Today’s graphics cards will allow you to play games at their maximum settings and perform resource-intensive tasks like storing high-resolution photo and video editing with as little lag as possible. Upgrading this component can cut the time it takes to get tasks done by a significant margin, which is especially important if you’re working on tight deadlines.
The price of graphics cards jumped significantly during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased demand from people building computers as part of their work from home setup, and crypto miners looking to increase their profits. Thankfully, this price hike has ended, and you can get graphics cards at their original prices. If you were holding out until the market cooled down to upgrade your current PC, or have decided to build a new one, now’s the time to check out the best graphics cards.
— Best Overall: EVGA GeForce RTX 3090 Ti
— Best Budget: Sapphire Pulse AMD Radeon RX 6600
— Best External: Sonnet eGPU Breakaway Puck
— Best for VR: MSI Gaming Radeon RX 5700
How We Picked the Best Graphics Cards
Our graphics card recommendations are based on in-depth research. Below are the factors we considered most highly when deciding which graphics cards to include in this buyer's guide.
Memory: Every graphics card has a memory chip, which is exclusively for tasks like playing games, rendering photos and videos, and displaying your operating system’s GUI (graphical user interface). Computers without a dedicated graphics card rely on the computer’s main pool of memory, called RAM (random access memory), which limits the amount that can be allocated for other system processes.
Ideally, you’ll get a graphics card with the highest amount of memory possible, as it’ll be able to run games at the highest level of fidelity, and render high-resolution media more quickly. When a graphics card runs out of memory, it needs to start dumping old data off to process new data. If you need to retrieve that old data (replaying and rendering an old video clip, for example), it’ll have to be entirely re-loaded by the graphics card, wasting time.
Clock Speed: The clock speed of the graphics card is also important, as it’ll dictate how quickly the component can process the instructions being sent from your computer to the monitor. If a graphics card’s clock speed is too slow, it won’t be able to process data in real time, which will lead to lag in video games, and higher render and export times for videos and photos.
Size: Graphics cards come in an assortment of sizes, which are designed to fit in different computer cases. Larger cards contain more memory, bigger cooling systems, and more ports. Be sure to check that your computer has enough space for your graphics card before picking one up. Be aware that some graphics cards are so large that they’ll prevent you from installing another component in the PCI-E slot next to it. This can be an issue if you’ve stuffed your computer with different cards.
Ports: A graphics card’s ports are what allow you to connect your computer to a monitor or television. The ones we’re recommending are equipped with HDMI and DisplayPorts, so they can be hooked up to any screen without an adapter.
Best Graphics Cards: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: EVGA GeForce RTX 3090 Ti
Why It Made The Cut: EVGA’s GeForce RTX 3090 Ti is a graphical powerhouse capable of outputting 8K video with HDR.
— Memory: 24 GB
— Clock Speed: 1920 MHz
— Ports: Three DisplayPorts, one HDMI port
— Large amounts of memory
— Dedicated multi-core processor
— Support for technologies like ray tracing and DLSS
— Large size
EVGA’s GeForce RTX 3090 Ti is hands-down the best graphics card available for both gamers and media professionals, and it’s the one you should get If your budget and PC’s case are large enough. The card has a whopping 24 GB of memory, which is enough for you to play high-end 4K PC games or render and edit 4K or 8K video without any lost frames. If you do notice any lag when doing graphically intensive work, the problem isn’t going to be your video card, and you should consider upgrading other components in your system.
If you prefer to work on multiple high-resolution monitors simultaneously, you’ll be happy to learn that the RTX 3090 Ti has three DisplayPort outputs and one HDMI port. All of the ports are capable of outputting 4K video at 120Hz with HDR (high dynamic range) enabled. Very few games and applications support those features, but the number is growing. This graphics card can even output 8K video at up to 60 Hz with HDR enabled. If you’ve been eyeing an 8K TV, and want to future-proof your PC for the next few years, this spec will come in handy.
A big part of what sets the RTX 3090 Ti apart from other graphics cards is its support of features like Ray Tracing and DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling), which make video game graphics look incredibly realistic while being as efficient as possible. The difference you’ll see if you’re upgrading from a card without these features will be stark and immediate.
All of these features are made possible because of the RTX 3090 Ti’s ultra-fast 3rd Generation Tensor Core Processors. Yes, this graphics card has its own multi-core processor to compute graphical tasks without straining your computer’s CPU. The processor can even take advantage of a custom-designed encoder designed to make livestreaming games (or anything else, frankly) as smooth as possible.
