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Best Graphics Card 2020: Nvidia’s RTX 3080 is the new benchmark

Nvidia's 30-series is finally here, and AMD's rival Big Navi is expected in the very near future. But ahead of their release there are a number great deals on the two firms older graphics cards to be found

Which is the best graphics card?

2020’s already been a huge year for the PC gaming market with the arrival of Nvidia’s spiffy new RTX 3080 Ampere graphics cards completely blowing the competition out of the water.

But, the best may well be yet to come. Nvidia’s even more powerful RTX 3090 is set to launch very, very soon, and there are already rumblings it may have an affordable next generation RTX 3060 in the pipeline.

AMD and Intel are also looking set to shake things up. AMD’s already lifted the lid on several key details about its competing Big Navi next-gen’ GPUs. From what we know they could be very enticing bits of kit, especially considering the firm’s track recordo undercutting Nvidia on one key factor: price. Big Navi GPUs will get a full reveal in late October, which could give PC gamers a pleasant treat this holiday season.

Further down the line Intel has also confirmed plans to get into the graphics game more seriously with its new Xe line. Details are thin on the ground and a consumer product may be some way off, but the architecture oozes potential and could radically shake up the GPU market when it finally arrives in full.

But, if you can’t wait to see what other goodies 2020 hold up when we put them through their paces you’ll be pleased to hear there are already a number of top notch cards on the market.

Below are the best we’ve tested that are still on the market.

Editor’s note: The latest AMD GPUs aren’t included in this list as the unexpected CoronaVirus lockdown has cut off access to our test samples. We’ll update this best of with the AMD graphics cards the moment we’re able to get access to our test lab and samples.

Related: Intel Core i9-10900K review

  • The ultimate card for 4K gaming: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
  • Best value for ray tracing: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
  • Best for Quad HD: AMD Radeon RX 5700
  • Best value for Full HD: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
  • Best for budget Full HD: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660

How we test graphics cards

Each new card is plugged into Trusted Reviews’ test rig, which uses a set of uniform components that is representative of most PC gamers at the time.

Next, we use a series of synthetic and gaming benchmarks to discover the frame rate at which the card will play modern triple-A games at varying resolutions.

We then checkout the potential for overclocking and a card’s power efficiency using the FireStrike benchmark and an external consumption monitor.

Throughout the benchmarking process we retest all previous-generation and competing cards to ensure that frame rates are accurate, and that cards have been tested using the latest drivers available.

Related: Nvidia Ampere vs AMD Big Navi

1. Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080

The ultimate card for 4K gaming

Pros:

  • Excellent 4K performance
  • Ray tracing is awesome
  • Far cheaper than the RTX 2080 Ti
  • HDMI 2.1 support

Cons:

  • Very power hungry
  • Not massively overclockable

The RTX 3080 is the first card to feature Nvidia’s new Ampere architecture. It brings with it a number of improvements that make it THE best graphics card on the market for 4K gaming.

Highlights include an improved, more efficient 8nm manufacturing process, new RT Cores, third-gen Tensor cores and Micron G6X video memory (VRAM).

The combination of factors make the RTX 3080 the first card we’ve ever tested to consistently offer 4K ray tracing at frame rates over or around 60fps and some of the best performance per watt stats we’ve ever seen.

Considering the fact it costs nearly half what as much as an RTX 2080 Ti, this makes it a no brainer choice for any serious gamer looking to build a top notch, no compromise rig in today’s market. The only slight downside is that it’s not massively overclockable, and, with the RTX 3090 set to appear very soon, it’s time as top dog could be fairly short.

2. Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060

Best value for ray tracing

Pros:

  • Solid 1080p and 1440p performance
  • Future-proof with Turing
  • Decent value when compared to the 1070

Cons:

  • Ray tracing and DLSS still not widely supported

Though there’s now a Super version, the RTX 2060 remains the best entry point to ray tracing. What’s more, with Nvidia remaining hush, hush about the RTX 3060 during its Ampere launch, it looks set to stay that way for at least a few more months.

The card doesn’t offer the fastest performance, but it’s powerful enough to run Battlefield 5 and Metro Exodus with ray tracing on if you’re willing to sacrifice resolution, which considering its price isn’t to be sniffed at.

Specifically, during testing we found most triple-A titles will run at 60fps or above with their graphics settings maxed at 1080p. This makes this GPU the best value RTX graphics card currently available.

What’s more, the RTX 2060 has a number of decent ITX options, making it one of a select few 20-series cards suitable for small builds.

