Trying to pick a GPU can be a frustrating process if you aren’t already familiar with the array of models offered by AMD and Nvidia. While some buyers arrive knowing exactly how much performance they want and what they should spend to get it, others have to spend time in the weeds sorting through various products.
Our goal here is to simplify that process and make it easier for you to decide on the GPU that’ll best fit your needs. Guides like this one should be considered an adjunct to our general GPU buying guide, which takes you through the basics of GPU specifications and identifies which features you need to pay attention to; this one will make concrete product recommendations. Keep in mind, however, new GPUs could soon be on the way.
Best Budget Card
Competitors: GTX 1050 ($128), RX 560 ($139)
At the low end of the market, the GTX 1050 is generally faster than the RX 560, despite the fact that it’s limited to a 2GB frame buffer. The gap between the two cards is fairly small, but if we had to pick one over the other, the GTX 1050 gets the narrow nod. This 30-game average from TechSpot shows how the two compare — while the overall average is similar, the RX 560 loses more games than it wins and loses them by larger margins.
Best Mainstream Card
Competitors: GTX 1050 Ti ($169), RX 570 ($239) versus GTX 1060 3GB ($239), RX 580 ($269) versus GTX 1060 6GB ($269)
This segment stretches from ~$150 – $270 and covers a large chunk of where the public practically spends its money. It’s also a segment where the RX 570 reviews extremely well. The GTX 1050 Ti flatly doesn’t compete against the RX 570, even in titles that generally favor Nvidia.
But if you look at the pricing on the actual cards, a gap that isn’t supposed to be there has opened up (thanks, crypto-mining!). Specifically, the RX 570 is supposed to cost $169, at which point it would annihilate the GTX 1050 Ti. At $239, it has a narrow (but still capable) win over the GTX 1060.
But the $169 gap also leaves the GTX 1050 Ti in a class by itself. This means, at the $169 price point, the 1050 Ti is pretty much the only game in town. There’s simply nothing else near that price band right now. If you’re in the market for a $169 card, the GTX 1050 Ti is your only option. If you can spend a little more, the RX 570 will deliver a better experience than the 1050 Ti and beats out the 3GB 1060 overall as well.
Meanwhile, if you step up another $30, you can pick up a touch more performance. This graph from Tech Report shows both the RX 570 against the GTX 1060 3GB and the RX 580 against the GTX 1060 6GB. It suggests that the AMD GPUs match (RX 570) or deliver a tiny bit of added smoothness over their Nvidia counterparts while the 1060 enjoys slightly higher frame rates in both cases (not shown).
Ignore the pricing from the graph — just focus on the relative performance rankings. We’d recommend stepping up to the $269 cards from the $239 if you can afford it. We also recommend the RX 570 over the GTX 1060 3GB — a 3GB frame buffer is simply too small in 2018. The RX 580 might be a touch smoother than the GTX 1060 6GB, but it isn’t quite as fast and it draws more power — this one is a bit of a wash depending on which characteristics you care about most.
This is the market segment where cryptocurrency mining has arguably done the most damage to AMD. The RX 570 should be priced against the 1050 Ti, a comparison it simply crushes.
Best High-End Cards
Competitors: GTX 1070 ($399), GTX 1070 Ti ($449), RX Vega 56 ($479)
This is another area where the lingering impact of cryptocurrency mining has pushed AMD GPUs out of their price bands to their overall detriment. At $400, which is where the RX Vega 56 ought to be priced, it has a minor lead over the 1070 and a minor loss to the GTX 1070 Ti. It ought to be our favorite at $400, with the GTX 1070 Ti winning out if you spend a bit more. Instead, the GTX 1070 / 1070 Ti take this bracket on the whole. The performance benefit from stepping up the extra 10 percent is roughly in line with the cost of doing so, so it’s strictly a matter of how much you want to spend.
Best Premium Cards
Competitors: GTX 1080 ($499), RX Vega 64 ($579), GTX 1080 Ti ($719)
If you’re in the market for a premium GPU, we’re going to recommend waiting to see if NV has new cards on the way in the next few months before dropping $700+ on a new video card. In fact, we’d generally recommend taking that route with any of the GPUs this high in the price stack. Nonetheless, if you’re determined to buy, the GTX 1080 is the only real option, given the way Vega 64 is propped up by — you guessed it — cryptocurrency mining.
Despite the dramatic price drops of the last few months, GPU prices are still running hotter than they ought to be, and that’s still hitting AMD more than Nvidia. Until that changes, the GTX 1080 and Pascal more generally are going to be the easier card to recommend. The GTX 1080 runs about 8 percent faster than the RX Vega 64.
Bonus Mention: FreeSync Support
AMD’s GPUs aren’t as good a buy as Nvidia’s in several markets, but a FreeSync display is one potential way to offset some of this. Unlike Nvidia’s G-Sync displays, which tend to command substantial price premiums, a wide range of FreeSync displays are available at virtually every price point. Make certain to buy a panel with a refresh rate range of at least 2.5x (i.e., 30Hz – 75Hz) if you want to take advantage of features like Low Framerate Compensation.
FreeSync is a feature that can dramatically improve gaming performance by ensuring each new frame of game data is matched to the display refresh rate without repeating frames of animation. AMD has made this argument in favor of FreeSync back when it launched Vega, and while it’s obviously only going to work if you’re in the market for a new monitor in the first place, FreeSync panels do tend to be cheaper than their G-Sync counterparts. We’ve also seen better industry support for FreeSync, with Intel, Microsoft, and various TV manufacturers all pledging support for it.
In short, depending on the GPU you are considering and the specifics of the offers in your area, there’s an argument to make for AMD as a competitive choice in the GPU + monitor match-up, even if the company’s GPU’s aren’t quite as quick as Nvidia’s in several head-to-head comparisons.
Our sister site PCMag has also published a comprehensive guide to upper-end graphics cards, if you’re looking for more information on how these models, specifically, shake out against each other.
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