Buying a video card for gaming can be a complicated affair, with a lot of factors to consider when making your decision. You want to get the most bang for your buck, or rather, the best price to performance ratio, but even then you’re presented with a multitude of options, with each claiming to be the “The best video card for gaming, ever.”. Yeah, I know, it bothers me too.
When talking about video cards, the names that are going to be brought up the most without a doubt are Nvidia and AMD, or “the green team” and “the red team” respectively, as the internet seems to have nicknamed them.
The competition in this market is almost directly comparable to the everlasting feud, or “console war” between Playstation and Xbox, with each competitor always pushing to be that little bit better than the other in one way or another.
While Nvidia has always been known for quality, albeit at a high price, AMD is better known for being the “budget” option, with powerful cards at lower prices, though usually lacking the horsepower their competitors may carry. They get the job done nicely, you could say, without any extras.
In years past though, the two were almost incomparable at times, with very little separating them in terms of performance.
Though in recent years, much like how Playstation has managed to nudge ahead of its competition and be generally considered the better platform, Nvidia has come out ahead of AMD, both in terms of performance and overall value.
While you can’t go too wrong with either, I mean, both are leaders in providing a smooth gaming experience. Currently, Nvidia are the way to go, provided you have the funds to back yourself up.
On this front, Nvidia offers the “GeForce experience” a free software that works with any Nvidia card, and it’s actually a fantastic little tool.
It provides you with the ability to capture in-game screenshots at some crazy resolutions, in 360 degrees, standard HDR, or even stereo in supported games.
A newer feature even lets you put a filter over your games, creating some cool effects and simultaneously adding to the screenshot possibilities.
You can get driver updates right to your PC, keep a steam-esque library of installed games with the ability to launch them directly from the app with Nvidia’s clever little game robots automatically selecting the best settings to play at on your PC.
This part, while cool, can of course be turned off if it’s not to your liking.
Streaming, too! You can stream with your friends from within the app. What’s not to love.
On AMD’s side, there quite frankly… Isn’t, anything, really.
They used to sort of have one of these by the way of a third party called Raptr, though it has since been shut down and isn’t receiving updates going forward.
Nvidia certainly wins here, but is it really a competition? These companies may battle it out in the public eye, but in reality they operate in a rather different market space.
It would, however, be wonderful if AMD would provide something akin to the GeForce experience, because come on, it’s awesome.
No more screen tearing?
A future without screen-tearing is a beautiful one indeed. You know how sometimes you’ll be moving the camera quickly in a game and you’ll see things starting to “tear” apart? Yeah, that. Nobody wants that.
Both Nvidia and AMD are working to tackle this problem, and both provide a solution, though they have their differences.
On AMD’s side, we have what they call “FreeSync”. FreeSync is.. Well, it’s free. And for the most part it works. It works to reduce stuttering, screen tearing and honestly you can’t complain when it’s free. Though it does have its imperfections.
Nvidia’s solution is a little thing called “GSync”. GSync is different in that it’s more of a hardware. For it to work, you’ll need to buy a monitor which has their GSync chip installed in it, and it will automatically work with your compatible card.
The biggest difference here however, is that GSync comes at an extra cost, with compatible hardware running you an extra couple 100 dollars, generally.
The reason for this though, is that it works. It works a lot better than FreeSync, and is the best on the market by a fair margin.
You get what you pay for, in this sense.
Both solutions work to make the games we play a better experience, and while perhaps the technology isn’t quite perfected yet, with some players expressing concern over new problems arising such as “ghosting”, where an object will appear to leave a trace of itself behind for a split second as it moves, in time these will become the norm and as of right now, certainly improve your experience.
Top of the Line Gaming Cards
So, you’ve gathered up your life savings and wish to pour them into a machine to play games, eh? Yeah, I’m with you on that.
You want top of the line, the best of the best. You don’t care about price, you just want your games, game-streaming, VR, editing, everything. You want it all to be the smoothest, fastest, most reliable experience possible.
For that, currently, I’ll point you toward the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti.
It is by leaps and bounds the most powerful consumer video card on the market right now.
Though, I will say “right now” fairly lightly, as pre-orders are currently live for their new offerings. The RTX series. With the RTX 2080 Ti presumably set to become the new crowning champion.
This can’t be said for sure until we can actually get our hands on it though, and honestly real-time ray-tracing and a lot of the capability this card holds is more for use in the future anyway.
Most people will struggle to be able to take proper advantage of it for a few years yet, so I feel very comfortable in recommending the GTX 1080 Ti still, as 4K gaming at 60fps is all anyone can really ask for right now, and will most certainly keep you happy for years to come.
