The Best Graphics Cards for Gaming 2021

If the CPU is the brain of your PC then the GPU is the lungs. You don’t need a beast to run everything, but if you want to play the newest games with the highest settings, you will need the best graphics cards installed.

Since crypto mining GPUs have separated into their branch, the issue of selecting the strongest GPU for gaming isn’t an issue. You just take the Nvidia card that is currently the most expensive. But this will, in the vast majority of cases, be complete overkill.

Depending on the type of games you play, stepping up might not be needed. In some cases, you can make do with a mid-range gaming GPU from the current generation. Only for the newest titles played in 4K would need such hardware.

If you are a fan of older games or those that are less demanding when it comes to graphics, lagging behind a generation or two might be the optimal choice for you.

Out With the Old, in With the Old

There is no discussion that the new GPUs from both Nvidia and ATI Radeon are the best in the field. There are only two primary developers and whatever they make in the newest generation will be the best at the time.

But, progress when it comes to GPUs hasn’t been as noticeable as is the case with some other components.

Namely, even older cards like the Radeon R9 and RX series are still viable for 90% of games. Not to mention the behemoth that is the Nvidia 1080 Ti which, even after 4 years, is in the top 10 recommended gaming cards on any list.

Without further ado, let’s jump into exploring the best gaming gpus.

ProductManufacturerRAMOur Rating
Asus ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2080TINvidia / ASUS11 GB GDDR64.9
XFX RX 5700 Xt Thicc IIIRadeon / AMD8 GB GDDR64.9
Asus GeForce RTX 2070 SuperNvidia / ASUS8 GB GDDR64.8
MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1660 SuperNvidia / MSI6 GB GDDR64.7
ASUS ROG Strix AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT OCNvidia / ASUS6 GB GDDR64.7
ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1080 Ti MiniNvidia / ZOTAC11 GB GDDR5X4.6

Asus ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2080TI

Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: Nvidia / ASUS
  • Clock Speed: 1350 MHz (per core)
  • Boost Speed: 1665 MHz
  • Memory Speed: 14000 MHz
  • RAM: 11 GB GDDR6
  • PCI Slot: PCI Express 3.0
  • External Connectors: 2xHDMI 2.0b, 2xDysplay Port 1.4, USB-C
  • Cooling: Active Air Cooling (3 fans)
  • Profile: Full Size
  • Power Consumption: 650W

For 2021, this is the top of the pile and one of the strongest GPUs that would be available for most people. Arguably, the only one stronger would be buying the same card from Nvidia directly, if you can find it.

This graphics is a beast when it comes to performance, power consumption, and even the size. You will need quite a large gaming case to fit it inside so if you currently have a cheaper gaming PC, you may need to fully upgrade everything. Also, the fans are not discreet and will fill a chunk of your case.

For a gamer for whom money is not an issue, this is a clear choice. It will even play 4K games at over 120 fps, and will probably be a viable gaming card in the next five years.

But, it is expensive. The premium you will pay compared to the RTX 2070 is considerable, but you will get roughly 30% higher performance. Besides, in our opinion, the Asus ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2080TI is the best video card for 2k gaming.

Pros:

  • Extreme specifications
  • High RAM and good connectivity
  • Excellent for 4K gaming

Cons:

  • Very high power consumption
  • Won’t fit a compact tower
  • Not good value

Our Rating: 4.9/5.0

XFX RX 5700 Xt Thicc III

Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: Radeon / AMD
  • Clock Speed: 1810 MHz (per core)
  • Boost Speed: 2025 MHz
  • Memory Speed: 14000 MHz
  • RAM: 8 GB GDDR6
  • PCI Slot: PCI Express 4.0
  • External Connectors: 1xHDMI 2.0b, 3xDysplay Port 1.4
  • Cooling: Active Air Cooling (3 fans)
  • Profile: Full Size
  • Power Consumption: 400W

There is no option but to compare this GPU with the 2080 Ti. And, while it isn’t really there, it is very close. If you are playing in 2K, this gaming graphics card will probably be the best choice as it is deemed as the best graphics card for 2k gaming by many.

The base clock speed of this card is simply amazing. For shooters and especially when it comes to MMOFPS games, it will pull stunning visuals very quickly.

The only visible downside compared to some other models is the amount of RAM. While it will be more than enough for any game today, the longevity of this card is not as great as some others.

