The best graphics cards for PC gaming: GeForce RTX 3050 and 3080 Ti inbound?

//The best graphics cards for PC gaming: GeForce RTX 3050 and 3080 Ti inbound?


We’ll help you find the best graphics card to fit your needs.

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“What graphics card within my budget gives me the best bang for my buck?”

That simple question cuts to the core of what people hunting for a new graphics card look for: the most oomph they can afford. Sure, the technological leaps behind each new GPU can be interesting on their own, but most everyone just wants to crank up the detail settings on Cyberpunk 2077 and get right to playing.

Updated April 30 to include information about the GeForce RTX 3050 series being leaked by Samsugn in the news section.

Answering the question can be a bit trickier than it seems. Raw performance is a big part of it, but factors like noise, the driver experience, and supplemental software also play a role in determining which graphics card to buy. And do you want to pay Nvidia’s RTX premium to get in on the bleeding edge of real-time ray tracing?

Let us make it easy for you. We’ve tested nearly every major GPU that’s hit the streets over the past couple of years, from $100 budget cards to $1,200 luxury models. Our knowledge has been distilled into this article—a buying guide with recommendations on which graphics card to buy, no matter what sort of experience you’re looking for.

Note: There are customized versions of every graphics card from a slew of vendors. For example, you can buy different GeForce GTX 3080 models from EVGA, Asus, MSI, and Zotac, among others.

We’ve linked to our formal review for each recommendation, but the buying links lead to models that stick closely to each graphics card’s MSRP. Spending extra can get you hefty out-of-the-box overclocks, beefier cooling systems, and more. Check out our “What to look for in a custom card” section below for tips on how to choose a customized card that’s right for you.

Graphics card news

  • It’s all but impossible to find graphics cards right now, especially at sane prices. Our explainer of the perfect GPU storm reveals why. The GeForce RTX 30-series and Radeon RX 6000-series sold out instantly and remain scarce in the face of overwhelming demand, with scalpers and bots snatching them up just as greedily as enthusiasts. Demand is so high that even older-generation graphics cards are selling for more than they cost new, years ago, in most cases. If you’re stuck without a graphics card, consider trying Nvidia’s free GeForce Now cloud streaming or a next-gen gaming console instead to tide you over. 

  • You can’t stop the flow of new hardware though. Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3060 and AMD’s Radeon RX 6700 XT both launched in recent weeks. They’re both fine, but they’d cost too much if the GPU market wasn’t out of its mind right now. 

  • On a related note, Samsung’s specs for the upcoming Galaxy Book Odyssey laptop include the GeForce RTX 3050 and 3050 Ti—two graphics cards that Nvidia haven’t announced yet. Oops.
  • Rumors also suggest a GeForce RTX 3080 Ti will launch in May with 12GB of GDDR6X memory, Nvidia’s new mining block technology, and performance levels close to the RTX 3090. Take the info with a big grain of salt, however, as the RTX 3080 Ti has been rumored with varying price points and capabilities for months now. That said, boxes full of MSI’s GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Ventus 12GB have reportedly been photographed on their way towards the U.S., if the labels on the box are accurate and not doctored.
  • Don’t expect to see an RTX 4080 soon though. At Nvidia’s GTC 2021 keynote in April, the company revealed a roadmap that shows “Ampere Next” scheduled for release sometime in 2022, and “Ampere Next Next” in 2024. (Do expect those architecture code names to change in time, though.)

Best budget graphics card

Editor’s note: Demand is through the roof for graphics cards right now. Newer models sell out instantly and often cost hundreds of dollars more than MSRP. Even older-generation graphics cards are selling for more than what they cost new, years ago. We can’t recommend people buy graphics cards at those markups, but if you’re lucky enough to find stock at MSRP, this guide should help. Note that prices below discuss MSRP, as it’s impossible to stay current with today’s volatile pricing.

The next-gen Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series and AMD Radeon RX 6000-series have yet to trickle down to budget markets, an understandable twist given how much graphics cards currently sell for.

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super is a good 1080p graphics card that can hit the hallowed 60 frames per second mark at High or Ultra settings in virtually all modern games—a hell of a feat for just $160, or $170 for the feature-loaded ROG Strix model we evaluated. It comes packed with 4GB of ultra-fast GDDR6 memory, and Nvidia’s latest and greatest Turing NVENC video encoder, something the original GTX 1650 lacked. Better yet, Nvidia’s GPU is incredibly power efficient, and that means these graphics cards run cool and quiet, too.

