When you want to build a gaming PC, one of the most important components you could buy is the graphics card. In fact, 30% of the total cost of your gaming rig should be allotted for the graphics card alone.
The graphics card is an all-important component for PC gamers because it is the one component that handles all of the graphical load. From simple web-browsing to graphically intensive games, the graphics card is responsible for rendering something on your gaming monitor. These are the best graphics card for the money.
Best Budget Graphics Cards
1. AMD RX 480
The AMD RX 480 is one of the best budget-friendly graphics cards out there on the market today. Its performance is a bit higher than Nvidia’s GTX 970 and it also has a lower power draw at 150W. Now, the reference RX 480, albeit great in performance, suffers from thermal throttling because of its built-in cooler. This is not to discount the reference card but what I am trying to say is that the cooler used in it is bad and the card usually throttles its performance due to heat. Fortunately, there are board partner cards that have way better cooling performance. Take the Powercolor “Red Devil” RX 480, for example: The PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 has three fans built-in to give that optimal cooling performance the RX480 graphics card needs. The card is also overclocked out of the box with its core clocked at 1330MHz and its memory clocked at 2000MHz. This card also comes with a whopping 8GB of VRAM for intensive graphical applications. The Red Devil overclocks pretty well thanks to its cooler and it also comes with 3 DisplayPort inputs, 1 DVI-D connector, and an HDMI connector as well. This card is currently priced from $250-$330 depending on the store.
The PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 has three fans built-in to give that optimal cooling performance the RX480 graphics card needs. The card is also overclocked out of the box with its core clocked at 1330MHz and its memory clocked at 2000MHz. This card also comes with a whopping 8GB of VRAM for intensive graphical applications. The Red Devil overclocks pretty well thanks to its cooler and it also comes with 3 DisplayPort inputs, 1 DVI-D connector, and an HDMI connector as well. This card is currently priced from $250-$330 depending on the store.
2. Nvidia Geforce GTX 950
The Nvidia Geforce GTX 950 is also a good budget-friendly graphics card and it costs only $150. Although you cannot crank up all of the games to its maximum settings, the GTX 950 performs well for its price point. There are many board partners for this particular card but one card that I want to recommend is the Gigabyte Windforce Edition GTX 950: This graphics card’s core clock is overclocked out of the box, though, its VRAM remains untouched. This card is a good overclocker because of its two-fan design and good thermal dissipation mechanisms. Probably the only things I do not like about this card is that it doesn’t have an included backplate and its fans do not turn off when idle. Still, this card runs efficiently and it is not a noisy card at all.
3. Nvidia GTX 1060.
The GTX 1060 is one of the newest graphics cards from Nvidia and this is a direct competitor to AMD’s RX 480 I’ve talked about earlier. The GTX 1060 uses the new Pascal architecture which promises better power efficiency and performance than the previous Maxwell graphics cards from Nvidia. If you want to choose the best GTX 1060 you can buy, then consider buying the ASUS ROG STRIX 6GB OC Edition GTX 1060:
This card has overclocked core speeds and memory clocks as well. Out of the box, you are looking at 1620MHz for its core clock and 8208MHz for its memory clock. Aside from the fact that it comes overclocked out of the box, the Asus ROG Strix GTX 1060 OC edition also comes with three fans that will not spin when idle or while playing some light games. Furthermore, this particular graphics card comes with RGB lighting as well to further compliment your gaming PC. This graphics card is priced at $330. Now that I’ve covered the budget-friendly category, I will now move on to the next pricing bracket which is the midrange graphics cards.
Good Graphics Cards for Gaming
The midrange graphics cards are what most people would want to buy. This price bracket is a bridge between great performance and affordability. The first graphics card at this price point I want to talk about is one from the green team.
1. Geforce GTX 1070
The GTX 1070 is by far the best midrange graphics card as of this time of writing. It sports 2560 CUDA cores and it also has 8GB of VRAM as well. Now, although there is a reference model for this particular graphics card, I always advise people to get AIB partner cards instead. That is because AIB cards have far better cooling performance and most of them come overclocked right out of the box. Speaking of AIB partner cards, the AIB card I recommend you get is the Zotac GTX 1070 AMP Extreme Edition:
The Zotac GTX 1070 AMP Extreme Edition also comes overclocked. It comes with a 1607MHz core clock and 2002MHz memory clock speeds. Thanks to Nvidia’s GPU Boost 3.0 technology, the core clock ramps up to 2000+MHz if the temperature permits it. Temperature is never going to be an issue thanks to its triple fan design. It doesn’t turn on until it reaches a certain temperature threshold. Other features of this card include RGB “Spectra” lighting, a very cool looking backplate, and a proprietary “Powerboost” technology that is able to provide extreme performance and longevity to the card. You do have to take note that this graphics card is one of those bigger graphics cards on the market. In fact, this card has a length of 11.81 inches! Make sure that your PC case can handle this gigantic graphics card!
2. AMD R9 Fury X
On the AMD side, there is the R9 Fury X. Now, at the time that this graphics card was released, it was priced at $500 which is considered to be on the high-end of the price spectrum. But now, there was a huge price drop and the cheapest R9 Fury X you can get is priced at $390 which is really a bargain. AMD’s reference graphics cards are notorious for having high temperatures. That is because of the coolers built-in the reference design. But, the R9 Fury X is different in that it comes with a liquid cooler. Temperatures are never an issue with this graphics card at all. Even when you’re playing for hours on end, you will only get as much as 75C of temperature. The R9 Fury X is also one of the only graphics cards as of this time of writing to have the HBM (High-bandwidth Memory) module. For those of you who do not know, HBM is much faster than GDDR5 and it is more adept at handling graphical loads than its memory counterpart. You’re also looking at 4GB of HBM VRAM and a 1050 MHz Core clock. This card is currently priced at $390.
The last category of graphics cards is the high-end graphics cards.
High-end Top Graphics Cards
If money is not an issue for you, then you might want to get a high-end graphics card. When I say high-end graphics cards, what I truly mean is a card that allows you to run games at its maximum settings without any problems.
Furthermore, high-end graphics cards should last you for at least 3 years because they are well-equipped to be futureproof.
As of this time of writing, there are no new high-end graphics cards on the AMD side but there are two new models from Nvidia. Let’s start with the 1080.
1. Nvidia GTX 1080
The GTX 1080 was released in May of this year and it really turned the heads of graphics cards enthusiasts. It uses the new Pascal architecture and it comes with a whopping 8GB of GDDR5X memory. This card comes with the new GDDR5X memory module which is supposedly faster than the conventional GDDR5. The founder’s edition GTX 1080 uses a blower-style cooler which is great for small cases but it is not good for bigger gaming rigs. What I do recommend is getting an AIB partner card. The best GTX 1080 according to most people is the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW Edition. The EVGA GTX 1080 FTW Edition, as with all other AIB partner cards, comes with a factory overclock of 1721MHz on the core and a whopping 10,000MHz on the memory clock. RGB lighting is the current meta when it comes to computer components and thankfully, the FTW edition comes with RGB lighting as well. The design of this card is not as flashy as its other competitors but for the money, you’re looking at one of the best performing GTX 1080 cards on the market today. This card also has the best warranty among all other partner cards on the market. The EVGA GTX 1080 FTW Edition is currently priced at $679.99.
