As 2018 draws to a close, now’s the time to start looking forward to the best graphics cards of 2019. It’s been a tumultuous twelve months – the first half of the year saw a prolonged graphics card drought and sky-high prices due to crypto-miners hoovering up every last GPU on the planet, and the second half of year saw the arrival of several new graphics cards such as Nvidia’s trio of Turing RTX cards and AMD’s Radeon RX 590.
The old RX and GTX guard are still going strong, too, though, which now means we’ve got more graphics cards to choose from than ever before. Fortunately, I’ve compiled this handy guide to help you find the best graphics card for you and your budget. Whether it’s for playing games at 1920×1080, 2560×1440 or 4K, I’ve got a card recommendation for you.
Best graphics card guide
Here are the rules. For each resolution, you’ll find two recommendations: the best graphics card for playing games at 60fps on max settings at said resolution, plus the card you should actually buy if you’re not that fussed about having the bestest best graphics. This way, the list caters for both the budget conscious among you, and those who’d rather spend a little extra to max out their current monitor setup.
As for which particular brand of graphics card you can buy, that’s a little more difficult to pin down. More expensive cards tend to have superior, custom cooling mechanisms or slightly faster factory overclock speeds, but in terms of performance increase, you’re really only looking at a couple of frames per second difference – as my RTX 2080Ti benchmark showdown shows. My advice is to simply go for the cheapest one you can find, as I’m just not convinced you’re really getting that much more for your money by opting for a more expensive card. If you’re building a mini-ITX PC, you’ll also want to look at for ‘mini’ versions of some cards, too, which Zotac tend to specialise in. These often have smaller or a single fan as opposed to two, making them slightly less efficient than a normal sized-model, but they’re a great alternative for smaller PC cases, or those looking to save a bit of money.
Best graphics card for 1080p: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 580
What you should actually buy: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti or AMD Radeon RX 570
GTX 1050Ti – From £150 / $170
GTX 1060 – From £200 / $270
RX 570 – From £155 / $190
RX 580 – From £200 / $260
If you want to play games at maximum settings at 1920×1080, the 6GB version of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 or the 8GB AMD Radeon RX 580 is definitely the way to go.
Sure, there are cheaper 3GB versions of the GTX 1060 and 4GB models of the RX 580 out there, but in terms of giving yourself a bit of future-proofing against the ever-increasing memory demands of today’s big blockbusters, 6GB / 8GB will put you in much better stead in the years to come. Both cards can capably handle almost every game available today at max or very high settings at this resolution, making them our top picks for flawless 1080p gaming. Right now, you also get two free games with the RX 580 (out of Devil May Cry 5, the new Resident Evil 2 remake and The Division 2), arguably making it better value overall than the GTX 1060, which only nets you a free copy of Monster Hunter: World and a Fortnite gear bundle.
However, for those who’d rather not spend the better part of 200 big ones on a graphics card, the 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti or 8GB AMD Radeon RX 570 will do you just fine. This is as good as it gets under £200 / $200, and is about as close as you’ll get to a perfect budget graphics card. The GTX 1050Ti’s modest-sounding 768 cores put in a surprising amount of work, pushing it to visibly better performance levels than you’d see from a regular GTX 1050 or AMD’s Radeon RX 560, while the RX 570 comes with a healthier 8GB of memory for superior future-proofing. As long as you stick to 1080p, many games will achieve a certain silkiness with maxed-out quality, while the tougher ones can usually be tamed with Medium settings.
The RX 570 is a new addition to this category, as until very recently it was almost as expensive as the RX 580, making it a rather silly choice when its considerably more powerful sibling only cost a fraction more. However, with prices now as low as they are, the 8GB model is now a much better bet for 1080p gaming than it was six months ago. It’s not as power efficient as the GTX 1050Ti, requiring a power cable from your PSU instead of drawing it straight from your motherboard, but it does come with the added bonus of the same two free games offer as the RX 580. The GTX 1050Ti, on the other hand, doesn’t come with free game bundles at all right now.
Read our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti review and our AMD Radeon RX 5770 review for more info.
Best graphics card for 1440p: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070Ti or AMD Radeon Vega 56
What you should actually buy: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 590
GTX 1060 – From £200 / $270
GTX 1070Ti – From £380 / $430
RX 590 – From £250 / $280
Vega 56 – From £320 / $417
For the best experience at 2560×1440, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070Ti or AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 is the card for you. The former can be had for practically the same price as a regular Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 at the moment, and its 2432 CUDA cores will give you get a lot more oomph than the 1920 you’ll find on its non-Ti sibling. As for the Vega 56, this is a fraction less powerful than the GTX 1070Ti in some cases, but does come with all three of the free games mentioned above, making it better value overall. The GTX 1070Ti, meanwhile, still only nets you the same Monster Hunter and Fortnite bundle as the GTX 1060.
