To keep your PC up-to-date, you need to upgrade a few components here and there over time, and for gamers, the very best upgrade you can make is a new video card. That's because they offer by far the biggest benefit in terms of a raw performance increase, and just about anyone can install one. 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? Ask The Tech Buyer's Guru, of course! To help our readers out, we've created this guide, which we update on an annual basis, generally following a major product launch from either Nvidia or AMD (or as is the case in late-2020 and early-2021, a complete revamp of the product stack by both companies!). We list nearly every GPU model released since 2007, ranking them using our proprietary "Speed Rating" system, which starts at a baseline "1x" Speed Rating, represented by the venerable Nvidia GeForce 8800GT. As of Spring 2021, there's a video card that goes all the way to 28x, the $1,500+ GeForce RTX 3090, based on Nvidia's latest "Ampere" architecture. It was released in September 2020, and will likely remain the fastest video card on the market for at least another year....
Which brings us to the current state of the GPU market. Due to production problems, tremendous demand, arguably overly-competitive launch prices, and of course the most overwhelming cryptocurrency craze in history, well, gaming GPUs have practically gone extinct, at least when it comes to using them for you know, gaming. So our current video card ranking is basically a forward-looking document (or backward-looking, depending on how pessimistic you are about the return of normalcy in the GPU market).
Note that we don't necessarily recommend all the cards in our rankings - the purpose here is to map out the video cards currently on the market and their relative performance per dollar ratios. If you'd like to know which video cards are actually worth buying, just flip over to our Video Card Buyer's Guide, which is updated quarterly. It provides recommendations on the best products for the money at every pricepoint.
We determine the Speed Ratings of each card based on both our own testing of dozens of cards over the years, along with our analysis of the professional reviews of each card listed. 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, and newer models typically have boost modes that much more readily tap into available headroom, meaning overclocking potential is dropping rapidly with each new generation of products. Because there were so many older GPUs that were packed into a few speed ratings, we've listed a number of models that fall between Speed Ratings in the chart.
And now, witness the rankings:
Cards in each speed class are listed chronologically by release date, and we've included the actual release date and price for all cards at or above the 6x Speed Rating. One critical note in this age of the increasingly-fictional MSRP: we continue to use MSRP as a reference, but for various reasons, we believe launch prices are for early adopters only. Ironically, it was only a few years ago that Nvidia charged a premium for its Founders Edition cards, available only to buyers at or soon after launch. These days, the best deals are had on launch day, if cards are even available.