The Best Graphics Cards 2016: TechSpot’s top picks for every budget

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Best OfGraphicsThe Best Graphics CardsBySteven Waltonon September 19, 2016TechSpotFacebookTwitterGoogle PlusRSSComments

When it comes to GPUs we like to go fully in-depth. We test dozens of graphics cards year in and year out, and we keep evaluating them months after release as new games and drivers come about. Our last update to this article came in January and a lot has changed since then. You could even argue we’ve seen the biggest change of the last 2 – 3 years in PC graphics with the arrival of AMD and Nvidia’s latest generation 14nm and 16nm GPUs.

Nvidia kicked things off by delivering one of the most powerful, most efficient GPUs we’ve ever seen. The GTX 1080 is a monster, but it also commands a $600+ MSRP. Then they went on to release the $380 GTX 1070, though good luck finding one for that price. But even at $400 – $450 the GTX 1070 is an exceptional buy given it beats the previous generation $650 part, and then some.

Eventually gamers were rewarded with more affordable GPUs on both ends, with AMD aiming for the mainstream $150 to $250 segment until their true next-generation GPU arrives sometime next year (see AMD Vega).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, for gamers with more money than they know what to do with, Nvidia also launched a new $1,200 Titan X based on Pascal. It will provide a ~25% boost over the already amazing GTX 1080 for twice the price, but if you have a burning a hole in your wallet, why not. For the rest of us, we’re going to assume this isn’t a problem, so we’ll pretend the Titan X doesn’t exist for this article.

So, are looking to upgrade or buy a new GPU? Don’t mind all that testing, marginal fps gains depending on the game you play, power consumption figures, or overclocking potential. You want a simple question answered. Given a certain budget, which is the graphics card you should buy? Fret no more.

Best Overall Graphics Card

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080In numbersPrice:$650 TechSpot Metascore:91User Reviews:8.6

If you ignore the Titan X — which you certainly should given the marginal gains vs. price to be paid — then the GeForce GTX 1080 is the most powerful GPU on the market and that makes it an easy choice as the best overall graphics card.

When we reviewed the GTX 1080 in May, we awarded it with our first ever 100 product score and 4 months later we stand by it. In short, the GTX 1080 delivers 60% more performance than the previous generation GTX 980, while consuming the same amount of power. It’s also 22% faster than the previous king of the hill, the Maxwell Titan X.

There are plenty of exceptional GTX 1080 boards to choose from. Gigabyte is offering their WindForce version for $630, while Zotac are pushing their AMP! Edition out the door for the same price. Those willing to spend $700 will find extreme versions from the usual suspects and we really like the Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming, Asus ROG Strix, and MSI Gaming X models.

The GTX 1080 is one of the few single GPU solutions capable to tackling 4K gaming. This also makes the GTX 1080 the best multi-GPU solution for gaming at 4K if there’s no concern for keeping a budget in check, though honestly we’d recommend you go for one first and wait to see if you need the second.

Best Performance For Your Money

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070In numbersPrice:$400 TechSpot Metascore:91User Reviews:9.2

Those looking for some serious rendering power but don’t want to part with an organ will find the GeForce GTX 1070 more attractive. This is the perfect option for those gaming at 1440p. With Maxwell Titan X-like performance who can complain with the current $400 asking price?

Alternatively, for the same price you could CrossFire a pair of RX 470 graphics cards but at best they will only match the GTX 1070 and at worse they will be over 50% slower. Not only that, but they will also consume considerably more power, generate more heat, and likely create more noise. In other words, go for the GeForce.

Graphics cards such as the Gigabyte GTX 1070 WindForce run very cool and quiet even when under full load gaming. With no competition in this price range the GeForce GTX 1070 is the obvious option and a great one at that.

Best Mainstream GPU

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 3GBIn numbersPrice:$200 TechSpot Metascore:82User Reviews:9.6

There are two excellent graphics card options at the mainstream $200-250 price range, so it was a touch choice. The 3GB version of the GeForce GTX 1060 is plenty fast and at just $200 provides one of the best, if not the best price per frame ratio of any GPU available today.

