If you're a PC gamer, or a content creator who lives and dies by the speed of your graphics-accelerated software, your video card is the engine that powers what you can do—or how lustily you can brag.
Picking the right graphics card for your system (or determining if you need one at all) might seem complicated, but in truth, it’s really not. That said, higher-end cards are a bit of an investment, so you need to be cognizant of several things before buying one. Ultimately, if you are going to buy a new card, it’s hard to argue against just buying the best you can afford. Our guide will help you sort through the best video-card options for your desktop PC, what you need to know to upgrade a system, and how to evaluate whether a particular card is a smart purchase. (Overpay or underbuy? We won't let you do that.)
Below are our top AMD and Nvidia picks for today's top cards. Note: Our picks are based (in ascending order) on your target gameplay resolution, with picks for the most appropriate Nvidia and AMD cards for each usage scenario (unless one brand or the other is an unequivocal clear choice). After our card picks is a deep-dive guide to choosing the right graphics card for you, and a spec breakout of our top picks. Let's dig in!
The Best Graphics Card Deals This Week*
- Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 3060 Twin Edge OC 12GB Card (Opens in a new window) — $349.99 (List Price $399.99)
- PNY GeForce RTX 3050 8GB Graphics Card (Opens in a new window) — $279.99 (List Price $324.99)
- MSI Gaming GeForce RTX 3050 8GB GDRR6 Graphics Card (Opens in a new window) — $299.00
- XFX Speedster AMD Radeon RX 7900XT 20GB GDDR6 Graphics Card (Opens in a new window) — $819.99 (List Price $949.99)
- Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 4080 16GB GDDR6X Graphics Card (Opens in a new window) — $1,235.99 (List Price $1,399.99)
*Deals are selected by our commerce team
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super
Best Graphics Card for Budget 1080p Gaming (AMD or Nvidia)
Why We Picked It
Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1650 Super was designed to be a budget card from the start, and even as supplies of graphics cards have stabilized, it remains a rock at the low end. Of course, the card's performance isn't up to running games at 4K, and it's not going to run every game you throw at it with maxed-out or even high graphics settings. That said, it's still got plenty of graphics power for 1080p play, and it can deliver a highly enjoyable experience as long as you keep your expectations in check. (We tested a Zotac Twin Fan version.)
Who It's For
This card is best for gamers looking to find a 1080p-play graphics card on a tight budget. Sure, you can get considerably more graphics power for a little more cash, and it may not be able to run everything on high graphics settings, but many games out there can run on the GTX 1650 Super with higher graphics settings enabled. You should just be ready to turn down the settings to medium or possibly even low when running newer titles. If that doesn't bother you, and you just want to enjoy recent AAA games without being overly concerned about having the best possible graphics experience, the GeForce GTX 1650 Super should keep you quite happy for under $200.
- Much faster than original non-Super GeForce GTX 1650 in 1080p and 1440p gaming.
- Runs quiet.
- Priced competitively.
- Impressively small in our Zotac test sample.
- Underperforms on some games.
- Runs hotter than the non-Super GTX 1650.
|Amazon||$186.09||See It (Opens in a new window)|
|Newegg||$159.00||Check Stock (Opens in a new window)|
|B&H Photo Video||$169.99||Check Stock (Opens in a new window)|
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
Best Graphics Card for Mainstream 1080p Gaming (Nvidia)
Why We Picked It
Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1660 Ti is a well-rounded card that delivers decent 1080p gaming performance without costing an arm and a leg. It lacks many newer features, such as support for ray tracing and DLSS, understandably. However, for standard games that lack these options, the GTX 1660 Ti is more than capable of providing you with an enjoyable gaming experience and even cranking up the detail levels if you stick to 1080p. (We tested an MSI Gaming X 6G model.)
Who It's For
If you want to enjoy relatively modern games but don't have a ton to spend, the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti is worth buying. At 1080p resolution, most games should run well even with higher graphics settings, thanks to this long-lasting card. Lower-end GeForce RTX cards can't really make good use of the ray tracing acceleration that the RTX line brings, so if you're relatively short on funds, the GTX line still has legs.
- Great price-to-performance ratio for 1080p gaming.
- Beats previous-generation GTX cards on both sides of its price.
- Exceptional cooling.
- Solid overclocking potential.
- Not great for 4K gaming.
- MSI's upclocked card closer in pricing to RTX 2060 Founders Edition than most GTX 1660 Ti cards.
|Amazon||$329.90||See It (Opens in a new window)|
AMD Radeon RX 6600
Best Graphics Card for Mainstream 1080p Gaming (AMD)
Why We Picked It
AMD's Radeon RX 6600 is a reliable midrange card option with support for modern graphics features, like ray tracing and AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) upscaling. It's among the most affordable in the chip maker's Radeon RX 6000-series product line, and the card's feature set gives it an edge, in some ways, over competing solutions, such the two-years-older GeForce GTX 1660 Ti. (We tested an XFX Speedster SWFT version.)
