If I'm being completely honest I don't care that much about aesthetics. Rather, I want the best graphical performance that money can buy. Perhaps you're like me, or perhaps you're just trying to find a card in this market that isn't overpriced.
The GPU market is all over the place. So, this comparison will use typical pricing to compare NVIDIA and AMD GPUs.
Hoping that the mining craze will eventually calm down or that supply will catch up we'll evaluate 2018's best graphics cards according to their typical prices. However, if you need to purchase today, give pricing and rebates a strong consideration.
Best Graphics Cards for The Money (2018 Version)
We've got a couple cards to look at in this category. Basically, it comes down to the AMD RX 560 and the GTX 1050. Both of these cards are a great base for building a budget gaming PC.
In terms of performance I'd put the NVIDIA GTX 1050 ahead on most games with the RX 560 having a solid lead in most Direct X 12 titles. In terms of energy efficiency the 1050 has a slight lead.
For around $20 more you should also keep your eye on the GTX 1050Ti. In fact, it's pretty hard to ignore here and especially because the MSRP on the 1050 and RX 560 creeps up into these same price categories.
These three cards are good for most games in 1080p in medium to even ultra settings. For a build using these cards, check out my $500 to $600 max performance gaming PC.
The Short Version:
Ultimately which one you buy depends on what you're wanting to play the most. If you're wanting to game in general including new and older games, I'd go with the GTX 1050. Specifically, I like the Single Fan EVGA GTX 1050 Gaming. It's cheap and still gives you the performance of the larger cards.
If you're going to focus on DX12 games moving forward, the RX 560 would be your choice. And if you care to spend around $20 more you'll get a significant performance boost from the 1050Ti.
From $150 to $200
In the $150 to $200 category you've got quite a few choices including the RX 470 4GB, RX 570 4GB, RX 480 4GB, RX 580 4GB, and GTX 1060 3GB.
While the newer AMD 500 series in this category may seem like the way to go, the 400 series is basically just as good as the 500 series is a re-brand. So, if it's going to come down between the RX 470 and the 570 and the 470 is cheaper, I'd ultimately point you in that direction. This is an especially big deal when stock is low and prices are driven up for no real reason.
So, which one should you go with? Some of that depends on the processor you're using. Having used the AMD RX 570 and an i3 in a budget build I made, I can tell you that the i3 does bottleneck the RX 570 in 1080p. In that case, there's no real reason here to go beyond the 570 and most likely I'd steer you in the direction of the less expensive GTX 1050 Ti. Again, the EVGA GTX 1050Ti SC Single fan is one of the cheaper options available and should give you nearly identical performance.
In terms of gaming in Ultra the RX 470 or 570 mostly does a good job of it. There's a case to be made that if all you're going for is 60FPS 1080p, that a card like this is good enough and that the 580 or 1060 may be overkill.
The Short Version:
If you're using an i3 (prior to Coffee Lake), go with a 1050 Ti or RX 470. If you're willing to tweak settings at all in 1080p, either of these cards do a decent job on high to ultra settings. Yet, the GTX 1060 has regularly been available at around $170 to $200. And, it's a considerably better card than the 470. If you're choosing between it and the 580, I'd say it's a lot like every other NVIDIA and AMD debate in 2018. If DX12 future titles are your thing, the 580 will perform admirably. If you want a good all around card, the GTX 1060 is still the better average performer.
Before going with a more expensive card, be sure to have a more expensive processor than Intel's latest i3.
In the $250 to $300 price range you can go with the RX 580 8GB or the GTX 1060 6GB. Both of these offer stellar performance in 1080p on all modern titles. It's still amazing to me at what type of performance you get for this amount of money.
With these cards, you'll even be able to do some titles in 1440p, which seems to be the new goal for the PC gamer. In terms of performance the GTX 1060 6GB version has a clear advantage in DirectX 11 titles. These are your everyday titles you've played in the past. For DirectX 12, I would give the slight edge to the RX 480 8GB although we still need more information.
Keep in mind that if you go with the GTX 1060 6GB that there's no SLI support so upgrading with an additional card in the future is not a possibility. On the other hand, it does have the clear overclocking and energy efficiency lead.
For some it may ultimately come down to whether they use a AMD FreeSync or NVIDIA G-Sync monitor. FreeSync monitors certainly cost less.
