Best Video Cards for Gaming: Holiday 2018

In our series of Best Video Card guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended graphics cards for gaming PCs. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (Oct 30th).

Best Video Cards for Gaming: Holiday 2018

For gaming PCs that push the pretty pixels on the screens, the video card is the most important component. And given the sheer amount of custom options, choosing the right graphics card for your budget can be very difficult. In our Video Cards for Gaming guides, we give you our recommendations in terms of GPU models and current prices representative of an affordable non-blower custom card. Our guide targets common gaming resolutions at system-build price points similar to our CPU guides.

Given the increased video card prices that have come to characterize much of 2017 and 2018, this holiday season we are seeing much more reasonable prices. The situation also pushes the newly launched RTX series further to the top of the price list.

Click the category links to jump to the appropriate section. For an MSRP table, click here

The majority of our recommendations aim to hit the performance/price curve just right, while considering power consumption and graphics/monitor ecosystems.

The Fate of the $300 Value Enthusiast Video Card

Without a doubt, the last several video card buyer’s guides have been dominated by cryptomining inflated prices and its impact on demand and supply. It was with those price inflations that the the upper performance/price sweet spot around $300 had disappeared, a space that was once occupied by the stalwart Radeon R9 390 and popular GeForce GTX 970. Since then, prices peaked in January before its gradual descent to relative normalcy.

Of course, in terms of diminishing returns for your earned dollars, that ‘Sweet Spot’ represented a particular inflection point. Traditionally, this was the ‘value’ option of the enthusiast lineup, often offering last generation flagship performance at much more affordable prices. The models also acted as the higher volume product butressing the premium and halo cards above it. This was the emerging theme with NVIDIA’s release of the GeForce RTX 2070 at $600 Founders Edition pricing and $500 nominal MSRP, those days seem well behind us.

October 2018 Estimated Video Card Prices
Model Q4’18 Price Q3’18 Price Q2’18 Price
NVIDIA Titan V* $2999 $2999 $2999
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti $1250
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 $830
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 $530
NVIDIA Titan Xp* $1299 $1299 $1299
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti $730 $750 $1000
AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 $520 $590 $860
AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 $450 $480 $690
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 $450 $510 $660
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Ti $420 $480 $580
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 $390 $410 $560
AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB $240 $280 $370
AMD Radeon RX 580 4GB $250 $270 $350
AMD Radeon RX 570 8GB $190 $260 $350
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
(1280 cores)
$270 $300 $340
AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB $170 $240 $320
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
(1152 cores)
$220 $230 $270
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti $180 $180 $220

*Only sold directly from NVIDIA

There are several reasons for this situation, with the main one being NVIDIA’s bet on hardware-accelerated raytracing and AI operations in their consumer graphics hardware via Turing. The corollary is AMD’s current situation where they still have no performance competitor to the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti of last generation, let alone the current one. Additionally, ‘Navi’, AMD’s comparable generation to Turing isn’t due until sometime in 2019 at the earliest.

Under normal circumstances, the $300 “Sweet Spot” is of greatest value for gamers looking to min-max their PC builds, where the bulk of the budget goes into the highest performing graphics card priced right before diminishing returns. Pre-cryptomining frenzy, it tended to be a good price/performance match for a variable refresh monitor or higher-end VR headset, especially as VR headset and FreeSync/G-Sync monitors are becoming more affordable. The variable refresh technologies themselves are capable of providing smoother gaming experiences, in particular enabling mid-range cards to punch above their traditional weight. The kicker is that only AMD cards support FreeSync and only NVIDIA cards support G-Sync.

So if you want a variable refresh monitor, your choice of video card locks your options. NVIDIA charges a premium for G-Sync, which is reflected in higher monitor prices. But because AMD does not have a strict certification program outside of FreeSync 2, there are some questionable FreeSync monitors, and annoyingly, some without support for Low Framerate Compensation (LFC). If you are looking to purchase a FreeSync monitor, LFC is almost mandatory as it maintains the variable refresh experience when the refresh rate dips below the monitor’s minimum, which for many monitors is still 40Hz+.