Who It's For
This graphics card is one that should please you if you game at 1080p. It's not going to max out every title at that resolution (especially not if you have a high-refresh-rate gaming monitor), but most games should run smoothly.
- Competitive with GeForce RTX 3060 in frame rates and list price
- Lower power requirements
- Better with newer games than old
- No significant overclocking headroom
- Ran hot during our stress testing
|Amazon||$289.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT
Best Graphics Card for High-Refresh 1080p Gaming (AMD or Nvidia)
Why We Picked It
With extra cores, a higher GPU clock speed, and faster on-card video memory, the AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT reliably outperforms the plain Radeon RX 6600 and the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050, cleanly replacing the latter card in our list of top picks. This card has also benefited from price cuts from some e-tailers that have made it far more affordable than it was at launch. (We tested a Gigabyte Gaming OC Pro model.)
Who It's For
The extra power inside of the Radeon RX 6600 XT should enable it to run 1080p games at fast refresh rates...so long as you don't crank up the in-game graphical detail settings too high. This card could also serve well as an entry-level card for 2K (1440p) gaming.
- Some 4K wins
- Runs cool
- Performance a bit below its price class in most titles
- High MSRP in test sample versus AMD's reference specs and pricing
- Only a modest overclock applied out of box
- No significant performance gains with manual overclocking
|Newegg||$499.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070
Best Graphics Card for Mainstream 1440p Gaming (Nvidia)
Why We Picked It
Out with the old, in with the new. As Nvidia's new GeForce RTX 40-series graphics cards come out, and work their way from high end to low end, prices on the older GeForce RTX 30-series are declining. This has depressed the price of the GeForce RTX 3070, making it a more affordable option for 1440p gaming. ("Depressed" is relative, of course; card MSRPs shot up during the pandemic and the Great Graphics Card Shortage.) This, tied with its strong performance, make it arguably today's best option for gaming at 2K resolutions.
Who It's For
Anyone that wants to game at 2K—or even at 4K at lower settings—should consider picking up an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 now. Its price makes it almost a shame to pass up, and the only reason not to get one is if you are planning to buy one of the newer cards launched recently by AMD or Nvidia. (Of course, it may also be worth waiting to see what these two GPU makers ship next.)
- Incredibly fast for the price
- Beautiful design
- Great 4K gaming results
- Innovative cooling system
- Doesn't run too hot
- Expect a run on this card to rival the one on the RTX 3080
|Amazon||$629.94||See It (Opens in a new window)|
AMD Radeon RX 6750 XT
Best Graphics Card for Mainstream 1440p Gaming (AMD)
Why We Picked It
The Radeon RX 6750 XT is arguably AMD's best midrange graphics card of the moment. It has a leg up over the standard Radeon RX 6700 XT, and that card was already more than capable of solid 2K gaming. Also, its large pool of RAM makes it suitable for moderate 4K gaming, as long as you don't push the graphics settings up too high. (We tested an MSI Gaming X Trio 12G model.)
Who It's For
This card remains a smart pick if you are a fan of AMD and want to run games at 2K resolution. As newer cards from AMD and Nvidia trickle out in 2023, though, it might be better to wait a little longer if you are shopping in this price range, unless you can't wait and see the RX 6750 XT at a discount. (It would seem that next-generation RX 7700-series cards would be inevitable later in the year, with the release of the RX 7900-series cards in the can.)
- Solid gaming performance
- Large triple-fan cooler
- Not significantly faster than RX 6700 XT
- Steep $549 price point
|Amazon||$749.00||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 Ti
Best Graphics Card for High-Refresh 1440p Gaming (AMD or Nvidia)
Why We Picked It
As part of the very latest GeForce line of cards (the GeForce RTX 40 series), the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 Ti has support for DLSS 3, top-tier ray-tracing hardware, and enough raw horsepower to run pretty much any game available today at 1440p at high refresh rates with aplomb. It's a fierce card, but is it ever pricey! (We tested a Zotac Amp Extreme Airo version, which listed at this writing for a whopping $999.)
Who It's For
This graphics card is for someone that wants to max out most games, owns a high-refresh 1440p (or thereabouts) panel, and isn't afraid to drop just short of $1,000 to do it. Indeed, price is everything with these particular GPUs, and you shouldn't buy one unless you can get one priced under $900. (Nvidia's suggested starting price for the RTX 4070 Ti cards is $799, but most begin around $849.) But, if you can find one at the right price and have the game needs and monitor to leverage its power, you can't go wrong with this excellent graphics card.