Pros:

  • Outstanding for 2K Gaming
  • Excellent for 4K and even 8K gaming
  • A good amount of RAM
  • Excellent Clock Speed

Cons:

  • High Power Consumption
  • Only one HDMI slot

Our Rating: 4.9/5.0

Asus GeForce RTX 2070 Super

Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: Nvidia / ASUS
  • Clock Speed: 1605 MHz (per core)
  • Boost Speed: 1800 MHz
  • Memory Speed: 14000 MHz
  • RAM: 8 GB GDDR6
  • PCI Slot: PCI Express 3.0
  • External Connectors: 2xHDMI 2.0b, 2xDysplay Port 1.4, USB-C
  • Cooling: Open Fansink (2 fans)
  • Profile: Full Size
  • Power Consumption: 350W

While the base model is significantly weaker than its stronger cousin the 2080 Ti, the Asus OC edition uses a bit more power to compensate for that fact.

In all truth, if you are playing in 2K you won’t notice the difference. Combine that with the noticeable difference in price and you have an excellent value high-end graphics card.

In terms of viability, this card won’t pass into ‘mid-range’ for at least three years. And, it can be used as a competitive gaming card even in top-level competitions.

And, as for performance, there is currently no game getting even close to testing its limits in 2K, with only poorly optimized games in 4K starting to become an issue.

Pros:

  • Excellent for 2K Gaming
  • Good Cooling
  • A lot of RAM
  • RGB Lights

Cons:

  • High Power Consumption
  • Won’t fit a compact tower

Our Rating: 4.8/5.0

MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1660 Super

Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: Nvidia / MSI
  • Clock Speed: 1408 MHz (per core)
  • Boost Speed: 1830 MHz
  • Memory Speed: 14000 MHz
  • RAM: 6 GB GDDR6
  • PCI Slot: PCI Express 3.0
  • External Connectors: 1xHDMI 2.0b, 3xDysplay Port 1.4
  • Cooling: Active Air Cooling (2 fans)
  • Profile: Medium Size
  • Power Consumption: 125W

Although some might consider this GPU a mid-ranger, this is only if we select just from the top-range components. Despite its smaller size and significantly lower power requirements, this is still an excellent gaming graphics card.

Even if you play competitively in 2K resolution, you will gain over 120 fps on the highest settings. And, if you downsize to 1080p this will easily skyrocket to 240 fps. This even includes looter-shooters like Destiny 2.

And, when it comes to the newest RPG and strategy titles, you will be able to enjoy the best possible graphics with fluid framerates and colors.

Finally, because of the lower profile and power consumption, this GPU enters the budget of a professional working PC, but with the performance of a gaming rig.

Pros:

  • Good for 2K Gaming
  • Excellent Cooling
  • Low power consumption
  • Multi-screen compatible

Cons:

  • Average RAM amount
  • Fans are slightly noisy

Our Rating: 4.7/5.0

 ASUS ROG Strix AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT OC

Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: Nvidia / ASUS
  • Clock Speed: 1670 MHz (per core)
  • Boost Speed: 1670 MHz
  • Memory Speed: 12000 MHz
  • RAM: 6 GB GDDR6
  • PCI Slot: PCI Express 4.0
  • External Connectors: 1xHDMI 2.0b, 3xDysplay Port 1.4
  • Cooling: Active Air Cooling (3 fans)
  • Profile: Full Size
  • Power Consumption: 250W

The ATI Radeon mid-specs GPU for this generation is maybe nothing new compared to the top models from the last one. But, never before has everything been packed too tightly in a gaming selection.

There are some new technologies introduced and the rest is taking advantage of the additional space you would want to make. This is why the cooling surface of this GPU is so wide. That is why the base clock speed can be so high.

When it comes to gaming, top results can only be expected for 1080p. Newer games will easily pull 60 fps at 2K, but that won’t be fast enough for most keyboard and mouse gamers.

But, the use of new technologies like GDDR6 and PCI 4 makes is ideal for someone jumping platforms but not yet ready to commit a lot of money for a top-range GPU.

Pros:

  • Excellent for Full HD Gaming
  • Excellent Cooling
  • Has e-PCI 4.0
  • Good connectivity

Cons:

  • Average amount of RAM
  • Fans can become noisy

Our Rating: 4.7/5.0

ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Mini

Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: Nvidia / ZOTAC
  • Clock Speed: 1506 MHz (per core)
  • Boost Speed: 1620 MHz
  • Memory Speed: 11000 MHz
  • RAM: 11 GB GDDR5X
  • PCI Slot: PCI Express 3.0
  • External Connectors: 1xHDMI 2.0b, 3xDysplay Port 1.4, 1xDVI-D DL
  • Cooling: Active Air Cooling (3 fans)
  • Profile: Low/ Compact
  • Power Consumption: 250W

The reason why you should consider buying a 2016 GPU in 2021 is that it is just that good. What exactly happened for the 1080 Ti to become such a wonderful card is unknown. But now you can take it as not only a very high-performance card but also a discreet one.

