When we’re old and sitting in our rocking chairs on the porch we’ll look back fondly on the year 2016, wipe a tear from our eye, and regale our grandkids about the move to 14nm and 16nm FinFET GPUs. “Your granddad had 100fps at 1440p,” we’ll tell our grandkids as they ignore us while ensconced in their 32k VR simulations. They won’t understand, of course, how amazing the year 2016 was in terms of GPU advancements, but it can’t be understated. Not only did we finally move from 28nm planar transistors all the way down to 14/16nm 3D FinFET, but the accompanying performance boost from one generation to the next was one of the largest ever recorded in modern times. Instead of the typical 10 to 20 percent boosts we experience going from one generation of silicon to the next, we saw a 60 to 80 percent boost. Frame rates skyrocketed, 4k gaming became viable with a single GPU, and laptops were able to sport desktop-class graphics for the first time due to improvements in efficiency as well. It was (and still is) a great time to be alive, indeed.
Despite 2016’s general awesomeness, 2017 will be even better because we’ll finally see AMD challenge Nvidia’s supremacy at the high end of the market with its upcoming Vega GPU. In 2016 AMD only attacked the mid-range with the RX 480, 470, and 460 while Nvidia launched (at first) into the high-end with its GTX 1080 and 1070 GPUs. This imbalance will be rectified soon with Vega, which should launch by June and will reportedly compete directly with Nvidia’s flagship consumer GPUs.
Until Vega launches, things will likely be a bit static in the GPU department, rumored GTX 1080Ti aside, so we wanted to share our picks for the best GPUs currently available.
There is no debate about which GPU stands at the top of the performance heap these days, and it’s unquestionably the GeForce GTX 1080. Though technically the Titan X Pascal is the “fastest” GPU available, at $1,600 it’s so expensive we’re not including it in our consideration since it’s more than double the price of the GTX 1080 and only 20 to 30 percent faster, so it’s simply not worth it for most people. Though we originally reviewed the Founder’s Edition, which is essentially the “reference” version of the card despite its fancy name, there’s no reason to buy it over cards from Nvidia’s partners (Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, etc.) since they are just as powerful (if not more so in many cases), offer better cooling, and are less expensive.
The GTX 1080 is available from a variety of manufacturers, with prices ranging from $580-$640. Below are some of the best current options:
This is another category that is uncontested, and is occupied by the beastly GeForce GTX 1070. It wins in this category because it’s only 20 percent slower than the GTX 1080 and costs 50 percent less, making it a much better deal overall than the GTX 1080. Despite its second-billing status, it’s still powerful enough to run AAA titles at 60fps at 2560×1440, so what more do you really need? If your monitor is 1920×1080 it’ll hit over 100 frames per second in most games too, making it the perfect GPU to pair with one of those sweet 144Hz panels.
Though we reviewed the Founder’s Edition, a.k.a. reference version of this card, we are applying the same purchasing logic we used with the GTX 1080 in that there’s no reason to buy Nvidia’s version, as the models from Nvidia’s partners are less expensive, better-looking, run cooler in most cases, and are just a better overall deal.
As always there are several variants of this GPU and they largely perform similarly. The differences between them come down to clock speeds, styling, cooling apparatus, and warranty terms. Prices range from $380 to $440, and below are a few of the best current options:
This is a contentious category, and a controversial choice, since there are four well-matched competitors all within roughly $50 of each other. For AMD there’s the 4GB and 8GB versions of its spectacular Polaris GPU, the RX 480, and Nvidia offers both 3GB and 6GB versions of its GTX 1060 as well. Since we haven’t tested the 3GB and 4GB versions of these competing cards, our decision is solely based on the 8GB Radeon RX 480 and 6GB GTX 1060, and of those two the GTX 1060 is the better of the two based on our testing. It’s the perfect GPU to run every game at maximum settings at 1080p and hit at least 60fps, if not more. Though it’s a smidge more expensive than the RX 480 in most cases, for particular models the two cards are priced either exactly the same or within $10 of each other, making the generally more powerful GTX 1060 a clear winner. It also has better software too in our opinion, but to be fair to AMD we have not sampled its revamped suite.
The GTX 1060 is available in a variety of models ranging in price from $249 to $269. Though we reviewed and recommend MSI’s version our experience tells us its competitors are all good options as well, so here are a few of them:
This was actually a semi-tough call because although the Radeon RX 470 is undoubtedly the fastest GPU at $170, prices in this category are volatile, so there are times when the more powerful Radeon RX 480 4GB is just ~$10 more expensive, making it the better option. Still, going by what is normal pricing the RX 470 stands alone in a very sweet spot in between the much slower $150 GPUs such as the Radeon RX 460 and GTX 1050 Ti and the more powerful $200 GPUs. Not only can it run most AAA titles at 60fps at 1080p, but it can also hit over 35fps on most games at 2560×1440 too. That’s mighty fine for a GPU at this price, and makes it our top pick for this category.
Though we reviewed and highly recommend the PowerColor version of the Radeon RX 470, this GPU is available in a variety of models ranging in price from $169 to $185, and below are a few of the best current options: