Many would argue that the most important component of a gaming PC is the graphics card. And that is often where the majority of your budget goes while trying to upgrade an old PC, or while building an entirely new gaming PC. But do you know how to select the proper graphics card for your gaming computer?
This article will shed some light on what a graphics card is, and why it is so important to PC gamers. We shall also discuss how a graphics card functions, and walk you through the various steps to selecting an appropriate graphics card for your gaming PC.
There are several models out there, available from either of the two major GPU manufacturers- NVIDIA and AMD. As of now, if you wish to purchase a new gaming graphics card- you have only two manufacturers to choose from. The same rule applies to processors, you have to choose between Intel or AMD. If you feel like this makes things easy, since you only have to pick one side out of two, you are completely mistaken.
The graphics card market is a little different from the CPU market. To give you an example, consider the Intel Core i6 7600k processor. This is a quad-core CPU based on Intel’s Kaby Lake architecture. It features 4 physical cores, has a clock speed of 3.8 GHz base and 4.2 GHz boost. It costs between 240- 250 dollars depending on which outlet you purchase from.
But then, take into consideration a typical current-generation midrange graphics card from NVIDIA- the GTX 1060. It is available in two different versions- a 3GB variant with 1152 CUDA cores, and a 6 GB variant with 1280 CUDA cores.
So, you already have two levels of complexity associated to the exact same model. But then, you also have to deal with all the aftermarket vendors who make their own variants of the GTX 1060 based upon the reference design which NVIDIA supplies to them.
For example, the company Gigabyte releases 6 to 7 different versions of the GTX 1060 6GB, each with varying clock speeds and cooling solutions, and at different costs. Then another graphics card vendor, MSI, has like 5 different GTX 1060 variants- each with its own unique PCB design and cooler, with factory clock speeds that are different from the Gigabyte models.
So, if you were to simply type “GTX 1060” into the search bar, you will be presented with at least 20 different versions of the card. This makes selecting a graphics card extremely difficult, as opposed to selecting a processor.
You have to consider the unique features and advantages provided by one version over another, even if you are looking within the same family carrying the exact same model number. What makes things even more confusing, is the fact that you also have to deal with varying graphics card prices throughout the year depending on supply/ demand, as well as release of newer architectures.
Why Graphics Cards are Important for Gaming?
A graphics card is basically a tiny computer on its own- there is a processor (the GPU), onboard memory (VRAM), cooling, power delivery system, etc. just like your PC. A desktop graphics card is one complete processing unit which is responsible for outputting graphics to the display device.
Without a discrete graphics card, all the graphical workload would have to be shared with the CPU. This happens in systems which use onboard graphics solutions, such as Intel HD graphics. With onboard graphics, the CPU has to take on the added workload of processing complex graphical algorithms and since there is no dedicated graphics memory, the textures and assets have to be loaded into the system memory (RAM).
When the CPU processing cycles are split between normal processing workloads and graphical workloads, it slows down the system and leaves less room for regular tasks. Sharing RAM in order to load graphical assets such as 3D models and textures, means that there is less memory for the system processes as well as other parts of the game which are currently not being displayed on the screen.
Basically, you need to have a dedicated graphics processor with its own high-speed memory, in order to handle advanced visual effects and high-quality graphics. There are several AAA game titles that run absolutely horribly on CPU power alone- games such as Mass Effect Andromeda, GTA V, Crysis 3, Resident Evil 4, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Battlefield 1, etc. require some sort of discrete graphics to be installed inside your computer in order for them to run properly.
If you plan to play anything other than Farmville, Minecraft, or Angry Birds on your computer, then we strongly suggest investing in a dedicated graphics card. But before we delve into the process of selecting a graphics card, we need to make sure that you fully understand how a graphics card functions.
It is definitely impossible to explain the complete workings of a modern graphics card within a single online article, but we can inform you about the absolute basics. Simply put, a graphics card takes data from the CPU and turns it into pictures.
