Best Graphics Cards for Gaming in 2021
The best graphics cards are the lifeblood of any gaming PC — they’re responsible for converting all of those zeroes and ones into stunning pixels on your screen. While there’s no single solution that’s right for everyone, we’re here to sort out the must haves from the wanna bes. Some want the fastest graphics card, others the best value, and many are looking for the best card at a given price. Balancing performance, price, features, and efficiency is important because no other component impacts your gaming experience as much as the graphics card.
Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 Ti and GeForce RTX 3070 Ti have now launched, leaving us generally underwhelmed. The 3080 Ti is about 10% faster than the RTX 3080, but costs 71% more (going by MSRP, which is really all we can do for now). The 3070 Ti meanwhile is about 10% faster than the 3070 and costs 20% more, but also increases power consumption by over 30%. At least both cards provide additional options, and with Nvidia’s hashrate limiter they shouldn’t be as enticing to miners.
We still haven’t seen desktop variants of the RTX 3050 Ti and RTX 3050, which are going after the laptop market first — probably because that’s a lower volume market than desktop cards costing less than $300. Wafers remain in short supply, basically. From AMD, we’re also waiting to see RX 6700 or some other form of trimmed-down Navi 22, with RX 6600 and RX 6500 cards based on Navi 23 also set to arrive at some point — specs are already confirmed thanks to the Radeon Pro W6600 announcement. Will that be June, July, or August? Place your bets.
More importantly for Team Red is the upcoming public launch of FSR, FidelityFX Super Resolution. A GPU-agnostic upscaling algorithm that competes against DLSS? We’re very interested to see how it looks as well as how it performs. Godfall should be the first game to offer support, starting June 22.
Despite nearly a dozen new GPUs launched in the past nine months, shortages remain in full effect. Nvidia has restarted production on its 12nm Turing GPUs (because those don’t use the same facilities as its 8nm Ampere parts), and everything truly desirable is sold out and/or overpriced. Even previous generation hardware costs far too much — assuming you can find it in stock. We’ve covered the details in or GPU pricing index, and it’s all bad news. Everything is perpetually out of stock and/or overpriced, even previous generation cards.
But at least mining profitability has dropped substantially in the past month, so maybe we’ll start edging back toward normalcy, though that’s probably four or more months off at best. Also, Nvidia has released LHR (low hash rate) variants of the RTX 3080, 3070, and 3060 Ti now, and the non-LHR variants are being phased out, so all Nvidia Ampere GPUs other than the RTX 3090 will be even less desirable for mining purposes (assuming the limiter doesn’t get cracked).
We’re going to list the best graphics cards that are theoretically available right now, along with their nominal prices. The latest additions to our list are the GeForce RTX 3060 12GB and Radeon RX 6700 XT. Both sold out and are now on eBay for exorbitant prices. If you’re desparate for a new GPU, you could maybe justify paying 25% more than the launch price, but double or triple the MSRP is simply too much. If you need to upgrade, we recommend taking a look at pre-built gaming PCs instead. Or just wait, but prices might not get back to anything close to ‘normal’ until some time in 2022.
We test and review all the major GPUs, and we’ve ranked every graphics card in our GPU Benchmarks hierarchy based purely on performance. We’ve also done extensive testing of graphics card power consumption, using proper hardware, and we’ve looked at the broader AMD vs Nvidia GPUs breakdown. More recently, our Radeon RX 6800 XT and GeForce RTX 3060 Ti launch articles have included test results for the latest GPUs running on Core i9-9900K, Core i9-10900K, and Ryzen 9 5900X. Mostly, the three CPUs are pretty close, though things vary depending on the game and settings (and motherboard firmware and RAM). Here we cut things down to a succinct list of the best graphics cards you can currently buy.
Choosing the Best Graphics Card for You
We’ve provided a dozen options for the best graphics cards, recognizing that there’s plenty of potential overlap. The latest generation GPUs consist of Nvidia’s Ampere architecture cards and AMD’s RDNA2 architecture offerings. You can check our launch reviews of the GeForce RTX 3090, GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, GeForce RTX 3080, GeForce RTX 3070 Ti, GeForce RTX 3070, GeForce RTX 3060 Ti, and GeForce RTX 3060 12GB for Nvidia, along with AMD’s Radeon RX 6900 XT, Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800, and Radeon RX 6700 XT. RDNA2 brought ray tracing support to Team Red for the first time and greatly improved performance compared to the previous generation GPUs. That’s eleven new GPUs in about as many months, and we’ll likely see additional options using scaled down GA106 and Navi 22 GPUs in the near future.
Theoretically, cards like the RTX 3070 and RX 6800 cost less than half as much as the previous generation RTX 2080 Ti, and generally match or beat it on performance. Meanwhile, the RX 6800 XT and RTX 3080 are 30 to 35% faster than the 2080 Ti for less money, and the 3090 is 10-20% faster than the 3080 (at more than twice the price). You can also see how the RTX 3080 scales with a wider range of CPUs. Hint: You’ll want something made in the past few years, preferably with at least 6-cores and 12-threads.
Unfortunately, that’s only in theory, as cyptocurrency mining combined with an already limited supply have caused a massive jump in GPU prices. Our advice: Don’t pay more today for yesterday’s hardware. If you want an RTX 30-series or RX 6000-series graphics card, be patient and you’ll eventually be able to buy one at close to the official MSRP. If you already own a decent GPU, stick with it — or sell it for a premium and save the money until prices come down (assuming you have a spare you can live with in the interim).
If your main goal is gaming, you can’t forget about the CPU. Getting the best possible gaming GPU won’t help you much if your CPU is under-powered and/or out of date. So be sure to check out the Best Gaming CPUs page, as well as our CPU Benchmarks to make sure you have the right CPU for the level of gaming you’re looking to achieve.
Our current recommendations reflect the changing GPU market, factoring in all of the above details. The GPUs are ordered mostly by performance, but price, features, and efficiency are still factors so in a few cases a slightly slower card may be ranked higher. There’s been a massive shakeup at the top of the performance rankings already, and provided you can find the various cards in stock, these are the best graphics cards.
Quick Shopping Tips
When buying a graphics card, consider the following:
• Resolution: The more pixels you’re pushing, the more performance you need. You don’t need a top-of-the-line GPU to game at 1080p.
• PSU: Make sure that your power supply has enough juice and the right 6- and/or 8-pin connector(s). For example, Nvidia recommends a 650-watt PSU for the RTX 2070 Super, and you’ll need two 8-pin and/or 6-pin PEG connectors.
• Video Memory: A 4GB card is the minimum right now, 6GB models are better, and 8GB or more is strongly recommended.
• FreeSync or G-Sync? Either variable refresh rate technology will synchronize your GPU’s frame rate with your screen’s refresh rate. Nvidia supports G-Sync and G-Sync Compatible displays (for recommendations, see our Best Gaming Monitors list), while AMD’s FreeSync tech works with Radeon cards.
• Ray Tracing and DLSS: The latest graphics cards support ray tracing, which can be used to enhance the visuals. DLSS provides intelligent upscaling and anti-aliasing to boost performance with similar image quality, but it’s only on Nvidia RTX cards.