- Strong performance
- 12GB GDDR6X VRAM
- Exceptional cooling
- Outpaced by competition
- Priced from "high" to "very high"
- Very large—not for small cases
|Amazon||$959.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
|B&H Photo Video||$999.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT
Best Graphics Card for Mainstream 4K Gaming (AMD or Nvidia)
Why We Picked It
AMD's Radeon RX 7900 XT is among the fastest graphics cards on the market today, and, at its list price, it's also one of the best in terms of value. This is the most economical way into serious 4K gaming while still providing the desired game experience. (We tested one of AMD's reference versions.)
Who It's For
If you want to run 4K games with ease but also want to stop short of spending a full $1,000 on a graphics card, then the Radeon RX 7900 XT is for you. This card will run most games maxed out at 4K without breaking a sweat, and the only reason not to buy one if you are considering spending this much is if you are more attracted to this card's more powerful cousin, the Radeon RX 7900 XTX.
- Performance beats all last-generation cards
- Remains cool while in use
- Priced a little too high relative to RX 7900 XTX
|AMD||$899.00||See It (Opens in a new window)|
|Newegg||$899.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090
Best Graphics Card for High-Refresh 4K Gaming (Nvidia)
Why We Picked It
Without question, at the moment we wrote this, Nvidia's GeForce RTX 4090 is the single fastest graphics card that money can buy. Nothing else even comes close, with today's second-place cards trailing it by 30% to 40% in many benchmarks. (We tested Nvidia's Founders Edition version of this monster card.)
Who It's For
Better have a big bank balance! If budget is of no concern and you just have to buy the fastest graphics card available, then look no further. Just make sure you're ready to spend on supporting parts of equal quality, including a fast platform, an equally high end CPU, and a lusty power supply. We ran into issues of CPU bottlenecking while testing this GPU even with a near-cutting-edge Intel Core i9-12900K. You'll want to buy a processor even faster than that to try and avoid these issues, but it's hard to say if any mainstream CPU can really keep up with this beast!
- Ferociously powerful for a single-GPU card
- Power consumption is relatively low for this level of raw GPU performance
- Usual exceptional Founders Edition build quality
- Almost impractically enormous
- Raw power appears, at times, to bottleneck a Core i9-12900K CPU
|Amazon||$2,449.00||See It (Opens in a new window)|
AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX
Best Graphics Card for High-Refresh 4K Gaming (AMD)
Why We Picked It
AMD's Radeon RX 7900 XTX offers the best value of all the high-end graphics cards currently available. This GPU is priced competitively against the more exorbitant Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080, with the RX 7900 XTX showing the edge in testing, in most of the games we ran it on. It's also an enormous improvement over AMD's previous generation of GPUs. Just make sure you buy a powerful CPU to match it, so as to avoid CPU bottlenecks. (We tested an AMD reference version.)
Who It's For
If you want to have one of the fastest graphics cards available but also want to make sure you're getting the best value for your hard-earned cash, the Radeon RX 7900 XTX is the best option right now.
- Exceptional performance
- Competitive price
- Huge performance increase over last gen
- Impressive cooling performance
- Less than stellar ray-tracing performance
- Relatively high power consumption
- Bland aesthetics
|B&H Photo Video||$1,189.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
First off, what does a graphics card do? And do you really need one?
If you're looking at any given prebuilt desktop PC on the market, unless it's a gaming-oriented machine, PC makers will de-emphasize the graphics card in favor of promoting CPU, RAM, or storage options. Indeed, sometimes that's for good reason; a low-cost PC may not have a graphics card at all, relying instead on the graphics-accelerated silicon built into its CPU (an "integrated graphics processor," commonly called an "IGP").
A modern graphics solution, whether it's a discrete video card or an IGP, handles the display of 2D and 3D content, drawing the desktop, and decoding and encoding video content in programs and games. All of the discrete video cards on the consumer market are built around large graphics processing chips designed by AMD, Intel, or Nvidia. These processors are referred to as "GPUs," for "graphics processing units," a term that is also often applied, confusingly, to the graphics card itself.
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with relying on an IGP—most business laptops, inexpensive consumer laptops, and budget-minded desktops have them. If you don’t plan to play games or do a lot of content creation work, chances are the IGP will work fine for you—but if you're a gamer or a creator, the right graphics card is crucial.
Even if you do plan to play games, if you only want to play games in your web browser or older games (from, say, 10-plus years ago), the integrated graphics may also work just fine for you. If your PC doesn’t have an IGP, though, then buying a graphics card is essential to have a functional PC. Some CPUs, notably many AMD Ryzen processors pre-2022, simply don't have on-chip graphics to fall back on. Gamers will also want to buy a graphics card to play most games, as even most games from a decade ago will run far better on a graphics card than an integrated solution.
Last but not least, a graphics card can also be a valuable upgrade to any office PC, if that PC is used to do a lot of content creation work. Video and image editing programs often have support to use graphics cards to accelerate work, and this can save you a great deal of time and make getting through your work easier.