The images that you see on your monitor are made up of tiny dots called “pixels”. A 1080p display contains exactly 1920 x 1080 = 2073600 pixels, which is over 2 million. To display an image, the computer has to manipulate individual pixels, i.e. change the color of a pixel, increase/ decrease its brightness, etc.
A graphics card takes binary data from the CPU and turns it into a picture which you can see. Modern graphics cards are capable of rendering both 2D as well as 3D scenes. Once the graphics card has decided how to use the pixels on the display, it then sends that data over to your monitor through a display output cable (HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort).
Creating an image from binary data is a very tedious process- especially if it is 3-dimensional. To create a 3D image, the graphics card first generates a wireframe through the process of “rasterization” (drawing straight lines to form a skeletal structure for the model). Then, it “rasterizes” this wireframe by filling in the remaining spaces.
For your video games, this process has to be completed at an extremely fast rate (60 times a second for a smooth 60 fps experience). And the higher your monitor resolution, the more graphics processing power it takes to render the corresponding high-resolution image.
High resolution images also occupy more space, so the memory on high-end graphics cards is larger in capacity. But large is not enough, you also need the memory to be fast. Memory bandwidth is also a deciding factor, it represents the amount of data that can be sent across the memory bus in one cycle.
To make the concept clear, consider two points A and B. Let’s assume that both points are connected by a 4-lane highway. There is one truck per lane, and each truck travels at a speed of 40 mph. The number of lanes represents the bandwidth, while the speed of the trucks represents the memory clock speed. You can either increase the width of the memory bus to increase data transfer rates, or you can ramp up the memory clock speeds.
How to Select the Right Graphics Card for your Gaming PC?
There are several companies and models for you to choose from, based on your budget. But in order to make the right choice, you will have to consider a variety of factors. We have listed those crucial factors below, in order of most to least important. Take a look, and make sure that you fully understand the process of choosing the proper graphics card for your computer.
1. The GPU
This is the actual processing core inside your graphics card, it is the one part that does all of the computing and number crunching in order to render and display an image on your screen. The terms GPU stands for ‘Graphical Processing Unit”, and analogous to the CPU within your gaming PC in some respects.
Just like the CPU, a GPU is a microprocessor chip with billions of Nano-sized transistors, capacitors, and other circuits inside. It takes instructions from the processor and converts them into displayable images. The companies NVIDIA and AMD are responsible for manufacturing these GPUs, while their board partners such as ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, etc. take these GPUs and mount them onto custom designed PCBs.
The GPU itself is a constant in all versions of one particular card, all that differs is the memory size and speed, PCB designs, VRMs, cooler, etc. The faster a GPU, the better a graphics card. GPUs tend to have hundreds or even thousands of stream processors (AMD) or CUDA cores (NVIDIA). This design philosophy is similar to a multicore processor- the more cores a GPU has, the more operations it can execute per second.
The more expensive models from any particular generation of graphics cards will always contain a higher count of stream processors/ CUDA cores compared to their less expensive counterparts. There is also such a thing as GPU clock speed- the clock speed is measured in MHz, and the faster a GPUs clock speed, the more instructions it will execute per second.
2. Video Memory
Video memory in a graphics card is analogous to the RAM in your computer- this is where all the data is stored before the GPU processes it. In order for a graphics card to be capable of computing and displaying large, high-resolution 3D images, it must have a large memory buffer.
The standard memory type for modern day graphics cards is GDDR5, it is architecturally different from the “DDR” RAM found in your computer, since this type of memory is optimized for storing data pertaining to graphical computation and texture files, shaders, etc.
There is another type of memory called GGDR5X, exclusively found on GTX 1080 and 1080ti graphics cards from NVIDIA. This is basically GDDR5 on steroids, and delivers a significantly higher memory throughput capacity (up to 11 GBPS).
One of the most interesting developments in terms of graphics card memory technology is HBM or “High Bandwidth Memory”. This was initially pioneered by AMD, and was seen for the first time in a consumer graphics card in the year 2015, featured in AMDs then flagship “Fury” lineup of graphics cards.
