The best graphics cards can help you in all kinds of ways, from working more effectively and efficiently to getting better gaming performance during your downtime. But picking the right one can be a confusing affair. To help you make the right choice, we’ve put together this guide to the best graphics cards you can buy today.
Broadly speaking, there are two main divisions into which graphics cards (also known as GPUs) fall. There are consumer graphics cards, which excel at running high-end software and games. Then there are professional graphics cards, which are geared more towards extracting as much performance as possible in highly demanding workloads.
If you’re an industry creative, professional graphics cards used to be the only viable choice for doing 3D and digital art work. However, as technology has expanded and improved consumer graphics cards now offer high-end performance equal to the more professional options without the higher price tag.
Nowadays, there’s plenty of variation in graphics cards which can be overwhelming when choosing one that’s best for you. This guide is your handy place to find both the best professional and consumer graphics cards in one place, and we’ve chosen a selection for a range of different budgets and needs. Have a setup that needs an external GPU instead? You can read up on our guide to eGPUs here.
The best graphics cards available now
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Nvidia’s latest 40-series GPUs are real performers, and the RTX 4070 Ti might be the pick of the bunch. While its expensive, it’ll set you back less than the RTX 4090 yet still packs an almighty punch, enabling it to handle serious creative workloads with ease.
With plenty of cres, an impressive clock speed and 12GB of GDDR6X memory, it’s a great graphics card for tasks like 3D rendering and video production. It’s a strong choice if you want barnstorming power without having to remortgage your house for the privilege, making it one of the best graphics cards you can buy right now.
If money really is no object, Nvidia’s RTX 4090 might be the best graphics card you can buy. Its performance is out of this world, with 24GB of video memory and 16,384 CUDA cores meaning it can handle detailed texture generation, complex calculation and much more in the blink of an eye.
Sure, it’s absolutely massive and its price tag is prohibitively expensive, so it’s certainly not for everyone. But if you don’t mind breaking the bank to get the best performance possible, it’s an extremely powerful option that will chew through anything you throw at it.
This high-end MSI card with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3070 is one of the very best graphics cards available right now. It comes at a price, but it’s a more affordable one than many professional alternatives and it can handle equally demanding workloads. For creatives in need of outstanding performance but at a slightly more accessible price or gamers looking for smooth visuals at 4K resolutions, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 is the ideal choice.
If gaming isn’t your thing, Nvidia’s professional-grade cards may be a better choice for running creative software than the GeForce range. In that regard, the 24GB RTX A5000 is an excellent performer, making it a great option for demanding users who are willing to shell out for serious performance.
The RTX A5000 offers a lot more rendering power than previous-generation cards, driving CUDA and OpenCL applications to new levels and leaving other graphics cards looking weak in comparison. If you don’t care for gaming and just want something that will be laser-focused on creative tasks, the RTX A5000 could be exactly what you need.
AMD is going after Nvidia’s crown as the high-end performance champion, and the ongoing battle between the two companies means that both are now releasing powerful graphics cards at increasingly competitive prices.
The AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX is more than capable of powering gameplay and creative workflows. What’s more, it even includes ray-tracing, a relatively new capability for AMD graphics cards. It’s also based on a multi-chiplet design that gives a notable performance boost compared to previous AMD cards, which could point the way for future efforts from the company. That all makes it a superb card and one of the best graphics cards from AMD on the market.
You might think the RTX 4080 would provide a small bump over the previous-generation RTX 3080 Ti, but you’d be wrong — instead, it absolutely obliterates it. You’ll get almost twice the output in games thanks to some DLSS Frame Generation magic, which is a pretty incredible improvement.
But how does it fare in creative applications? Well, you’ll be pleased to hear it really excels there too. With ray tracing support, 16GB of memory and close to 10,000 CUDA cores, it’s a strong performer in video output, 3D rendering, and much more. We’re not quite talking RTX 4090 levels of performance, but this is no shrinking violet either. If you can stomach the price tag, the RTX 4080 is an excellent graphics card option.
If you’re after a workstation-class graphics card at a relatively low price, you couldn’t do much better than the Nvidia RTX A4000. This graphics card boasts excellent performance in design applications and comes in a svelte single-slot design that helps it fit into small cases. It also requires less power than the bulkier GeForce cards.
OpenCL and CUDA applications in particular absolutely fly on the Ampere architecture, so the RTX A4000 will make a massive difference when working with creative software, plug-ins and filters, resulting in an excellent performance when rendering images, 3D and video.