2. Nvidia GTX Titan X
Last on the list is none other than the “mothership” of graphics cards, the Nvidia GTX Titan X. Nvidia released a card with a similar name before so for the sake of clarity, I will refer to the newest iteration as the GTX Titan XP (short for Titan X Pascal). The GTX Titan XP comes with a whopping 12GB of GDDR5X memory, 3584 Cuda cores, 12 billion transistors, 96 ROPs, a 1417MHz core clock, and a 2500MHz memory clock. All of those specs come with a premium price. As of today, the Nvidia GTX Titan XP costs $1200 suggested retail price. There is also no AIB partner cards at the moment. When you talk about the ultimate graphics card, there literally is no competition for the Nvidia Titan XP. It is the meanest and most powerful graphics card money can buy. And there you have it! I hope that this article has helped you make an informed decision on which graphics card to buy. I highly suggest that you get at least a GTX 1070 so that you can crank up those settings without breaking the bank. Get the cheapest one you can find or get the Zotac GTX 1070 AMP Extreme Edition I’ve talked about earlier. Remember, if you want to truly maximize your gaming experience, get a beefy graphics card.
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One of the most common questions that we get asked by our readers is, whether or not they should update for the upcoming micro-architectures from AMD and NVIDIA, or better they should just go out and buy from the GPU lineup available on the market right now. And while this is a tricky question, we will attempt to answer it in a very systematic fashion.
The first thing to realize here is that due to the progression of transistor technology, and due to the now defunct Moore’s Law, which still holds to some extent, and due to the architecture in IPC games pushed forth by both these companies. It’s very hard to find a point in time where you can confidently go out and buy a GPU that will not be outdated in, let’s say a few months time. So the question we must answer is whether or not the time you spend waiting for an upcoming GPU to hit the shows was worth the performance gains or the additional features that the GPU offered. In the case of the lower end spectrum of the GPU market, this is a rather easy question to answer.
Basically the power efficiency gains iteratively in each successive generation of GPUs is significant but it’s not justifiable to wait, say it, three or four months to wait for 4% or 5% increase in power efficiency which is usually the case unless we’re talking about a no jump and we will get onto that later. So, if you are a GPU consumer that is in the lower end spectrum of GPUs, say, your budget is around $150 then NO. It’s not justifiable to wait for the upcoming GPU architectures unless and until there’s a no jump, and this is where it will get trickier. When taking a look at Polaris and Pascal’s architecture, the thing we have to keep in mind is that it’s not simply another generation of GPUs. It’s an architectural or a ‘process jump.’
A process jump in is one in which there is a significant technological change on the level of the transistors. In this case, we jumped from 28 nanometers, which has been here for a few years to 14 nanometers and 16-nanometer FinFET respectively for AMD and NVIDIA. Now, the increase in the area scaling offered by this lower process node results in a much more significant performance increase across the board. So even in the lower end spectrum of cards, you will still notice a significant amount of performance increase.
And then talking about the middle end to the high-end things changed drastically. If you’re a ‘serial upgrader’, and you want the best card got out there right now at any given point in time, then this is a no-brainer for you, you’re going to stick with a 980 Ti if you are in the NVIDIA camp, or you’re going to stick with the Fury X if you are in the Radeon camp. And you’re going to wait for Pascal and Polaris actually to come, and you’re going to upgrade to that. But if you’re not a serial upgrader and if you’re someone like me who wants to buy something good and who wants it to last a few years then, once again, it gets slightly trickier to answer.
Best graphics card for gaming 2016
The thing you have to keep in mind about Pascal and Polaris architecture and in any GPUs based on them is that while the 14 nanometers and 16 nanometers FinFET processors do offer a significant upgrade over the last generation of 28 nanometers. The process itself is first generation FinFET which means it’s not as mature as the last generation of 28 nanometers. And maturity translates to the fact that you will not be able to produce large GPUs as large GPUs as you’re producing the 28 nanometers. So while for the same dice size, FinFET does offer significant performance and power efficiency increases. You will not be able to create GPUs as large as you could have to 28 nanometers, and 980 Ti and Fury X are both examples of very top end performance of the 28 nanometers node.
Pascal and Polaris are just first generation products that will not be on the same level of scaling as the Fury X and 980 Ti are. That being said, due to the architectural gains and the process gains involved. In this case, both Pascal and Polaris are expected to match the 980 Ti and Fury X at significant performance levels.
