Editor’s Note: We realize the mining craze has caused significant disruption to the GPU market, with many GPUs either out of stock or priced well above MSRP. We are not factoring these conditions into our recommendations, but leaving them as-is based on MSRP with the hope that things will soon return to normal.
Now that 2017 is in the rear view, we are able to pull back a bit and examine the GPU playing field with 20/20 vision as all the cards have been laid on the table, pardon the pun. Overall Nvidia has dominated with its Pascal architecture, as its combination of horsepower and efficiency allowed it to break records for both performance and low power consumption. The latter was something AMD struggled with, as it ended the year with the highly-anticipated release of its flagship Vega GPUs, which ended up consuming a lot more power than their Nvidia equivalents while being just as fast or a bit slower. It was mildly disappointing, and though Vega is a great GPU in terms of performance, it runs hot and loud, and miners snatched them all up at launch, making the purchase of one quite difficult. Because of this, we aren’t recommending them as we’ve only tested the reference edition so far, but perhaps partner boards will change that equation a bit. Time will tell.
Miner disruption aside, there’s never been a better time to be in the market for a GPU. But which one is the best? We’ve done all the benchmarking, testing, and research so you don’t have to. These are the best GPUs for gaming, no matter your budget or price-range:
We haven’t tested all of the GTX 1080 Ti GPUs available, yet, but of the three we’ve tested so far the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti SC2 with ICX is our favorite due to its stellar performance and reasonable price of just $729 (if you can find it in stock, that is). The SC2 has been improved from the previous model by adding a new technology called ICX, which is the addition of nine extra sensors to measure temperatures all over the GPU instead of just on the die. This allows the dual fans to perform the task of keeping the card frosty more efficiently, and in our testing the card was always quiet and never rose above 72C. It also has pretty slick RGB lighting too.
The mining craze has put a strain on supply for these GPUs, but if you’re vigilant you can still pick one up for MSRP.
The launch of the GTX 1080 Ti caused Nvidia to lower the price of its little brother, the GTX 1080, by roughly $100, making it an even better deal than it was previously. Even though it’s fallen from the top perch of the GPU world the GTX 1080 is still one heck of a GPU, and is totally capable of 4k gaming, VR, and pretty much anything else you can throw at it. Though we originally reviewed the Founder’s Edition, which is essentially the “reference” version of the card despite its fancy name, there’s no reason to buy it over cards from Nvidia’s partners (Asus, Gigabyte, EVGA, MSI, etc.) since they are just as powerful (if not more so in many cases), offer better cooling, and are less expensive.
The GTX 1080 is available from a variety of manufacturers. Below are some of the best current options:
This is another category that is uncontested, and is occupied by the beastly GeForce GTX 1070. It wins in this category because it’s only 20 percent slower than the GTX 1080 and costs 50 percent less, making it a much better deal overall than the GTX 1080. Despite its second-billing status, it’s still powerful enough to run AAA titles at 60fps at 2560×1440, so what more do you really need? If your monitor is 1920×1080 it’ll hit over 100 frames per second in most games too, making it the perfect GPU to pair with one of those sweet 144Hz panels.
Though we reviewed the Founder’s Edition, a.k.a. reference version of this card, we are applying the same purchasing logic we used with the GTX 1080 in that there’s no reason to buy Nvidia’s version, as the models from Nvidia’s partners are less expensive, better-looking, run cooler in most cases, and are just a better overall deal.
As always there are several variants of this GPU and they largely perform similarly. The differences between them come down to clock speeds, styling, cooling apparatus, and warranty terms. Prices range from $380 to $440, and below are a few of the best current options:
This is a contentious category, and a controversial choice, since there are four well-matched competitors all within roughly $50 of each other. For AMD there’s the 4GB and 8GB versions of its spectacular Polaris GPU, the RX 480, and Nvidia offers both 3GB and 6GB versions of its GTX 1060 as well. Since we haven’t tested the 3GB and 4GB versions of these competing cards, our decision is solely based on the 8GB Radeon RX 480 and 6GB GTX 1060, and of those two the GTX 1060 is the better of the two based on our testing. It’s the perfect GPU to run every game at maximum settings at 1080p and hit at least 60fps, if not more. Though it’s a smidge more expensive than the RX 480 in most cases, for particular models the two cards are priced either exactly the same or within $10 of each other, making the generally more powerful GTX 1060 a clear winner. It also has better software too in our opinion, but to be fair to AMD we have not sampled its revamped suite.
The GTX 1060 is available in a variety of models ranging in price from $249 to $269. Though we reviewed and recommend MSI’s version our experience tells us its competitors are all good options as well, so here are a few of them:
This is a bit of a tricky recommendation for two reasons. First, we have only reviewed the previous version, which was the RX 470. The RX 570 is the updated version based on a respin of the Polaris die, and generally speaking it offers about a five percent performance boost, so it is still a great card for 1080p gaming. Second, this card is currently decidedly not available at its $189 MSRP due to the mining craze, so they are around $400 online these days. Still, we’re going to recommend it since it competes with the 3GB GTX 1060 from Nvidia, and the RX 570’s extra gigabyte of memory allows the card to run at higher detail levels without running out of memory. If and when the pricing on this card comes back down from the stratosphere, it’s the one to get if your budget is around $200.