Graphics cards fall into two distinct classes: consumer cards meant for gaming and light content creation work, and professional workstation cards that are geared toward scientific computing, intense calculations, and artificial intelligence work. This guide, and our reviews, will focus on the former.
Hardware Limitations: What Graphics Card Is a Good Fit for My PC?
You should have some idea at this point if you still want to get a graphics card or not. But to pick one that you want to buy, you’ll need to set a goal for yourself and carefully consider the limitations of your PC. Let’s start with the latter: those limitations.
Every PC has a limited amount of room inside its case and a limited amount of power that its power supply can handle. If you don’t check the space available in your PC case before buying a card, you run the risk that it won’t fit, and you’ll be stuck buying a new case or having to return your card for another (smaller) one.
If you don’t check how much power your PC's power supply can support before buying a GPU, things can go even worse. If you buy a card that needs more power than your PSU can handle, you could potentially damage your power supply or other parts by repeatedly pushing the power supply past its safe limit. Your system may also seem to work fine at times, but may crash periodically whenever the power draw rises too high.
These problems are an inconvenience at the least, and they can be seriously troublesome issues at the worst. Both are easy to avoid if you simply check what your PC can support first before buying. If you are building a new PC from scratch, you’ll also want to make sure you buy a power supply and case accordingly that can handle all of your parts.
Nvidia and AMD both outline recommended power supply wattage for each of their graphics card families. These estimates are typically quite conservative and above what is actually needed, but you should follow them nonetheless to avoid any issues.
Your system needs to have a PSU that's up to the task of giving a new card enough juice. This is something to be especially wary of if you're putting a high-end video card in a pre-built PC that was equipped with a low-end card, or no card at all. Doubly so if it's a budget-minded or business system; these PCs tend to have underpowered or minimally provisioned PSUs.
The two most important factors to be aware of here are the number of six-pin and eight-pin cables on your PSU, and the maximum wattage the PSU is rated for. Most cards beyond the most basic will require a six-pin cable, an eight-pin cable, or some combination of the two to provide working power to the card. (The very lowest-end cards draw all the power they need from the PCI Express slot they plug into.) Make sure you know what your card needs in terms of connectors.
We've seen some changes here of late, as some of the GeForce RTX cards require a special adapter (it comes in the box) to turn two eight-pin PSU connectors into a single 12-pin one on the card. Also, a few other high-end monster cards now require a whopping three eight-pin connectors to suck down the required juice. Check that power supply (and the recommendation details for the specific card you are looking at) before dropping coin!
Last, if you are upgrading an existing computer, it’s also important to know that a graphics card can end up bottlenecked and perform slower than expected if the rest of the system it is installed into isn’t fast enough to keep up. This mostly applies to the CPU that you pair the graphics card with, and to a far lesser extent the system’s RAM. We can’t give you ironclad, simple recommendations here, as faster GPUs will need faster CPUs, and slower graphics cards will work fine with slower processors. (Look to individual card reviews for more detail on that aspect.) We will give more direct advice here on our individual card recommendations, though.
Meet the Card Players: AMD, Intel, and Nvidia
The graphics card market is dominated by AMD and Nvidia, with chip giant Intel entering the fray in late 2022 with its own line of desktop graphics cards sold under the Intel Arc brand.
Intel: The Arc Newcomer
Intel’s best graphics card at the moment is the Intel Arc A770, followed by the Intel Arc A750 in the midrange and the Intel Arc A380 at the low end of the spectrum. Intel, so far, has been pressing to make market inroads with aggressive pricing. But its cards' inconsistencies in performance and early driver issues have hampered the company’s success so far in this market. (You won't see any Arc cards in our overall best list, so far.)
Being the CPU giant it is, Intel has been producing integrated graphics processors that work on its chips since the late 1990s, and has enjoyed a long history in the industry. But it has a lot of ground to cover before it can catch up with AMD and Nvidia in the dedicated-graphics world. (Graphics cards are often called "dedicated graphics," to distinguish them from integrated graphics on CPUs.) Nonetheless, its cards still might be worth considering under the right circumstances, especially as subsequent graphics drivers hit the street in coming months and years.
AMD: Radeon Is in the Running
AMD sells consumer graphics cards as part of its AMD Radeon RX product line, and it has workstation cards that are sold under the AMD Radeon Pro and AMD Radeon Instinct brands.
AMD’s Radeon RX 7000-series cards, its latest, first launched in December 2022 with the Radeon RX 7900 XTX and the slightly lower-priced Radeon RX 7900 XT, with more cards sure to follow in 2023. AMD also has Radeon RX 6000-series cards that will linger in the market for some time.
Nvidia: GeForce Is the Dominant Force
Nvidia splits its products in a similar manner, with the company’s mainstream consumer graphics products branded as Nvidia GeForce GTX or RTX, and its workstation cards branded as RTX A Series (formerly Quadro). Nvidia also launched new cards at the end of 2022, with the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 coming out in October. The RTX 40 series has seen more additions since then, and they should slowly start to push out the GeForce RTX 30 series as 2023 progresses.
What Are 'Board Partners' and 'Reference Designs'?
AMD, Intel, and Nvidia all design the GPUs that bear their names. The chip makers also produce a limited number of full graphics cards themselves and sell directly to consumers. But most graphics cards are created by other companies that are referred to as “board partners.”
Board partners may not design and make the actual graphics chips at the core of their cards, but they nonetheless play a pivotal role in the production of graphics cards. They design the physical cards, the power systems, and the thermal solutions that make these cards possible. You'll see a lot of board partners at this point as you shop, including ASRock, Asus, Biostar, Colorful, Galax, Gigabyte, Inno3D, MSI, Palit, PowerColor, PNY, Sapphire, XFX, and Zotac.
The big three GPU makers often work up what are known as "reference designs" for their video cards, a standardized version of a card built around a given GPU. Sometimes these reference-design cards are sold directly by the GPU maker; more often, though, the chip makers work with the board partners to market and incorporate their GPUs into cards the partners sell. That's why you'll see, for example, GeForce RTX 3060 cards sold by a host of companies that are not actually Nvidia itself.
Depending on the graphics chip in question, these board partners may sell their own self-branded versions of the reference card (adhering to the design and specifications set by the GPU maker), or they will fashion their own custom products, with different cooling-fan designs, slight overclocking done from the factory, or features such as LED mood illumination. Some board partners will do both—that is, sell reference versions of a given GPU, as well as their own, more radical designs.
Though graphics card designs can vary greatly from one company to another, it’s important to note that the graphics processors used by these companies are all essentially the same. In other words, one Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080 graphics card will have the same graphics processor and roughly similar performance to all other Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080 graphics cards regardless of which board partner made it.
That’s not to say that all Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080 graphics cards will be entirely the same, however. Differences in power design, thermal hardware, and clock speeds can result in some performing better than others in different partner cards. Quantifying the exact difference is difficult without detailed benchmark testing, but we can recall differences of up to 12% in the past, and slightly more than that is realistically possible within a given class of GPU.
Graphics Card Basics: Cores, VRAM, and More
Before going further, we need to go over some of the basic parts of a graphics processor, so that you can better gauge how GPUs compare to each other. Without going too deep, graphics processors contain hundreds, if not thousands of separate processing elements, and there are multiple types of these processing elements, too.
The most common processing element in any graphics processor is what we typically refer to as a shader core, but each company has its own name for these cores. Nvidia calls the shader cores in its GPUs "CUDA cores," while AMD calls the shaders in its GPUs “Streaming Processors.” Intel refers to its GPU shaders as “Vector Engines."
Functionally, all of these are similar in that they perform the same basic role inside of the GPU, but their internal designs are totally different, resulting in major differences in performance. As a result, you cannot directly compare any of these against each other.
Though you cannot compare CUDA cores against AMD Streaming Processors or Intel Vector Engines, you can roughly compare cards from the same company and in the same product line by comparing the core count. In general, the more shader cores, the better. For example, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 4080 has 9,728 CUDA cores, while the GeForce RTX 4070 Ti has 7,680 CUDA cores. The GeForce RTX 4080 is the faster of the two cards, and the higher core count is part of the reason it is speedier.
You shouldn’t rely on comparisons of core count alone when making your decision, though, as it is not the only variable that affects performance. It also shouldn’t be relied on when comparing different graphics-card generations, like between the Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 series and 40 series for example, as many other aspects change that make the comparison by core counts less accurate.
Another important detail to watch out for is the clock speed at which the shaders operate. This is every bit as important as the total number of shader cores, and it has a strong impact on performance. Most graphics cards today are sold with two clocks listed. One of these is called the base clock, which is essentially a clock that the GPU can run safely at for long periods.
The other clock listed is the GPU boost clock, which is a speed the card will increase to so long as it has enough power available and is operating cool enough to do so safely. In practice, graphics cards tend to operate somewhere between these two numbers most of the time.
The last basic part of any graphics card that needs discussion is the graphics card’s memory, which is also called “VRAM,” for video RAM. Modern graphics cards require a great deal of on-card memory and memory bandwidth to work quickly. The amount of bandwidth needed depends on the card in question, but when it comes to the amount of video RAM available, more is essentially always better.
The amount of RAM on graphics cards increased relatively slowly in the last few decades, but it has recently exploded, as cards went from just 3GB or 4GB of VRAM a few years ago to as much as 24GB now. The size of games has similarly exploded, resolutions and frame rates have shot up, and textures have gotten more and more complex. At this point, it's hard to argue that any amount of VRAM is too much.