Best Gaming Video Cards for 60fps?
So you want to play games in 1080p, at 60fps?
When it comes to gaming at 1080p, things become nice and affordable, as the industry begins to shift toward 1440p and 4K for all those extra pixels. If you ask me though, 1080p on the right monitor is still perfectly fantastic, and shouldn’t be discounted.
It remains the most commonly used resolution still, so for those looking to get the most out of it, here are some recommendations:
Nvidia GTX 1060 6gb
Coming in at a respectable 280 dollars, the GTX 1060 6gb provides you with a pretty solid 60+ fps when playing at 1080p.
It holds steady well over the 60 in most games, but when moving into the newer, more demanding stuff you may see a couple drops to the high 50’s when entering extremely crowded or effect-filled areas, but to be real, you probably wouldn’t even notice unless you were monitoring it.
It will of course handle esport titles such as Overwatch, Fortnite and League of Legends flawlessly, but those games aren’t the reason you’d buy this card. You’ll be playing higher-end games such as Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Witcher 3 with this, without much trouble.
They do offer a 3gb version of this same card that comes in at 225 dollars, and while that is also a great card, offering similar performance, the difference is certainly noticeable. You’ll be right below the coveted 60fps mark in newer games here, with occasional drops to the high 40’s in demanding areas. While this may be fine for some people, I think in general, for the extra 55 dollars? It’s totally worth going for the 6gb model, especially when you consider that games are only going to get more demanding as time goes on, and while it won’t handle them flawlessly, at least the 6gb model will hold up a lot longer.
That extra 50 dollars might keep you going an extra year or so, which is always nice.
AMD Radeon RX 560 4gb or Nvidia GTX 1050
Over on the budget side of things, we’ve got these two cards both readily available for under 150 dollars, which in this market is dirt cheap.
These cards are for those of you on a tight budget and you just want to play your esport titles and smaller, older games.
You’ll bring in a solid 60fp at 1080p on your typical League of Legends, Overwatch, CS:GO, which for a lot of people is fantastic. If these are what you play and you’re strapped for cash, these are some handy options.
It’s worth noting that while these cards are pretty similar in most ways, the GTX 1050 does tend to come out ahead overall. They both handle different aspects of gaming a little differently, with the 1050 reportedly handling lighting a little better and the RX 560 reportedly handling reflections better. In general, I feel better recommending the 1050, but if you’re in a store and they only have one and not the other, you’re safe picking up either.
Best 1440p Gaming Card: What about playing at 1440p?
Ah, 1440p, the happy little middle-ground between 1080p and 4K.
2.5K, I guess, if you want to call it that.
In recent years this is becoming more and more popular, and is even making it onto a fair amount of laptop screens. For gaming, yeah, it’s a lot nicer than 1080p, and if you have the cash to back you up, and want things to look all shiny and modern, it’s totally worth the price jump.
A higher resolution means a greater hit to performance though, so we’re going to need a more powerful card here.
An easy recommendation would be:
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 ti
If 1440p is your thing, then the 1070ti is probably a good place to start looking. It’s highly regarded as being one of, if not the best card for 1440p, assuming that’s the resolution you’re shopping for. It handles the games beautifully, giving you modern titles at 1440p, sticking to a mostly solid 60fps. It will have it’s dips, depending on what you’re playing, but you shouldn’t have too much to worry about here.
Prices fluctuate quite a lot on this one, but for the most part you’re talking 440 dollars or so.
Performance and price considered, this card might actually be the best value currently on the market, it’s an extremely solid recommendation for most people, and nicely future-proof, assuming you’re not bothered about 4K.
Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080
What was until recently Nvidia’s flagship model has dropped considerably in price now, coming it at around 480 dollars if you get lucky. It can stretch well above the 500 mark though, so beware of that when looking around.
This card is easily going to give you the best performance here, with smooth crisp 1440p at fantastic framerates on even the most demanding of games. It’s pricey, and overall I may still point you to the 1070 Ti, but if you can get this at a good price, it’s worth the extra little bit.
AMD Radeon RX Vega 56
This is the card that initially targeted this area of the market, and it was wildly popular for a while. Naturally, Nvidia didn’t like that one bit and brought out the 1070ti to take over, and unfortunately for AMD they were pretty successful.
The Vega 56 runs decently at 1440p, I wouldn’t say it runs great, but it definitely works.
You might not quite be hitting 60 in those heavier games, and in demanding areas you’ll be experiencing some (sometimes major) drops in frames, to even the high 30’s, but for the most part, it plays well.
It’ll run you around 500 dollars however, so unless you find it on offer somewhere, or just have some major preference for AMD, it’s a tough sell from me.
Best 4K Video Gaming Card
…with a solid 60fps? Is it possible?
For the most part? No. Cheaply? Certainly not. Until recently? Not at all. But out of the shrouds comes the aforementioned Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. A godsend in a world of messy, laggy 4K gaming.
It gives you the freedom and power to game even the heaviest of games on full settings, at 4K, with a solid 60fps. Heck yeah, this card does it all.
It’s currently the best card on the market, but will run you a scary 750 dollars. Is it jump in price from the 1070 Ti worth it, simply to play things in 4K? Eeeehh not really, but a lot of people will say it was worth it for them, and that’s all good if you’re willing to spend the money.
Still, be aware of the ever-closening release of the RTX 20-series, which will almost surely knock this card off it’s throne. Though, at an even scarier price tag.
Best Video Card for VR:
I want to play games in VR, what card can do that for me?
When playing in VR, you want to have a card powerful enough to make sure you’re not getting sick from frame drops and whatnot, so you’ll want something decent, but you don’t necessarily need to go for anything top of the line.
The most popular Virtual reality headset currently on the market is the HTC Vive, and for that the minimum recommendations from them are;
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or better.
Things might get a bit choppy at this level, and really, no one wants that, especially in VR. For a smoother experience, they recommend;
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, AMD Radeon RX 480 equivalent or better
They also offer an upgraded version of the Vive known as the Vive pro, with a higher resolution and whatnot. For this version they recommend a minimum of;
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290, equivalent or better.
But again, we don’t really want to be dealing with choppy frames, so for a better experience they recommend you use;
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070/Quadro P5000 or above, or AMD Radeon Vega 56 or above.
How do I feel about this? Yeah, their recommendations are pretty spot on. I’d stay away from the minimum spec stuff if at all possible, but if you’re working with a tight budget and really want to play VR games then by all means, they will play.
To be real though, most people aren’t going to want to exclusively play VR games. There aren’t a whole bunch of them and the vast majority of people interested in them are also going to want to play other games too.
My personal recommendation would be to get an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, or 1070 Ti, with either of those you’ll be set to play any VR game they can throw at you, and comfortably play regular game releases on the side.
Not sure if you need to upgrade?
While it’s fine to interested in upgrading your video card, and researching what’s what is always good, you may not always need to upgrade at all. It’s easy to see people upgrading their PC’s on the regular and begin to assume you probably need to do the same, but in reality if you bought a good gaming PC five years ago, it’s probably still decent today.
Now, it’s not going to play The Witcher 3 very well, but you may be able to get by.
An easy way of checking where you’re at is through this handy dandy website; Can you run it?
Using this, you simply download a tool (it’s perfectly safe and a tiny download, don’t worry) and from there, it’ll scan your systems specs. You can then select the games you’re interested in from their extensive list, and it’ll tell you straight up if you can run them, it’ll even point out what parts you might want to upgrade in order to play them.
I believe it gives suggestions on parts to upgrade to, but from personal experience, I would advise to do your own research instead.
Be aware of the market
The video card market is ever-shifting and changing. With the best cards of yesteryear becoming somewhat irrelevant as we shift toward higher resolutions and such.
The prices on video cards are ever-changing also, which can lead to some confusion, but hopefully after reading through this guide you’re more aware of what’s what in the industry, and which cards to keep an eye on.
For instance, Nvidia will be dropping their 20-series cards this very month, and once that happens, the entire market will be shaken, dropping the prices of most lesser cards. Pleasing all us non-4K mortals.
Just be aware, be smart, don’t rush into a purchase. Check around online if a company is about to drop some major upgrades, and if you find that to be the case, like right now, it’s probably best to hold off a couple months and wait to see what prices on older cards drop down to.
The Best Value Video Card Right Now?
This is always going to be a tricky question to give a definitive answer to, as different people need different things for different tasks, and so on and so forth.
I do however, think that given its performance and overall availability and pricing, the Nvidia GTX 1070 Ti comes out on top.
It offers you the ability to play the best games, at a solid and stable framerate, and in 1440p too. That’s nothing to scoff at, honestly.
As far as future proofing goes, it’ll hold strong as a good card for a while yet, and for the less picky of us, we can drop down to 1080p and we’ll be flying on just about any new game.
Of course, not everyone will agree with my recommendations here, and it’s a supremely in-depth conversation. One that has been, and will be ongoing for years and years.
What do you think? Do you agree with my recommendations? What would you change, if anything?