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Graphics cards
Would you like to buy a mid-range graphics card, like most PC enthusiasts do? Well, no soup for you. Cryptocurrency miners have, until recently, gotten their grubby little hands on every midrange chip with a sizable number of shaders on the planet. If you're interested in budget cards around $150, or high-end monsters above $500, you're good. It's the $200 to $300 range where everything has gone sour. Options in that midrange arena are selling for well above their suggested prices, and sometimes comically so. As we go to press, however, the enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies seems to be in one of its periodic troughs. Prices on midrange cards seem to be falling as a result. The GTX 1060 6GB cards we'd want are going for anywhere from $5 to $30 or so more than Nvidia's suggested price. That's certainly a moderate annoyance, but it's not the end of the world for midrange builders.

At the high end of the market, AMD can legitimately claim to be back in the game with its Radeon RX Vega graphics cards. The reference RX Vega 56 performs on par with overclocked versions of the evergreen GeForce GTX 1070, and the RX Vega 64's performance potential falls just a hair short of the GTX 1080. RX Vega cards suffer from immature drivers at the moment, though, and their performance-per-watt figures lag the GeForce competition by a wide margin. That means RX Vega cards might not deliver as smooth a gameplay experience as the GeForce competition, and they'll draw much more power and produce much more heat and noise along the way.

We could tolerate immature drivers and an appetite for power at the right price, but demand for RX Vega cards from the cryptocurrency crowd seems to be off the charts. Roughly speaking, the RX Vega 56 should be fighting the GeForce GTX 1070 with a $400 price tag. However, the AMD card currently goes for a whopping $550 as part of one of AMD's Radeon Packs, making it difficult to recommend against far superior GeForce GTX 1080 cards that ring in near or under that mark. The situation is even worse with the RX Vega 64. This card is supposed to go head-to-head with the aforementioned GeForce GTX 1080 at $500, but it currently sits at $650 or so at e-tail. Considering that you can obtain the far superior GeForce GTX 1080 Ti for $760 or so, we can't see ourselves picking the RX Vega 64 over the Nvidia card right now.

No matter which graphics card you choose, we're continuing to draw a line in the sand regarding graphics memory these days. Any graphics card with less than 4GB of RAM is a bad idea for a brand-new gaming machine. Our observations indicate that with the latest crop of AAA games, it's become a little too easy to hit certain corner cases where less-endowed cards can run out of RAM, degrading gaming performance.

Nvidia still hasn't chosen to support the VESA Adaptive-Sync standard (better known as FreeSync) in its latest graphics cards, so folks that are keen on VRR tech from a sub-$300 graphics card will need to take stock of their budgets and see whether a $380-or-more monitor is within the realm of affordability. If it is, a GeForce card and a G-Sync monitor will be a good pairing. Those looking to save every dollar will want to look into a Radeon and one of the many FreeSync displays on the market—assuming midrange Radeon prices ever come out of the stratosphere. Right now, cryptocurrency demand obviates the platform cost advantage of FreeSync to some degree.

Our graphics card budget categories and CPU categories are linked. For example, you'll realize that the top budget combo of the moment is the Pentium G4600 with a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti. If you go for a faster CPU, you'll often find yourself craving a more powerful graphics card, and vice-versa. Keep that in mind if you're cross-shopping a Pentium G4600 and a GTX 1080 Ti for some reason.

In the budget arena, there's a lot of graphics card to be had for a small amount of cash these days. For under $150, you can get a card that should be able to handle almost any game you throw at it if you don't push the resolution or detail levels too high. An added advantage is that none of our budget picks requires a PCIe power connector, meaning these cards can go into any system where they can physically fit.

Product Price Remarks
MSI Radeon RX 560 Aero ITX $129.99 Look, ma, no power connectors needed!
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 Ti  OC 4GB $154.99

The MSI Radeon RX 560 Aero ITX we've chosen for our entry-level bracket boasts all the best features of the breed. It doesn't need a six-pin PCIe power connector to run, and since the GPU underneath doesn't run all that hot, the single fan should suffice for cooling.

If you have just a few more bucks, though, the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti offers better performance and runs quieter and cooler than the RX 560 4GB. The only thing going against it is its lack of FreeSync support, really. Its power and noise profile make it a near-perfect choice for a gaming-oriented HTPC, too. Our next choice is a dual-fan Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 Ti OC. This card draws power through the PCIe slot alone. Although it's not a super-compact model, it should still fit most lunchbox systems given that it's only 7.5" long.