The question becomes much more difficult, with HDR now being pushed as the premium gaming experience, but furthermore with NVIDIA’s promised raytracing graphical effects and AI-based graphics accelerating features such as Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS). Unfortunately, games have yet to release utilizing these Turing ‘RTX platform’ features.

Returning to you, the consumer, this means that min-maxing for a VR build or new monitor has become that much harder. Particularly if your game tastes veer towards either DX11 or DX12/Vulkan games; as a rough rule of thumb, GeForce cards tend to perform better on DX11 games while Radeon cards tend to perform better (or at least punch above their weight) on DX12/Vulkan. We will keep these complications in mind when we list our recommendations.

The $2000+ 4K Gaming PC: A Mixed Field

Now with the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20 series cards in play – and specifically the RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 2080 – the 4K gaming PC has finally gotten cards faster than the prominent Pascal flagship of the GTX 1080 Ti. That flagship performance has proven remarkably resilient over the course of its reign, but with the RTX pricing structure and modest generational gains in traditional performance, the GTX 1080 Ti is still compelling.

Ultimately, the GTX 1080 Ti still powers playable-to-high framerates at 4K with high settings. At launch, the reference GTX 1080 Ti was able to push around 40 to 50fps at 4K on maximum settings for the most demanding games, with custom cards offering even higher performance. At 1440p, this often translates to high fps suitable for high refresh rate monitors (96Hz and above), and so a good match for high-end G-Sync monitors. In the case that 4K or multi-monitor gaming starts to push past 8GB VRAM somehow, the GTX 1080 Ti’s 11GB GDDR5X frame-buffer has you covered.

The caveat is that the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti looks to be on its way out with depleted stocks. If you’re looking at the here and now, or are not interested in being an early adopter of the RTX platform (of which game support is yet to fully launch), the GTX 1080 Ti, where available and close to original pricing, is a major spoiler to the likes of the RTX 2080 and even RTX 2080 Ti, which sits at the princely price point of $1250 for, reference-to-reference, is only 32% faster than the GTX 1080 Ti. In qualitative terms, the uplift is similar to the Titan V over the GTX 1080 Ti, so the difference isn’t something we haven’t seen before.

In any case, in light of NVIDIA’s succeeding GeForce RTX 20-series cards and their conventional performance (i.e. no raytracing or AI operations), the GTX 1080 Ti is a major spoiler and so would not be expected to stick around for an extended period of time. Naturally, the replacements would be…

Runners Up: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti ($1250) and GeForce RTX 2080 ($830)

That being said, if you’re looking for the fastest gaming card around, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is it. If price is no object – and it will be more than $500 more than the GTX 1080 Ti for this privilege – this is the GPU that will offer the best gaming performance of this generation.

When it comes to 4K with all the settings cranked up, this can matter, and so the RTX 2080 Ti takes the single GPU crown for no-compromises 4K gaming. Particularly if adding HDR or future raytracing, AI, or other RTX platform features into the mix. Meanwhile, if GTX 1080 Ti tier traditional performance is the minimum, the RTX 2080 offers an alternative if there are no GTX 1080 Ti’s in stock and if you are willing to pay the premium.

Either way, the RTX 2080 Ti is the king of the hill for games, though it’s fairer to consider it a component of something like a $3000 build. And the RTX 2080 still edges out the GTX 1080 Ti; we observed around an 8% advantage at launch. Of course, how that pans out with raytracing and DLSS remains to be seen.

The $1600 1440p Gaming PC:
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 ($480)

Dropping down from the fastest flagships brings us to familiar ground. At around the $500+ price point, the GeForce GTX 1080 is still a strong card despite being over two years old, and given that time on the market, quite a number of custom cards are available, with a slight refresh in the form of 11Gbps GDDR5X models. With the reference RTX 2070, NVIDIA has shown its next-gen hand with a pricier card that outperforms the reference GTX 1080 by only 10%. The GTX 1080, though, remains in stock and can be found at many prices and configurations.