What makes HBM so special is that it is not located around the GPU, instead it is mounted onto the actual GPU die itself, much like cache memory. Not only does this reduce power consumption for the memory modules, but it also decreases the memory latency (time taken for instructions to travel between the GPU and memory).
Also, HBM features an abnormally large bandwidth (up to 1024-bit bus width) albeit at low speeds (typically 500 MHz.). HBM uses stacked DRAM to reduce memory footprint.
Graphics cards can be either passively cooled or actively cooled. Passive cooling means that the card is cooled by natural airflow over some form of heat exchanger, typically copper/ aluminum heatsinks. These heatsinks also feature a fin array to disperse heat effectively.
Passive cooling is employed on extremely low-power GPUs that have a power requirement of 75 watts or below, and it is also seen in server grade professional graphics cards that are designed to be mounted in stacks upon server racks. Passive cooling is dead silent, but it also means that your GPU will run hotter.
Active cooling means forced cooling, and comes in the form of air cooling or liquid cooling. Air cooled graphics cards are the most common due to their lower costs and ease of installation. Air coolers on graphics cards can be of two types- blower style, or open design.
Blower style coolers are typically found on reference models and are known for being cheaper than open design coolers. They are best suited to SFF (small form factor) cases in which there is very little room for air flow. A blower style card is completely sealed off on all sides except the back, where all the I/O ports are mounted. There is a single high rpm impeller mounted towards the front of the card (lengthwise), and this impeller (blower) forces warm air out through the back of the card.
There is a heatsink mounted on the GPU, and the fan pulls air from inside the case and passes it over the heatsink, where heat from the GPU gets exchanged with the incoming air, then this warm air is expelled from the back. Blower style coolers are loud, and cannot keep the card as cool as open design air coolers.
Open design air coolers pull air from above, and force it through a heatsink mounted upon the PCB. This heatsink can stretch the entire length of the PCB, or it can be limited to a certain section surrounding the actual GPU itself. Open design coolers can feature 1, 2, 3, or even 4 fans depending on the length of the PCB and the TDP of the GPU used. The majority of graphics cards purchased by gamers use open-design air coolers.
Liquid cooling is the best way to keep temperatures low- it can come in the form of a closed-loop AIO, or a custom loop which utilizes a GPU waterblock. Liquid cooling shall not be discussed in much detail, since it is only for true PC enthusiasts and hardcore gamers with high-end rigs (and big wallets) who are into overclocking.
If you are planning on liquid cooling your graphics card, you probably know enough graphics cards and cooling for you to not be reading this article. The easiest way to liquid cool your CPU is to buy an aftermarket AIO kit for your particular GPU, or you can also purchase a graphics card that comes with an AIO cooler installed from the factory (such as the MSI Sea Hawk series of 1070s, 1080s, and 1080tis, or the EVGA Hybrid lineup).
4. Clock Speeds and Overclocking
Each GPU comes with a factory designated base clock and boost clock speed. If you plan on squeezing extra performance out of your graphics card, you will need to go into the software options and increase this clock. MSI afterburner is the most popular graphics card overclocking utility.
Manufacturers don’t ship their cards at the maximum possible clock speeds that the silicon can handle, because most customers are satisfied with default performance, and they don’t tend to meddle with advanced settings- majority of people just need a graphics card that they can plop onto the motherboard and play games afterwards.
But if you are really interested in getting the most out of your card, you need to ensure that it is cooled properly. NVIDIAs CPU boost technology will automatically boost your GPU clocks depending on the temperature of the core, so the cooler it runs, the faster it can go.
Faster clock speeds result in more fps, and more fps means a smoother gaming experience. Buy a card with a good cooler design if you plan on overclocking, and in case you are really serious about overclocking, consider liquid cooling.
5. Build Quality
Build quality is an aspect that is often times overlooked by graphics card buyers, since they feel that it is not as big of a determining factor while purchasing a part that will pretty much be sitting within a computer case for years, undisturbed.