Sweet spot
Given the tough availability situation for Radeon RX 570 and Radeon RX 580 cards at the moment, we've turned to Nvidia's GTX 1060 6GB card as the sole sweet-spot option in this Guide. The GeForce GTX 1060 6GB's calling card is the highly power-efficient GP106 Pascal GPU. Thanks to that efficiency, custom-cooled cards can deliver high performance without making more than the barest peep of fan noise, and they consume significantly less power than the otherwise-equivalent Radeon RX 580. If you're considering a VR-ready system, the GTX 1060 6GB offers the requisite performance and some Pascal-exclusive VR rendering features for the money, too.

Product Price Notable needs
EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB SC $279.99 One eight-pin power connector
Gigabyte GTX 1060 D5 6GB $289.99

EVGA's GeForce GTX 1060 6GB SC is our all-around midrange pick. This single-fan card is a mighty mouse. At 6.8" long, the EVGA card can fit into most any enclosure, and it's both quiet and fast. We liked this card so much that we handed it a coveted Editor's Choice award in our review.

If you'd like a larger cooler for overclocking headroom, or if our first choice is out of stock, the Gigabyte GTX 1060 D5 6GB  is really all the card or cooler you need for GP106.

High end
Since our last Guide, we've seen graphics card prices climb a little in the high-end arena. Where we saw GeForce GTX 1080s going for $500 and under, those cards now start roughly at the $530 mark. Meanwhile, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is also a little more expensive at around $730 and up. Even at that price, though, the GTX 1080 is still one of the best-value graphics cards around (yes, really). It's the second-fastest graphics card on the market, and it remains ideal for high-refresh-rate gaming at 1920x1080 or an enviably smooth ride in most games at 2560x1440. The GTX 1070 provides GTX 980 Ti-class performance for quite a bit less money than that card sold for at its zenith.

If you want the finest 4K gaming experience on the market right now—or the finest gaming experience at any resolution, period—the GTX 1080 Ti is the way to go. Custom-cooled versions of that car have now arrived with upgraded power delivery circuit and far superior thermal handling than the Founders Edition. No matter how you get your GTX 1080 Ti, it's a total winner, and the rare TR Editor's Choice award we bestowed on it at launch should underscore that point. The $700 price tag is lofty, to be sure, but you can't get that class of gaming performance any other way right now.

Product Price
Asus Dual GeForce GTX 1070 $424.99
Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 $529.99
Aorus GeForce GTX 1080 Ti $769.99
EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti SC2 iCX $769.99

The mining craze has pushed prices for GeForce GTX 1070 cards generally pretty high, but there are still a few reasonably-priced gems. The Asus GeForce GTX 1070 Dual is one of them. This double-fan card boasts a boost clock range of 1771 MHz, and its cooler should be up to the task of even higher clocks. Grab the card for $425 from either Newegg or Amazon's storefront. Still, if you can afford $100 or so more, we think the performance boost offered by the GTX 1080 is worth the additional outlay.

For those who want prefer the punch of a GeForce GTX 1080, we're tipping our hat to Aorus' GeForce GTX 1080. Though this GTX 1080 isn't Aorus' most extreme take on the card, a similar model won our Editor's Choice award. The card has a beefy triple-fan cooler with assertive styling, plenty of RGB LEDs, and among the highest clocks available for an out-of-the-box GTX 1080. This excellent pixel-pusher goes for a reasonable $580, only about $50 more than basic GTX 1080 models. We figure if you're already spending that much cash, you might as well get the nicer version.

EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti SC2 iCX

Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is the uncontested single-GPU performance king, and every manufacturer out there has a custom-cooled take on the GP102 GPU. Prices on these cards have climbed somewhat since the last iteration of the Guide, though we think that's not going to scare you off if you're already paying top dollar for a graphics card.

For about $770, you can get a hold of the EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti SC2 iCX. This card has EVGA's super-duper-fancy iCX cooler laden with a metric ton of sensors and independently-controlled fans. Boost clocks in Pascal cards are mostly just indications, so with this much thermal dissipation power at hand, we wouldn't be surprised to see this card go well past its specificed 1760-MHz boost clock range.

If our main pick is out of stock, or if you have more room to spare in your case, Aorus' take on the GTX 1080 Ti is well worth $770 in its own right. This card is wicked-fast and nearly silent thanks to its beefy triple-fan cooler, and it also offers nice extras like a front-panel HDMI out for VR headsets.