Best Graphics Cards

Introduction

[Editors Note: We'll update this page shortly to reflect the normal monthly changes in pricing and to consider the new Nvidia Pascal GPU announced earlier this month. Meanwhile, you can read ourNvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Review.]

Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great, assuming you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, a gamer needs to know what the best graphics card is for their money. So, if you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right card, then fear not. We've compiled a simple list of the best gaming cards offered in any given price range.

The Desktop GPU Performance Hierarchy table has also been updated and is now located in its own separate article.

Updates - April 2016

This month's Best Graphics Cards for the Money puts us in a strange place. On one hand, every enthusiast out there knows we're about to see new architectures from AMD (Polaris) and Nvidia (Pascal). On the other, that's often when you find the best prices on older models.

Indeed, the flagship Radeon R9 Fury X (~$620) and GeForce GTX 980 Ti (~$600) are both a little less expensive than in months past. It remains difficult to choose between them for playable Ultra HD performance, though. AMD's Fiji GPU complemented by HBM is typically a bit faster at 3840x2160, while the 980 Ti costs a little less and occupies an easier-to-accommodate form factor.

Incidentally, that last factor is why we recommend two 980 Tis in SLI for maxing out quality settings at 4K. If your chassis can accommodate two Fury X cards, their radiators and whatever cooling solution tops your host processor, by all means go that route. Most enthusiasts will struggle to make Fury X in CrossFire fit nicely, though.

A step down, AMD cleans house at 2560x1440. The Radeon R9 390X is quite a bit cheaper than the GeForce GTX 980. We'll add that the Radeon R9 Nano can be found for less than $500, making it an attractive piece of hardware in space-constrained enclosures. But we wouldn't necessarily suggest it over the 390X, which is plenty powerful for high-quality QHD gaming. And although the Radeon R9 390 is a little pricier than a GeForce GTX 970, we like its 8GB of GDDR5 for playable framerates at 2560x1440 with the detail settings turned down some.

It might seem strange, then, that the GeForce GTX 970 gets a recommendation at 1920x1080 with details maxed out. Again, though, the GM104-based board costs less, uses far less power and even outmaneuvers the 390 in many games. For FHD, it's a good card.

If you're looking to game at 1920x1080 but don't have the cash for a $300 graphics card, the GeForce GTX 950 2GB will get you there for $140 (down $10 from last month). Two-gigabyte Radeon R7 370s are about $10 cheaper, though they're also not as fast. For that, you'd want a Radeon R9 380, and that would put you closer to $190.

What about virtual reality? Multiple Tom's Hardware editors have had their hands on Oculus' Rift and HTC's Vive at this point, and we have a better idea of what it takes to play current-gen VR games smoothly. Unanimously, we agree that the GeForce GTX 970/Radeon R9 290 recommended specs shared by both HMDs are perhaps one tier lower than they should be. Most games run fine at that level. However, a handful can be made to exhibit artifacts with quality presets pushed too high.

The better place to start, in our opinion, would be a Radeon R9 390X or GeForce GTX 980. Those cards make it through taxing scenarios like the opening scene from Chronos without stuttering. We're picking both boards as our first VR-specific recommendations, but caution that they may not last long depending on what AMD and Nvidia announce in the weeks to come. More than anything, we want to set realistic expectations of how much PC to own before you think about sinking several hundred dollars into a virtual reality headset.

Graphics Card Top Picks



MORE: Best Cases
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Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, the cards on this list are more expensive than what you really need.
  • Recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire/SLI and possibly a chassis with plenty of space to install multiple graphics cards. These setups also usually call for a beefier power supply than what a single card needs, and will almost certainly produce more heat than a single card. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices for your reference.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will almost certainly vary.
  • These are new card prices. No used or open-box cards are in the list. While these offers might represent a good deal, it’s simply outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.

