What a time to be a PC gamer and builder! No less than nine new video cards have recently hit the markets from teams green and red. It goes to show that in marketing and sales terms it pays to skip a generation and keep gamers and hardware fans hanging on as long as possible before you release new technology.
The cards which have been released, truly are in a different class to the 28nm generation they’ve supplanted.
Nvidia’s Pascal cards have wowed everyone with the sheer power they deliver, while AMD’s Polaris-based video cards have blown everyone away with their price and performance, and have rightly been applauded for making next generation and VR-ready graphics available to everyone.
Click the below links to jump straight to the tables.
In this guide I’m going to set out the best video cards available now (and very soon) at a variety of price points.
I’ve included four different classes of video card: elite-level video cards, which can be considered the best of the best; high-end, which is the next level down; mid-range, and finally budget-range, which are cards that are designed to deliver good performance, but which won’t bankrupt you while doing it.
For each card I’ve researched the key information you should be aware of as a buyer, including operating speeds, memory capacity, length, and the number of GPU power connectors required.
The elite-level category represents the best of the best in video card technology. At this level there really is only one winner that’s both affordable (some might argue with just how affordable) AND powerful – the GTX 1080.
The elite-level category is dominated by Nvidia cards. Unfortunately, anyone looking for competition from rivals AMD will have to wait until 2017 at the earliest for AMD to release its Vega chipset, which is expected to rival the GTX 1080 in performance.
However, AMD’s older Fury X video card does offer strong performance and has been included in the elite-level list.
Come on AMD, up your game! Everyone benefits from strong competition!
Video cards – Elite level (CLICK ‘READ REVIEW’ TO EXPAND)
High-end video cards
From the start let’s make it clear that all of these cards are good, and any one of them will completely dominate games at 1920×1080 screen resolution, providing 60 frames per second frame rates and above. These cards really excel at 2560×1440 screen resolution, but some of them will also deliver good performance at 4K too.
As with the elite-level category this list contains a mixture of old and new cards.
While there’s obvious benefits to investing in newer technology, the bargain conscious among you will know there’s BIG savings to be made in investing in older generation cards.
Video cards – High-end (CLICK ‘READ REVIEW’ TO EXPAND)
Mid-range video cards
These cards will all get you excellent performance at 1920×1080 screen resolutions, and at a stretch some will even hit decent frame rates at 2560×1440 resolutions too – though that’s not really the market they’re aimed at.
Whether you’re building a PC to game, edit videos, browse the web or for school or college all of these cards will deliver great performance.
They won’t break the bank either. Plus, remember all of these cards are capable of delivering performance above and beyond that offered by so-called ‘next generation’ consoles, and will deliver it at a blistering 60 frames per second too.
Video cards – Mid-range (CLICK ‘READ REVIEW’ TO EXPAND)
Budget video cards
Love League of Legends, DOTA, Overwatch and CS:GO, and don’t play anything else?
Well, this range of budget cards could be exactly what you’re looking for. They deliver great performance at 1680×1050 and 1920×1080 screen resolutions, and will handle games at 2560×1440 resolutions too, providing the detail level is turned right down.
All of these cards have minimal power requirements, and they are all generally small in size, meaning they are perfect for living room gaming setups, or for small LAN-party systems.
Video cards – Budget level (CLICK ‘READ REVIEW’ TO EXPAND)
If you’re looking to max out games at their highest detail settings, first decide what screen resolution you plan to game at then look at the tables on this page.
Any of the top video cards included in the ultimate table will be able to max games out at the highest level of detail and resolutions.
These cards also represent a solid future investment and will likely ensure you’re able to enjoy the latest games for the next couple of years.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, when looking at the different types of top video cards available on the market you need to consider price.
It’s normally the biggest deciding factor when most of us make a hardware purchase.
As such set yourself a target price and stick to it.
You should be planning to invest around 30% of your total PC building budget on the video card (though many people spend more).
I know it can be difficult, especially when looking at the sheer volume of video cards out there, but if you break your budget you can start down a slippery slope, and before you know it you could be making an impulse purchase on a video card you know nothing about.
These will give you some ideas of the types of system you can craft for a given dollar value.
What are CUDA cores? Nvidia technology explained (as simply as possible!)
A CUDA core is essentially a very focused processor that solely works to convert graphical instructions it receives into video output. CUDA cores are designed to perform calculations as a group, so the more CUDA cores your video card has the better its video performance.
The number of CUDA cores on a video card can vary greatly. Generally speaking though the more CUDA cores the card contains the better its video performance.
CUDA stands for Compute Unified Device Architecture. It is a programming interface developed by Nvidia and lets developers code graphics for Nvidia video cards, and accelerates GPU processing power.
What are stream processors? AMD technology explained (as simply as possible!)
Like CUDA cores, stream processors excel at performing calculations as a group. So, generally speaking as with CUDA cores the more stream processors a card has the better its performance.
The big difference is the stream processors are simpler than their CUDA counterparts, and run on a lower frequency.
This is massive, and is often overlooked by people building their first gaming PC.
Screen resolution is the number of pixels your monitor will display on its screen.
The most common resolution for PC gaming is 1920×1080, but more and more people are embracing 2560×1440 and 4K resolution monitors, that is 3840×2160.
The numbers represent the number of pixels horizontally and vertically that are displayed on your monitor.
A higher number of pixels requires a higher degree of processing power from your video card, in order to run smoothly and deliver an optimum gaming performance of 60 frames per second.
So, before buying your card ask yourself what resolution you want to game at.
All of the top video cards in the below tables will seamlessly handle 1920×1080 gaming, with most of them providing fantastic performance at 2560×1440 and the cards in the Ultimate table will comfortably handle 4K gaming.
These displays synchronize the framerate that is displayed and mean you can game at an unbroken 60 frames per second or above, leading to beautiful and fluid performance.
Building a Gaming PC
Building a gaming PC is a great skill to have, and if you’re planning on including the best video card you can find in your new system you should definitely take a look at my guides.
If you’re new to building PCs, and are a little unsure about where to start, take a look at the below video playlist.
It’s designed to be as simple and straightforward to follow as possible.
There’s tips in there on how to install a video card, among other things.
Click the menu box in the top left of the below window to cycle through all the videos.
I deliberately made the videos short and clear, to help make the learning process as straightforward as possible.
If you need tips and hints about installing a video card for your new PC build, hit me up in the comments section, or tweet me directly.
If you like what you’re reading please remember to sign up to the newsletter for up-to-date news, reviews, builds and more.
But Why Build?
As PC games get better and better and the hardware to run them advances at an ever quicker rate you may be tempted to buy a pre-built custom gaming PC.
STOP! Don’t do it. There’s a range of benefits to building your own PC:
- you’ll save a tonne of money
- you can customize it exactly as you want
- you avoid ‘bloatware’ that comes bundled with pre-built systems and clogs up performance
The good news is it’s a buyer’s market with a massive range of components available to builders and building a gaming PC is easier than many realize.
If you can put together a Lego kit you can build a computer. It’s that easy.
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If you’re interested in other PC gaming components and builds head to the blog.
There’s so many different PC systems you can build. Check out a few ideas below.
If you have any questions about the best video card for your PC, or any other hardware, drop me a line on Twitter, send me a picture on Instagram, or join my community on Facebook.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]