Competition should come from the Radeon RX 480 4GB which also features a $200 MSRP, however the cards are selling at a $30 to $50 premium as of writing — same with the 8GB models which start at $270. Under this circumstances, it leaves the Radeon RX 470 to fight AMD’s $200 battle and there are some excellent boards of offer from Gigabyte and Asus at this price point.

Head to head the GTX 1060 3GB is ~10% faster on average with few titles like Hitman, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Doom running Vulkan favoring the purportedly $180 Radeon. The RX 470 also consumes more power and doesn’t respond quite as well to overclocking when compared to the GeForce.

There is the argument that the 3GB GTX 1060 will run out of steam down the track due to its limited memory buffer, but we don’t feel that will become an issue, especially at the resolutions where frame rates will make sense for these cards and in the worst of scenarios, if you are willing to tone down things like textures slightly.

Once the RX 480 4GB drops to $200, we’ll see an even match between AMD and Nvidia camps at this price point, and you won’t go wrong in picking either side.

Best Budget

AMD Radeon RX 460In numbersPrice:$125 TechSpot Metascore:76User Reviews:9.6

The Radeon RX 460 is similar to the competing GTX 950 in terms of performance while costing slightly less. That is assuming you opt for the 2GB model which you most certainly should. The 4GB cards start at around $140 and at that price represent poor value as they offer no real performance gain. The RX 460 simply isn’t powerful enough to warrant a 4GB memory buffer.

As a side note, Nvidia is set to release their GTX 1050 next month and while it isn’t expected to be as affordable as the RX 460, it will no doubt increase pressure on AMD.

Best HTPC/Compact Card

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1070 Mini ITX OC 8GBIn numbersPrice:$398User Reviews:9.4

AMD’s Radeon R9 Nano previously occupied this position and rightfully so. However, a lot has changed since January and in good conscious we can no longer recommend the plucky little Nano which is virtually discontinued at this point anyway.

The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1070 Mini ITX OC is today’s most suitable option as it costs just $400, provides considerably more performance, draws less power, and can be overclocked. The GTX 1070 Mini ITX OC is a bit longer than the Nano at 169mm, but it’s still extremely compact and will have no trouble fitting into any Mini ITX build that support a dual-slot card.

The GTX 1070 was also our choice on the best performance/value category, so this is a double win for Nvidia’s GPU thanks to Gigabyte’s creative redesign.

Best Mobile GPU(s)Nvidia GeForce GTX 10 Series

Even the most passionate red team supporters will have a tough time arguing this pick. Nvidia shocked the mobile gaming community with the announcement that their desktop GeForce 10-series of GPUs would be coming to gaming laptops in their full form.

We recently checked out the insane Asus ROG GX800 and confirmed that the GTX 1080 performs exactly the same in a laptop as it does on the desktop. This means mobile gaming performance like we have never seen it before and that is sure to help boost high-end laptop sales.

Already we are seeing GTX 1060 equipped laptops selling for as little as $1400, GTX 1070 laptops for $2000, and insane GTX 1080 powered models for around $3000.

Some Closing Thoughts

This has been a very one-sided affair and for now it seems Nvidia has the high-end market segment all stitched up as AMD is not yet ready to make their move.

We’ve been waiting for the right time to deliver this update to our Best Graphics Cards feature, you’ve likely read our reviews, as we saw AMD and Nvidia unleash their latest generation GPUs to market. However once that happened, and cards arrived to stores, pricing has been all over the place due to spotty availability, so it’s been hard to make concrete recommendations. Even today almost none of these graphics cards are selling at the MSRP, particularly on the AMD side, so keep that in mind.

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One comment

  • Nice article. Your article really helped me a lot because I was really confuse in choosing the best graphics card. I really appreciate your work. Thank you so much. But I have a question.

    Can you tell me which card is better GTX 1060 6GB or RX 580 8GB?
    I am waiting for your reply…


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