You’ll need a six-pin power connector to run the card, which is much more potent than its non-Super cousin, the $150 GeForce GTX 1650. The only reason to consider the non-Super version is if you’re upgrading a big-box office PC into a gaming rig and have no extra power cabling available, since the vanilla GTX 1650 can draw all its more from your motherboard. Otherwise, the GeForce GTX 1650 Super is far superior, especially for just $10 more.

Unfortunately, the ROG Strix isn’t available at retail at the time of publication. Two other Asus GPUS—the $165 GeForce GTX 1650 Super Phoenix Fan Edition and $160 Asus TUF GTX 1650 Super—are, and you should expect similar bottom-line gaming performance out of them, though these alternatives don’t pack all the same extras as the Strix.

sapphire pulse radeon rx 5500 xt 5Brad Chacos/IDG

The Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5500 XT.

AMD’s counter to the GTX 1650 Super, the Radeon RX 5500 XT, launched shortly after in two versions: $170 for 4GB of RAM, and $200 for 8GB. It’s built using AMD’s next-gen “Navi” RDNA architecture, complete with cutting-edge PCIe 4.0 support and best-in-class power efficiency, as well as GDDR6 memory. Nonetheless, its performance hasn’t moved much beyond its Radeon RX 500-series predecessors, and it’s both slightly slower and slightly more expensive than Nvidia’s graphics card.

For that reason, we give the GTX 1650 Super the nod here, though AMD’s bundling of a free copy of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Edition and three free months of Microsoft’s awesome Xbox Game Pass for PC could tip the scales if you’re interested in those. It’s a good graphics card capable of satisfying 1080p gaming with some settings tweaks, but not quite as good as the competition. Sapphire’s superb Pulse Radeon RX 5500 XT is a killer custom variant with a mere $10 premium if you go for Team Red.

If you’re willing to dial graphics settings down a bit, the last-generation Radeon RX 570, built on AMD’s ancient Polaris GPU architecture, is still a compelling option at roughly $130 on sale. We’ve even seen it as low as $100, and that includes three free months of Microsoft’s superb Xbox Game Pass for PC, as well as your choice of either Borderlands 3 or Ghost Recon Breakpoint—a wildly good deal. The Radeon RX 570 isn’t nearly as fast as the GeForce GTX 1650 or Radeon RX 5500 XT, but you’ll be able to play modern games at Medium to High settings and get near the hallowed 60 frames per second mark. AMD’s aging Polaris GPU absolutely sucks down power compared to the modern alternatives, though. In addition to requiring much more energy from the wall, that also means these cards tend to run a bit louder and hotter, and the card designs tend to be larger to shove in more cooling capacity.

Best 1080p graphics card

Editor’s note: Demand is through the roof for graphics cards right now. Newer models sell out instantly and often cost hundreds of dollars more than MSRP. Even older-generation graphics cards are selling for more than what they cost new, years ago. We can’t recommend people buy graphics cards at those markups, but if you’re lucky enough to find stock at MSRP, this guide should help. Note that prices below discuss MSRP, as it’s impossible to stay current with today’s volatile pricing.

The next-gen Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series and AMD Radeon RX 6000-series have yet to trickle down to more mainstream price points , an understandable twist given how much graphics cards currently sell for. That said, the (ostensibly) $330 GeForce RTX 3060 is a decent option for high refresh rate 1080p gaming if you can get your hands on one.

Many PC gamers play on basic 1080p, 60Hz monitors though, thanks to their compelling blend of resolution, speed, and affordable pricing. While the GeForce GTX 1650 Super and Radeon RX 5500 XT mentioned in the budget section are solid low-cost options for 1080p gaming, the best graphics card for feeding those displays is Nvidia’s $230-and-up GeForce GTX 1660 Super, which usurped the sweet spot crown from its non-Super sibling by swapping in ultra-fast 14Mbps GGDR6 memory. It’s your best option for 1080p gaming on a standard 60Hz monitor with little-to-no visual compromises.

The GTX 1660 Super sticks to the same core specs as its vanilla GTX 1660 counterpart, but the GDDR6 upgrade speeds increase gaming performance anywhere from 7 percent to roughly 18 percent depending on the game, letting it soar well past 60 frames per second with all graphics options maxed out. It comes within 3 to 5 percent of the $280 GTX 1660 Ti, too. Not bad for a mere $10 premium over what came before. On top of the performance advantage, the GeForce GTX 1660 runs cool and is incredibly power-efficient compared to its Radeon rivals. Plus, modern GeForce GPUs now play nice with affordable FreeSync monitors as well as pricier G-Sync display option.

The original GTX 1660 will be sticking around with a price cut closer to $200, while the GTX 1660 Ti will also continue to live on at $280 or more. But the price-to-performance ratio of the GeForce GTX 1660 Super makes it a no-brainer over Nvidia’s other GTX 1660 options.

