Keeping a PC up-to-date often means upgrading components over time, and video cards are among the most commonly-upgraded components. They can also offer the biggest payoff in terms of a raw performance increase. But with the frequent product releases, refreshes, and outright re-brandings, how's a PC user supposed to know what the best upgrade option is? To help our fellow enthusiasts out, we've created this guide, comparing many of the most popular models released since 2007. We've devised a "Speed Rating" system, which starts at a baseline "1x" Speed Rating, represented by the venerable and very popular Nvidia GeForce 8800GT. As of Summer 2016, there's a video card that goes all the way to 12x!
Note that we don't necessarily recommend all the cards in our rankings - the purpose here is to map out the current video card market and relative performance to price ratios, which we provide as a "P/P Rating." As you'll see, some product categories have much lower P/P Ratings than others. Our goal is to get you the maximum performance gain per dollar with your next upgrade. To see our epic P/P graph, jump to the last page of this article!
We publish this ranking about once a year, generally following a major product launch from both Nvidia and AMD. Our companion Video Card Buyer's Guide is updated quarterly, and provides recommendations on the best products for the money. New video cards are released about every three months, and June of 2016 saw the greatest number of product releases in recent memory. These included the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 and 1080 based on the Pascal architecture and 16nm FinFET manufacturing process, along with the forthcoming AMD Radeon RX 400 series, based on the Polaris architecture using the 14nm FinFET process.
A few notes about our methodology - first, we determine the Speed Ratings of each card based on both our own testing of many of the cards profiled in this guide, along with our analysis of the professional reviews of each card listed. We then calculate the P/P Rating, which is simply the Speed Rating divided by the original retail price (not sale prices, prices after rebate, or late-stage prices), multiplied by 100. We group cards together as long as their performance is within 10 percent of the Speed Rating in which they appear. We do not consider factory-overclocked cards, although we give some minor consideration to potential overclocking headroom, as some model lines are truly superior in that regard (take, for instance, the Radeon HD 7900 series and the GeForce GTX 900 series). Models that fall evenly between Speed Ratings are ranked as such.
And now, witness the rankings:
On the pages that follow, you'll find profiles of many of the most popular cards on the chart, with a bit of the backstory about how they came into being and how they were received upon release. And if you'd like to learn more about how price/performance improves over time, just jump to the last page of this article!