Having more VRAM can always come in handy, but it is worth mentioning that the benefit you gain from large amounts of VRAM differs depending on what resolution you play games at. Most games running at 1080p won’t gain much benefit from having more than 4GB of VRAM. If you are gaming at 2K resolution, you’ll ideally want to have more than this, though, with 8GB being sufficient for most games.
Gaming at 4K is extremely memory-intensive, Depending on the game and game settings, it can be done, in theory, with cards containing as little as 4GB of VRAM. Most games are going to want a lot more than that, though, and realistically it’s too soon to say if 24GB is really enough for all games at 4K.
Advanced Graphics Card Features
In recent years, a number of graphics-card-related features have been introduced aimed at improving your gaming visual experience. These items are quite common, but not quite universal, which is why we opted to break them out here by graphics card families. Each graphics card family typically shares feature parity across the line, which makes these relatively easy to group together.
First up is ray tracing. Ray tracing is an advanced graphics technique that’s extremely demanding but produces exceptional image quality. Specifically, this is a lighting technique that traces the paths that beams of light take from their in-game light sources as they hit and travel through various onscreen objects. The idea is to make the light look more realistic and create highly convincing reflections and shadows at the same time.
Ray tracing has now been adopted by all three of the leading GPU makers: AMD, Intel, and Nvidia all have dedicated resources inside of their graphics processors to handle ray tracing. To take advantage of this, you’ll simply need to buy an AMD Radeon RX 6000 or 7000 series graphics card, an Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics card, or an Intel Arc graphics card.
AMD and Nvidia both have older graphics processors floating around on store shelves that lack ray tracing support, and you may see these while shopping, but they are best avoided at this point except as budget buys. Instead, you should look for something more modern in one of the product lines mentioned above.
AMD FSR, Intel XeSS, and Nvidia DLSS
You should also be aware of FSR, XeSS, and DLSS. These technologies all work in a similar way, but they are not quite universal. XeSS only works on Intel cards, and DLSS only works with select Nvidia cards. AMD created its FSR technology to be more open, and it will actually work on most video cards today, but this varies somewhat from game to game and from card to card.
Essentially, these tools work by reducing a game’s resolution and then upscaling the results to allow for a better frame rates with less loss of quality. For example, imagine you are playing a game at 4K with one of these technologies enabled. Instead of rendering the game at 4K, depending on the settings, the game might be rendered at 2K instead.
This reduces image quality, but it will improve performance, giving you more actual frames per second (fps). You should also have better image quality than you would have if you simply dropped your resolution to 2K, too.
The monitor you use to run games will always display content at its native resolution regardless of what resolution you set in your game. Say you have a 4K monitor, and run a game at 2K; the monitor takes the 2K signal and upscales the game to 4K before the images are shown on screen. When you use FSR, XeSS, or DLSS, the upscaling work is performed by the graphics card, which typically is able to achieve a sharper final image.
DLSS comes in a few successive versions, and different games may support different levels of it. Also know, the newest flavor, DLSS 3, is exclusive to Nvidia's very latest cards, the GeForce RTX 40 series, and it works in a different way. For more information on it, check out our review of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090.
Image quality is always reduced to an extent if you use one of these technologies, but if you aren’t able to run a game smoothly at a given resolution, it is worth trying, as it might give you the best results your hardware can achieve. These technologies are also only supported in a limited number of games currently, and you might want to pick a card based on which games support these features.
AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync: No More Tears
Display refresh-rate technologies, like AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync, are worth mentioning in this article, but they aren’t likely to affect your purchasing decision as much as they might have in years past. Both of these work to match the monitor’s refresh rate to the frame rate put out by the graphics card, and both have limitations. (The aim is to enhance in-game smoothness and avoid screen "tearing.") FreeSync is far more common; it's an open standard, it and works on most graphics cards, including many Nvidia cards.
Nvidia’s G-Sync is still around today, but it is far less common, as a full G-Sync implementation requires monitors to have special internal hardware to support it (which tends to boost the price). It works only on Nvidia graphics cards. The two upper levels of G-Sync, dubbed G-Sync Ultimate and just G-Sync, are certified by Nvidia at a per-monitor level; G-Sync Compatible panels aren't as stringently guaranteed.
We've tested both, and unless you're competing in a CS:GO or Overwatch pro circuit, you might be hard-pressed to see any consistent difference between the two in the latest models. Screen tearing was a more difficult problem to solve back when G-Sync was first introduced, and these days both FreeSync and G-Sync Compatible monitors work well enough that only expert eyes can tell the difference.
