A gaming graphics card is one of the most important components of a gaming computer. It is responsible for the graphics performance of your machine. It is imperative to note that only the best gaming graphics cards will yield the required fluidity and resolution for all your gaming needs and other heavy PC tasks.
What is a graphics card? Do you need a graphics card to play PC games?
Also called the GPU, a graphics card is an internal element of the PC that boosts the graphics performance of a computer. It is dedicated to gaming, 3D or VR and other heavy tasks that require heavy graphical output.
But do you really need a graphics card to play PC games? The truth of the matter is that it all depends on the kind of title you are playing.
Your average titles may play on a computer with the normal inbuilt integrated graphics, say Intel HD Graphics. However, big AAA titles rely so much on graphics and thus require a boost; that’s what external GPUs do.
Do basic office tasks require graphics cards?
Let it be clear: for office-only use (surfing the web, word processing), there is no need for dedicated graphics hardware. Many processors incorporate a sufficient graphics chipset. But if you like to have a good time in front of your computer and enjoy the best possible graphics, you need to buy the best graphics cards, nothing short of that!
We went out to look for the best graphics cards for gaming in the market. Here is our shortlist of the top 10 best gaming graphics cards. This is after a series of rigorous testing. We also factored in the aspect of cost vs. value.
The MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Gaming X graphics card is an entry-level graphics card customized by MSI. The GeForce GTX 1050 is one of the least potent graphics cards in the NVIDIA GTX Series. The fact that it is overclocked at the factory and that it incorporates an improved printed circuit board allows it to become more competitive. It is nevertheless quite inefficient but is sufficient to play in 1080p all the modern games. It stands out especially not extremely low energy consumption, which is a good point since you do not need to buy a very powerful power supply, and therefore often quite expensive.
Sapphire Radeon RX 580
With its series of graphics cards, RX 500 AMD hoped to compete with NVIDIA. The Radeon RX 580 is an entry-level graphics card that is quite similar to the RX480 that precedes it. The main difference is a boosted frequency for the RX580. The card offers exciting performance for its price range, but its performance is offset by utterly absurd energy consumption. This is a shame because the card definitely had a tremendous potential that is severely tainted by consumer concerns that place it at the level of the most powerful cards on the market, for a seriously lower level of performance.
Asus ROG STRIX-GTX1060
When the GTX 1060 was launched, NVIDIA immediately gave its partners the opportunity to offer customized cards. It is in this context that the Asus ROG STRIX-GTX1060 graphics card has been marketed. This is a midrange card that is a response to the AMD RX 580. It offers higher performance than the AMD card and much lower power consumption. This is a perfect card for those who want an excellent compromise between price and gross performance.
MSI Radeon RX 580 Gaming X 8G
This graphics card is a mid-range model based on the AMD RX 580. It is equipped with 8GB of memory in an attempt to combat the NVIDIA GTX 1060 range, which has 6GB of memory. This is a powerful card that will allow you to play comfortably in 1080p and 1440p but it suffers from the same defect as many custom RX580. It is indeed an extremely energy consuming card. This version proposed by MSI consumes much too much energy for its level of performance. The cooling system works very well, and the card does not reach extreme temperatures, but it is done to the detriment of noise.
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 G1
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 G1 Gaming card is a mid-range card that is very effective and will satisfy a vast majority of players. Indeed Gigabyte brings here new improvements to the base GTX 1060 which makes the card even more attractive and one of the best gaming graphics cards in the market for average PC gamers. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 G1 Gaming graphics card is also designed for those who want to indulge in the overclocking of their graphics card, and it greatly benefits from this possibility.
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1070 G1
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1070 G1 Gaming is a mid-range card that is almost falling in the high-end category. The GTX 1070 base card is interposed between the GTX 1060 and the GTX 1080. By making significant improvements, especially from overclocking Gigabyte brings the performance of its GTX 1070 to that of the base GTX 1080. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1070 G1 Gaming is, therefore, an excellent choice for those who want a powerful card, without having to buy a GTX 1080.
MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X
This is a high-end card that belongs to the new GAMING X range from MSI. This new range brings significant improvements over previous generation MSI cards. The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X 8G graphics card has a significant amount of memory (8GB) and a boosted frequency. It is very competitive, and it offers incredible performances in 1080p in 1440p and even in 4K, and that’s why it features in our review of the best gaming graphics cards in the market.
A Comprehensive Gaming graphics cards Buying Guide. What are the Factors to Consider?
What’s the best graphics card between NVIDIA and AMD?
The graphics cards industry is dominated by two major brands: AMD on one side and NVIDIA on the other. Subsequently, the different GPUs of these two brands are found in dozens of “custom” graphics cards produced by the big names in the sector. We think in particular of brands such as Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, EVGA, Zotac or Sapphire among others.
Keep in mind that these different versions are all based on the original versions of the GPU in question and that performance differences are usually negligible. In fact, the manufacturers offer more or less improved versions of the AMD and NVIDIA GPUs. They add more efficient and silent cooling systems and step up the frequencies. Others design the cards with extras like backplates, RGB lighting, and so on.
Nvidia vs. AMD?
But back to the dilemma of many players: AMD or NVIDIA?
At present, NVIDIA is a step ahead of its direct competitor. It offers cards with better performance at often more affordable rates. In short, you get value for money which is something every avid gamer wants.
This balance of power is even more visible on the high-end, where the different GTX 1070, 1080 and 1080 Ti mostly dominate their competitors RX Vega 56 and 64. In the entry-level category, the difference is less felt, and some models from AMD can be notably more powerful. A good example is the RX 570 which is far much better than GTX 1050 Ti.
Another critical point that can tip the balance in favor of NVIDIA or AMD is the Adaptive Sync. As we explained in our gaming monitor’s buyer’s guide, most contemporary monitors are equipped with technology to adapt to the refresh rate required for a particular FPS game. Adaptive-Sync is a considerable asset if you want to enjoy a stable fluidity during your games.
Nvidia G-Sync vs. AMD FreeSync
The problem, both brands have similar technology but on different approaches so choosing the best is still a hassle. On one side, we have G-Sync that is only compatible with NVIDIA cards, and on the other FreeSync, only compatible with AMD cards. If you have a FreeSync screen (often more affordable), moving towards an AMD card will make sense. The same goes for NVIDIA graphics cards, which we will necessarily recommend if you have a G-Sync compatible monitor.
How much do graphics cards cost??
The choice of the right graphics card depends on your budget and your needs. These two factors are linked: a powerful graphics card offers more possibilities than an economic model, at the cost of a heavier bill. To help you choose, four profiles are drawn:
(i) Entry-level graphics cards – Often retailing at under $50, entry-level graphics cards are suitable for office uses, even multimedia (decoding and reading of movies in high definition, etc.). It is in this category that most passive cooling cards (fanless or fanless) are found. They are silent and very efficient from an energy point of view. Also, to equip a PC dedicated to home theater architecture around a compact housing (mini-itx), it is advisable to choose a low profile type card (less wide than traditional cards).
No miracle when it comes to video games. The older titles will run smoothly, but recent games will require sacrifices on the definition and display of filters or image enhancement technologies (such as NVIDIA’s PhysX).
(ii) Mid-range graphics cards – In this price range, high definition is already in the game. Retailing from $200, mid-range graphics cards open the HD and multi-screen gaming channels with further enhancements on filters, frames per second, and some rendering technologies. However, it is not advisable to exceed a screen size of 27 inches in Full HD to keep a steady rendering. Mid-range graphics cards are an excellent choice for the casual player willing to invest a reasonable amount every three years to have the latest technology (hardware and software).
(iii) High-end graphics cards – These cards range from $200 to $300 and above, and much of the difference is determined by the console. You get to play in Full HD, 1920x1080p, and higher if your monitor has the capacity, with a high level of detail and filters set on medium to very high depending on the games. Demanding players will find in this price range swift cards displaying images full of details. These models are recommended for fans who are not looking for maximum performance but enjoy having good resolutions and a picture full of details on good sized screens.