Best @ HD (720p)

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MORE: Best Cases
MORE: Best CPUs
MORE: Best Monitors
MORE: Best Motherboards
MORE: Best PC Builds
MORE: Best Power Supplies

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, the cards on this list are more expensive than what you really need.
  • Recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire/SLI and possibly a chassis with plenty of space to install multiple graphics cards. These setups also usually call for a beefier power supply than what a single card needs, and will almost certainly produce more heat than a single card. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices for your reference.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will almost certainly vary.
  • These are new card prices. No used or open-box cards are in the list. While these offers might represent a good deal, it’s simply outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.

Best @ FHD (1080p)

Playable: Nvidia GeForce GT 730 64-bit GDDR5

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Our entry-level recommendation is Nvidia's GeForce GT 730 64-bit GDDR5. This card is essentially a GeForce GT 630 with more memory bandwidth. As a result, it lands between its predecessor and the GeForce GTX 650. That's a great starting point for gamers on a tight budget. If you're in the market for a solid sub-$100 discrete board, just be sure you have the 64-bit GDDR5 version in your shopping cart; the 128-bit model is actually slower due to a less powerful GPU.

Maxed-Out: AMD Radeon R7 360

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Based on the same Bonaire GPU as Radeon R7 260, the Radeon R7 360 is just a bit faster thanks to a more aggressive core and GDDR5 memory clock rate. We wouldn’t expect the 360 to catch AMD’s venerable R7 260X, though, which featured a few extra shader cores and texture units.

Still, resourceful gamers should be able to coax playable frame rates from this card at 1920x1080. If you really want to play it safe, consider the Radeon R7 360 a solid bet for resolutions below FHD, such as 1680x1050.

Best @ QHD (1440p)

Playable: AMD Radeon R9 390

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AMD’s Radeon R9 390 now sells for less than the outgoing 290X. Although the 390 features fewer shaders than its predecessor, higher core and memory clock rates, in addition to an extra 4GB of GDDR5, create a situation where the 290X is edged out. Sounds like a win-win for gamers.

The extra performance is good for cranking up the detail settings in the latest games at 1920x1080. And because it comes with plenty of on-board memory, we’re also calling AMD’s 390 our recommendation for playable performance at 2560x1440 (so long as you’re willing to dial-back graphics quality a bit).

Maxed-Out: AMD Radeon R9 390X

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AMD’s Radeon 390X wields the same 2816 Stream processors, 176 texture units and 64 ROPs as the 290X before it. But its core clock rate is up to 50MHz higher, its memory frequency receives a 250MHz bump and it boasts 8GB of GDDR5.

That’s enough of an improvement to battle Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980. Except the 980 sells for quite a bit more, leaving AMD to claim our recommendation for 2560x1440 in the latest games with detail settings maxed out.

Best @ UHD (2160p)

Playable: AMD Radeon R9 390X

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When Oculus' Rift launched, the AMD GPUs we tested had trouble in a couple of titles (most notably, Chronos). We're hoping those early issues were ironed out by drivers. Even so, we'd suggest the Radeon R9 390X as a better alternative to the R9 290 that Oculus and HTC recommend for a smooth VR experience. Lower-end cards may necessitate dialing back certain detail settings in today's taxing games, while the 390X delivers a satisfying experience in all of the software we've thrown at it thus far.

Playable: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980

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Although HTC and Oculus both call out Nvidia's GeForce GTX 970 as their minimum recommended graphics card, we feel safer taking one step up to the GeForce GTX 980. Yes, we realize that's an extra $160 or so. But the editors with experience gaming on the Rift and Vive independently ran into scenarios where the 970 just isn't smooth 100 percent of the time.

Best @ VR

Playable: AMD Radeon R9 390X

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When Oculus' Rift launched, the AMD GPUs we tested had trouble in a couple of titles (most notably, Chronos). We're hoping those early issues were ironed out by drivers. Even so, we'd suggest the Radeon R9 390X as a better alternative to the R9 290 that Oculus and HTC recommend for a smooth VR experience. Lower-end cards may necessitate dialing back certain detail settings in today's taxing games, while the 390X delivers a satisfying experience in all of the software we've thrown at it thus far.

