1080p display. Still, we recommend spending the extra $30 for the GTX 1060 6GB so that future games won't struggle. If money is really tight, the 1060 3GB is worth a look.

Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti

Perfect for 1440p and 144Hz displays

GPU Cores: 2,432 | Base Clock: 1,607MHz | Boost Clock: 1,683MHz | GFLOPS: 8,873 | Memory: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 256GB/s

Excellent performance
Great for 1080p and 1440p gaming
May be too expensive for some
DX12 performance sometimes lacking

The best graphics card isn't simply the fastest graphics card, or the cheapest graphics card. Instead, the best graphics card needs to balance performance, price, and features. The GTX 1060 is a great card, but if you want a card that will carry you through the next 2-3 years, Nvidia's GTX 1070 Ti is the best option. It delivers performance midway between the 1070 and 1080, with a price that's closer to the 1070.

Nvidia's 10-series Pascal architecture includes enhancements like better delta color compression and tiled rendering optimizations. It's also very efficient, with a TDP of 180W. If you want to play games at 1440p, or at 1080p on a 144Hz display, the 1070 Ti has the chops to handle most games at close to maximum quality. Depending on price, the GTX 1070 might be worth the small step down in performance, or the GTX 1080 might be worth the small step up.

Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

The fastest graphics card for 4K and everything else

GPU Cores: 3,584 | Base Clock: 1,480MHz | Boost Clock: 1,582MHz | GFLOPS: 11,340 | Memory: 11GB GDDR5X | Memory Clock: 11Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 484GB/s

Fastest non-Titan GPU
Great new features
Costs as much as a complete budget PC

If you want the fastest graphics card on the planet, it's a no-brainer: the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti wins, hands down. Yes, the Titan Xp and $2,999 Titan V are technically faster, but at more than four times the cost the Titan V isn't even marketed as a gaming card. In our testing, the GTX 1080 Ti is about 30 percent faster than the GTX 1080, and more than twice as fast as a GTX 970. The only caveat is that you really need a 1440p or 4k display before this level of performance is even necessary.

The biggest concern with the GTX 1080 Ti is that rumors have Nvidia's GTX 1180 and the Turing architecture launching in late July, with widespread availability by September. The future GTX 1180/2080/whatever will likely include further architectural enhancements and Titan V levels of performance. Even it if costs more than the 1080 Ti, at these prices performance has to be your driving consideration.

Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 8GB

Powerful and packing HBM2, this is AMD's best GPU

GPU Cores: 3,584 | Base Clock: 1,156MHz | Boost Clock: 1,471MHz | GFLOPS: 10,544 | Memory: 8GB HBM2 | Memory Clock: 1.6Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 410GB/s

Great performance
Suitable for 1440p
Expensive and power hungry
Like a 1070 Ti for more money

We had high hopes for Vega prior to its launch, and ultimately it couldn't live up to the hype. Instead of being the Titan-killer we hoped for, the Vega 64 failed to take down even Nvidia's year-old GTX 1080. But the RX Vega 56 is nearly as fast and costs less, all while drawing less power, effectively matching the GTX 1070 Ti on paper. Prices are also getting closer to the original launch price, though we're still above the target of $399 for the Vega 56.

At least you can find the RX Vega 56 (and Vega 64) in stock at a competitive price, and performance is very good—and in some DirectX 12 games, AMD GPUs are better than Nvidia's alternatives. There's also something to be said for competition in general, and we certainly don't want Nvidia to have any more of a stranglehold on GPUs than it already enjoys.

Read the full review: AMD Radeon RX Vega

AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB

The best AMD card for 1080p

GPU Cores: 2,048 | Base Clock: 1,168MHz | Boost Clock: 1,244MHz | GFLOPS: 5,095 | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 224GB/s

Good for 1080p gaming
Often faster in DX12
Higher than original MSRP
Uses more power than GTX 1060

AMD's Polaris architecture is back for round two in the Radeon RX 570/580. The RX 570 4GB currently remains our favorite of the bunch, thanks to its good performance and reasonable pricing. Originally intended to sell at $169, the RX 570 4GB represented an incredible value. It was also the hardest hit by mining shortages, though the days of $500+ RX 570 cards are now thankfully behind us.

