Staff, Courtesy of Nvidia
A powerful graphics card, or GPU, is the lifeblood of any efficient gaming or creative PC. Without one, you can kiss gaming or video production needs goodbye. With dedicated graphics cards becoming more mainstream each generation, the latest and greatest in graphics is more accessible than ever.
At least it would be—if not for the nasty combination of a global chip shortage, incredibly high demand, and COVID-19. We get into the nitty-gritty and give you the lowdown of the current graphics card landscape, as well as the best graphics cards for your specific needs.
Extreme GPU Shortages
While this latest generation of graphics cards are powerful and affordable on paper, in reality, they are nearly impossible to buy. Incredibly high demand, very low supply, and COVID-19 have all combined together to make finding and buying any graphics card difficult. Because of such limited supply, scalpers have run amok, reselling new GPUs for double or triple their suggested retail price.
While GPU supply seems to be slowly increasing, future availability is still looking grim and uncertain. Because of these extraordinary circumstances, you will probably have a hard time finding our recommended graphics cards, especially at suggested retail price, aka MSRP. As such, we are including the MSRP for all our recommendations, and hoping that supply increases soon.
What to Consider
With graphics cards, there is a lot to consider. To start, keep in mind that there is no “best” graphics card. Your perfect GPU depends on a combination of your computer and your needs. An expensive, cutting-edge graphics card may be powerful, but it will quickly become bottlenecked if the rest of your computer is 10 years old.
First, consider the monitors you will be using with your computer. Your monitor is a deciding factor in what video resolution your computer can display. If you have a 4K resolution monitor, you should select a powerful graphics card that can easily render 4K graphics.
Second, decide on a “target resolution.” A target resolution is basically what graphical resolution you would like your computer to display. Again, this is partially dependent on your monitors. For example, if you plan on using an older, 1080p monitor, your target resolution is 1080p, an easy target for budget GPUs. A target resolution of 4K, however, will require a newer, more powerful GPU.
Lastly, take into consideration video outputs and power requirements. Most graphics cards today (and those on our list) connect via HDMI 2.1 or DisplayPort 1.4a, so make sure your computer monitor has those connections. Graphics cards also need to connect to your computer’s power supply. Make sure your power supply has enough wattage output to power your new GPU.
How We Selected
We strive to rigorously test every product we recommend. For those products we can’t test ourselves, we perform intensive research, reviewing content from expert sources like PC Gamer, The Verge, Eurogamer, CNET, Tom’s Guide, and others, as well as thousands of consumer reviews from online storefronts on Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart. As for the products themselves, we evaluated them on performance, design, compatibility, and (retail) price.
Best 4K, Overall
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Graphics Card
If you want to handle any and everything on the market today, from high-res video editing to 4K, 60 FPS gaming, NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 is the best graphics card for handling it all. The 3080’s incredible performance blows the last generation of graphics cards out of the water.
NVIDIA’s new Deep Learning Super Sampling, or DLSS, technology improves gaming performance dramatically, especially when compared to the last generation of GPUs. DLSS, 10 GB of video RAM, and high clock speeds make the RTX 3080 a true powerhouse.
It strikes a great balance between cost and performance, outperforming all but the most expensive of competitors.
The RTX 3080 is normally priced at $699, but you’ll find this unicorn of a GPU ranges in price between $1,400 and $2,100 online. Unfortunately, everyone knows how good the RTX 3080 is, not just us.
- Flawless 4K performance
- Runs very cool and quiet
- 12-pin power adapter is clunky
- Large power/wattage requirement
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti Graphics Card
For those of us seeking a more moderate 1440p target resolution, NVIDIA’s RTX 3060 Ti is an amazing GPU. Striking an incredible price-to-performance ratio, it can handle any and all sub-4K tasks with ease.
With a speedy 8 GB of video RAM, combined with NVIDIA’s latest tech, it outclasses nearly every other graphics card in terms of price-to-performance.
For flawless 1440p performance at an affordable price, the RTX 3060 Ti is the card to beat.
The RTX 3060 Ti is normally priced at $399, but you should expect to pay up to $1,000 for one. It’s one hard-to-find GPU, likely due to its normally amazing price-to-performance ratio.
- Incredible price-to-performance ratio
- Runs very cool and quietly
- 12-pin power adapter is clunky
- Only entry-level 4K
AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT Graphics Card
For a target resolution of 1080p, there are a ton of GPUs from the last generation that are up to the task. However, AMD’s Radeon RX 5600 XT is our pick for 1080p tasks. This powerful budget card can handle any and all tasks at 1080p, no matter how cutting edge they may be. It can even handle entry-level tasks at 1440p!
With near-modern 2020 tech and easy compatibility, the 5600 XT crushes 1080p tasks with smooth, consistent performance.
The 5600 XT is normally priced at an affordable $279, but sadly, similar to NVIDIA’s RTX 3060 Ti, expect to pay up to $1,000 for this GPU.
- Amazing 1080p performance
- Great price point
The Most Powerful Consumer Card
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 Graphics Card
Excluding commercial and professional GPUs, NVIDIA’s RTX 3090 is the most powerful graphics card on the market. At a suggested retail price of $1499, it is absolutely not the best bang-for-your-buck card out there. (The amazing RTX 3080 costs half as much as the RTX 3090.)
But if you need as much power as possible on the consumer level, the RTX 3090 allows you to do basically anything. With a hulking 24 GB of video ram, monstrous power intake, and blazingly fast clock speeds, the RTX 3090 will get the job done, no matter what the job is.
The RTX 3090 is normally priced at a steep $1,499, but current sale prices are even steeper, ranging between $2,100 and $3,000.
- 24 GB of VRAM is peak consumer power
- Long-lasting, top-of-its-generation performance
- Incredibly expensive
- Very power-intensive
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 SUPER DirectX Graphics Card
The oldest card on our list, 2019’s NVIDIA GTX 1650 Super is an enduring highlight from the last generation of GPUs. At a suggested retail price of only $159, it is also the only sub-$200 card we recommend (for now). A small, efficient, effective card, the 1650 Super can power through older gaming and graphic needs with surprising ease.
While it certainly can’t handle 4K or 1440p tasks, at this price point, that’s to be expected. A modest clock speed, 4 GB of video RAM, and low power requirements make the GTX 1650 Super not just affordable, but a solid performer for 1080p tasks.
The GTX 1650 Super is normally priced at an incredible $159, but the current market has made even this older card cost between $400 and $500.
- Incredibly affordable
- Highly compatible design and form factor
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