This is true to some extent, but build quality doesn’t just mean the external design and materials used to construct the body of the graphics card. Build quality also refers to the quality of the PCB, the quality of the fans, the quality of VRMs, etc. A premium quality graphics card is guaranteed to run longer, run cooler, and overclock better.
6. Power Efficiency
This refers to how many watts of power your graphics card draws, both at idle state and while running a game. The less power it draws, the more efficient it is. NVIDIA graphics cards are currently the leaders in terms of power efficiency, and the Pascal architecture is simply the most power efficient GPU design of all time.
AMD is lagging a bit behind when it comes to power consumption, but they seem to be catching up with driver and software optimizations (Radeon Chill). The new Vega architecture from AMD promises to be their most power efficient GPU design yet, and will bring them one step closer to being at par with NVIDIA in terms of electricity consumption.
Remember- power consumption over here refers to total power draw, or board power draw. There is also another way of looking at Graphics card power efficiency, and that is called GPU power draw, or the power draws by the actual silicon chip itself. This number will always be lower than the total board power draw.
7. Noise Levels
No one wants to sit next to a leaf blower while gaming, and some graphics cards are so loud that even wearing headphones will not dampen the excruciating pain of having a miniature tornado inside your PC case.
Graphics cards are equipped with fans that can spin at speeds in excess of 3000 rpm, and large graphics cards have 2 or more of these high-speed fans installed. Some AIB partners use clever design to increase airflow while decreasing fan speeds. They come up with new fan blade designs as well as advanced bearings that roll smoothly to ensure less vibration and friction.
You will notice that premium graphics cards come with more advanced air coolers, and the better your graphics cards cooling system, the less noise it will make while you are gaming. Blower style cards are notorious for being loud, while liquid cooled cards are known to be less noisy.
8. FPS per dollar (performance-to-price ratio)
Simply put, this refers to the performance you are getting for the money that you pay. You may think that a super cheap graphics card offers more value. But consider this scenario- There is a 100-dollar graphics card that runs a certain game at 30 fps on high settings at 1080p resolution. Then, you also have a 250-dollar graphics card that runs the exact same game at 100 fps on high settings and 1080p resolution.
This means that the cheaper card is offering 0.3 fps per dollar. But the more expensive card is giving you 0.4 fps per dollar, or more performance for your money, hence the more expensive card is actually offering more value than its cheaper counterpart. This is true to a certain extent, after which you get diminishing returns for your money, i.e. the performance increase does not correspond to the price increase.
Best Graphics Cards Under 200-
The GTX 1050 is an excellent entry-level gaming graphics card for people who are either casual 1080p gamers, or simply want to play esports titles such as Overwatch, DOTA 2, CS GO, or League of Legends. You will be able to run the aforementioned esports titles on your PC at 1080p, 60 fps on high settings with any decent GTX 1050 card. But the one that we are reviewing here isn’t decent, it is excellent. Few graphics cards on the market are as easy to install as this one, and it barely makes any noise while running on full load.
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 OC edition is based on the entry-level GTX 1050 reference card, sharing a similar PCB as well as VRM solution. However, it comes with a dual fan open design cooler that ensures higher overclocking potential as well as lower temperatures.
We highly recommend this budget gaming graphics card to entry level gamers, it is perfect for playing modern AAA titles on a mix of medium- high settings at 1080p resolution. If you turn down the shadows and textures to medium on most games, you should be able to play at 60 fps. But what makes this card truly awesome is the fact that it doesn’t require any external power connectors in order to function.
It draws its power from the PCIe slot itself, meaning that you can pretty much slam one of these cards into any old computer system, even prebuilt ones, and instantly transform them into a modern gaming station. Even PCs from 5-6 years ago are compatible with this graphics card, it has a total power draw of just 75 watts.
Any PSU that is rated at more than 280-300 watts will be able to handle this graphics card, and installing it is as easy as sliding open the side panels and slipping this card into the empty PCIe slot. No need to connect power cables, no need to ensure that there is enough space in the case. It measures just 229 x 118 x 40 mm, and has full support for DX12 as well as the Vulkan API.
