The best graphics cards can be essential upgrades for your PC when you're a digital creative, as they can help your PC render high resolution videos and photos, or complex digital designs.
While many of these cards are designed for running computer games, the tech inside them actually makes them fantastic GPUs for professionals as well. While they don't have quite the graphical grunt of professional GPUs, they can often be a more affordable alternative.
So, in our guide to the best graphics cards for creatives, we've got a mix of consumer and professional cards from the two biggest names in GPUs: AMD or Nvidia, with top GPU choices for everyone, no matter what your budget is.
Before we begin listing the best graphics cards money can buy in 2019, however, we'll first explain a bit about graphics cards and what you need to know before you pick one.
Graphics cards (or GPUs) serve two roles in modern computers. In games, they accelerate 3D visuals with all their under-the-hood hardware power used to determine the frame rate and resolution for those visual effects, whizz-bang explosions and pyrotechnics we’ve come to expect in modern games.
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For digital creatives, including graphic artists, designers, illustrators and 3D professionals, the same hardware can be harnessed in tools such as Adobe Creative Cloud (both Premiere and Photoshop), Blender, Maya and 3DS Max, to dramatically boost rendering times – at least in specific parts of the software, such as when applying certain plugins, filters and effects. A powerful graphics card can make a huge difference with some tools, and some effects can not even run on a CPU alone.
It's also worth noting that for each graphics card, there is a generic kind of reference model, which often isn’t for sale. Then each manufacturer (MSI, Asus, Gigabyte, and so on) will sell their own versions, which will all look slightly different.
Quadro vs GeForce vs Radeon vs Radeon Pro
Nvidia and AMD make two kinds of graphics cards that are roughly aimed at either gaming or design use. For Nvidia, you probably already know the GeForce gaming brand, while it’s the Quadro cards that are for professionals, and with AMD it’s Radeons for gaming and Radeon Pro for creative software. The catch is that the professional-grade cards cost a lot more.
For the higher pricing of Quadros and Radeon Pros, you get basically the same hardware specification found in much cheaper gaming cards. They’re the same underlying design, the same architecture, and similar specifications, but with a few crucial differences. Quadro and Radeon cards have certified drivers. That means they have been tested for compatibility with specific software, offer better performance with design software (in certain circumstances) and are (allegedly) less likely to run into issues. They have ECC memory for extra precision. And sometimes they run at lower clock speeds, meaning they have lower power requirements and less thermal demands.
These aren’t niche features. If your livelihood depends on your design work, you don’t care about gaming, and want absolute reliability, it’s the Radeon Pro and Quadro cards you should be looking at.
Another difference you’ll find is how the two classes of graphics cards are manufactured. With gaming cards, Nvidia and AMD produce and sell reference designs, but a long list of other manufacturers, including Asus, MSI, Zotac, EVGA and Sapphire, sell variations on the reference specification – with different cooling systems and faster clock speeds, but generally always the same core design. For Quadro cards, Nvidia works with a single manufacturer – PNY – to produce all its hardware.
Jump to: How to choose the best graphics card
Look at any graphics card review and it will be full of three-letter acronyms that are used to illustrate the kind of software performance you can expect. But it can leave you wondering which of these figures matter in a modern graphics card.
The key specifications often quoted in reviews and by manufacturers are memory (capacity, bandwidth and speed) the number of cores (basically the guts of the hardware) and the card’s clock speed (in MHz). These specifications vary between GPU generations and across the various tiers, and the cores in Nvidia and AMD cards aren’t the same. Nvidia uses the term Cuda cores while AMD refer to its GCN cores. Performance between AMD and Nvidia absolutely can’t be compared by suggesting an AMD card has more or fewer cores than an Nvidia card.
Got all that? Now for our pick of the best graphics cards available now.
The best graphics cards: Creative Bloq's rankings
01. Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080
The flagship graphics card
GPU Cores: 2,944 | Base Clock: 1,515MHz | Boost Clock: 1,710MHz | GFLOPS: 10,068 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
Nvidia’s flagship RTX 2080 is the first 2000-series Turing architecture card on the market, and the first to bear the name RTX rather than GTX, which reflects the new technology it supports for real-time ray tracing. This feature is supported in a select number of newer games – and looks awesome – but it’s not in widespread use yet. It's the overall leap forward in the hardware specification over previous generations of GeForce that makes the RTX 2080 the top choice.
It’s this leap that make the RTX 2080 our top choice. With this generation, Nvidia has increased the number of Cuda cores from the GTX 1080, in addition to introducing new, dedicated hardware RT cores for ray tracing and Tensor cores for 3D arithmetic. The RTX 2080 also uses new higher bandwidth GDDR6 memory, although it remains at 8GB, as on the GTX 1080.
In games, you can expect approximately 50 per cent better performance than the previous generation’s top-end card, the GTX 1080 Ti. And in design software, the improved application performance means better Cuda and OpenGL acceleration as well – outperforming many of the current Quadro models in some tests, with the addition of support for Cuda 7.5.