(iv) Hardcore gaming graphics cards – These video cards exploit the full potential of the heaviest games. They target hardcore players who do not compromise on fluidity and visual quality. First-person shooter games (also known as FPS), resource-intensive, a display for the best cards around 200 frames per second. These technological jewels offer the best resolutions and rise, for some cards, up to 4K (4096×2106 pixels). The most potent models even have two processors.
Budget Tip: A low profile card still brings a boost of graphics power while keeping very quiet operation noise.
The Anatomy of a Graphics Card
A graphics card is built around two main components: the GPU and memory. The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is specialized in calculating 2D or 3D graphics. On the other hand, the memory exchanges temporary data with the GPU before storing and sending the final images to the monitor. Radeon graphics card AMD and NVIDIA create technologies and develop a reference range, while other brands customize these video cards before marketing them.
Before going into detail, it is necessary to understand how the video card market works. Do not confuse the manufacturer of the GPU (AMD or NVIDIA) with the assembler of the card graphics (Gigabyte, Asus, MSI, Sapphire, etc.).
The Graphics processor
Like any processor, a GPU is characterized by a frequency and finesse of etching and a range of graphics chips.
The frequency, expressed in MHz or GHz, indicates the rate at which the GPU performs its calculations. But this is not a sufficient index to know the performance of a graphics card. Other elements come into play, such as the number of computing units dedicated to vector or scalar operations. The comparison of two maps by frequency is only relevant if they have precisely the same architecture. Rely on the many benchmarks available on websites and journals.
The range, as we explained in the introduction of this chapter, is not as extensive as the number of card models suggested. The embedded chips on NVIDIA and AMD are the GTX and Radeon RX respectively. Regarding the figures that follow, for example, a GTX 1080 or RX 580, remember that the higher the Series, the more it will drain your wallet. Be careful; some cards were stamped with the number of the new generation while they are architectured on the old!
What’s the best graphics cards memory and frequency?
Just before we continue, note that memory differs in quantity, type, and frequency.
The amount of GPU memory today varies from 1 to 24 or 32 GB for the high-end models. A minimum of 8 GB is used for the most powerful cards to store the heaviest textures, add effects (smoothing, filtering …) and support the multi-screen display in 3D or VR gears.
Now, let’s go to the type of memory and its frequency. You note in the characteristics the terms GDDR3, GDDR5, HBM … These are the various memories that are available for graphics gaming cards. GDDR3 is the lowest and the slowest and is reserved for entry-level cards. The GDDR5, is more powerful, is more and popular on the middle and high-end cards while its latest, the GDDR5X, is in the high-end models. The memory HBM (High Bandwidth Memory), which is in its 2nd version, is found on the high-end AMD cards.
One rule applies when buying gaming graphics cards, get speed over quantity. As for the frequency, the higher it is, the faster the data exchange with the GPU.
The GPU and the memory communicate through a memory bus whose width is expressed in bits: 128, 256, 384, 448 or 512 bits. The larger the bus, the more memory and GPU exchange data in the same clock cycle. This bandwidth has a significant impact on performance.
Graphics cards cooling systems
As soon as you switch to a multi-screen configuration, launch 3D games or plug in your virtual reality headset, the graphics card is heavily used and often leads to heating. Fortunately, the best gaming graphics cards will help you tone down the heat. Heat dissipation is then initiated by the fan to cool down the graphics card. The air the fan blows also ensures that the components are not covered by dust, something that dips the performance of the graphics card, the same way dust does to PCs.
Take advantage of free software that helps you manage the temperature of your graphics card components. If the graphics card tends to overheat, it is necessary that you change the ventilation or install a much more efficient cooling system. The most demanding tasks or memory cards that overheat too much will require water cooling. Note that there are also fanless graphics cards (without fan).