There’s no denying the fact that EVGA’s GeForce RTX 3090 Ti is an incredible piece of technology, but all that power comes at a cost. This graphics card takes up three and a half PCI-E slots, which basically means you’ve got to have a big PC case and motherboard to accommodate it. The card needs to be big because a three-fan cooling system is required to keep it cool enough to sustain high levels of performance over long periods of time.
There’s also no getting around the fact that it costs nearly $1,400, which is actually about $700 less than its MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price). This graphics card is a big investment, but one well worth making if you work with images and videos professionally, or like playing the newest games the day they come out.
Best Budget: Sapphire Pulse AMD Radeon RX 6600
Why It Made The Cut: The Sapphire Pulse AMD Radeon RX 6600 is limited to playing games in 1080p, but is still a solid graphics card for budget-conscious gamers and creative professionals.
Slug: High Definition
— Memory: 8 GB
— Clock Speed: 2491 MHz
— Ports: Three DisplayPorts, one HDMI port
— High frame rate gaming
— Port selection
— Recommended for use at 1080p
If your graphics needs are a little more modest, the AMD Radeon RX 6600 is an excellent graphics card that will set you back less than $300.
Let’s get its big limitation out of the way first: This graphics card is not designed to handle gaming or graphics intensive work in 4K. This won’t matter if you plan on using your computer with an HD monitor or TV, but will make a difference if your computer is hooked up to a more high-resolution display. The Radeon RX 6600 is capable of outputting video at 4K, but the experience will be diminished enough that AMD recommends limiting yourself to 1080p for the best experience.
The upside is that it’s still a very good video card, especially if you play games. According to AMD’s site, the Radeon RX 6600 can play titles like “Resident Evil Village,” “Hitman 3,” and “Battlefield 5” at over 100 frames per second. Even “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” runs at 95 frames per second, which is a higher level of fidelity than you’d get on a home console. This is possible because of this graphics card’s ample amount of memory and very high clock speed.
AMD decided to favor video and game fidelity over resolution, which is a pretty safe bet to make for a graphics card in this price range. The card also benefits from AMD’s “FidelityFX Super Resolution” software, which optimizes its performance while playing games. This graphics card may not have all the bells and whistles you’d find on the GeForce RTX 3090 Ti, but it’s roughly one-fifth the price.
This is also a thinner graphics card, which takes up just two slots worth of space inside your computer’s case. Despite the size difference, the AMD Radeon RX 6600 has the same port selection as the RTX 3090Ti, so you can connect your computer to multiple screens at the same time with relative ease. If you’re okay limiting your gaming and video workflows to an HD resolution, the AMD Radeon RX 6600 is well worth its modest price.
Best External: Sonnet eGPU Breakaway Puck
Why It Made The Cut: Sonnet’s eGPU Breakaway Box can help extend the life of your laptop or Mac, so you don’t have to replace your whole machine.
Slug: A Sustainable Graphics Card
— Memory: 4 GB
— Clock Speed: 1607 MHz
— Ports: One HDMI port, one DisplayPort, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, two USB-A ports, one 4-pin DIN socket
— Works with laptops
— Works with all-in-one desktop computers
— Doubles as a USB hub
— Limited Windows support
— No M1 Mac support
Laptop owners looking to upgrade their graphics cards used to be out of luck, but eGPUs like Sonnet’s Breakaway Puck make it possible. Instead of putting a graphics card inside your computer, you connect it to this gadget using the included Thunderbolt 3 cable. Your computer will automatically recognize the graphics card built inside the Breakaway Puck — in this case an AMD Radeon RX 5500 TT — and switch over to it from the graphics chip built inside your machine. The Breakaway Puck has a Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, and DisplayPort output, so you can connect your machine to any monitor.
We love the concept of an external graphics card because it can help prevent you from ditching an entirely functioning machine because one of its components isn’t up to snuff. This is especially true if you opted for a weaker dedicated graphics card at your time of purchase because your work at the time didn’t necessitate a more powerful one. You can actually build your own eGPU (we have an entire how-to guide later in this story), but Sonnet’s eGPU Breakaway Puck appealed to us for three reasons.
The first reason is that it’s pre-assembled, so all you have to do is plug it into your machine. Second, it’s extremely compact, so it’ll fit on any desk. Finally, it has a bunch of additional ports on it, so you may be able to replace your existing USB hub with the Breakaway Box to further reduce its footprint on your desk. As for the graphics card inside this device, it’s a good mid-tier card with enough memory and a high enough clock speed for editing high resolution photos and playing mid-tier games in HD with good results.
