Whatever your budget, there’s a bewildering array of options when it come to graphics cards. The best graphics card is the Asus ROG Strix GTX 1080, but we review more alternatives here too. With multiple variations on a theme from each vendor, coupled with impenetrable acronyms and an unpronounceable product names, choosing a graphics card can be a daunting task. But, stick to a few guidelines and the whole process becomes a lot easier.
Click here to jump straight to our top recommendations - as this chart also includes budget cards, we rank the GPUs by the best performance and best value.
Also see: Best Games Deals
Best graphics cards: 2017 Buying guide
If you want a high-performance card for gaming you'll need to be willing to spend anything ranging from around £280 right up to as much as some might consider spending on an entire PC. Budget then, will be your first constraint.
Until very recently, the GeForce GTX 970 from Nvidia and AMD’s Radeon R9 390 were the entry point for 'enthusiast' cards. The former has dropped almost £100 in price and can now be found for around £199, while the latter is still around the £260 mark. Either of these cards will provide smooth gameplay with high quality graphics settings at reasonably high resolutions. You may even get away with some 4K gaming, although we wouldn’t recommend aiming for a 4K gaming rig at this level.
Now, though, there are two new challengers: the Nvidia GTX 1060 and AMD RX 480. We've got reviews of both below. They may not break many speed records, but they're optimised for virtual reality, and will appeal if you're building (or upgrading) a PC to use with a VR headset.
Increasing your expected outlay to £300 to £400 will get you a Radeon R9 390X. However, bursting into this price bracket at under £400 is Nvidia's amazing new GTX 1070. This effectively makes the GTX 980 (and even 980 Ti) obselete as it's so darned quick.
It's also a better choice than the AMD-based cards currently in this price range, but AMD's Polaris cards are shaking things up at £250 and below.
Prior to the GTX 1080 and 1070 launches, you'd have to spend over £500 to buy an Nvidia GTX 980 Ti. But even though these have now been discounted to around the same price as a GTX 1070, it still makes more sense to go with the newer card.
If price is no object, then the GTX 1080 is the current benchmark topper. It starts at around £560, but you'll pay £619 for a 'Founders Edition' board, reviewed. The 1080 renders the previous generation of cards obselete, so we'd advise against buying a Titan X or a Radeon R9 Fury X unless you find one extremely cheap.
Many gamers won’t need a card with this level of performance, but high-quality gaming at 4K resolution, 3D, Virtual Reality, high refresh-rate displays and multi-monitor setups can all demand a huge amount of processing power, and in those situations such high-end cards are there to provide the grunt. Don’t worry, there are plenty of excuses you can use to justify your expensive purchase.
Where it gets more complicated is that not all graphics cards based on a particular GPU are created equal. Individual manufacturers will modify the reference designs in a variety of ways, adding features and boosting performance along the way.
Best graphics cards 2017: Overclocking
Most graphics cards can be overclocked to some extent, and the amount of overclocking available can be greatly increased through the use of upgraded components and powerful custom cooling systems. The better-designed graphics cards will come from the factory pre-overclocked to take advantage of the improved hardware and this is why we start to see differences in performance between graphics cards using the same GPU types. Sometimes speed boosts are negligible, but on occasion a more radical redesign can achieve larger speed boosts, taking the graphics card into the same territory as non-overclocked cards from the next tier above. Factory overclocked cards can often therefore deliver excellent value for money.
Most graphics card vendors have a naming system they use for each type of GPU which describes the additional features of the boards. For example, MSI refers to its current dual-fan heatpipe cooler as TwinFrozr V. An efficient cooler will allow the underlying components to run faster without overheating, giving you increased frame rates. But it’s also important to consider the noise output from the fans. The best examples will remain quiet and even turn off altogether until required, meaning your gaming PC and be just as useful for listening to classical music as it is for first-person shooters.
The choice between AMD or Nvidia-based cards can be tricky, but if you have a good idea of which games you want to play, you will notice that many of them are optimised better for on one vendor’s GPUs than the other. This may be enough to sway your decision.
Best graphics cards 2017: How we test
To test graphics cards, we built a high performance PC designed to eliminate any CPU bottlenecks which may slow down the performance of the fastest graphics cards.
Testing is carried out under Windows 10 Pro 64-bit with a disk image which is restored before testing, to ensure that all cards are using the same Windows configuration. We use the latest graphics drivers available to ensure we have the latest optimisations in place.
Graphics benchmarks will change as new games become available and older ones fall out of use, but for now we use Alien Isolation and Thief. Each game is run at a variety of resolutions and quality settings picked as appropriate for the category of graphics card under test. (We don’t attempt to test low-end cards at 4K for example).
In addition to the game tests, we use FutureMark’s 3DMark suite which produces five individual test results at different expected performance levels ranging from low-end devices up to the most powerful cards available.
New to the list is the SteamVR benchmark. This evaluates a graphics card's virtual reality capabilities and gives a good indication about the quality of the VR experience you can expect with the card.
We also measure the total power consumption of the PC while idling at the desktop and with the graphics card fully loaded by running FurMark. During this procedure we also note the temperatures reached as well as the fan noise produced along with any GPU throttling which may occur.
Testing is carried out using an AOC U2868PQU monitor which allows for display resolutions up to and including 4K UHD at 3840x2160 pixels.
The test PC specification is as follows:
- Motherboard: Asus X99-A
- Processor: Eight-core Intel Core i7-5960X overclocked to 4.2GHz
- CPU Cooler: Corsair H100i GTX
- Power Supply: Corsair RM1000
- Memory: 16GB Kingston HyperX Predator DDR4
- Storage: Crucial CT500MX
Our thanks go to Asus, Corsair, Crucial, Intel and Kingston for supplying the components.