AMD CrossFireX and Nvidia SLI: They're Dead, Jim
AMD CrossFireX and Nvidia SLI are both dead technologies today, but they were around for so long that we need to discuss them at least to let everyone know that you can’t really do this anymore. CrossFireX and SLI enabled you to connect two or more graphics cards together in one PC to achieve better performance. It was a really cool idea and at times it worked really well, but it was never consistent.
For CrossFireX or SLI to work well, games and drivers needed optimizations to support the technology. If they weren’t done, you might get worse performance than if you had just one card. At a certain point, AMD and Nvidia phased out the idea and quit making cards with the hardware connectors and logic to support it. As a result, it's pretty much dead today, unless you're trafficking in older cards, though it would still be really interesting to see revived. You're definitely best off nowadays just buying the single best card you can get.
Why Your Monitor Matters: Targeting the Optimal Resolution
Resolution is the horizontal-by-vertical pixel count at which your video card will drive your monitor. This has a huge bearing on which card to buy for gaming. If you are a PC gamer, a big part of what you'll want to consider is the resolution(s) at which a given video card is best suited for gaming.
Nowadays, even low-end cards are able to display everyday programs (word processors and the like) at lofty resolutions like 3,840 by 2,160 pixels (a.k.a., 4K), if your monitor supports it. But for strenuous PC games, those cards will not have nearly the power to drive smooth frame rates at those high resolutions. In games, the video card is what calculates positions, geometry, and lighting, and renders the onscreen image in real time. Raising the resolution and applying higher graphics settings in game both have a similar effect and will require increasingly more graphics-card muscle to run games smoothly.
What Resolution Will You Play At?
The three most common resolutions at which today's gamers play are 1080p (1,920 by 1,080 pixels), 1440p (2,560 by 1,440 pixels), and 2160p or 4K (3,840 by 2,160 pixels). Generally speaking, you'll want to choose a card suited for your monitor's native resolution. (The "native" resolution is the highest supported by the panel, at which it looks the best.)
You'll also see ultra-wide-screen monitors with in-between resolutions (3,440 by 1,440 pixels is a common one); you can gauge these versus 1080p, 1440p, and 2160p by calculating the raw number of pixels for each (multiply the vertical number by the horizontal one) and seeing how the wide resolution fits in relative to the common ones. (See our targeted roundups of the best graphics cards for 1080p play and the best graphics cards for 4K gaming.)
Why does this matter? Well, a gaming PC needs to be balanced for you to get the most out of your parts. If you have a high-end graphics card and a low-end processor, you might find your graphics card constrained; you get poor performance because the CPU simply can't keep up. The same can also happen in reverse. In general, gaming at higher resolutions is far more stressful on the graphics card than the CPU, and it also requires far more VRAM. Gaming at lower resolutions conversely tends to be harder on the system's CPU.
The reason for this is that the amount of work required by the processor to create each frame doesn't change all that much as you change the resolution. This is again the opposite for the graphics card, which has to do roughly four times the amount of work to render a 4K image as compared to a 1080p image. When you game at higher resolutions, then, the graphics card is typically what hits its limits first. At lower resolutions, where the graphics card might be able to output twice as many frames, however, this will double the work required by the processor to keep up, increasing the strain there.
Ideally, you'd want to pick parts that are both capable of running at near 100% usage when used in conjunction with each other. Doing so definitively is difficult, though, as the work required varies greatly from one resolution to the next and from game to game. Instead, it's typically better to opt for a processor that won't limit your graphics card at the resolution you intend to play at the most, as you can always lower the frame rate on your system with V-Sync or a similar setting to help avoid or negate the effects of the processor not keeping up. (For more details about which processor would be best for gaming within your budget, check our our best CPUs page.)
Ideally, you'd want to pick parts that are both capable of running at near 100% usage when used in conjunction with each other.
Now, of course, if your graphics card isn't fast enough, you can always dial down the detail levels for a game to make it run better at a higher-than-recommended resolution, or dial back the resolution itself. The highest-end cards are meant for playing at 4K, or at very high refresh rates at 1080p or 1440p; you don't have to spend $1,000 or even half that to have an enjoyable gaming experience at any resolution, if you are willing to adjust settings.
Plenty of current-generation midrange GPUs can power 1440p displays at their peak, and 4K gaming isn't even out of the question for a midrange GPU...though most gamers aren't looking to play at either, if the Steam Hardware Survey(Opens in a new window) is any indication. (It saw less than 5% of users playing at resolutions higher than 1440p at this writing.)
High-Refresh Monitors: Why High-End GPUs Matter
The other trend in gaming driving GPU demand in recent years? High-refresh-rate gaming monitors. For ages, 60Hz (or 60 screen redraws a second) was the limit for most PC monitors, but that was before esports hit their stride. Panels focused on esports and high-refresh gaming may support up to 144Hz, 240Hz, or even 360Hz for ultrasmooth gameplay. If your video card can consistently push frames more than 60fps in a given game, a high-refresh monitor lets you see those formerly "wasted" frames in the form of smoother game motion.