If you have a monitor that supports higher 120Hz or 144Hz refresh rates and want to put it to work, consider the $330 GeForce RTX 3060. It delivers great performance on a fast 1080p display and offers all of Nvidia’s latest features, such as real-time ray tracing, DLSS, the Nvidia Reflex low-latency feature, Shadowplay, NVENC encoding, AI-enhanced Nvidia Broadcast tools, and more. Its ample 12GB memory capacity bests any other graphics card in this price range, so you won’t have to worry about bumping into VRAM constraints in the future. That said, 12GB of memory is overkill for a 1080p graphics card, and the RTX 3060 would be priced too high if the market wasn’t so wild.

Looking at last-gen options that still offer solid 1440p experiences, consider the Radeon RX 5700-series or the GeForce RTX 2060, RTX 2070, or RTX 2080 / RTX 2080 Ti (along with their “Super” variants).

Moving back down the stack, AMD’s older Radeon RX 500-series GPUs aren’t quite dead yet, though they’re showing their age. The GTX 1660 Super beats the snot out of the Radeon RX 580 across the board, as well as the faster Radeon RX 590. Even the affordable GTX 1650 Super beats the RX 580.

Best 1440p graphics card

Editor’s note: Demand is through the roof for graphics cards right now. Newer models sell out instantly and often cost hundreds of dollars more than MSRP. Even older-generation graphics cards are selling for more than what they cost new, years ago. We can’t recommend people buy graphics cards at those markups, but if you’re lucky enough to find stock at MSRP, this guide should help. Note that prices below discuss MSRP, as it’s impossible to stay current with today’s volatile pricing.

If you’re looking to drive a 1440p display at 60-plus frames per second (and often much higher) with no graphical compromises, Nvidia’s $400 GeForce RTX 3060 Ti is a “virtually flawless” option. It’s faster than last generation’s $800 RTX 2080 Super—the second most powerful GPU in the world until a few months ago. “That performance paired with 8GB of GDDR6 memory makes the GeForce RTX 3060 Ti a fantastic 1440p gaming option,” we said in our review. “It exceeds the hallowed 60-frames-per-second mark in every game tested at that resolution, even with the most strenuous visual settings enabled. It flies well beyond that mark in several games, and it should have no problem holding 90 fps+ at 1440p in most titles if you don’t mind performing minor tuning on graphics options.”

The GeForce RTX 3060 Ti performs ray tracing better than AMD’s most expensive GPUs, thanks in no small part to Nvidia’s fantastic DLSS 2.0 technology. It’s also capable of fine 4K gaming, but the 8GB of memory could hold it back future 4K games.

If you have a 120Hz+ 1440p monitor, the $500 GeForce RTX 3070 is also worth considering, but it’s only 9 percent to 15 percent faster than the RTX 3060 Ti at 1440p depending on the game for 25 percent more cash. That makes the RTX 3060 Ti a better option for most people, though the RTX 3070’s performance boost may be worthwhile if you hold onto your graphics cards for an especially long time before upgrading again.

The GeForce RTX 3070 (and 3060 Ti) only has 8GB of GDDR6 memory. That might not be enough for 4K gaming going forward, but it’s fine for 1440p in most scenarios—but not all. Watch Dogs Legion, for example, uses more than 8GB of VRAM at 1440p if you crank up the graphics settings and turn on real-time ray tracing. If you’re leery, consider buying the $580 Radeon RX 6800 instead. You pay a bit more for a bit faster performance, but more importantly, AMD loaded the Radeon RX 6800 with an ample 16GB of GDDR6 memory. Nvidia’s RTX 30-series cards are much, much better at ray tracing, however—and $80 cheaper.

The step-down AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT comes with 12GB of VRAM. It delivers great 1440p gaming performance that’s a little bit faster than the RTX 3060 Ti, but at $479 and up, it’s priced more in-tune with the RTX 3070, and that comparison does it no favors. 

Turning back to Nvidia, the $330 GeForce RTX 3060 also offers an ample 12GB of memory (thanks for the market pressure, AMD!) along with a good entry-level 1440p experience. You may need to turn down the graphics settings a bit in especially intense games to hit 60fps, but this should have no problem surpassing that hallowed target in every title. 

