Your buying guide to the best graphics cards in 2017

Whatever your budget, there’s a bewildering array of options when it come to graphics cards. With multiple variations on a theme from each vendor, coupled with impenetrable acronyms and an unpronounceable product names, choosing a graphics card can be a daunting task.

But, stick to a few guidelines and the whole process becomes a lot easier.

If you want to upgrade your PC with a high-performance card for gaming you'll need to be willing to spend anything ranging from around £100 right up to as much as some might consider spending on an entire PC. Budget then, will be your first constraint.

AMD's current range is its RX 500 series of graphics cards, which is a relatively minor update to the RX 480, 470 and 460 from 2016. They are, in general, better value and faster than their predecessors and have a couple of new features including Radeon Chill that reduces power consumption.

However, keep an eye out for the 400-series cards as they can be as fast (or faster) in certain games, so if you spy one at a low price, it could be the better buy.

Plus, there's a new entry-level model - the RX 550. This costs under £80 (although more for overclocked versions) and is aimed at e-sports gamers and will play titles such as CS:GO and League of Legends.

Cryptocoin mining

Currently, the prices of RX 580 and RX 570 (plus certain other cards) has shot right up. This is because people are buying them up to use for mining cryptocurrencies. For an explanation see What is Ethereum? and How to mine Bitcoin. An RX 580 should cost less than £300, but since the cards are in short supply, if you can find one you'll pay over £400 at the moment.

1080p resolutions and above

If you want to play at 1080p resolutions with all the details turned up to 'Ultra' then you'll want something a lot more powerful, such as an Nvidia GTX 1070 or 1080. AMD now has two cards to compete with Nvidia in the form of the new Radeon RX Vega range which goes on sale 14 August. ASUS and other board makers have already announced overclocked versions.

In the mid-range, around £300, is the Nvidia GTX 1060 and AMD RX 580. They may not break many speed records, but they're optimised for virtual reality, and will appeal if you're building (or upgrading) a PC to use with a VR headset.

If price is no object, then the GTX 1080 Ti is the current benchmark topper. It starts at around £699, but you'll pay more for an overclocked version, up to £800 or so. (There's also the Titan Xp, but this isn't really what we'd consider a consumer graphics card, so we haven't reviewed it.

Next year, or possibly later in 2017, it's rumoured that the next generation of GeForce cards will be launched. Read more about Nvidia Volta.

Many gamers won’t need a card with this level of performance, but high-quality gaming at 4K resolution, 3D, Virtual Reality, high refresh-rate displays and multi-monitor setups can all demand a huge amount of processing power, and in those situations such high-end cards are there to provide the grunt. Don’t worry, there are plenty of excuses you can use to justify your expensive purchase.

Where it gets more complicated is that not all graphics cards based on a particular GPU are created equal. Individual manufacturers will modify the reference designs in a variety of ways, adding features and boosting performance along the way.

Is an overclocked card the best choice?

Most graphics cards can be overclocked to some extent, and the amount of overclocking available can be greatly increased through the use of upgraded components and powerful custom cooling systems.

The better-designed graphics cards will come from the factory pre-overclocked to take advantage of the improved hardware and this is why we start to see differences in performance between graphics cards using the same GPU types.

Sometimes speed boosts are negligible, but on occasion a more radical redesign can achieve larger speed boosts, taking the graphics card into the same territory as non-overclocked cards from the next tier above.

Factory overclocked cards can often therefore deliver excellent value for money.

Most graphics card vendors have at least one model for each GPU with an enhanced and more efficient cooler which allows the underlying components to run faster without overheating, giving you increased frame rates. But it’s also important to consider the noise output from the fans.

The best examples will remain quiet and even turn off altogether until required, meaning your gaming PC and be just as useful for listening to classical music as it is for first-person shooters.

The choice between AMD or Nvidia-based cards can be tricky if you have between £200 and £300 to spend, but if you have a good idea of which games you want to play, you will notice that many of them are optimised better for on one vendor’s GPUs than the other. This may be enough to sway your decision.

Best graphics cards 2017 UK - best graphics card reviews

1. Asus ROG STRIX GTX 1080 O8G GAMING

Asus ROG STRIX GTX 1080 O8G GAMING
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 18 July 2016

For a price premium of one decent game, you get a graphics card that’s far superior to the Founders Edition, both in terms of performance and features.  Thanks to its programmable RGB lighting, it’s especially interesting for those who want to build great-looking systems with windowed side panels. It’s also great for those who would like their PC to remain silent when not in use for gaming.