The VRAM size on this card is 2GB, and it uses GDDR5 memory. Base clock is around 1400 MHz, while boost clock is 1518 MHz. Thanks to the dual fan cooling, this card will boost higher than the factory stated limits on its own, because of how NVIDIAs GPU BOOST 3.0 works. It will boost the card automatically based on the core temperature, and better cooling means higher clock speeds.
Very compact and easy to install
Doesn’t require external power connectors
Fans turn off automatically when the card is running 2D applications
Can play most modern games at medium- high settings on 1080p and at 60fps
DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort outputs
Full support for DX12 and Vulkan
Only 2GB of VRAM
The RX 560 is AMDs answer to NVIDIAs GTX 1050. Both of these cards feature 2GB of GDDR5 memory, but are based on different architectures. The RX 560 delivers performance similar to the GTX 1050 in most 3D applications such as games.
While it slightly falls behind the GTX 1050 in DX11 titles (by a 5 to 7% margin), the RX 560 takes the lead in DX12 and Vulkan games such as DOOM and Ashes of the Singularity because of how the Polaris architecture performs.
Unlike the GTX 1050, this card does require an external 6-pin power connector in order to run. However, it is still compatible with pretty much any decent PSU (500 watts or more) + case combo from the last 5-6 years. It will fit onto your motherboard, as long as there is an empty PCIe slot.
The Sapphire Pulse RX 560 features a single DVD-D, HDMI, and Display Port for output, and is cooled by a single fan. Don’t worry- this one fan is more than enough to cool down the little RX 560 GPU, it barely draws more than 60-75 watts in most scenarios.
There is a base clock of 1200 MHz, along with a boost clock speed of 1300 MHz. The 4GB of GDDR5 memory runs at an effective speed of 7000 MHz on a 128-bit bus, delivering satisfactory performance in modern AAA titles such as GTA V, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Battlefield 1, etc.
If you are planning to build a gaming PC yourself for under 400-500 dollars, then this graphics card will be a perfect choice. Esports players shall love this inexpensive card, for it will allow them to enjoy their favorite games at 1080p, 60+ fps on high settings. If you play games such as CS GO or LOL, you will easily get 100+ fps on medium graphics settings.
Noise output is nearly non-existent, and the fan will automatically shut off if the card is not under load. This single-fan gaming graphics card from Sapphire is ready for all the latest technologies such as- DisplayPort 1.4, HBR3/HDR, HDMI 4K60, and FreeSync 2, delivering an elevated level of graphical fidelity in your favorite games along with a premium multimedia experience. One of the biggest advantages that this graphics card has over the GTX 1050, is its 4GB of VRAM.
Very quiet, easy to install
Runs all modern games at 1080p, 60fps on medium- high settings
Low power consumption
Supports the latest technologies such as- HBR3, HDR, FreeSync 2, DX12, Vulkan, HDMI 4K60, etc.
Has 4GB of VRAM
Unlike the GTX 1050, this card requires an external 6-pin power connector
Runs slightly warmer than the GTX 1050
The EVGA GeForce GTX 1050ti SC gaming graphics card is simply put, one of the best graphics cards under 200 dollars right now in terms of value for money. It is fully capable of playing modern AAA titles such as Wolfenstein, Prey, Battlefield 1, Overwatch, etc. at 1080 resolution, and features twice the VRAM of its smaller sibling, the GTX 1050.
With a boost clock of 1468 MHz, this card is powerful enough to play all of the latest games on medium-high settings straight out of the box.
Rarely do you get to see so much graphics processing horsepower packed into such a compact form factor. The EVGA GeForce GTX 1050ti SC is just 5.7” long, meaning that you will be able to fit it into even the most compact of cases. This is a great card for a Mini-ITX build, and uses a single fan open air design cooler.
With a base clock of 1354 MHz. and a boost clock of 1468 MHz, it is one of the fastest GTX 1050ti cards on the market. The cooler is designed in a very minimalistic way, with a shroud that features no fancy LEDs or bright coloring. The white colored body means that it might not look very good in non-white themed PC builds, but as long as you don’t have a transparent side panel on your computer, this shouldn’t matter at all.
