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Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best graphics cards

In the world of PC gaming, there’s one computer spec that matters more than all the others: the graphics card.

Your computer’s graphics card, often referred to as a video card, handles everything you see on your screen. It’s responsible for rendering everything from streaming video to video games to your desktop. If you’re a gamer, that means that you need a graphics card that can keep up with the visual demands of your games, especially if you’re into 4K gaming or virtual reality.

The graphics card market is full of models ranging from adequate to incredible, so you’ll have a lot of options as you shop.

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If you have a laptop, consider buying an external video card. These come in their own enclosures and connect via USB. They’re usually a lot more expensive than their internal counterparts, but they’re portable and useful for machines that are otherwise difficult to upgrade.

Key considerations

Before you start comparing video cards, answer these questions. You’ll be able to eliminate a lot of options this way and find the right card more quickly.

How much room do you have in your PC case?

Video cards are fairly bulky, and the more powerful models are larger than the basic ones, so if you want a high-end video card, you’ll need plenty of space inside your computer’s case. Peek inside your PC to get a sense of how much room you have, and if things look cramped, get a tape measure to determine exactly what size card you can accommodate, then make sure the card you buy fits the space.

Expert Tip
Remember that GPUs generate heat, so having enough space in your PC for airflow and enough room around the case so exhaust air has somewhere to go is important.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

What type of games do you play?

High-end graphics cards are made for graphics-intensive games, typically first-person shooters like Overwatch or Counter-Strike, but if you’re more into platformers, puzzles, or retro games, you don’t need as much power. Our general rule of thumb is if you play a lot of games that offer 3D perspectives, you’ll need a better-than-average video card, and you should plan on spending at least $150. If you play 2D games or games that don’t have a lot of motion, you’ll be fine with an entry-level graphics card.

How many monitors do you use at once?

All video cards include multiple outputs, so it’s typically easy to add a second monitor to your gaming setup. However, it takes a lot of GPU effort to support multiple monitors when gaming, so it’s common to find video cards that perform at a faster frame rate or higher resolution when connected to a single monitor (cards like this can support multiple monitors but do so at lower frame rates or resolutions). The bottom line: if you have multiple monitors and you play 2D games, almost any video card will do. If you want to play graphics-intensive games (or even massive multiplayer games like World of Warcraft) at their highest settings on two monitors, you’ll need at least one high-end video card or possibly two (more on multi-card setups in a moment).

Expert Tip
Velcro strips are a great way to manage cables inside your PC case. Pick up a set and tidy up your wiring so your graphics card has plenty of room.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Graphics card features

Video card manufacturers often try and distinguish themselves by adding unique features or funky cosmetics, but when it comes down to it, there are three features that are critical to your purchase decision: GPU, dual-card support, and VR support.

GPU

The heart of every video card is its graphics processing unit (GPU). The GPU is responsible for doing the work of how video is handled, from the resolution to the frame rate and everything in between. There are two major GPU manufacturers – AMD and NVIDIA – and while both companies manufacture their own cards, in most cases they license out their GPUs to other manufacturers.

While you’re shopping, you’ll likely bump into AMD’s Radeon line of GPUs as well as NVIDIA’s GeForce brand, and what matters most is the actual GPU from that brand. For example, the NVIDIA GeForce 1080 Ti is their most popular GPU, and you’ll find GeForce 1080 Ti cards made by a variety of manufacturers. Similarly, you’ll see cards from different manufacturers based on the Radeon brand. In general, the higher the number, the more powerful the GPU. If you’re not sure which to get, search gaming user forums to see what other gamers are using with your favorite games.

Expert Tip
Before you buy a top-tier video card, check the video hardware requirements of the games you play most frequently or the ones coming out that you plan on playing. Having a more powerful video card is great, but you can avoid overspending by only getting what you really use.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Dual-card support

A new video card can be a literal game changer, but there’s definitely something better than just one: using two at the same time. Many video cards are compatible with dual-card setups so long as you use two identical cards. Using two video cards is useful for multi-monitor setups and running games at their highest settings.