If you’re looking to max out a high refresh-rate 1440p monitor, or drive a 3440×1440 ultrawide monitor, Nvidia’s $700 GeForce RTX 3080 and AMD’s $650 Radeon RX 6800 XT are stellar options that trade blows in raw performance. Even with all the visual settings cranked to Ultra, these monstrous cards deliver above 100fps at 1440p resolution across the 10+ games we tested, and often well above. The RTX 3080 and Radeon RX 6800 XT deliver over 50 percent more performance than the RTX 2080 as a baseline across the board and beat even the RTX 2080 Ti by a healthy margin.

All of these options are also fast enough to play ray traced games at a smooth clip at 1440p—something you couldn’t say with older RTX 20-series cards. You may need to tweak some visual options back when enabling ray tracing on AMD’s cards, however, while faster RT cores and DLSS technology mean you won’t need to make the same sacrifices with Nvidia’s GPU. AMD holds the memory capacity edge once again, however, at 16GB of GDDR6 versus 10GB of GDDR6X in the RTX 3080, but that shouldn’t matter too much at 1440p resolution.

Don’t buy the RTX 3080 or Radeon RX 6800 if you only have a 60Hz 1440p monitor. They’re expensive overkill unless you have a 120Hz-plus 1440p monitor that can put it ludicrous speeds to good use. They’re a fine pairing with a 60Hz 3440×1440 ultrawide display, though, as that higher resolution is more demanding.

Best 4K graphics card

The same concerns we listed about last-gen cards in our 1440p section continue here. The arrival of the new generation of Radeon and GeForce GPUs immediately turned most high-end cards from before into horrible values, and prices for all graphics cards are crazy right now, but you have more options among premium GPUs if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one.

The biggest considerations between AMD and Nvidia up here in the high end? Ray tracing and memory capacity. AMD’s Radeon 6000-series GPUs come with massive 16GB memory pools that should handle everything games throw at them for the foreseeable future. By contrast, Nvidia wasn’t quite as generous with the memory in its RTX lineup, and some rare, especially strenuous games are already pushing GeForce VRAM limits. But the RTX 30-series offer vastly superior ray tracing performance, both in raw horsepower and with the huge uplift provided by DLSS 2.0 supersampling, which AMD currently has no answer for. Ray tracing is picking up steam now that it’s in the next-gen consoles but remains relatively rare in today’s games, however.

Pick your poison; these are all great graphics cards.

If you’re on a $500 budget, or trying to power a 60Hz 4K monitor, the $500 GeForce RTX 3070 is worth considering. It’s just as fast as the former $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti flagship and exceeds or flirts with the 60fps mark in most—but not all—games at 4K resolution with graphics settings maxed out. Be warned that you’ll need to dial the visuals in some games back to hit 60fps, though, and the card can struggle if you turn on ray tracing in games that support it.

The RTX 3070’s modest 8GB memory buffer isn’t likely to be very future-proof either, as some games already exceed that capacity at 4K, so we consider Nvidia’s $500 card better for high refresh rate 1440p gaming, or 4K gaming with some small potential quality compromises. High graphics settings still look great at 4K, though the 8GB of VRAM would make me leery about buying the RTX 3070 as a long-term 4K gaming solution.

If you don’t want to make those occasional graphics quality tweaks or worry about whether 8GB of memory will be enough for 4K gaming in a year or two, consider AMD’s $580 Radeon RX 6800 instead. It’s a bit faster than the RTX 3070 and comes with a generous 16GB of GDDR6 memory. AMD’s Smart Access Memory technology also gives Radeon RX 6000-series graphics cards an additional speed boost when paired with a Ryzen 5000 processor in an X570 motherboard.

If you want even faster performance, or have a high refresh rate 4K monitor, step up to the $650 Radeon RX 6800 XT or $700 GeForce RTX 3080. They kick ass, take names, and trade performance blows. There are no games in our test suite that fail to clear a 60-frames-per-second average at 4K resolution with all possible visuals effects enabled on these cards, and they often exceeds that mark by far.

 The GeForce RTX 3080 and Radeon RX 6800 XT spit out frames up to 80 percent faster than the RTX 2080 in several games at 4K, and 60 percent higher in the others. They’re roughly 30 percent faster than the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, the $1,200 previous-gen flagship, and a ridonkulous 100 to 160 percent faster than the older GeForce GTX 1080. The overwhelming horsepower makes these excellent options for 3440×1440 ultrawide gaming, too.

The feature differences are especially key here. The Radeon RX 6800 XT packs a future-proof 16GB of GDDR6 memory, versus 10GB of faster GDDR6X memory in the RTX 3080. But Nvidia’s ray tracing advantage shines even brighter on the high-end, as its second-gen RT cores and DLSS technology enable 4K gaming with ray tracing enabled. AMD’s cards simply can’t play ray traced games beyond 1440p without frame rates slowing to a crawl.