Graphics cards connectivity; DVI vs VGA vs HDMI vs DisplayPort
A graphics card combines several connectors for connecting to one or more monitors, or even a flat-screen TV. Four types of connectors exist today.
(i) DVI (Digital Visual Interface) – The video signal is digitally transmitted without distortion and loss. This results in a sharpness superior to that of the VGA. DVI is divided into two categories:
DVI-D (D for Digital): purely digital. The maximum definition depends on the number of pins: with 18 pins, it is a Single Link connector, and the definition does not exceed 1920×1200 pixels at a frequency of 60 Hz; With 24 pins, it is a Dual Link connector that doubles the bandwidth. The definition can then reach 2560×1600 pixels at 60 Hz.
(ii) VGA (Video Graphics Array) – Equipped with 15 pins, it carries an analog video signal, which can be degraded by interference in the most disturbed environments (medical or industrial). In theory, the VGA does not impose a maximum definition. In practice, it is limited to 2048×1536 pixels.
This “historical” connector is becoming obsolete to the point that its disappearance is scheduled in a few years. The VGA still has one advantage: it is compatible with CRT monitors aged 10 and older. But a DVI-I plug is also the case, through an adapter.
(iii) HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) – It is an exclusively digital connector, able to convey video and sound simultaneously. It is intended more for multimedia monitors equipped with speakers or flat screens of the show, primarily as it supports the color space YCbCr, an alternative to the RGB in force in the computer. Its maximum definition depends on the version used:
HDMI 1.3: the definition caps at 2560×1600 pixels at 75 Hz; HDMI 1.4 / 1.4a: adds the compatibility “4 K”, in other words, the ultra-high definition (UHD, 4096×2160 pixels at 24 Hz). To save space, the HDMI connector on the graphics card sometimes takes the form of a mini-HDMI connector.
HDMI 2.0: pushes the UHD to 60 Hz, offers 32 audio channels and better rates without the need to change cables. The latest version, 2.1 pushes UHD to 120 Hz and offers 8K at 60 Hz.
(iv) The DisplayPort (or DP) – The Display Port is the most recent digital interface and promises to be the successor to DVI. Its performances are indeed superior on several points, although it is not obvious in a general public context. For example, it can route a signal consisting of 16 bits per color (48 bits in total), which is ideal for professional use (CAD, CAD, etc.).
Ideal for builders, unlike HDMI, DP has become ubiquitous on mid and high-end graphics cards. It is also generalizing on monitors, except on entry-level models.
In its latest version 1.4, it supports 8K definition at a frequency of 60 Hz (or 4K 120 Hz), is HDR compatible and supports USB type-C. And it still supports G-Sync and FreeSync image fluency technologies as well as multi-channel audio.
AMD graphics cards take advantage of DP 1.4’s capabilities to offer simultaneous display on six displays (Eyefinity technology). At NVIDIA, the DP is required for 2D display on four screens (2xDVI, HDMI, and DP) or 3D on three screens (2xDVI and DP), 3D surround vision.
Power and size considerations
The more powerful a card is, the more energy it needs, so you need to keep this in mind and make sure your gaming computer’s power supply is powerful enough to run your graphics card. Robust power supplies can sometimes be quite expensive. It must also be remembered that the more powerful a card is, the more it consumes electricity and your bill at the end of the month may be high.
The best gaming graphics card cards can be incredibly big. Some can take up to 3 slots in your CPU. It is therefore essential to take this into account when buying your graphics card and your central unit. If you have a small box, then a less powerful card is required.
Always make sure your central unit will fit your new beast by checking the dimensions of your graphics card against the specifications of the case. This is especially if you want to mount a configuration in SLI or Crossfire.
graphics cards are essential in gaming as well as other heavy PC operations. However, you need to make sure that you are buying the best gaming graphics cards lest you end up wasting your hard earned cash. But we hope that this review has helped you understand the essential aspects you need to know of when buying gaming graphics card.
That said, it’s time for us to take a leave so until next time, take care and have a great shopping time. Don’t forget to tell us what you have bought below!