The only problem, of course, is that they’re both still a heck of a lot more expensive than the next options down – the RX 590 and GTX 1060. The GTX 1070Ti and Vega 56 are probably decent investments if you’re thinking about upgrading to a 4K monitor some time soon, as they can both just about do the very tiniest bit of 4K gaming without falling over, but really, those of you who aren’t that fussed about having maxed out quality should just go for Nvidia’s 6GB GTX 1060 or AMD’s RX 590. Both of these cards make excellent companions for playing games at 1440p, as well as maxed out 1080p, and will only set you back about half as much as a GTX 1070Ti.
The RX 580 is also a fine choice here if you can’t quite stretch to the RX 590, but AMD’s latest graphics card is by far and away the best mid-ranger you can buy right now. It performed significantly better than both the GTX 1060 and RX 580 in a lot of my benchmark tests, and could even do a touch of 4K in places, which the GTX 1060 simply isn’t capable of. The GTX 1060 still wins out as the best card for VR, we’ve found, but the RX 590 sweetens the deal even further with AMD’s rather good three free games again, which may help negate the extra expense depending on whether you want the games in question.
Read our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 review and AMD Radeon RX 590 review for more info.
Best graphics card for 4K: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080Ti
What you should actually buy: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 or AMD Radeon Vega 64
Vega 64 – From £399 / $515
RTX 2070 – From £460 / $500
RTX 2080Ti – From £1000 / $1200
It’s ludicrously expensive, but if you’ve got the cash and are after the best of the best that 4K has to offer, then the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080Ti is the only card around right now that can do a silky smooth 60fps at 4K on max settings without compromise. You’ll also benefit from all of Nvidia’s best Turing features as and when developers eventually patch in support for all the confirmed RTX and DLSS-enabled games, and you probably won’t have to upgrade your graphics card again for a considerable number of years.
The thing is, you can still get a pretty damn good 4K experience for almost as much money. Until recently, I recommended sticking with the GTX 1080, but prices have since soared and stock’s become increasingly scarce for this card, making the RTX 2070 a much better proposition for would-be 4K-ers. The RTX 2070 is a smidge faster than the GTX 1080, too, plus it does all the neat Turing-related bits and bobs as the RTX 2080Ti and comes with a free copy of Battlefield V to show it all off as well. Some games might require settling for Medium to High settings at 4K, but there are still plenty of others that can hit 60fps on max quality with this card, making it much better value for money than its ludicrously expensive sibling.
However, for those looking for an even cheaper way of getting a decent 4K experience, AMD’s top graphics card, the Radeon Vega 64, has also finally come down in price as well. This was more or less on par with the GTX 1080, so isn’t quite as powerful as the RTX 2070, but its cheaper price (at least in the UK) plus the same three free games deal available with the RX 590 all add up to make it another tempting offer for those looking to keep costs down.
Read our Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 review and AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 review for more info.
Is now a good time to buy a new graphics card?
Unless you’re specifically after one of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 or GTX 1080Ti graphics cards, now is a pretty good time to think about upgrading your graphics card. Prices have largely returned to normal, especially now the sales frenzy of Black Friday is out of the way, and stock levels appear to be pretty stable – with the exception of those two GTX cards. That’s probably because Nvidia would much rather you buy their shiny new RTX cards, as the RTX 2070 is a fraction better than the GTX 1080 and the RTX 2080 has roughly the same raw performance as the GTX 1080Ti.
Otherwise, you’re largely good to go no matter what resolution you’re aiming for, as while AMD’s next-gen Navi cards are very much in production, it’s currently looking like they’ll take at least another year or so before they land on shop shelves, giving you plenty of time to enjoy what’s currently on offer without feeling like you’re wasting money. We may hear more about what AMD’s got up their sleeve at CES in January 2019, but if you’re not that fussed about having the latest and greatest, by all means go ahead and get one of the cards recommended above.
How we test:
Whenever a new graphics card comes in for testing, I put it through a number of gaming tests using both in-game benchmarking tools and real-world gameplay, where the aid of frame rate counters help me determine what kind of average frame rate you can expect at various different quality settings. Currently, I test each graphics card with the following games:
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Total War: Warhammer II
The Witcher III
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Forza Horizon 4
Monster Hunter: World
Final Fantasy XV
In each case, I see what’s possible at the highest graphics setting at 1920×1080, 2560×1440 and, if it can handle it, 3840×2160 (4K). Then I aim to get each game running at 60fps at each resolution, giving you the best case scenario for each one and an idea of what kind of compromises you’ll have to make.
If you’re also looking for a new monitor to go with your new graphics card, make sure you check out our best gaming monitor recommendations as well.