AMD and Nvidia both released new GPUs over the past few months, and they quickly made their way to the top of our rankings for the best graphics cards. It doesn’t matter if you need a GPU for esports titles at 1080p or a gaming powerhouse that can handle recent AAA games at 4K — there’s a graphics card for you.
Although not the newest of the bunch, the highly coveted Nvidia RTX 3080 is still our go-to recommendation in 2021. The card can deliver frame rates above 60 frames per second in the most recent games, even with all of the graphical settings turned up, including ray tracing.
We can’t ignore that elephant that’s been in the room for nearly a year, though. The GPU shortage is still in full swing, making it impossible to buy nearly any graphics card, let alone the one of the best ones. We don’t want to recommend overpriced, underpowered graphics cards, so let our ranking serve as a shortlist should the stars align for you.
The best graphics cards at a glance
Best graphics card overall: Nvidia RTX 3080
Best graphics card for professionals: Nvidia RTX 3090
Best graphics card for 1440p: Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti
Best graphics card for 1080p: Nvidia RTX 3060
Best AMD graphics card: AMD RX 6800 XT
Best budget graphics card: Nvidia GTX 1660 Super
Best mobile graphics card: Nvidia RTX 3060 mobile
Nvidia RTX 3080
The best graphics card overall
Why should you buy this: Although almost half the price of the 3090, Nvidia’s 3080 delivers near-comparable performance at 4K.
Who’s it for: Gamers with a 4K display who want to play the latest AAA games at high frame rates.
Why we picked the Nvidia RTX 3080:
The RTX 3080 marks a generational leap that Nvidia hasn’t experienced in over a decade. Rather than simply refining the features of 20-series GPUs, Nvidia did that while also massively boosting performance across the board. The result: The $699 RTX 3080. Just on the spec sheet, the 3080 shows its power. It doubles the number of CUDA cores in last-gen’s 2080 Ti (albeit with a slight asterix), and although it drops memory from 11GB to 10GB, the 3080 features faster GDDR6X modules. And it’s important to note here that the 3080 launched at $699, while the 2080 Ti was sold at nearly double: $1,199 on a good day.
We can see a clear improvement in specs over the last generation, and our own benchmarks show those improvements in action. In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, for example, the 3080 was able to maintain 60 fps at 4K and Ultra High settings. By comparison, the 2080 Ti and 2080 Super managed an average of 47 fps and 43 fps, respectively. If the 30 series was like previous Nvidia generations, we’d expect the 3080 to perform about as well as a 2080 Ti. It performs around 20% better, though, while bringing improvements to ray tracing and Nvidia’s DLSS.
The RTX 3080 is the best graphics card for 4K gaming. It hits a sweet spot in the high-end market, delivering enough power to handle the most demanding AAA titles without bogging down the card with extra memory that isn’t useful for the majority of gamers. The RTX 3080 is a true gamer’s graphics card, and it’s the go-to option in 2021.
Nvidia RTX 3090
The best graphics card for professionals
NvidiaWhy should you buy this: The RTX 3090 is a monster of a graphics card, featuring Titan-esque performance at a (comparably) affordable price.
Who’s it for: PC enthusiasts who want the best of the best and have the budget to buy it.
Why we picked the Nvidia RTX 3090:
Nvidia went a different route with its 30-series GPUs, replacing last-gen’s Titan RTX with the RTX 3090 (that’s what we found, at least, in our RTX 3080 vs. 3090 comparison). It’s a monster GPU, sporting 24GB of GDDR6X memory, a massive 10,496 CUDA cores, and a boost clock of 1.7GHz. It’s certainly the most capable GPU on the market, able to hit 8K at playable frame rates with help from DLSS — even if it’s not really designed as a gaming card.