Read our Asus ROG STRIX GTX 1080 O8G GAMING review.

2. MSI GeForce GTX 1070 GAMING X 8G

MSI GeForce GTX 1070 GAMING X 8G
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 7 July 2016

At £419.99, the MSI GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X 8G costs significantly more than the £374.99 you would be paying for a ‘vanilla’ 1070, but it offers much more in terms of both performance and features, and is still some way off the price of a GTX 1080. If you can’t afford a GTX 1080, or would simply like to save some money, this is an excellent high-performance graphics card.

Read our MSI GeForce GTX 1070 GAMING X 8G review.

3. EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition

EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 22 March 2017

The GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition is expensive, but offers stunning performance. Manufacturer overclocked versions will arrive soon and may be better value, but you can overclock the Founders Edition fairly easily yourself. If you’re not planning to buy a VR headset, you can save money and buy a GTX 1080, but if you can afford it, the 1080 Ti still offers good value and will be more future proof. However, AMD’s Radeon RX Vega cards will be out soon, and it’s worth waiting to see if they’re better value still.

Read our EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition review.

4. Zotac GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB OC Edition

Zotac GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB OC Edition
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 24 December 2016

One of the best options for upgrading an ageing PC, the Zotac GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB OC Edition delivers some of the fastest frame rates you can achieve from a low-end PC. It costs a little more than a Radeon RX 460, but we feel the performance gains are worth it.

Read our Zotac GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB OC Edition review.

5. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 22 June 2016

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition is an excellent high-performance buy - but only if you don’t compare it against another GTX 1080. It isn’t likely to be the best choice if you care about value for money or if you would prefer at least some level of assistance overclocking the card to achieve best performance.

Read our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition review.

6. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 4 August 2016

The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition brings a new level of performance to mid-range gaming, with high frame rates at 2560x1440 resolution, strong VR peformance and low power consumption, but the Founders Edition is, as ever, not the best version of the card

Read our Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition review.

7. Asus ROG Strix Radeon RX 580 TOP Edition 8GB

Asus ROG Strix Radeon RX 580 TOP Edition 8GB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 22 May 2017

The Asus ROG Strix Radeon RX 580 TOP Edition 8GB is one of the most expensive Radeon RX 580 cards available, but offers excellent performance delivering similar overall frame rates to an overclocked Nvidia GTX 1060, although this will of course depend on which games you play. The board offers superb build quality and a great selection of features including programmable lighting effects and bundled overclocking software. It’s sheer size may be a problem for some smaller cases, however, and audible coil whine can occasionally spoil the experience.

Read our Asus ROG Strix Radeon RX 580 TOP Edition 8GB review.

8. Gigabyte Radeon RX 550 Gaming OC 2GB

Gigabyte Radeon RX 550 Gaming OC 2GB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 27 June 2017

Although a low-cost card, the Gigabyte Radeon RX 550 Gaming OC 2GB never seems cheap. It offers excellent build quality for the price and it’s uprated cooling lets you choose between performance and silence. Performance is more than adequate for older games and good for less demanding titles such as e-sports. It’s price is, however, a little high for those trying to spend as little as possible, bringing it very close to the price of the much faster RX 560. This card is therefore best for those whose PCs don’t meet the power requirements of the RX 560 but want the best performance they can get.

Read our Gigabyte Radeon RX 550 Gaming OC 2GB review.

9. Palit GeForce GTX 1050 StormX 2GB

Palit GeForce GTX 1050 StormX 2GB
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 12 January 2017

The GTX 1050 could be the perfect card for converting a low-end PC into a competent gaming machine, and this board from Palit is a strong no-frills example at a good price. However, you should consider a 1050 Ti if you can afford it.

Read our Palit GeForce GTX 1050 StormX 2GB review.

10. Gigabyte Radeon RX 560 Gaming OC V1.0

Gigabyte Radeon RX 560 Gaming OC V1.0
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 17 July 2017

The Gigabyte Radeon RX 560 OC offers good performance for the money in its 2GB version and a degree of future-proofing in its slightly more expensive 4GB version. Both offer good build quality, high performance cooling and silent operation options via the supplied overclocking software. However, there are less expensive RX 560 cards available from other vendors.

Read our Gigabyte Radeon RX 560 Gaming OC V1.0 review.