The Radeon RX 5500 is the weakest graphics card in our guide, but the fact that it can work with machines that otherwise wouldn’t be able to be upgraded was enough to include it. If you’re interested in prolonging the inevitable replacement of your computer, it’s basically your only option. Sonnet says it designed this peripheral specifically to work with Mac laptops and desktops running on an Intel processor and equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 port — basically any machine released between 2016 and 2020 — but it’s compatible with some PCs as well. This device won’t work with machines that use Apple’s M1 or M2 processors.
If your laptop’s graphics are lagging, and you’d like to perform a computer upgrade instead of a replacement, deeply consider getting Sonnet’s eGPU Breakaway Puck.
Best for VR: MSI Gaming Radeon RX 5700
Why It Made The Cut: MSI’s Gaming Radeon RX 5700 is powerful enough that you’ll be able to play VR games on the latest headsets with no problems.
Slug: Next-Level Gaming
— Memory: 8 GB
— Clock Speed: 1750 MHz
— Ports: Three DisplayPort, one HDMI port
— Powerful enough for VR gaming
— Port selection
— Support for overclocking
If you’re currently building a PC with the intention of playing games in VR, or upgrading your current rig to be VR-ready, you’ll want MSI’s Gaming Radeon RX 5700. We’re basing this recommendation in part on the HTC Vive Pro 2’s recommended system requirements. The Vive Pro 2 is a premium VR headset, and we wanted to make sure we were recommending a graphics card that would be compatible with that hardware. The Radeon RX 5700 is powerful enough that you could smoothly run games on other VR headsets.
The graphics card has 8 GB of video memory and runs at a clock speed of 1465 MHz, but MSI says you can overclock it (change its settings) to make it run up to 1725 MHz. Overclocking your graphics card makes it run hotter, which is why we’d typically recommend you avoid doing it, but MSI designed the Radeon RX 5700 with this feature in mind. It developed its own utility that allows you to change the graphics card’s clock speed from your mobile device, and used capacitors that run at lower temperatures. Overclocking a graphics card is never completely safe, but the RX 5700 should be able to handle the extra load.
MSI says the Radeon RX 5700’s processor offers a large leap in performance and was specifically designed to handle gaming effects like volumetric lighting and blur effects without getting bogged down. You can play games at 4K, but AMD recommends setting your resolution at 1440p (between HD and 4K) for the best results. The Radeon RX 5700’s hardware is complemented by AMD-developed technologies that make gameplay more immersive by automatically sharpening a game’s graphics and making its lighting look more life-like.
If you’re making the leap to VR gaming, and can fit the Radeon RX 5700’s $1,000 price tag into your PC’s budget, you’ll be ready for a taste of the future.
How To Build an eGPU
If your main computer is a laptop, Intel-based Mac, or a small desktop, you may want to consider building your own external graphics card setup. This will give you more flexibility than a pre-built option like the Sonnet eGPU Breakaway Puck, and allow you to upgrade your machine’s graphics card multiple times without having to open its case. This may sound a little scary, but the process is remarkably straightforward.
The first thing you need to do is make sure the computer you’re on has a Thunderbolt 3 port. This is required because it’s the only port capable of transmitting data between your computer, the graphics card, and a monitor without any latency. Thunderbolt 3 ports are found on all Intel-based MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops from 2016 to 2020, and all Intel-based iMac and Mac Mini desktops between 2017 and 2020. Thunderbolt 3 ports are also found on an assortment of Windows PCs — especially gaming machines — but check your system’s tech specs before proceeding.
If your computer has a Thunderbolt 3 port, you’ll only need three components: An eGPU enclosure to house the graphics card, the graphics card itself, and a Thunderbolt 3 cable. The Razer Core X Chroma is our eGPU recommendation because it’s compatible with dozens of graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD (here’s a list), and can work with both Windows machines and Intel-based Macs. It also has four USB-A ports and a Gigabit Ethernet port on it, so you can use it to connect your machine to peripherals and your WiFi router or cable modem directly. If you’re connecting the Core X Chroma to a laptop, it can charge the computer at a rate of up to 100 watts.