One more thing that I like to emphasize on is the fact that DirectX 12 is the new standard in gaming technology, and DirectX12 requires underlying hardware support. In the case of NVIDIA it wanted is that it supports DirectX 12.1 feature level which is the latest in DirectX12 features that anyone can get. However, while this is quality, AMD has native support for Async Compute while supporting only the feature level of 12.0 it has Async Compute which gives certain advantages in gaming performance based advantages. So there is an offset to both sides of the camp while talking about DirectX 12 directly. However, both Polaris and Pascal are supposedly going to perfect and build on this existing partial support for DirectX 12, and we’re going to move towards a technology which will support DirectX 12 in its entirety.
Cheap graphics card for gaming
Now, keep in mind that this is only speculation on our part, but this is something that we expect both NVIDIA and AMD to do in the future which is to perfect DirectX 12 support. So summarizing what we have heard so far basically one of the major advantages to just waiting for Pascal and Polaris is the fact that we see a no jump, basically the shift to FinFET which will result in a significantly improved performance and power efficiency across the board of the downside of the fact that this is not a mature node as of yet. Secondly, we are talking about much better DirectX 12 compatibility with Pascal and Polaris. And why there is no reason, that this isn’t a reason that should stop you from buying the current generation of DirectX 12 capable cards. It’s still something that a potential buyer might consider. And finally, let’s talk about the sweet price point that the new FinFET technology will emerge the shift to FinFET will allow GPU manufacturers like NVIDIA and AMD to produce GPUs at the same power levels at lower costs.
So if cost and value are something that is of considerable importance to you, you really should consider waiting for Pascal and Polaris because FinFET is expected to achieve that sweet price point regarding value and power and performance optimization. In fact, AMD’s Polaris architecture is specifically targeted to lowering the minimum VR spec to more affordable levels. So with that, I hope we covered most of the fine points of the arguments for and against waiting.
To sum it all up, if you’re proud owner of GTX 980 Ti or if you’re proud owner of a Fury X, say, that it’s probably wise not to wait for this generation out which is the first-generation of FinFETs and wait for more mature architectures on a much more mature process such as Vega and such as the GB100 which is the second generation of Pascal. If however you are on a graphic card that does not conform to feature levels or if you’re on a graphic card that does not conform that is slightly outdated, it’s probably best that you wait for Pascal and Polaris to arrive and you should not immediately jump on the current and existing lineup of 980 Ti and Fury X. And if you are someone who wants to keep his GPUs around for a long while then this is something that will be justified. If you’re a serial upgrader then as I mentioned, in the beginning, this is a no-brainer for you, buy the 980 Ti or the Fury X now and immediately upgrade to the Polaris architecture or the Pascal architecture when the time comes.
Before buying a graphics card, though, there are some things that you need to consider. The graphics card is not going to work alone; it works in tandem with your PC’s other components. The things to consider are:
The processor you use will dictate how effective a graphics card can operate. Take, for example, an old Intel Core i5-2500K and the new Skylake Intel Core i5-6600K. Although the former processor still works well today, there is no denying that the newer processor is better. That is because there are new technologies incorporated in the newer hardware and thus, can really help improve your gaming performance. This is not to say that if you’re using an old processor, you should throw it away. What I am saying is that if you want to truly maximize your graphics card’s potential, you need to have a competitive processor to go along with it. Intel’s Haswell processors are still quite good to this day, so if you’re budget conscious, you can go with that. Now, why would you need a good processor with your graphics card? You need a good processor for your graphics card so that you can avoid “bottlenecking”. Bottlenecking refers to the limitation a certain PC component has, in this case, if your CPU cannot handle the load, your graphics card will have subpar performance. This is evident when the CPU is already at 100% load while your GPU is anything below that. This can also be seen when you’re doing some graphical benchmarks and your score is much lower compared to what other people are having. So, if you want to have a great gaming experience, never overlook the CPU.