The RTX 3090 might be a last-generation card now, but it still remains a powerful choice for creatives and gamers alike. Better yet, because it’s been superseded by RTX 40-series cards, you might be able to find a decent discount if you look around.
Considering it was once the most powerful graphics card you could buy, the RTX 3090 is still a fantastic performer in heavy workloads. With a huge frame buffer and plentiful memory bandwidth, this thing is able to keep working whatever you ask of it, without the need to slow down and catch its breath. It’s ideal for creators who need top-notch performance but are put off by the asking price of the latest graphics cards.
The best graphics cards: What to consider
Graphics cards serve two major roles in computers. By using their impressive hardware power, GPUs maximise 3D visuals and determine the right resolution and frame rate to give you the best on-screen action.
If you’re a digital creative who works with elements like graphic design, 3D modelling or illustration, having the best graphics card will help your workflow by running your applications smoothly and significantly boosting rendering times.
It’s important to note that individual graphics cards have generic reference models sold by the original manufacturer such as Nvidia or AMD. Each manufacturer like MSI, Asus, Gigabyte and so on sell their own versions of each card, which will all look slightly different.
The best graphics cards: How to pick the right one for you
When you’re looking for a new graphics card there are some important points to consider. For higher resolution needed for elements like creating or gaming, you’re going to need a higher memory. If you want 4K resolution, you’re looking at needing a graphics card with higher memory – 16GB or more is not unusual on the higher tier cards.
The faster the performance of your graphics card, the better effects and more detail you can expect from high-end gaming. 60 FPS is the considered the minimum for smooth gameplay, anything higher will look even better in action (although it will also require a progressively beefier graphics card as you increase the refresh rate).
The rendering power of a card is determined by the cores. This varies drastically across the various performance and price tiers, from the entry-level £100 card to the more high-end £1,000+ beasts. The clock speed of the graphics card is quoted as a base figure. Similar to the Turbo Boost mode on Intel CPUs, when a graphics card is under heavy load it will run at a higher clock speed for better performance until it hits its maximum to avoid overheating.
Don’t forget to consider your display and the output of a graphics card. All modern graphics cards use either HDMI or DisplayPort. For 4K or 5K displays, all graphics cards now support at least the DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 standards that offer the bandwidth needed for 60Hz refresh rates.
Finally, the single biggest factor in determining the performance of graphics cards is the hardware generation of the series. Nvidia and AMD usually produce a new series of graphics card every two years or so. When a new generation is released, it steps things up with more cores, memory, bandwidth and features. For the best performance and to future-proof your graphics, you’ll usually want to look for the latest cards.
The best graphics cards: Jargon buster
Reviews of the best graphics cards tend to be full of jargon that explains the kind of performance you can expect. The specifications most often mentioned are memory (capacity, bandwidth and speed), the number of cores (basically the guts of the hardware), and the card’s clock speed (in MHz).
These specifications vary between GPU generations and across the various tiers, and the cores in Nvidia and AMD cards aren’t the same. Nvidia uses the term CUDA cores while AMD refers to GCN cores. This means that AMD and Nvidia cards cannot be exactly compared in that respect.
Quadro vs GeForce and Radeon vs Radeon Pro
Nvidia and AMD are the biggest names in consumer graphics cards and they each make two types of cards that are broadly intended for gaming or creative projects. Nvidia has GeForce, its gaming brand, while its professional cards (formerly branded as Quadro) are better suited to a range of creative undertakings. AMD on the other hand has Radeon for gaming and Radeon Pro for creatives.
The more expensive Quadros and Radeon Pros largely contain the same underlying design, architecture and specs, but with some crucial differences. Quadro and Radeon cards have certified drivers. That means they’ve been tested for compatibility with specific software, offering better performance with design software in certain circumstances, and are (in theory) less likely to run into problems.
Quadros and Radeon Pros also have ECC memory for increased precision and sometimes they run at lower clock speeds, meaning they have lower power requirements and thermal demands. If your livelihood depends on your creative output and you need something reliable, you may want to consider a Radeon Pro or professional Nvidia card.
Another key difference is how the two classes of graphics cards are manufactured. With gaming cards, Nvidia and AMD produce and sell reference designs, but many other manufacturers, including Asus, MSI, Zotac, EVGA and Sapphire, sell variations on the reference specification with different cooling systems and faster clock speeds. For Quadro cards, though, Nvidia works with a single manufacturer – PNY – to produce all its hardware.