Playable: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980

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Although HTC and Oculus both call out Nvidia's GeForce GTX 970 as their minimum recommended graphics card, we feel safer taking one step up to the GeForce GTX 980. Yes, we realize that's an extra $160 or so. But the editors with experience gaming on the Rift and Vive independently ran into scenarios where the 970 just isn't smooth 100 percent of the time.

MORE: AMD & Nvidia GPU Hierarchy Table
MORE: Best Cases
MORE: Best CPUs
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MORE: Best Motherboards
MORE: Best Power Supplies
MORE: Best PC Builds
MORE: How To Build A PC

Chris Angelini is Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject
58 comments
    Your comment
  • I know you mentioned it in passing but I think the Radeon 380 deserves a spot - here MASSIVE gap in your lineup between the 950 and the 970. I mean you can get a solid XFX XXX OC edition 2GB for $180, and there are models that sell for less with a MIR
    6
  • Wow that got posted by mistake somehow before I even corrected typos. I blame the alcohol. Anyway I found an even more compelling 380 - Newegg has a great deal on a high-clocked 4GB Dual-X Nitro for $190 (less after MIR). I would say that at that price it's not even worth considering a 2GB 380. That makes it a more compelling option altogether.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814202166

    Other than the gap between the 950 and the 970, I think your list is pretty solid.
    2
  • I'd still like to see the GPU performance hierarchy updated. It's missing the 950 and 380X.
    6
  • VR maxed out with 980 ? What a joke ! Played Elite Dangerous with the DK 2 and with high settings and 1.5 supersampling could barely maintain 75 FPS.
    mod edit - let's not see that sort of language here again please.
    -2
  • And that was with a 980 Ti Overclocked btw !
    0
  • There is huge difference in price beetwen GTX 950 and GTX 970 in 1080p category. Are you saying that there is no other card that you can max out 1080p but to be quite cheaper than GTX 970?!!!
    Thanks in advance for your answer TH.
    1
  • I still using my old R7 260x 1GB and for 1080P is enough for medium/high settings with AA OFF * Memory limit ;)
    I will start looking for new GPUs when my current will be no longer good for 1080P 1-2Years :)
    0
  • you could replace GT 730 with R7 250X, with more powerful GPU and also under 100 bracket price
    0
  • Missing 380's and budget GPU's you can get on ebay like a GTX 260-270-280 on eBay for 30 bucks and outperform and trash low class GPU with a 64 bit data rate. Not to leave out the sweet spot for last gens high end hardware like the 78XX series which is still kicking it today. IF you're doing High gaming 970 and up is great. If your not Buy a 380 or go lower and find yourself a sweet spot on ebay around 75-100 used.

    Yes we get that this is "2016" GPU's but if you want a burning hole in your wallet for buying a 60 dollar paper weight that can't even play minecraft on high stick to the used market like ebay and craigslist and really put your money to performance ratio through the roof.
    -1
  • If you "need" 60FPS with UltraMaxOhWOW! settings on new games at high resolutions, yes you're going to spend a lot of money. If you're satisfied with "Good" settings (typically "high"), or play older games, or have no problem with 45FPS, it won't be nearly so expensive. Older games run just fine at 2K on a mere GTX750Ti.
    1
  • Maxed out HD its radeon 370/gtx 950, not 360.. i own a gtx 750ti which is faster than the radeon 360 and i couldn't max out the witcher 3 on HD.. so that one is wrong.
    0
  • I am confused about this comment about the Fury-X vs 980Ti:
    "AMD does claim a slight performance advantage at 4K. However, the 980 Ti tends to be cooler, quieter and more self-contained. It’d be hard to go wrong either way. "

    As a Fury-X owner, I find it pretty much silent and extremely cool. How exactly does the 980Ti beat a watercooled card in those metrics?
    4
  • Quote:
    I am confused about this comment about the Fury-X vs 980Ti: "AMD does claim a slight performance advantage at 4K. However, the 980 Ti tends to be cooler, quieter and more self-contained. It’d be hard to go wrong either way. " As a Fury-X owner, I find it pretty much silent and extremely cool. How exactly does the 980Ti beat a watercooled card in those metrics?

