Which graphics cards are best?

Graphics cards, sometimes called video cards, manage how your computer renders video, whether you’re playing games on their highest settings or playing in VR and 4K. For gamers, graphics cards are among the first pieces of hardware to consider for building or buying a computer, and yet, understanding the differences between different video cards can be daunting, so it’s worth brushing up before buying.

The Asus GeForce RTX 2060 Graphics Card offers high-performing video on up to three screens, and it’s the perfect pick for gamers.

What to know before you buy a graphics card

What is a graphics card?

A graphics card is the piece of hardware inside a computer responsible for rendering images, video and general display needs. Graphics cards can determine your computer’s refresh rate — or how many times your computer screen refreshes per second. Cards with higher refresh rates offer better and smoother displays than those with lower refresh rates. 

Many low-end computers feature simplified video hardware such as integrated video chipsets instead of video cards. However, graphics cards are essential for gaming and other high-performance tasks like computer-aided design or animation projects.

Game preferences

For the vast majority of graphics cards shoppers, gaming is the priority. Even low-end graphics cards can help you run some games, but it’s essential to consider what games you hope to play or what programs you hope to run to make sure you choose the best card. Newer games have higher hardware requirements and may require higher-end graphics cards. Be sure to check the requirements of any game or program you plan to use before picking out a video card.

Space in computer 

Graphics cards also take up physical space inside your computer and on your motherboard. Check your computer’s motherboard to ensure there’s a port for graphics cards. In addition, check that there’s enough room to fit the video card when it’s placed on the motherboard — especially if you have a small computer case.

What to look for in a quality graphics card

Graphics processing unit

While the term graphics processing unit is sometimes used interchangeably with graphics card, it refers explicitly to the hardware that renders the video, rather than referring to the fans, random access memory or other included hardware pieces on a video card. Nvidia and AMD are the two brands that offer GPUs, and each company offers a wide range of cards with varying performance.

Clock speed

The clock speed offered by a graphics card is how frequently the card’s cores can perform new tasks. Graphics card clock speed is measured in megahertz, not unlike that of a computer’s processor, and it runs at a varying level. Most graphics cards advertise a “boost clock speed,” which is how fast the cores refresh when running at the maximum workload. A faster clock speed results in better refresh rates and improved performance overall.

Random access memory

In addition to the RAM included in computers, graphics cards feature their own RAM units that are dedicated to video output tasks — often called VRAM. Like regular RAM, VRAM comes in increments of 2 gigabytes, most commonly seen in 4GB, 6GB and 8GB configurations. RAM types in video cards also vary in quality and performance based on how old they are. In order from oldest to newest, common RAM types include SDRAM, GDDR5, GDDR5x and GDDR6.

How much you can expect to spend on a graphics card

Cheap graphics cards can cost as little as $60. However, you can expect to spend $150-$700 on most mid-tier and high-end graphics cards, with performance versions sometimes costing even more.

Graphics card FAQ

Can you use two graphics cards at once?

A. Yes. Using two graphics cards at once can boost performance, but there are a few requirements. Both graphics cards must be from the same brand, and they must be dual-card compatible. In addition, your motherboard needs multiple graphics card slots. You’ll also need to use either AMD’s CrossFire or Nvidia’s SLI to use the cards together.

Does it matter how many fans a graphics card has?

A. The number of fans in a video card doesn’t necessarily matter. However, those with just one fan may have to work harder to keep the unit cool, thus running louder. Some people prefer graphics cards with two or three fans to minimize the volume and reduce the risk of the card overheating even more.

What’s the best graphics card to buy?

Top graphics card

Asus GeForce RTX 2060 Overclocked 6GB Graphics Card

Asus GeForce RTX 2060 Overclocked 6GB Graphics Card

What you need to know: This powerful graphics card is a great pick for playing games on the highest settings or in VR, and it features silent operation, which many buyers love.

What you’ll love: This includes Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, with up to 1,785 MHz of boosted clock speed. It also includes 6GB of overclocked GDDR6 RAM for even better performance than other cards with the RTX 2060.

What you should consider: This card is expensive and best suited for serious gamers.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top graphics card for the money

Zotac GeForce GT 730 Zone Edition 4GB Graphics Card

Zotac GeForce GT 730 Zone Edition 4GB Graphics Card

What you need to know: This is a great upgrade from integrated graphics cards and chips, offering basic graphics specs and a design that fits inside most computers.

What you’ll love: This pick features Nvidia’s GeForce GT 730 GPU and is perfect for those with low video requirements. Its thin design makes it ideal for fitting into smaller computers. This graphics card also features a boost clock speed of 1,600 MHz with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM.

What you should consider: This only offers 64-bit video, making it less than suitable for high-performance gaming.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Zotac Gaming GeForce GTX 1650 4GB Gaming Graphics Card

Zotac Gaming GeForce GTX 1650 4GB Gaming Graphics Card

What you need to know: This graphics card has lower power requirements than many others, and it still offers gameplay on high settings and 4K compatibility.

What you’ll love: With a clock speed that boosts to 1,620 MHz and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, this card offers excellent performance for the price. It only draws 75 watts of power, and it includes 4GB of GDDR6 RAM.

What you should consider: This graphics card is noisier than many others, even when idling.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Peter McGuthrie writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.