The issue is price. At $1,499, the RTX 3090 is an expensive card (though, it’s still $1,000 less than the Titan RTX). Right now, it’s really the only option for 8K gaming, but the 3090 isn’t a one-trick pony. As a successor to the Titan RTX, the RTX 3090 is made for creators. It boasts up to a 50% performance improvement in real-world benchmarks and up to a 100% improvement in synthetic ones. TechRadar’s benchmarks show the 3090 finishing a Blender render twice as fast as last-gen’s 2080 Ti (a $1,199 GPU).
If you prefer Team Red, the RX 6900 XT is a great alternative to the RTX 3090. The 6900 XT actually holds the GPU overclocking world record, and AMD recently introduced a liquid-cooled version that runs even faster than the base model.
Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti
The best 1440p graphics card
Why should you buy this: The RTX 3060 Ti punches well above its weight class.
Who’s it for: 1440p gamers who want all of the visual bells and whistles.
Why we picked the Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti:
The RTX 3060 Ti is an extremely powerful graphics card, considering its spot in Nvidia’s Ampere lineup. Below the RTX 3070, the 3060 Ti still delivers 8GB of GDDR6 memory on a 256-bit bus and features only a slight reduction in clock speed — 1.67GHz on the 3060 Ti versus 1.72GHz on the 3070. The card is packed with 4,864 CUDA cores and comes with Nvidia’s new Tensor and ray tracing core versions, just like other RTX 30-series graphics cards.
In benchmarks, the RTX 3060 Ti scores above last-gen’s RTX 2080 Super. The card can deliver above 70 fps in demanding titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 with Ultra settings at 1440p. With a little overclocking, you can push the RTX 3060 Ti to reach performance levels similar to the RTX 3070.
The RTX 3060 Ti shines as the best graphics card for 1440p. It’s incredibly capable, offering frame rates north of 60 fps in demanding AAA titles, even with all the sliders turned up. Ray tracing would normally be a problem for a card like this, but thanks to DLSS, you can still hit performance marks with all the visual bells and whistles.
Nvidia RTX 3060
The best graphics card for 1080p
Why should you buy this: Nvidia’s RTX 3060 offers great performance at a decent price, with entry-level ray tracing and DLSS.
Who’s it for: Gamers who want serious performance without breaking the bank.
Why we picked the Nvidia RTX 3060:
The Nvidia RTX 3060 ships with 12GB of GDDR6 memory and an impressive 3,584 CUDA cores, although the memory controller has been cut back from 256-bit on the RTX 3060 Ti, to 192-bit. The end result is decent performance and the latest Nvidia features with more memory than the RTX 3070 and RTX 3060 Ti.
This equates to performance that’s around that of an RTX 2070 Super or AMD RX 5700 XT. Expect strong, 60+ fps performance at 1440p in most games. It’s not a 4K card and not recommendable at that resolution. Its ray tracing and DLSS support are decent, though, letting you employ the fancy lighting feature at lower levels without too much of a performance hit.
Even with the ongoing shortage, the RTX 3060 is available. It’s much more expensive than the $329 price it launched it, but you can still pick one up without paying too much of a premium if you’re diligent.
AMD RX 6800 XT
Best AMD graphics card
Why should you buy this: The RX 6800 XT is as powerful as the RTX 3080, and even more powerful if you overclock it.
Who’s it for: AMD fans who are interested in overclocking.
Why we picked the AMD RX 6800 XT:
The RX 6800 XT is AMD’s answer to the RTX 3080. It’s positioned to compete directly with Nvidia’s flagship card, but it’s packed with wildly different specs. The most interesting spec is 16GB of GDDR6 memory. Nvidia’s card uses faster memory, but AMD’s card offers more. That makes the RX 6800 XT a flexible card that can handle gaming and 3D modeling without breaking a sweat. That said, the faster G6X memory on the RTX 3080 is better for tasks like data science.