Esports has boosted the demand in recent years for high-refresh monitors that can keep hopefuls playing at their peak. And while 1080p is still overwhelmingly the preferred resolution for competitive players, the 1440p bracket of graphical resolutions (played in either 16:9 aspect ratio at 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, or in 21:9 at 3,440 by 1,440) is growing faster than ever. It all depends on the way you prefer to play, as well as on which games you play.
Most casual gamers won't care about extreme refresh rates, but the difference is marked if you play fast-action titles, and competitive esports hounds find the fluidity of a high refresh rate a competitive advantage. (See our picks for the best gaming monitors, including high-refresh models.) In short: Buying a powerful video card that pushes high frame rates beyond 60fps can be a boon nowadays even for play at a "pedestrian" resolution like 1080p, if paired with a high-refresh monitor.
What Connections Should My Graphics Card Have?
Three kinds of port are common on the rear edge of a current graphics card: DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort. Some monitors still use DVI, but it's the oldest of the three standards and no longer appears on mainstream and high-end cards these days, just the occasional low-end one.
Most cards have several DisplayPorts (often three) and one HDMI port. When it comes to HDMI versus DisplayPort, note some differences. First, if you plan on using a 4K display, now or in the future, your card needs to at least support HDMI 2.0a or DisplayPort 1.2/1.2a. It's fine if the GPU supports anything above those labels, like HDMI 2.0b or DisplayPort 1.4, but that's the minimum you'll want for smooth 4K playback or gaming. Recent-generation cards from all the makers will be fine on this score.
HDMI 2.1 is a newer cable spec you may see mentioned, which ups the old bandwidth limits from 18Gbps (in HDMI 2.0) to 48Gbps (in HDMI 2.1). The upgrade enables eventual 8K resolution to display at a refresh rate up to 60Hz, with 4K supported up to 120Hz. It's more about future-proofing at this point, than much else, and accommodating the latest very high-end/high-refresh 4K monitors.
Note: Some of the cards from Nvidia's GeForce RTX "Turing" line (the 20 Series, a few years old now) that you may still see around employ a port called VirtualLink. This port looks like (and can serve as) a USB Type-C port that also supports DisplayPort over USB-C. What the port was really designed for, though: attaching future-gen virtual-reality (VR) headsets. It never took off and has disappeared from the latest cards.
GPU Budgeting: How Much to Spend on a Graphics Card?
Everything that we’ve written in this article so far has been to give you a basic understanding of the graphics card market (and the hardware) to help you make an informed decision. We have more specific advice in our top picks around which graphics card is best at each resolution and for different people. But ultimately price is the biggest and most important factor.
No matter what games you want to play or what resolution you intend to play at, you should buy the best graphics card that fits your budget for your new PC or your upgrade. To be clear, we aren’t suggesting everyone go buy an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090. However, it’s better to pay out more for a graphics card that might be a bit faster than you need...than it is to buy one you think will skate by your requirements, and then be disappointed.
A key thing to keep in mind: Games are constantly becoming more graphically intensive, baseline resolutions keep increasing, and faster monitors that support ever higher frame rates keep coming out. Unless you don’t game much, it’s not going to be long before you get a new monitor or find a new game that’s more demanding on your PC.
When that happens, you may well want to upgrade your graphics card again no matter what graphics card you buy now. If you opt for the best card that you can afford, however, you put off that day that much longer, and save you money long-term. And, as an added benefit, you’ll likely be able to run the games you do play now with slightly better settings.
To be perfectly clear, no graphics card is a bad option at any resolution. Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 4090 is the single fastest graphics card we have ever tested. You might think it is overkill for 1080p but, if you have a high-refresh 360Hz 1080p monitor, it actually might be the best option for you in certain games. When we tested it for our review, it wasn’t able to maintain even 240fps at 1080p in F1 22, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, or Red Dead Redemption 2. It came the closest to succeeding at this task, though.
Similarly, you might think some more budget-friendly cards, such as the Intel Arc A770, aren’t suitable for 4K gaming. But in our review, it was able to play several games well enough at 4K with maxed-out graphics settings. You’d want to turn down the graphical detail a bit in some games if you had an Arc A770, but the point is if that’s the best card you can afford with your budget, and you want to play at 4K, you still can.
Think carefully about what you want out of your system and what you can afford to spend on a graphics card. Make absolutely sure it’s going to fit in your case and that your power supply, CPU, and other supporting parts are up to the job, and then buy the best graphics card you can manage. Don't go over your planned budget, as you can always buy a better graphics card down the road, but shop within reason, because the best card you can afford now is likely the best for you. You're now ready to look at our parts picks, all lined up, and buy with confidence.