How to Choose the Best Gaming Video Card for Your Custom PC Build: 2018 Buying Guide



Those Are Some Big Tools


Last Updated: Apr 4, 2018

Learn the important things to consider when choosing the current best gaming video card when upgrading or building your custom gaming computer with this 2018 buying guide. A video card, also known as the graphics card or GPU (short for Graphics Processing Unit) is THE single most crucial component of all in regards to how well your games and other visually-demanding applications will run, period.

Therefore, you should carefully consider your graphics card choice based on the specific games you'll be playing, what resolution you'll be playing at, what sort of performance you'll be happy with, and also whether or not you'll be using a standard 60Hz monitor or a high-end 144Hz screen (the latter of which will require much more graphics power).

Choosing the best video card for your specific budget isn't always an easy task, especially if you're new, as like most computer parts there are tons of different models, brands, features, specs, and so on, but after having a read over this guide you'll be in a better position to pick the right GPU for your needs. We'll also list our current highest recommended graphics cards for different resolutions.



GPU Wars: AMD vs NVIDIA

Just like when choosing the best CPU for your new build, you've basically got two overarching choices when picking the best gaming video card; AMD or Nvidia. NVIDIA dominate the high-end GPU market but also provide great budget to mid-range cards. AMD (formerly ATI, but AMD bought them out) give Nvidia a run for their money in the budget to mid-range tier. 

So which should you choose?

As of right now, it's a simple decision if you're on the hunt for the best of the best as like we said before NVidia are king of the upper end of the market and have been for a long time. So for a top-tier custom gaming computer, they're pretty much your only option.

But if you're looking for value for money in the lower to mid tier, where most gamers spend their money, it's a tough choice and will come down to the exact amount you want to spend and comparing specific models from both companies against each other for any specific period of time.

As well as logically comparing cards for your chosen price range, for some people it comes down to personal preference and I know many gamers who only buy AMD because they want to support the slight underdog. Each to their own, but both companies produce excellent cards with great design, cooling, features, and of course gaming performance.

Finally, certain specific games may run better on either AMD or Nvidia cards due to better optimization etc. So if you're planning on building your PC for a specific game, you may want to consult benchmarks to see if there's a clear winner. For example, AMD cards run slightly better with CS:GO.


How Much to Spend on a GPU?

As a PC gamer the graphics card is the single most important part of all, followed closely by your processor, so choose wisely and in general aim to get the best graphics card you can afford. Put a fair amount of your overall PC build budget towards it - at least 20 - 30% - but don't splash too much on it therefore weakening your other components. 

Aim for a balanced build too though, because in a way your custom PC is only as strong as your weakest link. But yeah, allocate as much to a card as possible if gaming performance is your priority (as it will be for the far majority of you reading this).



Features to Consider When Choosing a GPU

GPUs contain a host of different features, options, connections, etc. Here are the main ones you should keep in mind when choosing the best gaming video card for your PC:


  • Video Memory: The video memory (VRAM) is the amount of memory your video card holds on-board for processing 3D images, and the more the better. The minimum for modern gaming these days would be 2GB, with 4GB being ideal for a fairly future-proof system. Anything more is a luxury, really. But keep in mind that you shouldn't base your decision solely this as the performance in the majority of games isn't going to be that much different if you have more video memory. 
  • DirectX Support: You'll want to make sure your gaming video card supports the latest DirectX technology, DirectX 12, to be future-proof for years to come.
  • SLI and CrossFireSLI and CrossFire are technologies that allow you to pair up either two or more NVIDIA or AMD video cards for extreme system performance. Only suggested for the advanced and experienced, if you'll be using either technology then you'll need to ensure both your GPU and your motherboard supports it.
  • DVI: This is a higher-definition output used with newer monitors and some high-end TVs. Connecting to your monitor via DVI offers better image quality than the standard VGA connection. If you want to take advantage of DVI, buy a graphics card and monitor that supports it.
  • HDMI Connection: HDMI is the default connection on new HDTVs, Blu-ray players, Apple TV, many new computers and graphics cards, and a range of other video devices. If you need to connect your video card to a TV via HDMI, then obviously make sure to check that your video card has this feature.
  • Dual Monitor Support: If you want to split your video output across two monitors, you will need dual monitor support on your graphics card. This feature is useful for developers, engineers, designers, and multi-taskers who wish to view many different windows on their desktop at once. Sometimes, one output will be VGA and the other DVI. Learn more about dual monitor video card setups here.
  • Power Usage: The more powerful a card is, the more power it will require so you should keep this in mind and make sure your gaming computer's power supply will be good enough to handle your card/s.
  • Size: Then there's the actual size of your video card, which may be an issue especially if it's a large monstrous card and you have a smaller case. Make sure your case will fit your new beast by checking the dimensions of your graphics card against the case specifications which should list what size card they will fit. Power users should also consider case space (and motherboard PCI-E connections) if you plan on adding a second (or more) card later down the track.


Top Value Video Cards for a 2018 Build

Choosing the best gaming video card depends majorly on the resolution you'll be playing in, as larger resolutions like QHD and UHD require rendering of exponentially more pixels on screen than say HD or FHD (full HD). We've broken up our top picks of the best value cards into different resolutions, and included two categories within each resolution as well because not every gamer has the same performance expectations. Not everyone is FPS-obsessed (frames per second).

  • Smooth performance - An enjoyable experience with perhaps occasional visual slow-down in high action moments of the game, but not bad enough to ruin the experience.
  • Flawless performance - For the hardcore gamers who don't want anything less than the best experience possible.

Also, our following suggestions assume you'll be maxing out the game (ie turning up the graphics settings to the highest settings, which is usually "ultra"). These picks may be a tad overkill if you don't care to turn down the graphics settings to achieve smooth/flawless performance, or a bit of lagginess here and there doesn't bother you.

And if you're new to PC gaming and wondering which resolution to go for, when in doubt just save your money stick with 1080p which is still the most popular and still looks great in this day and age. Without further ado, here are the best gaming video cards right now in terms of performance for your (or your awesome parents :P) hard-earned monies:

Note: Keep in mind that these recommendations cover *most* PC titles; there are always exceptions with certain games. For example, an extremely taxing title like The Witcher 3 or Tomb Raider is not gonna run "flawlessly" in 1080p with a 1050 Ti on max settings. Don't just take our (or anyone's) recommendations blindly and do your own research if you're a real picky gamer.


Best Gaming Video Card for 720p (HD)


Smooth AND Flawless Performance: NVidia GT 1030 2GB or AMD Radeon RX 550 2GB

More Detailed Recommendations: Best Graphics Cards Under $100 in 2018


Best Gaming Video Cards for 1080p (Full HD)


Smooth: NVidia GeForce GTX 1050 2GB or AMD Radeon RX 560 4GB

Flawless: NVidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB or AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB

More Detailed Recommendations: Best Graphics Cards Under $200 in 2018


Best Gaming Video Cards for 1440p


Smooth: AMD Radeon RX 580 4GB or NVidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB

Flawless: NVidia GeForce GTX 1070 8GB

See Specific 1440p GPU Recommendations: Monthly High End PC Builds


Best Gaming Video Cards for 4K and VR


Smooth: NVidia GeForce GTX 1080 8GB

Flawless: NVidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB

See Specific 4K GPU Recommendations: Monthly Extreme PC Builds