Well this is a strange feeling: there’s a new GPU out, it’s worthy of inclusion among the best graphics cards out there, and most bizarrely of all, you can actually buy it. That’s right, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 is here, and makes a fine purchase if you need a new graphics card like right this second but don’t want to spend more than the entire rest of your PC.
Otherwise, it’s unfortunately business as usual, with quality GPUs either price-gouged into the atmosphere or out of stock entirely. And that’s a huge shame, because no single part can give your PC’s gaming performance a boot up the PSU bay like a new graphics card. There’s getting smarter as well as more powerful, too: recent cards can deploy ray traced lighting, shadow and reflection effects for prettier games, and upscaling tech like Nvidia’s DLSS can further raise frame rates without any significant loss in visual quality. If you’ve already invested in one of the best gaming monitors, a good GPU will help you make the most of it.
It's therefore worth, at the very least, to keep an eye on which graphics cards are the best buys right now. You never know – by jumping on a sudden restock or just getting lucky with certain retailers, you could well secure yourself a major upgrade at a price which isn’t downright insulting. Maybe. We’ll see.
The best graphics cards for gaming
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050
The best cheap 1080p graphics card
“Cheap” is kind of a nebulous term in these dark days of graphics card stock shortages and inflation, but here’s what we do know: the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 is the cheapest GPU on the market to offer Nvidia’s RTX features, namely ray tracing and DLSS support. Even last-gen cards like the RTX 2060, which performs similarly, can easily set you back more.
This may come as un unpleasant surprise, given the MSI-built RTX 3050 I tested costs more like £380 / $450 than the actual RRP, but at least you’d be getting a highly capable 1080p card with some 1440p capability. Especially thanks to DLSS, which is essentially free FPS, and is missing from both AMD’s cheaper cards and the RTX 3050’s own predecessors, like the GTX 1650 Super.
One other point in the RTX 3050's favour? It's in stock far more often than most GeForce RTX cards, which should give you the freedom to shop around for the best prices.
What we like:
✔️ Can get most games to 60fps on high/maximum settings
✔️ DLSS and ray tracing support
✔️ No reduced performance on PCIe 3.0, like the rival AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT
Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 review
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
The best 1080p graphics card
Provided you can spare the cash over the RTX 3050, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 is currently your best bet for combining affordability with 1080p performance...with a handful of extra features on top. These come largely in the form of ray tracing and DLSS support, both of which are lacking on more traditionally "budget" cards.
At 1920x1080, you can generally expect average framerates to exceed 60fps, even when deploying maxed-out graphical settings. The RTX 3060 even has some 1440p chops, though the souped-up RTX 3060 Ti (below) is better suited for Quad HD duties.
What we like:
✔️ 60fps speeds on max settings at 1080p
✔️ Can handle High settings at 1440p too
✔️ Lower power usage than the RTX 3060 Ti
Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 review
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
The best 1440p graphics card
Playing games on max settings at 2560x1440 requires a lot more horsepower than it does at 1920x1080, but Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3060 Ti is currently the card to beat for 60fps speeds on maximum settings. Like all graphics cards at the moment, it's sold out pretty much everywhere right now, but if you're looking for flawless, 1440p perfection, this card should definitely be at the top of your list once prices and stock levels start to settle down.
There's simply nothing else like it in its price range right now, as AMD are yet to announce their next-gen successor to the RX 5600 XT. We might see a new competitor from AMD before the end of June, but until then, the RTX 3060 Ti is the one to put on your wish list. Not only is it capable of hitting 60fps speeds on max settings in today's latest games, such as Assassin's Creed Valhalla, but it's also capable of delivering frame rates upwards of 70-80fps in slightly older blockbusters as well.
The RTX 3060 Ti also has significantly improved ray tracing performance compared to Nvidia's previous generation of RTX cards, meaning you can actually play today's crop of ray tracing games at 1440p instead of having to settle for 1080p. If ray tracing is particularly important to you and you've got the budget, you may want to think about the RTX 3070 instead, though, especially if you've got a high refresh rate monitor. For more info and benchmark results, check out our RTX 3060 Ti vs RTX 3070 article.
What we like:
✔️ Delivers 60fps speeds on max settings at 1440p in all of today's biggest games
✔️ More than doubles the performance of the GTX 1070
✔️ Offers RTX 2080 Super levels of power for a lot less
Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti review
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070
The best graphics card for ultrawide gaming monitors
Playing ultrawide PC games is almost as demanding as playing them at 4K, but thankfully the lower 3440x1440 resolution of most ultrawide monitors means you can get away with a slightly cheaper graphics card as a result. For us, that's the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070, although an older RTX 2070 Super or AMD's new Radeon RX 6800 will also get the job done as well based on our testing.
In fairness, Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3080 is another fine choice for ultrawide monitor owners, and those determined to play games at the highest possible settings and the fastest refresh rates will no doubt get a lot of benefit from its extra horsepower. For us, though, the cheaper RTX 3070 is much better value overall, capable of delivering highly playable frame rates at 3440x1440 and below, and it's probably the closest thing to a 'cheap 4K graphics card' you're going to get, too, if you don't have the budget for the RTX 3080.