- Reviewed on: 18 July 16
- RRP: £659.99, US$869.99
For a price premium of one decent game, you get a graphics card that’s far superior to the Founders Edition, both in terms of performance and features. Thanks to its programmable RGB lighting, it’s especially interesting for those who want to build great-looking systems with windowed side panels. It’s also great for those who would like their PC to remain silent when not in use for gaming.
- Reviewed on: 7 July 16
- RRP: £419.99, 569.99
At £419.99, the MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X 8G costs significantly more than the £374.99 you would be paying for a ‘vanilla’ 1070, but it offers much more in terms of both performance and features, and is still some way off the price of a GTX 1080. If you can’t afford a GTX 1080, or would simply like to save some money, this is an excellent high-performance graphics card.
Read our MSI GeForce GTX 1070 GAMING X 8G review.
- Reviewed on: 24 December 16
- RRP: £149.99, US$175
One of the best options for upgrading an ageing PC, the Zotac GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB OC Edition delivers some of the fastest frame rates you can achieve from a low-end PC. It costs a little more than a Radeon RX 460, but we feel the performance gains are worth it.
- Reviewed on: 22 June 16
- RRP: £619, US$699
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition is an excellent high-performance buy - but only if you don’t compare it against another GTX 1080. It isn’t likely to be the best choice if you care about value for money or if you would prefer at least some level of assistance overclocking the card to achieve best performance.
- Reviewed on: 4 August 16
- RRP: £275, 299
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition brings a new level of performance to mid-range gaming, with high frame rates at 2560x1440 resolution, strong VR peformance and low power consumption, but the Founders Edition is, as ever, not the best version of the card
- Reviewed on: 8 August 16
- RRP: £249.99, 369.99
The XFX Radeon RX 480 8GB is a relatively inexpensive high-performance gaming card with great frame rates at 1080p and 1440p. However, its performance is bettered by the Nvidia GTX 1060 and the lower-priced 4GB version of the RX 480 will offer better value for money for most gamers.
Read our XFX Radeon RX 480 review.
- Reviewed on: 12 January 17
- RRP: £107.99
The GTX 1050 could be the perfect card for converting a low-end PC into a competent gaming machine, and this board from Palit is a strong no-frills example at a good price. However, you should consider a 1050 Ti if you can afford it.
Read our Palit GeForce GTX 1050 StormX 2GB review.
- Reviewed on: 2 January 17
- RRP: £129.95
At launch the RX 460 delivered very impressive performance for the money and this XFX AMD Radeon RX 460 4GB Double Dissipation model is a fine example, with its quiet fans and decent built quality. However, Nvidia's GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti cards currently offer better frame rates in this price range.
- Reviewed on: 27 February 15
- RRP: £65
The R7 250X is a breath of fresh air compared to the cheap £45+ products. At a resolution of 1680x1050, it can effortlessly shatter the 30fps mark. Crucially, it's never far away from the 50fps mark. If you're getting close to 50fps, you should be having a very comfortable playing experience. The 250X is the fastest card at this price point, thanks mainly to its superior texture handling, and generally finishes ahead of the GT 740 by around 4-5fps. Pound for pound, it offers the best value of all the budget graphics cards we've reviewed.
Read our Sapphire Radeon R7 250X review.
- Reviewed on: 31 August 15
- RRP: £639.99
Despite the high price, the GTX 980Ti Strix Gaming offers considerable value for money to those who can afford it. It may costs over £100 more than many other cards based on the same GPU, but its tangible performance benefits and superb build quality make it quite obvious where that extra money is going.
- Reviewed on: 17 September 15
- RRP: £533
The Zotac GeForce GTX 980 Ti Amp! Edition performs well and comes at a reasonable price. It’s not as impressive than the Asus Strix GTX 980 Ti, but the Zotac is around £100 cheaper, and has a reassuring five-year warranty.
- Reviewed on: 7 September 15
- RRP: £405
The MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G is an excellent graphics card for those who want to run games at the highest quality settings, but who don’t want, or can’t afford a 4K setup. The factory overclock, control applications and Twin Frozr V cooler allow for full control over performance, consumption and noise output.
Read our MSI GTX 980 Gaming 4G review.
- Reviewed on: 30 November 15
- RRP: £169.99
A lot of the 960's appeal will come down to what you want the card for. If low power consumption is a must, then the 960 is an obvious buy at this price - it really is astoundingly efficient compared to the competition. However, if you're more interested in raw figures, it's a harder decision. It's a bit cheaper than the 280X, but about 2-3fps down on speed. Likewise, it's a similar amount more expensive than the 285, this time being 2-3fps faster. At this pricing, there's very little to choose between them, although the 960's lower power consumption will make it rather better value than either once you take running costs into account. That, added to HEVC support, makes this marginally the best card at this price point, in our opinion.
- Reviewed on: 26 February 15
- RRP: £65
The GT 740 OC is a very nice card, and a significant step up on the £45+ cards - always above the 30fps mark at 1680x1050, it offers good frame rates as long as you don't seek the highest levels of detail and texturing. However, it's not the top choice at this price point. The 250X is simply faster, generally pulling out an extra 4-5fps on every game. The GT 740 will score well on power consumption, though, and if you're looking to create a decent gaming PC, but one that doesn't produce much wattage, this is a beautifully discreet option.
Read our Asus GeForce GT 740 OC review.
- Reviewed on: 25 February 15
- RRP: £45
The R7 240 is marginally inferior to the MSI GT 730 on game frame-rates, but it's generally very close, with the lead generally exceeding around 2.2fps. Like the GT 730, though, the R7 240 will struggle at resolutions of 1680x1050 and above. For any kind of gaming, the R7 240 is probably a card you need to set your sights higher than.
Read our Sapphire Radeon R7 240 Boost review.