AMD Radeon RX 5700 review

3. AMD Radeon RX 5700

Best value for Quad HD gaming

Pros:

  • Best value card for Quad HD gaming
  • Radeon features feel polished
  • Sleek and simple design

Cons:

  • Lacks ray tracing
  • May struggle to hit 60fps in Quad HD for future AAA games
  • Big Navi coming soon

If you’re not fussed about ray tracing at the moment, but want to game at higher than 1080p resolutions, then the AMD Radeon RX 5700 is the card for you.

It’s essentially just a slightly less powerful version of the RX 5700 XT card. While this makes it sound slightly dull, it’s solid specs and competitive price make it a compelling option.

The card is more than powerful enough to play most modern triple-A games in 1440p at frame rates over 60fps. It’s also reasonably future proof as it meets the minimum specs for key big name titles set for release later this year, including Cyberpunk 2077.

The only downside is that, with Big Navi set for release in the near future, it’s time in the sun as AMD’s best 1440p card is coming to a close.

PNY GTX 1660 Ti

4. GeForce GTX 1660 Ti

Best value for Full HD gaming

Pros:

  • Fantastic value Full HD performance
  • Intelligent shading improves efficiency for modern games
  • Small enough for mini-ITX cases

Cons:

  • Limited overclocking potential

If the 2080 Ti and 30-series sound like complete overkill and you just wanna play basic games at 1080p, then the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti is the card to go for right now.

It doesn’t support ray tracing or DLSS, and it’s specs sheet isn’t top end, but you won’t find a better card for the money.

During testing we were able to get a 120fps Full HD performance on the likes of Fortnite, PUBG and Apex Legends, with minimal fuss. For battle royale shooters, you couldn’t ask for a smoother experience.

And even if you’re not fussed about big online brawlers, the GTX 1660 Ti is still the best value 1080p graphics card you can currently buy.

It’s also fairly small and has lower power consumption than its 20 and 30-series siblings, making it a better choice for small, affordable lounge PC/media builds.

GTX 1660

5. GeForce GTX 1660

Great Full HD performance at a low, low price

Pros:

  • Superb value for Full HD gaming
  • Adaptive shading gives modern games a performance boost
  • Incredible optimisation for battle royale game

Cons:

  • The slightly more expensive GTX 1660 Ti offers better value

If you really, really, really have basic gaming needs then the GTX 1660 is the most affordable card on the market we can recommend. The card is aimed at MOBA and battle royale gamers who don’t want to break the bank.

It doesn’t match the performance of its Ti sibling, which we’d see being a better fit for most buyers, but with it costing £100 less there’s no denying it’s still cracking value.

Our tests prove the GTX 1660 is capable of running modern AAA games, such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider, at high frame rates, while even being able to achieve a respectable Quad HD performance for titles released a few years ago. Fortnite and Apex Legends fans will certainly benefit, with the GTX 1660 optimised specifically for battle royale games.

How to choose the right card for you

Third-party cards: whenever you buy a GPU, consider which manufacturer you want to opt for since the  the specs will differ accordingly. Nvidia’s latest 10-series cards also include so-called ‘Founders Edition’ designs, which are the models we review. Third-party models tend to be more expensive and perform slightly better. Common brand names include EVGA, Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, XFX, Zotac and many more.

With prices constantly shifting and special offers appearing daily, recommending a specific model purely on its price is difficult. As such, this guide will offer each card’s usual price range and the sort of performance you can expect.

Related: Best gaming monitors

A manufacturer’s cooler designs will also affect performance, but only by single-digit percentage points – this is especially true of cheaper cards. With more expensive GPUs card manufacturers push the boat out, throwing clever fans and software into the mix and offering up higher clock speeds, which can make a difference.

Things to look out for on each card include (in order of importance):

  • Length of warranty
  • Price
  • Overclocking
  • Fan noise
  • Visual flare
  • Extra cooling fans

Ray tracing: Ray tracing is a recent graphics card feature (although an older technology) that enables video game developers to create more realistic reflections and light simulation. Traditionally a very processor intensive operation, the new cards ensure reflections in puddles and light shining through a window will look far more impressive than with traditional rendering methods. Currently, only Nvidia’s RTX cards are fully optimised for this technology.

DLSS: DLSS is a another RTX exclusive feature that uses artificial intelligence to help the GPU render frames more efficiently, resulting in a juicy frame rate boost. However, our testing has shown activating DLSS will negatively impact the display quality, with detail becoming more fuzzy and less pronounced.

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