VR support

The new frontier in gaming is virtual reality – games that use goggles to place you in a three-dimensional world to explore. To get into virtual reality, you’ll need a VR headset and a compatible video card, so if you’re interested, make sure the graphics card you buy is VR compatible.

Expert Tip
Consider using a displayPort connection for your monitor or monitors. Most graphics cards have HDMI inputs, and others also include DVI and displayPort connectivity. HDMI is the most universal, although many claim that the color from displayPort is superior. If you’re not sure which you prefer, run tests with both.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Graphics card prices

The global market and availability of microchips affect the prices of products dependent on microchips. So, if there's a shortage, expect to pay more.

Inexpensive

Graphics cards for casual gaming cost between $50 and $150. Cards in this price range offer solid support for standard HD games (1080p) and multiple monitors. If you’re running a single-monitor setup and you haven’t yet made the leap to 4K, you don’t need to spend more than this.

Mid-range

If you’re interested in 4K gaming or running multiple graphics cards in parallel, you’ll need to spend between $150 and $250. Video cards in this price range will satisfy the majority of gamers – they’re powerful and reasonably ready for the demands of future games, and they include software that allows you to fine-tune the card’s settings.

Expensive

If you need absolutely the most powerful graphics card available, plan on spending between $250 and $1,500. Video card standards evolve quickly, so the most expensive models on the market usually only stay that way for 12 to 18 months, but if you like gaming on the bleeding edge, it’s the only way to go.

Tips

  • Buy a card that gives you room to grow. While it’s important to make sure the graphics card you buy is powerful enough to support your current games, it’s crucial to keep the future in mind as well because future games will inevitably require more resources. If you have the budget for it, buy a graphics card that’s more powerful than you need so you’ll be able to play new games as they’re released (without having to buy a faster video card).

  • Stick with brands you know. It’s easy to get confused on the video card market, because no-name manufacturers can license well-known GPUs. For example, you might see multiple cards based on NVIDIA’s 1080 Ti chipset, but not all of them will come from reputable manufacturers. Stick with brands like Gigabyte, ASUS, Zotac, MSI, Sapphire, XFX, PNY, or EVGA.

  • Consider buying two graphics cards for an even better experience. Most video cards can be run in pairs, so you can install two and double your graphics processing power. Running two graphics cards lets you run games at higher frame rates and provides better performance at higher resolutions. If you’re building a gaming rig with multiple 4K monitors, you’re going to want a dual-card setup. Just make sure that the cards you buy are identical and that you have room for two cards in your computer case. If you buy cards based on an NVIDIA chipset, look for cards labeled “SLI compatible.” If you buy cards based on an AMD chipset, look for cards that list support for CrossFire.

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Before you buy a new graphics card, buy some plastic zip ties for cable management. By tying your cables together (and keeping them out of the way of the case’s airflow), you can keep your internal components nice and cool – and stable.

FAQ

Q. Is it hard to install a graphics card?

A. No, so long as you follow a few safety precautions. Installing a video card usually just means opening up your PC case, removing the current video card from its slot, and sliding the new one in (usually there’s also a single screw that holds it in place). Before you do, however, it’s important to unplug your computer – touching your computer’s internals while it’s on can result in serious injury. Once you’ve purchased a graphics card, search the web for installation videos so you can see how other gamers went about setting up theirs.

Q. If I buy a graphics card with multiple video outputs, can I use them all at once?

A. Yes. All video cards are built to push video from all of their ports, so you can connect multiple displays. Just keep in mind that with each additional monitor you connect, you’re asking your graphics card to do more work, so it will generate more heat. In some cases, connecting multiple monitors is possible, but the video card will need to run at reduced settings when connected to more than one display.

Q. Some graphics cards are built with one fan and others are built with two. Which is better?

A. It depends on your computer case and how everything is laid out. Ideally, your video card’s fans should push air in the direction of your computer’s exhaust fans to keep the card from running hot and malfunctioning. In some cases, a graphics card with a single fan will be better for airflow, while in others, a two-fan card can be more effective. In general, the number of fans on your video card isn’t as important as picking one that can push heat in the right direction.

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