How to pick the graphics card that’s right for you
Nvidia has announced a new lineup of powerful gaming GPUs, the GeForce RTX 20-series, that claim to power 4K gaming beyond 60 frames per second and real-time ray tracing for more realistic lighting and reflection effects. You’ll pay a lot for the latest tech, though, with pricing for Nvidia’s Founders Editions reference cards starting at $599 for the RTX 2070. The RTX 2080 is the next step up and will cost $799. The new high-end card, the RTX 2080 Ti, sits at $1,199.
For prospective PC builders or those just in need of a graphics card upgrade, the decision of what and when to buy is a bit tougher now than it usually is: should you pony up for the new cards, or will your needs be covered if you leap at the next deal for the GTX 1080 Ti?
Even if you’ve been doing a bunch of research, Nvidia’s new cards likely threw a wrench in your planning. If you want the best value and performance down the road, we suggest waiting until the new RTX cards release later next month. But if you’re seeking clarity on which GPU to pick right now, considering these factors will help narrow things down.
Graphics cards are usually the most expensive component in a PC build. Thankfully, you don’t need to replace them frequently (or at least you shouldn’t, if you’re shopping smart.)
If you haven’t bought a graphics card yet, you’re in a really good position to save some money, or reap a better value. Thanks to the introduction of Nvidia’s latest graphics cards, the GTX 10-series GPUs are likely to plummet across the board. While ray tracing and fast 4K gaming in the future will be reserved for Nvidia’s best, the now last-gen lineup is still plenty powerful for most modern AAA games.
Taking the time to save up for the graphics card that you want is worth it. It’s something that I wish I’d done a few years ago. I have a GTX 970 in my PC, but that upgrade came after regrettably buying the GTX 960 because of its cheaper price. The cost of both graphics cards together could have gone toward a higher-end card at the time, like the GTX 980 Ti, or even a GTX 1070, but I couldn’t afford to upgrade again with that much money down the drain.
Few applications require the power that today’s high-end graphics cards can readily provide, so it may not be totally necessary for you to invest a lot into a new GPU. Popular games like League of Legends, Fortnite, Dota 2, Cuphead, Overwatch, and many others, can run (albeit with mixed results) on most motherboards’ integrated graphics alone, so even buying a low-end graphics card will vastly improve the experience.
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or AMD’s Radeon RX 560 should be sufficient if you get into casual gaming and don’t want to spend over $150 on a graphics card. Keep in mind, though, that these likely won’t be able to run demanding games above low to medium settings, or do so smoothly at the highest resolutions.
The GTX 1060 and RX 580 are the next step up, and both are capable GPUs below $300 that can run most of today’s games in medium to high graphics settings. If you’re planning to spend this much, you should consider saving a bit more for the sub-$500 GTX 1070 and GTX 1070 Ti, both of which are likely to plummet in price after the $599 RTX 2070 becomes available in late September. These provides sizable leaps in performance over the GTX 1060, and will fare better in the future as new waves of graphically demanding games are released.
If you are looking for the absolute best in detail and high frame rates, be prepared to pay for it. The $699 GTX 1080 Ti used to be among the best you could get, but it’s a little more difficult to recommend at this price for enthusiasts who want the most power, since the RTX 2080 will be offered for a similar price. The RTX 2080 Ti is now the most powerful graphics card offered by Nvidia, and will cost you $1,199 for the Founders Edition.
Nvidia downplayed the performance of the 10-series cards several times during the announcement of the RTX 20-series cards. Taking Nvidia at its word, the new GPUs do seem to outpace them by every metric, though that doesn’t mean that they are the best option for everyone. The GTX 1080 Ti and 1080 can’t compete when it comes to ray tracing, and so long as you’re not aiming to game in 4K with fast frame rates for years to come, these should fit the bill as prices will likely drop soon.
For those hoping to save a bit of money on an RTX 20-series card, manufacturers like Asus, EVGA, ZOTAC, and more, will soon release their own respective versions of Nvidia’s latest cards shortly after the reference cards (Nvidia’s Founders Edition) hits shelves on September 20th. Prices are said to be $100 cheaper per model, though some will cost a bit more, with various improvements made to each card’s design, fan count, and clock speed.
Both the benefits and limitations of enthusiast graphics cards aren’t as noticeable on a 1080p monitor as they are on a 1440p or 4K monitor. My GTX 970 doesn’t have much of a problem running the latest games on a 1080p 60Hz monitor, though a friend with the same graphics card bemoans its performance with his two 1440p 144Hz monitors.
If you think at any point during the lifespan of your GPU that you’ll buy a high-spec monitor with high refresh rates and G-Sync or FreeSync, that should drive the decision you make for a GPU. The GTX 1070 is currently a good fit for 1440p gaming at a relatively high frame rate, but the new RTX 20-series will be a far better fit if a 4K display with G Sync is in your future.
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