    I'm a GTX 980 Ti owner, and I agree. The article has it backwards. From TomsHardware's own tests, the Fury X generates 35.6 dB(A) of noise, while the reference GTX 980 Ti 44.6 dB(A), or 39.7 dB(A) inside a closed case. With respect to temperatures, the reference GTX 980 Ti stays at 83 C, while the Fury X only goes to 64 C. Compared to non-reference 980 Ti cards that dump heat back into the case, the Fury X's radiator can actually be an advantage because you can position it to exhaust hot air out of the case.

    The real advantage to getting a 980 Ti is overclocking, either from manual tweaking or factory overclocked cards. The 980 Ti can be overclocked enough to beat the Fury X at 4K on almost all titles, while the Fury X can't be overclocked much.
    5
  • 1868746 said:
    Quote:
    I am confused about this comment about the Fury-X vs 980Ti: "AMD does claim a slight performance advantage at 4K. However, the 980 Ti tends to be cooler, quieter and more self-contained. It’d be hard to go wrong either way. " As a Fury-X owner, I find it pretty much silent and extremely cool. How exactly does the 980Ti beat a watercooled card in those metrics?
    I'm a GTX 980 Ti owner, and I agree. The article has it backwards. From TomsHardware's own tests, the Fury X generates 35.6 dB(A) of noise, while the reference GTX 980 Ti 44.6 dB(A), or 39.7 dB(A) inside a closed case. With respect to temperatures, the reference GTX 980 Ti stays at 83 C, while the Fury X only goes to 64 C. Compared to non-reference 980 Ti cards that dump heat back into the case, the Fury X's radiator can actually be an advantage because you can position it to exhaust hot air out of the case. The real advantage to getting a 980 Ti is overclocking, either from manual tweaking or factory overclocked cards. The 980 Ti can be overclocked enough to beat the Fury X at 4K on almost all titles, while the Fury X can't be overclocked much.


    Full agreement about OCing - I have not even bothered to try on my Fury-X given that most folks talk about minimal (5%) improvements. The OC capabilities vs noise+temp should be the real comparison here.

    I am curious also what happens when you try to Crossfire/SLI, as is recommended for high end 4K gaming - how does noise and temp increase for both sets of cards?
    3
  • A single, straight GTX 980 when coupled with G-SYNC has no problems playing most titles at 4K on high settings.

    In my experience, G-SYNC makes lower frame rates (~30fps) as or more tolerable then almost twice that without G-SYNC.
    1
  • 1791309 said:
    A single, straight GTX 980 when coupled with G-SYNC has no problems playing most titles at 4K on high settings. In my experience, G-SYNC makes lower frame rates (~30fps) as or more tolerable then almost twice that without G-SYNC.


    I have a 2K Freesync monitor, so I understand what you mean, but these days with 144hz, I am looking to get framerates above 100 and I love my max settings!
    2
  • Why have they done this piece now with pascal and polaris on the horizon? Seen's to be a waste of time in my opinion. Marketing?
    -5
  • 2237982 said:
    1791309 said:
    A single, straight GTX 980 when coupled with G-SYNC has no problems playing most titles at 4K on high settings. In my experience, G-SYNC makes lower frame rates (~30fps) as or more tolerable then almost twice that without G-SYNC.
    I have a 2K Freesync monitor, so I understand what you mean, but these days with 144hz, I am looking to get framerates above 100 and I love my max settings!



    Yeah, I also probably should have qualified my statement with "...more than sufficient for 4K on non-FPS type games like X-COM, Dragon Age, or Total War". Hard-core FPS folks might want the additional frames.
    1
  • Quote:
    Why have they done this piece now with pascal and polaris on the horizon? Seen's to be a waste of time in my opinion. Marketing?

    They do this monthly thing, where they review GPUs to help people make buying decisions? It says you've been a member since 2009 but even I know they try to post monthly articles like this. Plus, helps people to save money on the discount cards! Hey, thanks Toms!
    7