This edition from ZOTAC is ~2 inches shorter than the 1660 and full 4 inches shorter than the 2080 Ti. For making a low-profile tower and something that will fit anywhere, this would be the optimal choice.

The technology might be last-gen, making the longevity of the card shorter. But, this is an extraordinarily good last generation GPU and one that has proven time and time again to be a favorite for competitive gamers.

When it comes to Full HD you can even play in a multi-monitor setup. Or you can have excellent experience in 2K, even when playing competitively without the risk of overheating, which will make the need for using the best thermal paste unnecessary.

Pros:

  • Excellent for Full HD & 2K Gaming
  • Compact
  • A lot of RAM
  • Low temperatures

Cons:

  • Slightly higher power consumption
  • Older version of RAM and PCI

Our Rating: 4.6/5.0

Quick Buyer’s Guide for Finding the Best Graphics Card

When it comes to PC gaming specification it is easy to get drowned in numbers. There are thousands of bits and bytes and flops and watts and not an explanation of what any of them mean.

One of the reasons for that is that manufacturers keeping the capabilities of their cards purposefully vague. Nothing nicer for the marketing department than to slap a huge ‘gaming ready’ sticker on the box and call it a day.

But, every GPU is ‘gaming ready’, and that includes APU processors and business cards. It all depends on the game.

When it comes to specs, more is always more. But, it is not always a linear progression. And when it comes to games, doubling something like the clock speed or RAM won’t make the GPU twice as good.

In real-world tests, a newer card can be only 10-15% stronger than the last-gen model. This is because game developers don’t make games with top cards in mind, especially when at some point they want to port them to consoles.

Finally, not all games are played in 244fps at 4K in ultra-settings. Roughly 85% of active PC gamers still play in 1080p on 120Hz monitors. Not to mention that strategy games and RPGs usually don’t show much over 120 frames.

It’s All About the System

It is okay for your graphics card to be the best component on your PC. If you use your computer primarily for gaming, this will often be the case. But, if it surpasses the rest of the system by a lot, there will be a bottleneck in other places, choking down the power of the GPU.

Also, you must always make sure that you have enough power to supply the needs of the card. Without a good power supply, your PC will just crash and turn off every time you try to play.

Keeping a good balance in your system is the best way to let all the components show their full potential.

Experienced gamers always use the ‘step-up’ system where you always exchange the weakest component you have for something better and sell your old one. This way you will never spend more than you should and always have a new system.

Nvidia vs. Radeon

While there are other manufacturers of graphics processing units, when it comes to consumer cards there are only two. Similar to how CPUs are divided between Intel and AMD, GPUs are divided between Nvidia and ATI.

At some point there was a theory that some cards work better with specific CPUs and vice versa, tests have proven that not to be true. You can use any graphics card on any system, regardless of who manufactured the components. 

AMD even acquired ATI Technologies in 2006, but that doesn’t influence how components work. And, even though there is little competition in terms of manufacturers, these companies don’t make similar products.

For about a decade, Nvidia has been making superior yet more expensive models than ATI. At the pinnacle of gaming rigs, there was always an Nvidia GPU. But, when we fall into more moderate gaming needs, ATI Radeon usually gives more bang for the buck.

This division still stands. The current Nvidia flagship, the RTX 2080 Ti is roughly 34% faster than Radeon’s best GPU which is the RX 5700. But, this comes at about three times the price.

On top of that, multiple sub-manufacturers combine the GPUs with other components. And there are some differences between the same card depending it if was made by MSI, ASUS, Gigabyte, or AS-Rock.

Gaming is not the Most Demanding Task

Gaming PCs are neither the strongest when it comes to performance nor the most expensive. This is because game developers want to make a game that can be played by as many people as possible.

This is especially true when it comes to games that become popular esports titles. Things like Overwatch, LoL, DotA, or Counter-Strike are made to be less demanding on the machine so that a lot of people can play them.

Generally, those games are developed in a way to max out frame rates and speed on as weak a GPU as possible and only give better visuals to those with stronger cards. You might get a better experience playing on a stronger card, but not necessarily a competitive edge.

Do you Need Versatility?

Most gaming graphics cards can easily pull double duty as productivity cards.

Some tasks are more demanding when it comes to visuals than gaming. For instance, if you plan on editing videos in 4K you will need to buy a top-shelf GPU and cut down your time. This also applies to streaming any type of content.

But, if you work with text or images and don’t need a lot of rendering, the best graphics cards for gaming will be more than enough to serve you for work.

What to Look for in the Best Graphics Card for Gaming?