Overall, the RX 570 4GB comes out slightly ahead of or slightly behind the GTX 1060 3GB, with DirectX 12 games usually favoring AMD. The 570 does use a bit more power, but most desktops are more than capable of running this 150W card without any difficulty. Depending on the games you play and current pricing, the RX 570 is a great card for 1080p gaming. The 8GB models (including RX 580 8GB) are better long-term solutions, but at current prices the 1060 6GB is a better value

Read the full review: AMD Radeon RX 570/580

AMD Radeon RX 560 4GB

An affordable card that's great for esports

GPU Cores: 1,024 | Base Clock: 1,175MHz | Boost Clock: 1,275MHz | GFLOPS: 2,611 | Memory: 2GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 112GB/s

Extremely affordable
No power adapter required
Struggles with some newer games
Priced higher than original MSRP

When it comes to budget graphics cards, the primary competitors are AMD's RX 560 and Nvidia's  GTX 1050. Currently, the RX 560 4GB costs less than the GTX 1050 2GB 1050 and performs better, especially at low to medium quality and 1080p where competitive gamers like to hang out. That makes it the easy choice for the budget category, though keep an eye on GTX 1050 pricing as that could change.

The RX 560 4GB is great for lighter esports games, including CS:GO, LoL, Overwatch, and more. It can easily hit 60fps at 1080p in most games at low to medium quality, which is about as much as we can ask of a sub-$150 graphics card. Just know that performance of the RX 560 is a step down from previous generation cards like the R9 380, and more in line with the R9/R7 370.

Read the full review: RX 560 4GB vs. integrated GPUs

How we test graphics cards and performance

While the CPU is still the 'brain' of your PC, dozens of games every year will push your graphics card to its limits. It's the component you'll want to upgrade most frequently, but if you buy the right card, it should last you at least two years. For gaming systems, it's also likely the most expensive part in your build. On a practical budget, it's critical to find the graphics card with the best ratio of price to performance. That's why we've previously looked at cards in the $300/£250 range, though the best values are currently either above or below that mark.

For raw performance, Nvidia's GTX 1070 Ti is a killer card, easily outperforming all older cards. It's overclockable, quiet, and efficient; more importantly, it's able to run every game we've tested at more than 60 frames per second at 1080p ultra, and most games break 60 fps at 1440p ultra. You can argue about price and whether you really need ultra quality settings, but right now, the GTX 1070 Ti is the best graphics card for gaming.

While the GTX 1070 Ti is the card we'd recommend to most—but not all—PC gamers, it's not the only option worth considering. Performance scales with price as you move from the 1070 Ti to the 1080 and 1080 Ti, and the same goes for moving down to the GTX 1070, 1060 6GB, 1060 3GB, 1050 Ti, and 1050. AMD's cards are a similar story, with the Vega 56/64 occupying the top of the performance charts but often going for more than twice the price of the RX 570/580, which in turn are about twice the price of the RX 560.

Do you need a new graphics card?

If you're doubtful that your current PC is fast enough to warrant purchasing a better graphics card, I have some data for you. Even with the fastest graphics card around (ie, the GTX 1080 Ti), running at a resolution that puts more of the burden on your CPU (1080p ultra), there's often only a minor improvement in gaming performance. Yes, truly old CPUs are going to struggle, but going from a Core i7-4770K to a Core i7-8700K only improves gaming performance by 23 percent on average.

What happens if you use a graphics card that's 20-30 percent slower than a GTX 1080 Ti? Your CPU becomes even less of a factor. If you have at least 8GB of system memory and a Core i7-4770K or better CPU, you should be fine with everything up to about the GTX 1070 Ti / RX Vega 56 level of performance. 