However, explosive internet arguments followed Nvidia’s pricing announcement, with the RTX 2080 priced higher at launch than the GTX 1080 was, as it’s certainly tough on the wallet. However, buying an RTX 2080 now is a great investment – as it is unlikely to be beaten in performance for some time.
02. AMD Radeon VII
AMD’s new high-end card spells fierce competition for Nvidia
GPU Cores: 3,840 | Base Clock: 1,400 | Boost Clock: 1,800 MHz | GFLOPS: 13,824 | Memory: 16GB HBM2 | Memory bandwidth: 1028GB/s
The newest Radeon VII graphics card (codenamed Vega 20) aims at the high-end GPU market, breaking AMD’s tradition of simply offering better bang for the buck than Nvidia’s offerings. The Radeon VII is up there with the GeForce RTX 2070 in gaming, and is especially great for high-resolution creative work too, thanks to a massive 16GB of super-fast HBM2 memory and stellar OpenCL performance.
This new generation of AMD cards costs a bit more though, and most notably is a bit noisier and hotter than Nvidia’s offerings. It also lacks the hardware support for ray-tracing that the RTX cards have, which may be a decisive factor in a purchase decision, if you’re not swayed by the Radeon VII’s additional memory capacity.
03. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
A modern mainstream card that replaces the GTX 1060
GPU Cores: 1,536 | Base Clock: 1,500 | Boost Clock: 1,770 MHz | GFLOPS: 4,608 | Memory: 6GB GDDR6 | Memory bandwidth: 288GB/s
With pricing and a specification that places the Geforce GTX 1660 Ti in the middle of the pack, this new Nvidia card will no doubt find its way into more affordable off-the-shelf PCs than the pricey, high-end RTX series, with capabilities that roughly sit between the (still impressive) GTX 1070 and GTX 1060.
It has 6GB of GDDR6 memory and a modest 1,536 Cuda cores, and is based on the newer 12nm Turning architecture of the RTX cards, but without the ray tracing hardware.
Capable of delivering excellent gaming performance at 1080p and 1440p, and plenty of grunt for accelerating plugins and filters in creative software, the GTX 1660 Ti is priced extremely well, and is being offered by some manufacturers (such as PNY) in an extra short design that can squeeze into tiny PCs.
04. Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000
The best all-round professional-grade graphics card
GPU Cores: 2,304 | Base Clock: 1,005MHz | Boost Clock: 1,545 MHz | GFLOPS: 7,100 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory bandwidth: 416 GB/s
The Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 is our top recommendation for a workstation-class graphics card at a (just about) affordable price, with excellent performance in design applications. It’s comes in a svelte single-slot design that helps it fit into small cases, and requires less power than a bulkier GeForce card
OpenCL and Cuda applications in particular absolutely fly on the new Turing architecture so the RTX 4000 will make a massive difference in when working with all kinds of creative software, plug-ins and filters, driving excellent performance when rendering images, 3D and video.
05. AMD Radeon RX 590
Now a mid-range card, the RX590 is excellent value
GPU Cores: 2,304 | Base Clock: 1,469MHz | Boost Clock: 1,545MHz | GFLOPS: 7,100 | Memory: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory bandwidth: 256GB/s
Now AMD has a new flagship top-end performer, the Radeon VII, the older RX590 graphics card has dropped to approximate price points where it directly competes with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060. But in many situations, the RX590 is a better purchase, outperforming the GTX 1060 in some some games and OpenCL processing. It has more memory, bandwidth and processing power, in some cases trading blows with Nvidia’s much pricier Pascal-based Quadros. Given its low price, that makes it well worth considering.
06. Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
The fastest consumer graphics card on the planet
GPU Cores: 4,352 | Base Clock: 1,350MHz | Boost Clock: 1,545MHz | GFLOPS: 13,448 | Memory: 11GB GDDR6 | Memory Bandwidth: 616GB/s
Every generation, Nvidia releases its flagship model, then a second, steroid-enhanced version of it, with high pricing that is really only something the most enthusiastic PC users will consider. The RTX 2080 Ti is now the absolute fastest graphics card on the planet – 4,352 Cuda cores, almost double the ray tracing hardware of the vanilla RTX 2080 and almost double the graphics processing power.
This card alone costs more than the average mid-range PC though, but with some serious hardware behind it, the investment could be well worth considering, including for designers whose workstation doubles up as a gaming PC – as Cuda and OpenCL performance has leapt forward along with gaming performance.
07. AMD Radeon Pro WX8200
AMD’s best ever professional-grade GPU
GPU Cores: 3584 | Base Clock: 1200MHz | Boost Clock: 1,500MHz | GFLOPS: 10,075 | Memory: 8GB HBM2 | Memory Bandwidth: 512GB/s
AMD has just slipped out a nifty new professional-grade graphics card, the WX8200, to steal some of Nvidia’s thunder, bringing the performance of its higher tier WX9100 card to a tasty price point (relative, of course, to the generally much higher pricing of Radeon Pro and Quadro cards).
