The big question – to RTX or not?

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Updated: November 2018

The GPU market is in a pretty interesting place right now. After what felt like eternity, Nvidia finally launched its highly anticipated RTX GPUs based on the new Turing architecture in September to much fanfare, and a bit of controversy. I say controversy because the cards were a lot more expensive than what we expected based on previous launches, and adding insult to injury was the fact that the GPUs shipped without their headline features being playable in any games. This made their exorbitant prices the subject of much discussion, all of it civil, naturally.

As for the GPUs themselves, in addition to an all-new design they pack quite a punch, but whether or not their new features will be awesome in games – namely real-time ray tracing and Deep Learning Super Sampling – is still a question that doesn’t have an answer. We will all have to wait for games to ship, or games that are shipped to be patched before we can experience it.

The GPUs’ high prices, limited availability (for the RTX 2080 Ti at least) have caused a lot of gamers who were waiting to upgrade to simply skip this generation of cards and consider a GPU from the previous generation, known as Pascal. This is keeping prices of those cards unreasonably high given their age. Still, the Pascal generation cards run today’s games just fine, so if you’re not too hot on waiting around for future tech to arrive, a Pascal card is still a safe bet.

On the other side of the coin there’s AMD. There are zero indications that the company will launch anything to compete with Turing, so if you’re in the mood for high framerate gaming on the red team, your best best is to go with a Vega GPU, assuming you can even find one for a normal price since the miners are still hoarding them.

For the near future we can expect Turing prices to remain high, but luckily Pascal cards are still being sold, and Nvidia has said they’ll be available through the holiday period too. However, that might not apply to the flagship GTX 1080 Ti. Also, you can always buy a GPU on eBay (which was probably used for mining) as well, if you’re brave enough. If you go the used route, just make sure you can transfer the warranty. With all that said, here’s our picks for the best GPUs you can buy right now.

The Very Best Graphics Card

The Asus ROG Strix GeForce RTX 2080Ti OC is neck-and-neck with the Zotac RTX 2080 Ti we reviewed in terms of performance. But the Asus is a better looking card and its overclocking goes a step further than the Zotac, putting it at the top of our ratings. Seriously, this is an amazing card. If you want to run the latest games at blazing framerates in full 4K on Ultra, look no further.

Another Great High-End Graphics Card

When it comes to high-performance, the Zotac RTX 2080 Ti is one of the best as long as you have room in your case for a 12″ GPU. It’s not the flashiest card, but it has gobs of power, pushing out close to 70fps on Ultra settings at 4K on The Witcher 3 and shredding the 100fps mark on most games at 1440. While it delivers graphically, it manages to run cool and quiet, so the awesome graphics can hold your attention instead of fans working overtime. Check out of Zotac RTX 2080 Ti review for more details on this powerful (and pricey) card.

Best High-End GTX 1080 Ti

We’ve tested most of the GTX 1080 Ti cards from the big names, and our favorite is the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti SC2 with ICX due to its stellar performance and reasonable MSRP. The SC2 has been improved from the previous model by adding a new technology called ICX, which is the addition of nine extra sensors to measure temperatures all over the GPU instead of just on the die. This allows the dual fans to perform the task of keeping the card frosty more efficiently, and in our testing the card was always quiet and never rose above 72C. It also has pretty slick RGB lighting too.

The mining craze has put a strain on supply for these GPUs, but if you’re vigilant you can still pick one up for MSRP.

Best Overall Graphics Card

The all new RTX cards have put downward pressure on the already-falling prices of the GTX 1080, and for the first time in a long time you can even find the 1080 on sale at different retailers from different manufacturers. Even though it’s fallen from the top perch of the GPU world the GTX 1080 is still one heck of a GPU, and is capable of 4k gaming, VR, and pretty much anything else you can throw at it. It’s the perfect balance of price and performance at this point.

The GTX 1080 is available from a variety of manufacturers. Below are some of the best current options:

Best Graphics Card Bang for the Buck

This is another category that is uncontested, and is occupied by the beastly GeForce GTX 1070. It wins in this category because it’s only 20 percent slower than the GTX 1080 and costs 50 percent less, making it a much better deal overall than the GTX 1080. Despite its second-billing status, it’s still powerful enough to run AAA titles at 60fps at 2560×1440, so what more do you really need? If your monitor is 1920×1080 it’ll hit over 100 frames per second in most games too, making it the perfect GPU to pair with one of those sweet 144Hz panels.

Though we reviewed the Founder’s Edition, a.k.a. reference version of this card, we are applying the same purchasing logic we used with the GTX 1080 in that there’s no reason to buy Nvidia’s version, as the models from Nvidia’s partners are less expensive, better-looking, run cooler in most cases, and are just a better overall deal.

As always there are several variants of this GPU and they largely perform similarly. The differences between them come down to clock speeds, styling, cooling apparatus, and warranty terms. Below are a few of the best current options:

Best 1080p Graphics Card

This is a contentious category, and a controversial choice, since there are four well-matched competitors all within roughly the same price. For AMD there’s the 4GB and 8GB versions of its spectacular Polaris GPU, the RX 480, and Nvidia offers both 3GB and 6GB versions of its GTX 1060 as well. Since we haven’t tested the 3GB and 4GB versions of these competing cards, our decision is solely based on the 8GB Radeon RX 480 and 6GB GTX 1060, and of those two the GTX 1060 is the better of the two based on our testing. It’s the perfect GPU to run every game at maximum settings at 1080p and hit at least 60fps, if not more. Though it’s a smidge more expensive than the RX 480 in most cases, for particular models the two cards are priced either exactly the same or within $10 of each other, making the generally more powerful GTX 1060 a clear winner. It also has better software too in our opinion, but to be fair to AMD we have not sampled its revamped suite.

The GTX 1060 is available in a variety of models:

Best Budget Graphics Card

This is a mildly tricky recommendation, just because we have have only reviewed the previous version, the RX 470. The RX 570 is the updated version of that earlier GPU though, based on a re-spin of the Polaris die, and generally speaking it offers about a five percent performance boost, so it is still a great card for 1080p gaming. Though this card can be tough to find at its MSRP due to the mining craze. Still, we’re going to recommend it since it competes with the 3GB GTX 1060 from Nvidia, and the RX 570’s extra gigabyte of memory allows the card to run at higher detail levels without running out of memory. If and when the pricing on this card comes back down from the stratosphere, it’s the one to get if you’re on a budget.

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