The battle for supremacy in the graphics card market has been raging since there have been dedicated graphics cards. First it was NVIDIA and ATI. Now, it’s NVIDIA and AMD. Each company tries to one up the other in a cycle. It happens with every new release.
Each time, though trends appear, each company beats the other in different parts of the market and different price points. While these trends are always shifting, they do stay relatively consistent for some time. Everything mentioned here is based on the current trends.
The easiest way to look at the landscape of the graphics card market is to break it down by budget. Cards compete in different price points, and it doesn’t matter if another card is better at a much higher price. NVIDIA’s flagship cards run around $1200. AMD’s top cards come in around $500. That doesn’t mean that you can, in any way, compare the two.
Budget – Under $200
Plenty of gamers are working on a tight budget. While it’s possible to build an entire gaming PC for right around the price of a console, it’s not exactly easy, especially when you’re going to sink the majority of your budget into a graphics card. Getting the most out of your card in this bracket is especially important.
The top AMD card in this price point is the RX 560. It’s a modest card, but it can handle plenty of games on medium or lower settings at 1080p. It’s great for a lot of eSports games, like DoTA 2 and Overwatch. The RX 560 also comes in at the lower end of this price bracket at around $140.
There’s a bit of a catch here. It’s possible to find RX 570 cards on sale for under $200. If you do find them, that’s an even better deal, and they can be an excellent option.
NVIDIA’s offering in the under $200 range is the GTX 1050 Ti, and it’s an amazing budget card. Again, in this range you shouldn’t expect to run the latest games on ultra, but you can easily run most around medium at 1080p. The GTX 1050 Ti provides wonderful value for the price, and it will get you gaming on a budget.
That said, you also may be able to find sales on the GTX 1060 here, too. If you do, take advantage of that opportunity.
The GTX 1050 Ti performs better in most situations and at only around $20 more.
Mid-Range – $200 To $350
This is the sweet spot for most gamers. It’s not overly pricey, but cards in this area are powerful enough to handle just about anything at 1080p. These cards deliver some serious performance at an attainable price point.
For AMD fans, the RX 580 8GB is the card of choice here. This one is easily one of the best all around cards in price to performance balance, and plenty of models come in at just around $250, making it a very reasonable option. The extra memory that this card provides gives it a serious leg up when dealing with higher screen resolutions too.
The GTX 1060 is kind of a beast. It’s great in most gaming situations, and it can easily tackle most games on their highest settings at 1080p. In fact, it usually performs just better than the competition at that resolution.
NVIDIA offers the GTX 1060 with a variety of different amounts of memory, meaning that you can get up to 6GB of RAM for higher resolutions. Unfortunately, that still falls just short of the RX 580, and it comes at a higher price point.
The RX 580 and the GTX 1060 are both formidable cards at this price point, and you can’t really go wrong with either.
High End – $350 To $500
If you’re a serious gamer and want to invest in a really beefy graphics card, this is your price bracket. The cards here have some serious grunt and are built to start tackling 1440p.
AMD’s top card in the high end bracket is the RX Vega 56. While it is possible to find the RX Vega 64 at around $500, it’s not that common, and the performance between the two is very similar, especially when overclocked.
The RX Vega 56 is a great card. It can easily handle most games at 1440p and has plenty of memory. It also boasts solid compute performance for tasks like cryptocurrency mining.
NVIDIA offers a few really amazing cards here. The GTX 1070, 1070 Ti, and 1080 all fall within this range, and they’re all outstanding choices. The 1080, a former flagship card, can be purchased for right around $500.
You won’t be disappointed with a GTX 1080. You just won’t. There’s not a lot that it can’t handle, and it’s a card that’s proven itself time and again.
There’s absolutely no contest here. The GTX 1080 blows the RX Vega 56 out of the water in nearly every circumstance. Now, there is about a $100 price difference between them, but the GTX 1070 Ti is only about $20 to $30 more, and still wins out in overall performance.
No Limits – $500+
Maybe you want to break the bank and go for the absolute best card available. If so, this is the category for you. These cards have hefty price tags, but they also boast some serious performance. These are your 4k, “Sky’s the limit,” cards.
AMD is nearly a no-show in this category. The only card that AMD has within this price range is the RX Vega 64, and that’s barely an improvement over the RX Vega 56.
NVIDIA has plenty of options here. Right now NVIDIA’s lineup is undergoing a bit of a transition. The latest RTX 20XX cards are just starting to launch, while the previous generation’s GTX 10XX cards are still very relevant. Choosing one or the other will largely depend on your budget, with the newer cards being the better long term investment.
The best value here will probably come from the RTX 2080. It comes in at a similar price to the GTX 1080 Ti while delivering a next generation GPU. Sure, the RTX 2080 Ti does bring with it more performance, but the price tag is about $400 more than the RTX 2080.
Again, there is no contest. The RX Vega 64 can’t measure up to the winner of the previous category, the GTX 1080. The GTX 1080 Ti, RTX 2080, and RTX 2080 Ti all absolutely destroy it in every metric. If you’re looking for the absolute best performance, regardless of price, NVIDIA is the undisputed winner.
Right now NVIDIA is king, and AMD needs to answer soon with a new generation of graphics cards. AMD does still have places where it shines, but they are much fewer than they should be.
There is an interesting situation where AMD is the best choice across the board with open source drivers on Linux. AMD is the only real option for gaming with open source drivers on the operating system, and the quality of those drivers is continually improving.
This all is not to say that AMD’s cards are bad or that you should drop your current RX 580 and run out to get a new NVIDIA card. AMD’s cards are great, but NVIDIA is simply beating them in most price segments. That’s a situation that can change at any time. The rest of NVIDIA’s RTX 20XX series should be rolling out soon. It’s been almost two years since AMD’s last cards launched. They’re due for a new release. So if you’re not itching to upgrade immediately, it might be a good idea to keep an eye out for the latest news from both companies.