Best Graphics Cards for Gaming in 2021

The best graphics cards are the pulsating heart of any gaming PC worth its salt. Of course, there’s no single solution that’s right for everyone: Some want the fastest graphics card, others the best value, and many are looking for the best card at a given price. Balancing performance, price, features, and efficiency is important because no other component impacts your gaming experience as much as the graphics card.

Before we continue, let’s address the proverbial pachyderm sitting on your living room couch, chowing down on peanuts: Trying to buy a graphics card right now basically sucks. Everything truly desirable is sold out and overpriced, and even previous generation hardware costs far too much — assuming you can even find it in stock. Take a look at Newegg as an example. RTX 30-series and RX 6000-series are all out of stock, and the cheapest RTX 20-series, GTX 16-series, or RX 5000-series GPU that’s in stock is the GTX 1650, starting at $320. That’s double the official launch price, for a card that’s slower than a previous generation GTX 1060 6GB.

We’re going to list the best graphics cards that are theoretically available right now, along with their nominal prices. If you’re desparate for a new GPU, you might justify paying 25% more than the launch price, but beyond that we recommend taking a look at pre-built gaming PCs instead. Or just wait, but fair warning: It might take six months or more before prices get back to anything close to ‘normal.’

We test and review all the major GPUs, and we’ve ranked every graphics card in our GPU Benchmarks hierarchy based purely on performance. We’ve also done extensive testing of graphics card power consumption, using proper hardware, and we’ve looked at the broader AMD vs Nvidia GPUs breakdown. More recently, our Radeon RX 6800 XT and GeForce RTX 3060 Ti launch articles have included test results for the latest GPUs running on Core i9-9900K, Core i9-10900K, and Ryzen 9 5900X. Mostly, the three CPUs are pretty close, though things vary depending on the game and settings (and motherboard firmware and RAM). Here we cut things down to a succinct list of the best graphics cards you can currently buy.

Choosing the Best Graphics Card for You

We’ve provided 10 options for the best graphics cards, recognizing that there’s plenty of potential overlap. In the past six months, Nvidia dropped the GeForce RTX 3080, GeForce RTX 3090, GeForce RTX 3070, and GeForce RTX 3060 Ti on us, which basically blew up our old picks and reset our expectations — and the RTX 3060 12GB should arrive before the end of the month. AMD continued the upheaval with its Radeon RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 and Radeon RX 6900 XT, bringing ray tracing support to Team Red for the first time, and also boasting greatly improved performance compared to the previous generation GPUs.

Cards like the RTX 3070 and RX 6800 theoretically cost less than half as much as the outgoing RTX 2080 Ti, and generally match or beat it on performance. Meanwhile, the RX 6800 XT and RTX 3080 are 30 to 35% faster than the 2080 Ti for less money, and the 3090 is 10-20% faster than the 3080 (at more than twice the price). You can also see how the RTX 3080 scales with a wider range of CPUs. Hint: You’ll want something made in the past few years, preferably with at least 6-cores and 12-threads.

As far as finding a decent GPU goes, Nvidia’s CEO suggested limited supplies could continue until 2021. Even after delaying the launch by two weeks to help build up supply, the RTX 3070 still sold out within minutes, as did the RTX 3060 Ti. More recently, Nvidia’s CFO hinted shortages are likely to continue well into 2021. Our current hope is for the situation to improve by Computex (June), but even that is optimistic. AMD’s Radeon RX 6800 series and RX 6900 XT fared no better, and were perhaps worse. Third-party cards weren’t even stocked at all for many retail outlets, and rumors suggest retail outlets didn’t have as many Radeon cards for the launches as they did Nvidia.

Our advice: Don’t pay more today for yesterday’s hardware. If you want an RTX 30-series or RX 6000-series graphics card, be patient and you’ll eventually be able to buy one at close to the official MSRP. With the arrival of Ampere and Big Navi, basically everyone looking at the $300 price point or above should either try to buy the RTX 3060 Ti, 3070 or 3080, or AMD’s RX 6800, 6800 XT or 6900 XT.

If your main goal is gaming, you of course can’t forget about the CPU. Getting the best possible gaming GPU won’t help you much if your CPU is under-powered and/or out of date. So be sure to check out the Best Gaming CPUs page, as well as our CPU Benchmarks to make sure you have the right CPU for the level of gaming you’re looking to achieve.

Our current recommendations reflect the changing GPU market, factoring in all of the above details. The GPUs are ordered mostly by performance, but price, features, and efficiency are still factors so in a few cases a slightly slower card may be ranked higher. There’s been a massive shakeup at the top of the performance rankings already, and provided you can find the various cards in stock, these are the best graphics cards.

Quick Shopping Tips

When buying a graphics card, consider the following:

• Resolution: The more pixels you’re pushing, the more performance you need. You don’t need a top-of-the-line GPU to game at 1080p.
• PSU: Make sure that your power supply has enough juice and the right 6- and/or 8-pin connector(s). For example, Nvidia recommends a 650-watt PSU for the RTX 2070 Super, and you’ll need two 8-pin and/or 6-pin PEG connectors.
• Video Memory: A 4GB card is the minimum right now, 6GB models are better, and 8GB or more is strongly recommended.
• FreeSync or G-Sync? Either variable refresh rate technology will synchronize your GPU’s frame rate with your screen’s refresh rate. Nvidia supports G-Sync and G-Sync Compatible displays (for recommendations, see our Best Gaming Monitors list), while AMD’s FreeSync tech works with Radeon cards.
• Ray Tracing and DLSS: The latest graphics cards support ray tracing, which can be used to enhance the visuals. DLSS provides intelligent upscaling and anti-aliasing to boost performance with similar image quality.

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