The reason this card is preferred so much more than the GTX 1050 is because of the great increase in performance that you receive for a marginal increase in price. Firstly, it packs 768 CUDA cores as opposed to the 1050 which only has 640 CUDA cores.
Secondly, it features twice the VRAM- 4GB of GDDR5 vs just 2GB on the GTX 1050. Finally, the GTX 1050ti supports all the latest technologies such as DX12, Vulkan, etc. along with certain NVIDIA-exclusive features such as ANSEL, G-SYNC, and GameStream.
This card supports a maximum resolution of 7680 x 4320 at 60 Hz, and features the following display connectors- DP 1.4, DVD-D, and HDMI 2.0b. And the best part is that you don’t need an external power connector to run it- just plop it onto an empty PCIe slot and it will run just fine, thanks to the fact that it rarely draws more than 60-70 watts of power.
NVIDIA recommends that you use a PSU rated at 300 watts and above, so you should have no issues fitting one of these into an older prebuilt PC from 4-6 years ago.
Best value for money in the sub 200-dollar segment
Great out of the box clock speeds
Doesn’t require an external power connector
Single-fan design, 5.7” long
Perfect for 1080p gaming at 60 fps
4GB of VRAM
No SLI support
Best Graphics Cards Under 300-
With a plain white cooler design and an affordable price tag, the ASUS GeForce GTX 1060 3GB graphics card is an excellent choice for gamers who wish a premium 1080p experience at low cost. It will comfortably run most AAA titles on high settings at 1080p resolution, while consistently maintaining 60+ fps.
The only real con to this graphics card is the fact that it doesn’t sport the best cooler design of all the GTX 1060s out there, but that is a compromise you must make at such a low asking price.
If you wish to build a mid-range gaming PC with the target of running modern AAA titles on 1080p and high settings, then the ASUS GeForce GTX 1060 3GB Dual-Fan OC edition might be a nice graphic card choice for you. It is cheaper than most other 3GB 1060 variants out there, and certainly packs a punch.
Offering anywhere between 25-30% more performance than a 1050ti, the 3GB 1060 was designed to compete with AMDs RX 480 4GB. Almost every single RX 480 is currently out of stock due to the cryptocurrency mining craze that has swept across the entire world, so you are left with little choice other than to grab an affordable GTX 1060 3GB.
Unlike the full 6GB GTX 1060 card, this one features slightly less CUDA cores and half the VRAM. The difference in VRAM isn’t apparent in most of the games, although there are certain games which do explicitly demand at least 4GB of VRAM in order to run at high or ultra-graphics. DOOM 2016, mirrors edge 2, Gears of War, etc. are examples of games which feature extremely high-detail textures, and you will not be able to run those on maximum graphics settings with just 3GB of VRAM.
However, you should still have a very smooth 1080p gaming experience, with framerates above 60 most of the time. This graphics card is also VR-ready, so you should be able to take advantage of your VR headset if you happen to own one.
It also supports all the latest technologies such as NVIDIA ANSEL, G-SYNC, HDR, GameStream, DX12, Vulkan, etc. Boost clock is an impressive 1809 MHz, although it will tend to run hotter than other GTX 1060s because of the mediocre cooler design.
Factory-set 1809 MHz boost clock
Supports all latest technologies such as DX12, Vulkan, HDR, HDM 4K 60Hz, etc.
Aerospace-grade Super alloy power II components
Only 3GB of VRAM
One of the really surprising things about this graphics card is the fact that it manages to run cooler than most dual-fan GTX 1060s out there, thanks primarily to the super-efficient fan design and generously sized heatsink underneath.
EVGA is offering one of the best designed GTX 1060s, it is only 6.8” long and features a boost clock of 1835 MHz. This card is the true definition of big performance inside a small package.
EVGA makes some really great Pascal-based graphics cards. They are renowned for their GTX 1070s and 1080s, particularly the SC and SSC series which are designed to deliver superb cooling and boost clocks at affordable prices. That, and the added bonus of purchasing a graphics card which doesn’t look like a kid’s toy.