For performance, the RX 6800 XT matches the RTX 3080 in most titles with ray tracing turned off. If you’re willing to overclock your graphics card, the 6800 XT actually edges ahead. AMD’s Infinity Cache that shows up on the RX 6800 XT allows the card to hit very high clock speeds, resulting in serious performance gains. In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, for example, PC Mag went from 69 fps to 76 fps at 4K with a stable overclock at 2.8GHz.
Ray tracing changes things a bit, as DLSS adds a huge boost in performance to Nvidia cards. That said, AMD recently introduced Super Resolution as part of the FidelityFX suite, which is similar to DLSS. The suite also includes a variety of other visual enhancements, such as Contrast Adaptive Sharpening, which restores sharpness to an image after temporal anti-aliasing is applied. The RX 6800 XT can take advantage of all the FidelityFX features.
Nvidia GTX 1660 Super
Best budget graphics card
Why should you buy this: The GTX 1660 Super can still hold up today, even with how far graphics cards have come.
Who’s it for: 1080p gamers looking for a bargain.
Why we picked the Nvidia GTX 1660 Super:
The Nvidia GTX 1660 Super looks quaint compared to the Ampere cards of today, but don’t underestimate it. The 1660 is the best budget graphics card on the market. It performs excellently at 1080p, delivering frame rates above 30 fps in highly demanding games like Metro Exodus. If you’re willing to turn down a few settings, you can hit much higher frame rates. In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Borderlands 3, for example, you can expect frame rates nearing 100 fps at 1080p with medium settings.
Although the GTX 1660 Super can hold up in the games releasing today, it can’t use visual features like ray tracing. The card isn’t an RTX card like the other Nvidia options on this list, so it doesn’t come with dedicated ray tracing cores or support for features like DLSS. Still, for a budget option that can annihilate most games at 1080p, it’s hard arguing with the GTX 1660 Super.
Nvidia RTX 3060 mobile
Best mobile graphics card
Dan Baker/Digital TrendsWhy should you buy this: It offers great performance without adding undue bulk to modern laptops.
Who’s it for: Power gamers on the move.
Why we picked the Nvidia RTX 3060 mobile:
Nvidia’s RTX 3060 is the latest iteration of its leaner mobile gaming solutions, but that doesn’t mean it lacks power. It offers a greater number of CUDA cores than previous generations of Nvidia mobile chips and delivers a sizable performance improvement over the past generation.
Although the RTX 3060 falls behind its full-scale desktop and mobile counterparts, its real strength lies in not outputting anywhere near the level of heat generated by big-scale GPUs. That means you’ll still find the RTX 3060 in laptops that are sleek and thin and don’t weigh too much. You can see the results in this older Razer Blade that we previously used in testing that weighs just 4.5 pounds and offers performance that in years gone by you’d only find in chunky gaming machines that weigh close to double that.
There are some solid alternatives in this space, with both AMD and Nvidia offering mobile options with greater and lesser performance depending on your needs. In our opinion, RTX 2070 Max-Q offers all the performance most users could want, all in a low-profile chipset. It’s a great solution for those who want optimal video performance from a smaller laptop. If you’re a gamer or just want some enhanced graphics on your small form factor laptop, this is a great choice.
What is the best graphics card for gaming?
The most powerful graphics card for gaming right now is the Nvidia RTX 3090, but is it really the best graphics card for you? Choosing the right GPU involves more than benchmarks and specs.
The price is an essential factor in buying a graphics card, but there are additional pieces in play and the major drama at present is inventory, or rather, the lack of inventory. You must consider the paired components, what games you’re playing, and your display’s resolution and refresh rate.
A 1080p display works best with the GTX 1660 Ti, so you don’t need to spend too much on a stronger graphics card. You shouldn’t stretch your budget to accommodate an RTX 3080. Even with high refresh rate displays, you’ll have wasted graphical horsepower.
If you find yourself playing games like Fortnite more than games like Battlefield V, the most expensive card on the market isn’t necessary. It’s more sensible to base your choice on your display and the games you plan on playing. Consider the games you plan to play, and your search will be easier.
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