It’s still based on the current Vega architecture, but has 3,584 cores, with 8GB of ultra-fast HBM2 memory to deliver some great performance in specific tests.
Depending on the tools you use, AMD cards may offer better performance. 3D animators who rely exclusively on Maya or Blender, for example, may benefit from choosing AMD over Nvidia, although we’d recommend some further research, and considering your workflow before investing. OpenCL applications work great with AMD graphics cards and the WX8200 is absolutely the best choice for an AMD professional-grade card around right now.
08. Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000
A really powerful graphics card for creative software
GPU Cores: 3,072 | Base Clock: 1,620MHz | Boost Clock: 1815MHz | GFLOPS: 11,200 | Memory: 16GB GDDR6 | Memory Bandwidth: 448 GB/s
If you’re not interested in gaming, the Quadros are a better choice for creative software than GeForce cards. While the 8GB Quadro RTX 4000 (at number 7) is the best all-round affordable choice, the 16GB Quadro RTX 5000 packs in a lot more performance, and is aimed at ultra high-end users, willing to pay serious bucks for serious performance levels.
For that, you’re getting a lot more rendering power than the previous Pascal generation, driving Cuda and OpenCL applications to new levels, and leaving every other graphics card looking comparatively weak.
09. Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080 Ti
Look out for bargain deals on this graphics card
GPU Cores: 3,584 | Base Clock: 1,481MHz | Boost Clock: 1,582MHz | GFLOPS: 11,340 | Memory: 11GB GDDR5X | Memory Bandwidth: 484.4GB/s
Last generation’s top-end card is still on the market, and the Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080 Ti still packs a mean punch in games. And prices have dropped since the RTX 2080 was released. That might make it a better value purchase, given that it comes close to the RTX 2080 in performance.
You could save a few bob, but be aware won’t get the most up-to-date specs or features such as hardware support for ray tracing, which is only in a light handful of games now.
In time, you might miss these features by not choosing the latest generation of GeForce cards now, but if your budget is restricted, going down this route will certainly mean superb gaming and rendering performance for now, including at 4K resolution.
10. AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB
The best value graphics card
GPU Cores: 2,048 | Base Clock: 1,168MHz | Boost Clock: 1,244MHz | GFLOPS: 5,095 | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Bandwidth: 224GB/s
Choosing the AMD option in gaming graphics cards often is about getting better value for your money, which explains why the the AMD Radeon RX 570 is one of the best cards for gamers on a tight budget.
It comfortably wins the battle for performance over Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 1050, almost matching the GTX 1060 for a considerably lower price. With only 4GB of memory, it might struggle at resolutions beyond 1080p, but this tier of cards is about solid frame rates at HD resolution anyway, rather than 4K.
How to choose the right graphics card
There are some basic things to be considered when shopping around. A higher resolution you are working at (or gaming) needs more memory. If you intend to work with 4K resolution either on your screen or with larger textures, you need a graphics card with more memory. 8GB or more is now common on the higher tier cards.
The faster the performance of your card, the better detail and more advanced graphical effects you’ll be able to switch on in games, at higher resolutions. 60fps is the sweet spot for fluid performance, but if you’ve invested in a144Hz display, you’ll be working your graphics card even harder to keep up. Expect the Nvidia 2000-series cards to make short work of 60fps, 4K gaming, or 144fps, FullHD (1080p) gaming.
The number of cores really determines the overall rendering power of the card. These vary dramatically across the various price and performance tiers, from the entry level £100 cards to the £1000+ behemoths.
The clock speed of the graphics card is quoted as a base figure and a “GPU boost”. Similar to the Turbo mode on Intel CPUs, when a graphics card is under heavy load it will run at a higher clock speed for better performance, until it hits a predetermined maximum, which is in place to avoid overheating.
Don’t forget to also consider the display(s) you work with, and the outputs of the graphics card you buy. All modern graphics cards use digital video outputs only, either HDMI or DisplayPort (which may be either a small square-ish miniDP connector or a big D-shaped connector).
For 4K or 5K displays, all graphics cards now support at least the DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 standards that offer the bandwidth needed for 60hZ refresh rates – which was a serious problem on older graphics cards when higher resolution displays first became a mainstream proposition a few years ago. When 8K displays finally become more realistically affordable, this same problem will rear its head again.
Lastly, the single biggest differentiator of performance in graphics cards, which may be obvious to some readers, is the hardware generation of the series of cards, always codenamed for reference. Nvidia names its cards after scientists – Pascal, Turing, and so on, while AMD is a little more obscure, with Polaris and the newer Vega architecture sitting on the market currently.
Nvidia and AMD roughly produce a new series of graphics card every two years (it varies) and when a new generation comes out, it means raising the bar in all technical areas – more cores, more memory, more bandwidth and more features, often squeezing into the same power and thermal demands of the previous generation of card.
For the best possible performance and best future proofing, only ever look at the newest cards.