EVGA doesn’t cover their graphics cards in shiny bright colors, nor do they design funky looking cooler shrouds. But the performance is what matters- when you purchase one of the GTX 1060 3GB SC cards, you get the finest small form factor GTX 1060 3GB on the market- only 6.8” long, fitted with an ACX 2.0 cooler that keeps temperatures below 70°C even under heavy load.
And with a boost clock of 1835 MHz that is achieved without you having to install fancy proprietary software, you can be sure that when you turn on the computer and start up a game, this GTX 1060 will hit its promised boost speed automatically. No need to use any overclocking software, although EVGAs own precision OC software is definitely one of the finest overclocking utilities you can find.
The single-fan ACX 2.0 cooler is intelligently designed, its curved fan blades ensure higher air flow at lower rpms, while the permanently-lubricated double ball bearings keep vibrations low, hence less noise. You also get a 3-year warranty from EVGA along with 24/7 free tech support.
Brilliant single fan ACX 2.0 cooler keeps temperatures low, while also helping reduce overall card length to just 6.8”
Impressive 1835 MHz boost clock out of the box, no overclocking software needed to achieve promised clock speeds
Minimalistic design, will fit into any case
Only 3GB of VRAM
No SLI support
This is the smallest and cheapest GTX 1060 6GB graphics card on the market- in fact, it is even cheaper than the reference GTX 1060 6GB. The reason for this is the single-fan open air cooler, as well as the reference PCB. There is no backplate, no fancy LEDs, just a GTX 1060 GPU mounted on a reference board, with a small heatsink and cooling fan strapped on top of it.
If you are planning on upgrading an old gaming PC but can’t seem to find a good enough mid-range graphics card, take a look at the GTX 1060 Mini 6GB model from ZOTAC. It looks like a tiny plastic brick with a fan on the top, but performs almost as well as any other GTX 1060 6GB out there, once you manage to overclock it.
Granted, overclocking isn’t the easiest thing to do when your graphics card is equipped with such a minimalistic air cooler. The single-fan design reduces size, but also results in a warmer card when you are gaming. These ZOTAC fans are not as efficient as the ACX 2.0 fans found on the EVGA models, nor do they feature double ball bearings for maximum durability.
However, this card is still a GTX 1060 6GB, meaning that you can play any game on high/ ultra-settings at 1080p, without having to worry about VRAM limitations. It is also VR-ready and supports all of the NVIDIA-exclusive technologies except SLI. You can mount this onto any system which has a free PCIe slot on the motherboard and a minimum of a 400-watt PSU.
While it does require a 6-pin power connector, the overall system power consumption rarely exceeds 300- 320 watts even when this card is under load. Overclocking it will take the total power consumption closer to 400 watts, but that is still a very low number when you consider that this tiny 6.8” card is basically as powerful as last generations flagship from NVIDIA, the GTX 980 4GB.
There are plenty of output ports for you to play with- three Display Ports (version 1.4), a Dual-link DVI, and one HDMI port. Boost clock is a satisfactory 1708 MHz, although you can easily take it to 1850 or even 1900 MHz through manual overclocking. If you register the card online, you shall receive an extended warranty from ZOTAC.
Perfect 1080p gaming graphics card for small form factor cases
Boost clock of 1708 MHz
Just 6.8” long because of single-fan design
Supports DX12, Vulkan, GameStream, ANSEL, G-SYNC
No SLI support (GTX 1060s don’t support SLI)
Best Graphics Cards Under 400-
When you push your budget beyond 300 dollars, you will get some impressive performance for your money. One example of that, is the EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 SSC. It is simply the most value for money GTX 1060 6GB model currently available, with a boost clock speed of 1835 MHz and dual-fan ACX 3.0 cooling.
The EVGA GTX 1060 6GB SSC is a beautiful graphics card, and is certainly one of the best performing 1060s you can buy. For slightly more than 300 dollars, you are getting a massive performance gain over a 3GB GTX 1060, along with a future proof purchase that is guaranteed to remain useful for at least another 3-4 years thanks to the 6 GB of VRAM.