Picking out the best graphics cards when it comes to gaming is the same as picking out a GPU in general. There are some features that you need to look for and others that are either based on the primary capabilities or simple marketing tricks.

There are seven points that you need to cover before making your selection:

  1. Clock Speed
  2. Memory Speed
  3. Video RAM
  4. Internal Connection
  5. External Connections
  6. Power Consumption
  7. Cooling

Regretfully, excelling in only one field isn’t enough for gaming cards. Even an acceptable GPU will need to cover all of these areas just enough to play the game. And, for something to be listed as one of the best graphics cards for gaming it needs to be excellent in all of them.

Clock Speed

Clock speed refers to how fast is the P in GPU. The transistors inside the processing unit need to render every piece of visual data and present it on your monitor. The faster they can do that, the better the result will be.

For a gaming GPU, you will want a number over 3.5GHz at least, with over 4.0GHz being recommendable. But, the number on the box shouldn’t always be trusted. Single-core performance is very important for gaming and that is the real number you need.

Additionally, some GPUs can be overclocked. But, unless you know what you are doing when it comes to cooling and power supply, you should avoid this.

Especially if you have an expensive GPU, overclocking gives very little for gaming compared to the possible risks to your system.

Memory Speed

Tightly connected with both the amount of VRAM and the type of internal connection you have, memory speed is a hard cap on how fast your GPU can perform.

The fact that your card can process a lot of data becomes useless if it can’t present it to both the system and the monitor. This is why external cards were so tricky to make and few can surpass the PCI slot on the motherboard.

Thankfully, this cap is way above what anyone would need for gaming. For modern games, even on the top settings at 4K, you will rarely pull over 250GB/s of data even at 240 fps. Even for the ‘old’ 1080 Ti, this is easy because it pulls 484GB/s in total.

V-RAM

This is pretty straightforward, mainly because the numbers are relatively small and more is always better. The more random access memory you have dedicated to your video resources, the smoother the game will be.

For a gaming card, you will generally want to have at least 4 GB of RAM, with 8 GB being needed to play on advanced settings easily.

Also, unlike most of the features inside a GPU, the amount of VRAM doesn’t fall in returns as much as you go up. A game won’t run twice as good on a 12 GB card as it does on a 6 GB, but you will see a significant increase.

Internal Connections

This refers to the tag on the PCI slot on the card. The current standard with cards is e-PCI 4.0 with 3.0 still being more than viable for high-end gaming when talking competitively.

As the slot will, in most cases, be the same as it was on motherboards 20 years ago, it is important to see if your motherboard can use all of the advantages your new GPU will bring to the table.

In some cases, you will want to invest in a new MB, but in others picking out a GPU with lower specs will be a better option for the time being.

External Connections

On modern graphics cards for gaming, what you must have in the back are HDMI and Display Port slots. Beyond that, it would be nice for the GPU to have a DVI-D port, as well as a few extra spots for all of them.

But, a more important question is what your monitor will take in and what does it need. A vast majority of gaming monitors will use an HDMI port, with DP only relegated to 2K and 4K models.

Thankfully, even if you have an older monitor and don’t plan on changing it you can always get an adapter. The image on an HDMI-to-DVI port won’t be the same as on the Display Port, but it will be the best your monitor can show.

Power Consumption

Most newcomers to PC components will wonder why the mid-range GPU of this generation is not as strong as the less expensive flagship of the last generation. And the real answer is power consumption.

The more electricity the GPU can use the stronger it will be. But, this comes at a greater expenditure for the system as well as your utility bill. It is not uncommon for GPUs to need over 400W alone to function at peak performance.

If you have a smaller tower and would prefer a discreet graphics card, than going with newer will always be a better choice.

Cooling

Cooling is an issue both at a system level and for the GPU itself. And, unless you are willing to invest quite a bit into liquid cooling you will be stuck with air fans.

Generally, this is not a bad deal as the GPU doesn’t get as hot as the CPU. Also, every card will be locked never to exceed recommended levels when it arrives. But, if you are overclocking, this might become an issue with most sub-manufacturers.

Conclusion

The GPU is one of the core components of any gaming system. And, having the best graphics cards that are dedicated for gaming is necessary if you want to have a good experience.

But, picking out the best card is not as simple as selecting the one from the top of the pile. There are several aspects to consider and a prudent buyer will try to balance their GPU with the rest of their system.

Depending on the games you play and the level you play them on, it is quite possible that you won’t need an overly expensive card. It is also true that if you want to have the best of the best you should expect to pay a premium.

Lastly, we also have a guide on the best low profile graphic cards which you can take advantage of too.

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