The Core X Chroma can handle full-sized graphics cards that are wide enough to take up the space of three PCI-E slots inside a desktop PC’s motherboard. If space is tight inside your PC’s case, creating an eGPU on your own may be the best option. We highly recommend looking at all of the graphics cards that are compatible with both the Core X Chroma and your operating system and comparing them against the card that’s already inside your machine to make sure it’s worth the upgrade.
Once you’ve selected a graphics card, you can install it inside the Razer Core X Chroma by following the instructions that come with the eGPU. The entire process should only take you about 10 minutes, and doesn’t require any specialized tools. Once you install the graphics card, you need to connect the Core X Chroma to your computer’s Thunderbolt 3 port with a Thunderbolt 3 cable, and connect the eGPU to your monitor or TV using an HDMI or DisplayPort cable.
If you’re on a machine running MacOS, the operating system will automatically recognize the graphics card, and you can continue operating your computer normally. If you’re on a Windows machine, you may need to install drivers (specialized pieces of software) found on the graphics card manufacturer’s website. Creating your own external graphics card solution may seem daunting, but it’s no harder than popping over your computer’s case and installing one internally.
Using an external graphics card may be the only way you’ll be able to upgrade your computer’s graphics capabilities, and extending the life of your current computer may even save you money in the long run. Plus, you’ll be able to use the same enclosure with newer graphics cards, which makes it well worth the investment.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Graphics Card
Your Computer’s Age: We’re big advocates of upgrading your gadgets instead of replacing them whenever possible, but it’s important to consider the age of your system when deciding to get a new graphics card. Be sure that other limitations, like your current processor, SSD, or system memory won’t be a bottleneck that reduces the performance of your new graphics card.
If your computer’s motherboard is still relatively new, and you see an upgrade path for other parts in your system, getting a new graphics card is a safe bet. If that’s not the case, it may be wise to keep your current gear, or get a less expensive graphics card now while saving up for an entirely new machine in a year or two.
Energy Consumption: Graphics cards take up an enormous amount of energy — enough that getting a new one can actually make an appreciable difference in your utility bill if your system is on 24/7. Make sure your computer’s power supply is capable of handling the increased electrical load before you get a new graphics card, or you risk shorting out your entire system.
Your Computer’s Cooling System: Most of the graphics cards we’re recommending have fans attached to them in order to keep them from overheating, but high-powered ones will still make the inside of your PC a lot hotter than before. Be sure to monitor your computer’s current CPU (processor) temperature (many free utilities are available for Macs and PCs) to double check that it’s not overheating. The general rule is that you’ll be fine as long as your processor doesn’t hit 167 degrees Fahrenheit.
Q: How much do graphics cards cost?
You can get graphics cards for as little as $150, or spend well over $1,000 depending on your needs. The graphics cards we’re recommending have a range of $279.99 to $6,000.
Q: How do I add more RAM to my graphics card?
No. You cannot upgrade any component on your graphics card.
Q: Do I need more RAM or a better graphics card?
That depends on how much system memory your computer has, and the types of applications you have to run. Our advice is to check out the recommended system requirements for the software you want to run, and base your computer upgrade path based on that. As a general rule, we suggest having at least 32 GB of RAM in your system if you plan on running graphically intensive software.
Q: Is it better to have a faster processor or a better graphics card?
Both components are necessary for your computer to run graphically intensive apps smoothly, and we suggest looking at the system requirements of the apps you want to run.
Q: What's the difference between a graphics card and a video card?
There is no difference between a graphics card and a video card.
Q: Do all graphics cards fit in any motherboard?
No. Graphics cards come in an assortment of sizes, and you should make sure the one you’re interested in will fit into your computer’s case.
Q: Can I upgrade my laptop’s graphics card?
You cannot upgrade the internal graphics card in your laptop, but you may be able to connect it to an eGPU to improve its graphics performance.
Final Thoughts on Graphics Cards
A graphics card is an integral PC component, and is becoming even more important as premium software from companies like Adobe become more reliant on faster graphics to work smoothly. Any creative professional should make sure their computer’s graphics card is up to date, and upgraded every few years to have the best-possible experience. This is true for all of a PC’s components, though.
If you’re a gamer who primarily plays titles on a PC, it’s imperative to get the best-possible graphics card you can afford if you want to play the latest games at high resolutions and frame rates. This is especially true if your gaming genres of choice require pinpoint precision — especially first-person shooters. Your graphics needs will be even higher if you plan on streaming gameplay to a service like Twitch as you’re playing.
Casual computer users will never have to futz with PC parts, but if you’re a tinkerer who has power-hungry needs, always use a graphics card that’s relatively new.
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