Best graphics cards for PC gaming 2021


“What graphics card within my budget gives me the best bang for my buck?”

That simple question cuts to the core of what people hunting for a new graphics card look for: the most oomph they can afford. Sure, the technological leaps behind each new GPU can be interesting on their own, but most everyone just wants to crank up the detail settings on Cyberpunk 2077 and get right to playing.

Updated February 18 to include news about Nvidia battling cryptocurrency demand with dedicated mining chips and nerfed mining performance in the RTX 3060.

Answering the question can be a bit trickier than it seems. Raw performance is a big part of it, but factors like noise, the driver experience, and supplemental software also play a role in determining which graphics card to buy. And do you want to pay Nvidia’s RTX premium to get in on the bleeding edge of real-time ray tracing?

Let us make it easy for you. We’ve tested nearly every major GPU that’s hit the streets over the past couple of years, from $100 budget cards to $1,200 luxury models. Our knowledge has been distilled into this article—a buying guide with recommendations on which graphics card to buy, no matter what sort of experience you’re looking for.

Note: There are customized versions of every graphics card from a slew of vendors. For example, you can buy different GeForce GTX 3080 models from EVGA, Asus, MSI, and Zotac, among others.

We’ve linked to our formal review for each recommendation, but the buying links lead to models that stick closely to each graphics card’s MSRP. Spending extra can get you hefty out-of-the-box overclocks, beefier cooling systems, and more. Check out our “What to look for in a custom card” section below for tips on how to choose a customized card that’s right for you.

Graphics card news

  • It’s all but impossible to find graphics cards right now, especially at sane prices. The GeForce RTX 30-series and Radeon RX 6800-series sold out instantly and remain scarce in the face of overwhelming demand, with scalpers and bots snatching them up just as greedily as enthusiasts. Demand is so high that even older-generation graphics cards are selling for more than they cost new, years ago, in most cases. If you’re stuck without a graphics card, consider trying Nvidia’s free GeForce Now cloud streaming or a next-gen gaming console instead to tide you over. 

  • You can’t stop the flow of new hardware though. Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3060 will launch later in February, ostensibly at $329. It might actually cost that if you’re lucky enough to catch the first wave in the nanoseconds before stock disappears. Interestingly, Nvidia is intentionally crippling the mining performance of the RTX 3060, and also introducing a lineup of cryptocurrency-focused GPUs dubbed “Nvidia CMP HX.” Fingers crossed that means more cards will actually wind up in the hands of gamers, but don’t expect miracles.

  • Future AMD graphics cards could swipe a trick from the company’s Ryzen CPUs. ComputerBase spotted an AMD patent application for combining several smaller GPU chiplets in graphics card, moving beyond traditional “monolithic” designs that revolve around a single large graphics chip.

Best budget graphics card

Editor’s note: Demand is through the roof for graphics cards right now. Newer models sell out instantly and often cost hundreds of dollars more than MSRP. Even older-generation graphics cards are selling for more than what they cost new, years ago. We can’t recommend people buy graphics cards at those markups, but if you’re lucky enough to find stock at MSRP, this guide should help. Note that prices below discuss MSRP, as it’s impossible to stay current with today’s volatile pricing.

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super is a superb 1080p graphics card that can hit the hallowed 60 frames per second mark at High or Ultra settings in virtually all modern games—a hell of a feat for just $160, or $170 for the feature-loaded ROG Strix model we evaluated. It comes packed with 4GB of ultra-fast GDDR6 memory, and Nvidia’s latest and greatest Turing NVENC video encoder, something the original GTX 1650 lacked. Better yet, Nvidia’s GPU is incredibly power efficient, and that means these graphics cards run cool and quiet, too.

You’ll need a six-pin power connector to run the card, which is much more potent than its non-Super cousin, the $150 GeForce GTX 1650. The only reason to consider the non-Super version is if you’re upgrading a big-box office PC into a gaming rig and have no extra power cabling available, since the vanilla GTX 1650 can draw all its more from your motherboard. Otherwise, the GeForce GTX 1650 Super is far superior, especially for just $10 more.

Unfortunately, the ROG Strix isn’t available at retail at the time of publication. Two other Asus GPUS—the $165 GeForce GTX 1650 Super Phoenix Fan Edition and $160 Asus TUF GTX 1650 Super—are, and you should expect similar bottom-line gaming performance out of them, though these alternatives don’t pack all the same extras as the Strix.



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