Of course, performance-wise, the reference GTX 1080 is capable of pushing around 60fps or more on 1440p on high or maximum settings for the most demanding games. In turn, performance will be sufficient for high refresh rate gaming on 1080p and less demanding 1440p titles. By adjusting graphics settings, the GTX 1080 is also able to handle 4K, particularly with a G-Sync monitor, as it may not be optimal for single-card 4K on the latest AAA titles.

As for the RTX successor series, the special advantages come in the RTX platform acceleration performance with real-time raytracing and AI effects. As the lowest performing part of the announced RTX stack, that performance advantage is less than with the flagship RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 2080 parts, though real-world implications remain a mystery. Adding to the matter is that the RTX 2070 does not support SLI.

Runner Up: AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 ($520)

As for AMD, the GTX 1080 competitor – and by extension, RTX 2070 competition – the Radeon RX Vega 64 is priced around $520, a $20 premium over the $500 launch price, though the models are now all custom add-in board designs. At launch around a year ago, the reference RX Vega 64 traded blows with the reference GTX 1080 Founders Edition, at the expense of much higher power consumption, and in turn noise. Otherwise, the reference RX Vega 64 would work fine to match a FreeSync monitor for high quality 1440p and dialed-down 4K gaming.

While the GTX 1080 would be theoretically superseded by the RX 2070, AMD’s current Vega offerings do not face such an issue. In that case, current Vega cards will remain in production, ideally resolving any inventory issues. That being said, the range of models is still quite limited compared to the GTX and even the RTX series, but for Freesync users the RX Radeon Vega 64 remains the highest performing Radeon card around.

The $1300 1440p Gaming PC:
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 ($370)

Like its older brother, the GeForce GTX 1070 has been around for some time, offering GTX 980 Ti+ performance at much lower power consumption levels. In terms of performance, the reference GTX 1070 is up to the task of 1440p60 for most games, though being in the realm of 20% behind the GTX 1080, the most demanding games will need settings adjustments. Similarly, 1080p performance should be suitable for high refresh rate monitors on many, though not all, games. And with 8GB of GDDR5, the GTX 1070 is generally set for increased VRAM requirements.

With NVIDIA’s RTX 2070 cards playing in the $500+ area, the GTX 1070 has remained the closest to a ‘sweet spot’ card, especially as the GTX 1070 does not overlap with the RTX cards in terms of performance.

Runner Up: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Ti ($420)

A half step up from the GTX 1070 is the GTX 1070 Ti; reference-to-reference, the GeForce GTX 1070 Ti is around 13% ahead of the GTX 1070 and 8% behind the GTX 1080, with custom cards pushing the envelope further. Generally meant to be a proportional option between the GTX 1080 and 1070, the GTX 1070 Ti cards have standardized clocks, negating some of the out-of-the-box advantage for custom cards. However, as the newest model of the desktop GeForce 10 series, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Ti appears to be one that is restocked more often at the moment.

With the GTX 1070 Ti edging closer to the GTX 1070 in price currently, the comparative price/performance is better than both the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080. As it turned out, the combination of previous cryptocurrency demand and current RTX positioning have lent the GTX 1070 Ti a good competitive spot while Turing slowly phases in.

In terms of AMD’s counterpart with the Radeon RX Vega 56, despite the release of custom cards the price is around $30 above the GTX 1070 Ti at $450.

The $1000 1080p+ Gaming PC:
AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB ($240)

The cryptomining demand originally hit hardest on this tier of video cards, in particular the Radeon RX 580, and the RX 480 before it. Today, prices have relaxed to the point where the RX 580 8GB is around the $240 mark, which is just $10 above its MSRP. While the AMD Radeon RX 580 lagged behind the GTX 1060 6GB (1280 cores) by around 7% at 1080p and 1440p at launch, since then, RX 580 performance is more-or-less on par or better in most scenarios, though certain games will give the 1280 core GTX 1060 6GB the edge. The RX 580 does have higher power consumption, and along with the RX 480 has been the poster child of the excesses of cryptomining demand, but being $30 cheaper cements its lead over the 1280 core GTX 1060 6GB.