2: Power Supply
The next thing to consider before buying a graphics card is the power supply unit. The PSU powers everything in your system; from your motherboard to your graphics card. First, look at your current PSU. Does it have enough wattage? In most cases, a 500-Watt power supply should be enough. But, if you’re going to overclock your CPU and your Graphics card, you need to have a bit of headroom. If you want to overclock, get at least a 600-Watt power supply or more.
Another important component to consider before buying a graphics card is your system RAM. As a rule of thumb, you want to have twice as much RAM than your video card’s VRAM. For example, say you have a graphics card that has a 4GB VRAM, you need to have 8GB of system RAM in order to have a minimum buffer. In most gaming PCs, 8GB is considered the standard. But, if you like to play safe and since modern games are more demanding now, you can opt to have 16GB of RAM on your gaming rig.
4: Monitor and Resolution
Your monitor and screen resolution is also an important factor when buying a graphics card. Do you want to play at ultra settings at 1080p? Or, do you want to max your game’s settings at 1440p? After answering those questions, it should give you an idea on which graphics card you want to buy for your gaming PC.
5: The Size of your Case
What many people often do not take into consideration when buying a graphics card is the size of their computer’s case. Modern graphics cards are big; in fact, there are certain graphics cards (take the Zotac GTX 1080 AMP Extreme as an example) that measure 12.7 inches in length! So before buying a graphics card, make sure to measure the dimensions of your case and also look at the size of the card. Your video card will go to waste if it doesn’t fit your current case, right?
6: Graphics Settings
Are you the type of person who wants to crank up all of the game’s settings to its maximum value? Or, are you the type of person who is content in playing games even at low or medium settings? If you want to set every detail to the max, you need to have a really good graphics card. Of course, every card with impressive specs comes with an expensive price tag. If you just want to play a game at its lowest settings, then an inexpensive graphics card should do the job.
7: AMD or Nvidia?
There are two competing graphics card companies today and that is AMD and Nvidia. Which is better? That really depends on a variety of factors. As of this time of writing, AMD is concerned with giving VR performance to the masses at an affordable price while Nvidia is reigning supreme with a lot of graphics card offerings. Still, I am not discounting AMD at all but they still haven’t released a graphics card that can match the flagship Nvidia graphics card yet. So, which brand should you choose? If you want to get the best graphics card today, I suggest you buy Nvidia graphics cards. If you are short on the money but you still want to crank some settings to its maximum value without breaking your bank, then go for AMD.
Now, this is a topic that I want to talk about. But before that, what is overclocking? Basically, overclocking refers to your graphics card running at higher clock speeds than its default parameters. Overclocking will give you more performance but at the cost of higher temperatures and bigger power draw. Now, not a lot of people wants to overclock their graphics card because it is time-consuming to do so. But, if you’re one of those people who wants to get every ounce of performance from your graphics card, then you want to buy one that has good overclocking capabilities. Read some information online about a particular graphics card and its overclocking potential. For starters, you want to buy a graphics card that has good thermal dissipation mechanisms such as a better cooler or better passive cooling.
Are you going to do SLI/Crossfire in the near future? For those of you who do not know, SLI/Crossfire is basically just connecting two or more graphics cards of the same kind in a computer system. One of the major benefits of having an SLI/Crossfire setup is improved framerates and better graphical performance than a single card configuration. Before you buy graphics cards for SLI/Crossfire, though, make sure that your motherboard supports more than one graphics card. Also, your power supply should be adequate enough to power more than one video card and your PC case should also be big enough to fit them all in. SLI/Crossfire may not be cost effective but if you want to do it and if you have the money, then do so (but consider the factors I’ve mentioned above first).
The last thing to consider but definitely not the least before buying a graphics card is the price. How much money are you willing to spend on your rig’s video card? There are many graphics cards out there and I am going to recommend some based on the price range.