The best 1080p graphics card for PC gaming

PCWorld graphics guru Brad Chacos explains the best graphics card you can buy for gaming at 1080p resolution.

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

Sure, 4K and ultrawide-resolution monitors may dominate headlines, but most PC gamers play at 1080p resolution or below, according to the Steam Hardware Survey. And what a time it is to be gaming at HD! You used to have to spend around $250 to $300 to pick up a decent 1080p graphics card. These days, you only need to spend that much if you have a monitor with an ultra-fast 120Hz, 144Hz, or 240Hz refresh rate and want to squeeze as much out of it as possible.

Most people play on 60Hz monitors and want games to hit a smooth 60 frames per second. Good news! The best 1080p graphics cards hit those targets without breaking the bank. You can even find some solid 1080p GPU options for under $150 if you don’t mind tinkering with in-game visual settings.

If you want a wider look at the world of high-performance GPUs, be sure to check out our overarching guide to the best graphics cards for PC gaming, where we also explore your best options for 1440p and 4K resolution, and divvy out buying tips to keep in mind while you’re on the hunt for new hardware

The best graphics card for 1080p gaming: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660

Your best option for PC gaming at 1080p resolution is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660, which we crowned “the new sweet spot champion” in our review. The GPU starts at $220 for basic models, though the overclocked, custom-cooled EVGA GTX 1660 XC Ultra we tested in our review will set you back $250.

The GeForce GTX 1660 blows far beyond last generation’s similarly priced graphics cards in performance, and it’s just ahead of AMD’s relatively new Radeon RX 590 in most scenarios. It has no problem sustaining 60 fps in most modern AAA games even when you enable all possible eye candy, with plenty of performance headroom left for even more taxing games sure to come in the future. In games with advanced graphics options built specifically to stress hardware, such as the GPU-melting Ghost Recon Wildlands, you may need to drop down to the second-highest graphics level, but those situations should be few and far between.

dsc00524 Brad Chacos/IDG

The EVGA GTX 1660 XC Ultra.

Nvidia equipped the GTX 1660 with 6GB of onboard memory—plenty for 1080p gaming even though it's GDDR5 RAM, instead of the faster GDDR6 memory found in more expensive RTX 20-series options. It also runs much cooler and is more power-efficient than AMD’s rival Radeon options in this price range. Finally, now that Nvidia supports AMD’s FreeSync displays, albeit in a somewhat convoluted way, you can pair the GTX 1660 with a FreeSync or G-Sync monitor to get smooth, stutter-free adaptive sync gaming.

Add it all up, and the GeForce GTX 1660 is the best graphics card for 1080p gaming right now.

The best graphics card for 1080p gaming: High refresh rate and value options

While the GeForce GTX 1660 is the best 1080p gaming option for most people, it isn’t the only one.

If you’ve invested in a high-refresh rate monitor and want to put its 120Hz or 144Hz capabilities to work as much as possible, consider stepping up to the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti. It bounds ahead of the GTX 1660 by a decent clip, and its memory configuration is upgraded to 8GB of GDDR6 RAM for substantially more memory bandwidth. The GPU starts around $280, with custom models like the Editors’ Choice award-winning EVGA GTX 1660 Ti XC Ultra going for around $300, and the fully loaded Asus ROG Strix 1660 Ti at $330. Keep in mind that if you’re aiming for high refresh-rate gaming, you’ll need a potent CPU to keep the graphics card fed, too.

If you want even faster performance or want to invest in cutting-edge real-time ray tracing capabilities, consider the $350 GeForce RTX 2060, though that’s really more of a 1440p gaming GPU. Its dedicated RT and tensor cores unlock real-time ray tracing capabilities in games like Control and Metro: Exodus, though performance in ray traced games will be modest. The technology is very intensive and puts a big hit on frame rates, while the GeForce RTX 2060 sports less dedicated ray tracing hardware than any other Nvidia graphics card. You can sometimes find the RTX 2060 on sale for under $300 if you keep an eye out for deals.

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The Sapphire Radeon RX 590 Nitro+ is another good option.

Finally, if you're willing to maxing out the visuals in your games, AMD’s Radeon offerings are stellar bang-for-buck options. They're enhanced by the fact that AMD is currently offering three free months of Microsoft’s stellar Xbox Game Pass for PC with every purchase.

The Radeon RX 570 can be found on sale for $120 or $130 on the regular, bringing with it the ability to play modern 1080p games at Medium or High visual settings, depending on the title. Its 4GB memory buffer is fine for that level of fidelity. You can find the more powerful Radeon RX 580 on sale for around $180 regularly, or $150 if you really get lucky. It delivers great 1080p gameplay at 60 fps with graphics settings at High or Ultra in most games, even new ones, and comes in both 4GB and 8GB varieties. Get the higher capacity if you’re able.

The Radeon RX 590 is a good option at the $200 or so price it normally sells for, too. We suggest spending the extra $20 on a GTX 1660 to get the slightly higher performance and vastly reduced power draw, but the Radeon RX 590 comes with more memory—8GB versus the GTX 1660’s 6GB—and those three free months of Xbox Game Pass for PC. If you’re hoping to dabble in 1440p gaming one day, the extra memory capacity could be worth it.

Don’t buy the GeForce GTX 1650 unless you have to buy a graphics card that doesn’t need extra power connectors. If that’s the case, ensure that the model you’re buying fits that need. In general, though, the Radeon RX 570 offers much more performance for a lower price.

How to check your monitor’s refresh rate

A lot of this advice revolves around the refresh rate of your monitor. The faster your monitor refreshes, the faster the graphics card you can use.

advanced display settings Brad Chacos/IDG

None of the 1080p graphics cards mention today could feed this 4K, 120Hz display well.

If you aren’t sure how fast your monitor is, click the Start button in the lower-left corner of the Windows 10 taskbar, then head to Settings > System > Display. Scroll down past where you see the resolution for your monitor(s) listed, then click Advanced display settings at the bottom of the page. You’ll see more detailed stats for your display listed, including the refresh rate in hertz (Hz). If you have multiple monitors, you’ll be able to switch among them.

Some monitors can run at different speeds depending on their settings. To see what’s available for yours, click the Display adapter properties link at the bottom of this page, then click the Monitor tab in the new box that appears. It’ll house a drop-down menu with your available screen refresh rates. If what you see appears slower than what your monitor should be capable of, you might need to dive into the options menu for your specific monitor, which is accessible via hardware buttons on your display.

Got it? Good. Again, if you’re considering jumping beyond 1080p be sure to check out our guide to the best graphics cards for PC gaming to see the best GPU options for 1440p and 4K resolution.

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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