Moving up yet higher, the even more monstrous GeForce RTX 3090 “BFGPU” wields 10,496 CUDA cores, SLI connectors, and a massive 24GB of that speedy GDDR6X memory. It’s a stunning value for creators who can tap into all that VRAM, and can achieve 60fps gaming at a ludicrous 8K resolution in a handful of games, but it’s only about 10 to 15 percent faster than the RTX 3080 at 4K for over twice the price. Most people should get the RTX 3080 instead for a still-superb 4K experience, but there’s no denying the GeForce RTX 3090 is the fastest gaming card on the planet—though AMD’s $999 Radeon RX 6900 XT hopes to challenge that claim when it releases on December 8.

In a surprise twist, Nvidia’s own Founders Edition cooler is phenomenal, which makes it a better buy than custom cards since the FE model sells at the card’s $1,499 MSRP, rather than coming with a steep premium. We’ve got 3440×1440 ultrawide benchmarks for the RTX 3090, too.

For the first time in a long time, AMD offers a rival to Nvidia’s flagship GeForce GPU, but it’s hard to recommend the $1,000 Radeon RX 6900 XT despite its steep discount against the RTX 3090. It’s only two percent slower than the RTX 3090 at 1440p gaming, so it could be worth considering for a high-refresh rate 1440p monitor, or for powering a 3440×1440 ultrawide experience, where it performs very well. It could also be a solid option for Linux users, since AMD drivers perform with much less headache there. And this card also offers much more overclocking headroom than rival GeForce GPUs if you’re into hardcore tweaking. 

But the Radeon RX 6900 XT loses to the RTX 3090 by over 9 percent at 4K gaming, and since AMD doesn’t offer a DLSS rival, ray traced games are limited to 1440p resolution—a bummer in a four-figure graphics card. And the $650 Radeon RX 6800 XT is almost as fast for $350 less, while the $700 RTX 3080 is essentially as fast at 4K with much better ray tracing performance. This is a fantastic graphics card, and it’s wonderful to see AMD competing against Nvidia at the high end after a long absence, but the Radeon RX 6900 XT doesn’t carve out a strong niche for itself. Hot-rodded custom versions of this GPU could hold a lot of potential when they hit the streets, though.

What to look for in a custom card

If you want to shop beyond the scope of our picks, know that finding the right graphics card can be tricky. Various vendors offer customized versions of every GPU. For example, you can buy different Radeon RX 6700 XT models from Sapphire, XFX, Asus, MSI, and PowerColor.

To help narrow down the options and find the right card for you, you should consider the following things when doing your research:

Overclocks: Higher-priced custom models are often overclocked out-of-the-box to varying degrees, which can lead to higher performance. Most modern custom cards offer the same essential level of performance,however.

Cooling solutions: Many graphics cards are available with custom coolers that lower temperatures and fan noise. The vast majority perform well. Liquid-cooled graphics cards run even cooler, but require extra room inside your case for the tubing and radiator. Avoid graphics cards with single-fan, blower-style cooling systems if you can help it, unless you have a small-form-factor PC or plan on using custom water-cooling blocks.

Size: Many graphics cards are of a similar size, but longer and shorter models of many GPUs exist. High-end graphics cards are starting to sport especially massive custom cooling solutions to tame their enthusiast-class GPUs. Double-check that your chosen graphics card will fit in your case before you buy.

Compatibility: Not all hardware supports a wide range of connectivity options. Higher-end graphics cards may lack DVI ports, while lower-end monitors may lack DisplayPorts. Only the most modern Radeon and GeForce graphics cards support HDMI 2.1 outputs. Ensure your graphics card and monitor can connect to each other. Likewise, make sure your power supply meets the recommended wattage for the graphics card you choose.

Real-time ray tracing and DLSS: AMD’s Radeon RX 6000-sereis graphics cards and all of Nvidia’s RTX offerings can play games with real-time ray tracing effects active. Nvidia’s RTX 30-series GPUs hold a massive advantage over everything else though, propelled even further by dedicated tensor cores for processing machine learning tasks such as Deep Learning Super Sampling, which uses AI to speed up the performance of your games with minimal hit to visual fidelity. GeForce RTX 20-series GPUs also support DLSS, but AMD has no answer for it yet, though the company is teasing a more open “FidelityFX Super Resolution” feature to rival it in the coming months.

Check out our recent reviews

Below is a list of our most recent reviews for individual graphics cards. We’ve kept it to the most current GPUs.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Senior editor Brad Chacos covers gaming and graphics for PCWorld, and runs the morning news desk for PCWorld, Macworld, Greenbot, and TechHive. He tweets too.

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