While 8GB is indeed more future-proof friendly, stepping down to the RX 580 4GB may also be an option, given the right deal. It was not long ago that 4GB of framebuffer was considered excessive, and history continues to remind us that ‘more than enough VRAM’ has always turned into ‘not enough VRAM,’ but this should also be judged on what types of games you would realistically play, especially if your ever-lengthening game backlog is split between AAA-level intensive games or less-demanding indie titles.

Runner Up: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB (1280 core) ($270)

In practical terms though, the 1280 core GTX 1060 6GB offers very similar performance to the RX 580: around 60fps on maxed out 1080p settings, which may include more anti-aliasing. This also translates into decent 1440p performance, though well shy of 60fps in more demanding games. While this would suit a wide range of G-Sync monitors, the high prices of these mid-range cards makes a G-Sync monitor purchase a difficult proposition.

The $700 1080p Gaming PC:
AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB ($170)

After all the cryptocurrency mania of the past couple years, MSRP is finally returning to some of the hardest-hit models. Among them is the AMD Radeon RX 570, which is presently found at its $170 MSRP. At that price point, it’s priced comparably to the lesser performing GTX 1050 Ti, and so already brings great value compared to the GTX 1060 3GB (1152 cores).

At launch, we found that the RX 570 performs about 7% over the RX 470 thanks to core and memory clockspeed increases, translating into strong 1080p and playable 1440p performance.

Runner Up: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB (1152 cores) ($220)

With the GTX 1060 3GB (1152 cores), There is the caveat that ‘unlimited video memory’ graphics settings could cause unpredictable performance in certain games (as seen in Tom’s Hardware’s RX 570 review), where VRAM requirements would outpace the 3GB frame-buffer.

Buy GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1060 Windforce OC 3G on Newegg

What’s Next for Video Cards in 2018?

In what’s turning out to be a poorly-kept secret, a number of reports, benchmark database listings, and other bits of information have pointed to an AMD move with regards to a third refresh of Polaris 10 – this would be succeeding the original RX 480 and RX 580 refresh. From what we know and can extrapolate, this wouldn’t significantly change things, but might shift positioning with respect to its direct GTX 1060 6GB (1280 cores) competition. While Polaris may be getting long in the tooth, the more price-sensitive $200 to $300 region would always welcome a new product, especially given current video card pricing.

Moving on to NVIDIA, their new RTX 20 series has so far been announced with three products firmly in the enthusiast range, at least by price. At some point, we should expect a successor of some kind to their mainstream GTX 1060 models and below – GTX 1060 with GDDR5X notwithstanding. It is always possible that NVIDIA might proactively counter a new Polaris model; after all, they saw fit to counter the Vega 64 and Vega 56 with the GTX 1070 Ti rather late in the Pascal lifecycle. Either way, renewed attention to the mainstream segment should result in a plus for consumers.

2018 Video Card MSRP Table

As a reminder, all the previously mentioned video cards in this guide have the following MSRPs:

2018 MSRP/SEP Comparison
(aka Where Things Should Be)
  $999 GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
  $699 GeForce RTX 2080
GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
Radeon RX Vega 64 $499 GeForce RTX 2070
GeForce GTX 1080
  $449 GeForce GTX 1070 Ti
Radeon RX Vega 56 $399  
  $379 GeForce GTX 1070
  $249 GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
(1280 cores)
Radeon RX 580 8GB $229  
Radeon RX 580 4GB $199 GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
(1152 cores)
Radeon RX 570 $169  
  $139 GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB
  $109 GeForce GTX 1050 2GB
Radeon RX 560 $99  

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