Don't be fooled into thinking VRAM capacity is more important than the GPU, either. It can be a factor, but slower GPUs with 4GB VRAM usually can't handle settings that actually utilize 4GB VRAM. There's also very little (if any) discernible difference in most games when switching from 2GB to 4GB textures. All the cards we've selected have at least 3GB, which is more than sufficient for high quality, and it's usually enough for ultra settings as well. 

Testing graphics cards

Our graphics card recommendations are based on our own extensive benchmarks and testing, and then factoring in the price. We have benchmark data for the complete range of Nvidia and AMD graphics cards, including all the GTX 10-series and AMD RX Vega/500 series. We've previously looked at the R9 Fury/300/200 series and GTX 900/700 series, but due to time constraints and availability we're no longer actively testing those cards.

A word about SLI

If you're looking for maximum performance, you can run two GTX 1080 Ti cards in SLI. But it's becoming increasingly common for major games to completely ignore multi-GPU users. You don't absolutely need dual x16 connections, though it can boost performance by a few percent in some games. Our tests also show that AMD's Ryzen parts don't scale in SLI performance nearly as well as Intel's Core processors.

Graphics performance isn't the only consideration. The quality of game drivers and other features supported by the card are important. The card's noise level, power draw, and temperature matter, too. Thankfully, nearly all modern cards are fairly quiet, even under load, and temperatures are within the acceptable range as well, though Nvidia still has an advantage when it comes to power.

We test each card on a high-end PC at 1080p medium, 1080p ultra, 1440p ultra, and 4K with ultra/high settings. We take the results from fifteen games, mostly newer releases, using the 'best' API for each GPU on each game. That means low-level APIs are used for AMD cards if they're available, while DX12/Vulkan are only used in certain games for Nvidia cards.

Here's how the cards stack up in terms of average and minimum frame rates across these games. You can see individual game charts including most of these GPUs in our GTX 1070 Ti review.

The Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, GTX 1080, and GTX 1070 Ti are the three fastest graphics cards, followed by the Vega 64, GTX 1070, and Vega 56. As we move down into the mainstream cards, the RX 570/580 and GTX 1060 3GB/6GB deliver good performance as well.

AMD's RX Vega cards bring some needed competition to the high-end, high-price market. Nvidia's cards are generally better values right now, particularly if you factor in the higher power requirements of Vega, but at least Vega is getting closer to the original target price. AMD's RX 560 4GB remains a good budget card.

But how do these cards compare in terms of value?

[Prices for charts updated as of June 21, 2018]

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In terms of best value, we've provided two different looks at what the cards offer, both in frames per second per monetary unit. The top charts show the graphics cards in isolation, which can be useful if you have a PC and you're looking to upgrade your GPU. The bottom charts look at framerates in terms of total system cost. Neither approach is a perfect representation of value, but the two give a different look at how the cards rate.

The markets change the picture slightly, but the RX 560, GTX 1060 3GB/6GB, and GTX 1050 are consistently at the top. For Euro markets, the RX 570 makes an impressive showing, but it doesn't do as well in the UK. While budget GPUs on their own may look pretty good, combine it with system price and you're almost always better off putting more money into your graphics card. Notice that for a mainstream build (we used the parts from our best gaming PC build guide), the most expensive cards are at the top, and in fact Nvidia claims all four of the top positions, followed by the two Vega options.

Wrapping it up

Looking forward, computer graphics is a fast-changing field. There were about twenty new GPU models launched during 2017, but 2018 hasn't had much to go on so far other than rumors and news. Perhaps that will change in the fall. Our recommendations are based off performance combined with current prices, and price cuts or a limited time sale could easily move a card to the top of the list.

If you find your current system isn't keeping up with the gaming times, look at the performance charts and decide how far up the ladder you're looking to climb, then buy accordingly. Those who already own an R9 300 or GTX 900 series card (or better) should be able to run any current game, though not necessarily at 60 fps and maximum quality. Games continue to push for new levels of performance, but tuning a few settings should keep most graphics cards viable for at least a few years.

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