So, for the $300 price point, I'd like to be able to recommend the RX 580. However, from a purely performance standpoint I can't. That being said, that doesn't mean that the RX 580 loses in every category. It doesn't. In fact, depending on the game you play most often you may want to check additional performance benchmarks to see if it's better. However, if we're speaking about general gaming, the GTX 1060 6GB, in my opinion, is the more well-rounded option.
Best Gaming GPU Under $400
For a single card the GTX 1070 is my favorite and certainly in the $375 to $450 range. It defeats the Fury X handily and really gives you a lot of the performance of the GTX 1080 for a few hundred dollars less.
Which GTX 1070?
Specifically, I like the Asus GeForce ROG Strix OC Edition. For design, The Strix has a fantastic look with its three fans and RGB lighting you can customize to fit your rig. For overclocking, it's one of the best options available and you should be able to reach 2100MHz on the boost and 9.2GHz on the memory.
For noise, you will be able to hear it while under full stress, but it's hardly noticeable. When you're not gaming, you likely won't hear it at all.
Is SLI or Crossfire Worth it Anymore?
Some might argue that a pair of RX 480s would be better here at this price point. That being said from my experience these is an extremely unreliable thing to do out of the gate. Some games scale very well, others don't Some games the RX 480 doesn't even reach GTX 1070 levels. If that's not enough, it's also an inefficient use of power.
Does it make sense to use a dual configuration down the road as your GPU gets old? Perhaps. Does it the day it comes out? Not anymore.
If you've got around $500 to spend, the GTX 1070Ti just makes a lot of sense. It'll handle any game you throw at it and does a great job in 1440p and a good job in 4k.
For pricing, I'd recommend you look around (or wait) for an option around $500 to $530. Many options right now are in the $700; however, these should settle back down.
As I mentioned above I would much prefer to have a single good graphics card than a dual setup. However, if you're trying to game in 4k there is the case for using dual 1080s here rather than a single GTX 1080 Ti. The performance would be stellar.
If you're curious about what the benchmarks for a single GTX 1080 and a 1080TI are in Ultrawide. Here's a random benchmark from a review we did that I thought I'd include. It should give you an idea of what you can expect in terms of performance differential.
Future Proofing your Gaming PC
I receive a lot of questions from gamers wanting to know exactly what they should spend on their graphics card in order to future-proof their rigs. The truth is you can never future proof your rig entirely. The best thing you can do is understand when you'll need to upgrade and set aside money to get there.
Can you future-proof your graphics card?
Sometimes the best way to future-proof is to simply not go with the highest-end graphics card each time and then upgrade every few years. This has worked well for me going with the GTX 770 years ago and now going with a GTX 1070 for just about the same price. Selling off the old card recouped me some of the cost and allowed me to stay current.
What about the CPU?
My typical strategy for the CPU is to stretch a little right away so that I have a processor that's more than adequate for many years to come. For example, if you purchased the Sandy Bridge i7-3770k a few years ago, you'd probably still be more than happy with what you had. Upgrading to the Skylake i7-7700k from there would net you little in terms of frames even today and especially if you're willing to overclock it.
In other words, I'd be one to recommend you go with a lesser performing graphics card today in favor of a better CPU that won't bottleneck you down the road. Doing so you'll be able to avoid upgrading your motherboard as well.
GTAV and Battlefield Benchmarks for Previous Gen GPU
Looking to purchase a used graphics card or get a deal on a previous generation GPU? Here's a look at a few benchmarks to give you an idea of what to look for.
While there are numerous benchmarks we can take a look at I feel those that come from demanding games are more meaningful as fewer will have issues with games like Hearthstone or Minecraft.
AMD and Intel Titles:
That being said I wanted to take from two different sources of benchmarks. Specifically from a title that many feel favors AMD (Battlefield 4) and one which favors NVIDIA (GTAV).
Those are my thoughts on the current state of the graphics card market. Have a differing opinion? I'd love to hear it below. Also be sure to check out my YouTube channel and facebook page for more information.
Current Graphics Card Discussion for PC Gaming
sam on April 07, 2018:
the advice offered in this article is rock solid
Brandon Hart (author) from The Game on March 19, 2018:
Right now you don't. The article is based on MSRP and doesn't take into account inflated Crypto-trend pricing.
Annoymous on March 19, 2018:
Just wondering, where did you find an rx 470 for about $150?