Upgrade your PC with one of the top graphics cards
The graphics processing unit (GPU), otherwise known as the video card or simply the graphics card, is an essential piece to the PC puzzle if you’re looking to game. Especially if you aim to pull off the high-resolution textures featured in the likes of Fallout 4, you’re going to need only the best graphics card available to do so.
That being the case, you might be tempted to go after the most lavish GPU on the market. If that’s your prerogative then prepare your credit line for an expenditure exceeding $5,000 (£4,054, AU$6,628) to buy the most capable Nvidia Quadro P6000. Instead of targeting the most expensive model, your best bet is to squeeze out the most GPU power possible for the least amount of cash.
Once you’ve found your pixel-pushing soulmate, however, you’ll want to be selective with the rest of your PC’s parts. After all, there’s no point in anteing up for a graphics card with as much 90s spunk in its name as the Aorus GTX 1080 Xtreme Edition if it’s being bottlenecked by a weak processor or held back by a cheap display. Conversely, you don’t want to be stifled by a GPU as timid as AMD’s Radeon RX 460 if you’re rocking one of the very best in 4K monitors.
Even so, the barrier of entry isn’t nearly as tough to surmount as it once was. In fact, thanks to Microsoft’s recently launched Game Mode for Windows 10, you’ll soon be able to experience higher graphical fidelity without packing the most opulent video card. By prioritizing the important tasks (playing video games obviously), Game Mode will make your games run faster and smoother on even a GTX 1050 Ti.
Prefacing out of the way, here are our picks for the best graphics cards around. Whether your budget allows for high-end, mid-range or low-end pricing, you’ll find an up-to-date list of recommendations as well as the latest review from one of our test benches.
Best high-end GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Major-league Pascal performance in a single card
Stream Processors: 2,560 | Core Clock: 1,607MHz | Memory: 8GB GDDR5X | Memory Clock: 7,010MHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin | Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
If you want a proper foray into 4K gaming, you’re looking at it. With the launch of Nvidia’s Pascal architecture, you can get the performance of two 980 Ti’s for a fraction of what you’d spend on a Titan X. You might have to turn down the graphics settings in certain games to keep a steady frame rate, but overall, the GTX 1080 finally makes the legendary, native resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels an affordable reality. No longer do you need to strap two cards together in an SLI configuration to experience the latest PC games the way they were meant to be played; the GTX 1080 does 4K with just one.
Best mid-range GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
One of Nvidia’s best price-to-performance cards ever
Stream Processors: 1,152; 1,280 | Core Clock: 1,506MHz; 1,594 | Memory: 3GB; 6GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8,008MHz | Power Connectors: 1 x 6-pin | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x Dual Link-DVI
Though it bears resemblance to the GTX 1070 and 1080, the GTX 1060 draws more parallels to Nvidia’s last-gen GeForce 980. In an attempt to compete with the affordable RX 480, which promises 1080p, VR gaming at an aggressive price point, Nvidia was under pressure to come out with something in the same class. The GTX 1060, a mid-range graphics card with a firm grip on 1080p, or even 1440p graphics to a degree, is just that. Given the ubiquity of full HD displays, the GTX 1060 is an inexpensive middle-ground solution for those in need of an energy-efficient GPU that demolishes in terms of performance.
Best entry-level GPU: AMD Radeon RX 460
Proof that Polaris pushes the envelope for budget GPUs
Stream Processors: 896 | Core Clock: 1,210; 1,250MHz | Memory: 2GB; 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7,000MHz | Power Connectors: None | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
Like the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti from Nvidia, the latest in AMD’s Polaris catalog runs cheap, thanks to various takes on the Radeon RX 460 by XFX, Powercolor and others. The RX 460 proper is quite possibly the most affordable means of 1080p gaming outside of integrated CPU graphics. So long as you’re not looking to run The Witcher 3 at 60 fps on Ultra settings, the Radeon RX 460 is a capable, energy efficient piece of kit. Plus, by compromising on memory, it’s able to draw all its power straight from the motherboard, negating the need for any 6- or 8-pin connectors.
Our latest review: Asus ROG Strix GTX 1050 Ti
Iterative at best, this isn’t the budget card we hoped for
Stream Processors: 768 | Core Clock: 1,290MHz | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7,008MHz | Power Connectors: None | Length: 241mm | Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI
With so many lucrative successes this generation, we were admittedly disappointed to see the latest addition to the Pascal family almost completely miss the mark. As indicated in our review benchmarks, the Asus ROG Strix GTX 1050 Ti in particular is an overclocker with the 1080p gaming capabilities you might be in dire need of if you haven’t upgraded your graphics card in a few years. Otherwise, you’re better off saving for a 3GB GTX 1060 instead.