Indeed, the RTX 3070 is more than capable of hitting 60fps in most of today's big games that support ultrawide resolutions, and it's got buckets of power for playing games at a regular, 16:9 resolution of 2560x1440, too, when games don't have any ultrawide resolution support. Indeed, the RTX 3070 can hit speeds of at least 70-80fps on max settings at 2560x1440, and 60fps at 4K on Medium to High settings. It's a great card for ray tracing at 1440p as well, making it one of the most versatile graphics cards around for high resolution monitor owners.
What we like:
✔️ Sets a new benchmark for 1440p speeds in its price range with 80fps+ on max settings
✔️ 4K 60fps performance on High quality settings in all of today's big blockbusters
✔️ More or less doubles the performance of the GTX 1070
Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 review
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
The best graphics card for 4K
I haven't included a 'cheap 4K graphics card' option here, because let's face it, when you're spending this kind of money on a new GPU, it pays to get the best, and currently that's the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080. Not only is it capable of delivering a smooth 60fps on max settings in pretty much all of today's big blockbusters (there are, naturally, a couple of exceptions but they're few and far between), but it's also a much better buy than AMD's next-gen 4K rival, the Radeon RX 6800 XT.
Like all new graphics cards right now, the RTX 3080 has been sold out for months, making it very difficult to get of. In theory, the RX 6800 XT is technically a smidge cheaper than the RTX 3080, but it's just not quite as fast as Nvidia's new flagship, both in terms of raw performance and how it fares with ray tracing.
The RTX 3080 also has the benefit of Nvidia's DLSS tech to help boost its ray tracing performance in compatible games (which is increasingly a lot of the big ray tracing games), and AMD's DLSS equivalent isn't currently available. It's possible the RX 6800 XT may supplant the RTX 3080 once AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution tech is out in the wild, but in the meantime, the RTX 3080 is the 4K graphics card to buy right now.
What we like:
✔️ 4K 60fps performance on max settings in almost every game going
✔️ Significantly improved ray tracing and DLSS performance over Nvidia's RTX 20 series
✔️ Sets the benchmark for next-gen 4K graphics cards
Read more in our Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 review
Frequently asked questionsWhy are graphics cards so expensive right now?
If you've tried to buy a new graphics card recently, you'll know it's been nigh-on impossible to get hold of one. Stock levels are at all-time lows, and demand for new hardware has never been greater - and it doesn't look like it's going to get much better any time soon, either; Nvidia previously warned that the current GPU situation may not resolve itself until 2022, and lo and behold, it hasn't. It's the same situation for those trying to buy a new console, too, with the Xbox Series X and Series S and PlayStation 5 all suffering from similar delays and stock shortages.
On the graphics card front, this is due to a combination of Covid-19-related manufacturing delays from 2020, with many factories shutting down just as they should have been gearing up to get ready for all the new hardware launches due to take place at the end of the year, and a new boom in cryptocurrency mining. GPUs are hot commodities for crypto-miners, as many rely on having lots of GPU power to mine their respective currencies. It's a grim situation, as the extra demand from cryptominers means there are even more people vying for these cards than normal, making it difficult for regular folk to get our hands on one. This situation isn't unique to 2022, though, as we saw in the great graphics card shortage of 2018. Things will sort themselves out eventually, but we could be in for a long wait before prices return to normal.Which graphics cards have ray tracing?
Ray tracing is the hot new graphics tech of next-gen hardware, but you need a special graphics card to take advantage of it. Right now, that's all of Nvidia's RTX 20 series and 30 series GPUs, and AMD's Radeon RX 6000 cards. On the Nvidia side, that includes everything from the RTX 2060 to RTX 2080 Ti, and the RTX 3050 to the RTX 3090 Ti, while AMD's ray tracing GPU family starts at the RX 6500 XT and ends at the RX 6900 XT.
Intel are also due to release graphics cards with ray tracing support in 2022, the Arc Alchemist range. We're not sure exactly when, though - Intel originally claimed a Q1 2022 launch before removing this release window from their website.Which is better, AMD or Nvidia?
An age old question that changes with every generation of graphics cards. Right now, Nvidia graphics cards are the best for playing games at high resolutions, such as 1440p or above. In the past, AMD cards have been more affordable than their Nvidia equivalents, though nowadays that isn't always the case - especially with prices as far out of whack as they have been since late 2020. Between the RTX 3050 and the RTX 3060, Nvidia arguably has the more compelling options for 1080p as well.
AMD does have FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR), which is upscaling tech that works sort-of similarly to DLSS in that it can significantly boost frames-per-second in games that support it - but without AI smarts or its own built-in anti-aliasing, the results are rarely as visually impressive as DLSS. Besides, FSR works on GeForce GPUs as well, where DLSS is Nvidia-only.