Unlike the 3GB GTX 1060s, this card packs 1280 CUDA cores. The memory has an effective speed of 8000 MHz, and runs on a 192-bit interface for a total bandwidth of 192 GB per second. You can overclock the GDDR5 memory quite easily using EVGAs own Precision X OC tool, many customers have reported memory overclocks of up to 8200 MHz or in some cases even 8500 MHz.
The GPU core features a base clock of 1607 MHz, along with a boost clock of 1835 MHz. However, we have observed that this card rarely stays at 1835 MHz while gaming. Why? Because the dual-fan ACX 3.0 cooler is so good that NVIDIA GPU BOOST 3.0 automatically pushes the card to well beyond 1900 MHz, without you having to click a single button. All of this happens automatically as you play the latest AAA games, and this beast will slay any game you throw at it.
Perfect for 1080p gaming, you should be able to easily hit 60+ fps on high or even ultra-settings. Battlefield 1, DOOM, Quake Live, Overwatch, Prey, Wolfenstein, COD Infinite Warfare, FIFA- any game you run, will play buttery smooth. And couple that with a G-SYNC display for truly blissful gaming, free of tearing and input lag. The card also supports DX12 and Vulkan APIs, along with VR and HDR.
Full support for modern tech- VR-ready, HDR, DX12, and Vulkan
Display Port 1.4, HDMI 2.0b, and DVI-D output
Dual fan ACX 3.0 cooling with double ball bearings for maximum lifespan
Minimalistic design with straight heat pipes and an optimized fan curve for efficient + silent cooling
No SLI support
NO RGB LEDs
This graphics card from MSI is regarded by many as the most complete version of the 6GB 1060, if you are willing to forgive them for their decision to go with a bright red and black color theme that absolutely doesn’t fit in any computer case that is not red/ black.
There are RGB lights on the dragon-skin themed cooler shroud, and you can control the lighting effects from within MSIs proprietary graphics card management tool.
MSI has been making excellent graphics cards for quite a while now, and this might just be one of their best products to date. It features all the good stuff that you would expect from a top of the line graphics card- excellent cooler design, RGB lights, backplate, premium power delivery system, and high-quality GPU chips that overclock very well.
While we can’t confirm if the Gaming X GTX 1060 uses binned chips, we do know that these cards are known to consistently hit 2000+ MHz with some manual overclocking. And that’s not all- the TORX 2.0 dual fan cooler keeps the GPU below 70°C even when it is running at blazing fast 2000+ MHz speeds.
MSI GTX 1060 6GB Gaming X variants are also equipped with Samsung GDDR5 memory modules, so you should be able to achieve an overclock of 8200-8500 MHz on the memory with some luck. The TORX 2.0 cooling fans generate up to 22% more air pressure than conventional graphics card fan designs for maximum cooling performance at lower rpms.
This particular edition of the GTX 1060, the Gaming X model, also comes with double ball bearing fans for extended durability and low noise emission.
MSI uses premium thermal compound between the heatsink and GPU to ensure lower temperatures, along with 8mm thick copper pipes for maximum heat transfer. Zero Frozr technology ensures that the fans don’t spin until the GPU hits 60°C. Factory default base clock is 1600 MHz., while boost clock is 1809 MHz.
TORX 2.0 cooling with dual ball bearing fans
RGB lighting on GPU shroud
Sleek metal backplate
Guaranteed to boost above 1900 MHz
Zero Frozr technology keeps noise levels low
Supports all major technologies- HDR, VR, 4K, DX12, Vulkan
Support for G-SYNC, GameStream, and ANSEL
No SLI support
Red and black theme might not appeal to all
This might be one case where size does make a difference. No matter how hard you overclock this beast of a graphics card, you just cannot make the core go above 70°. There are three Windforce fans mounted onto the long black plastic cooler shroud, and these fans are uniquely designed to make sure that airflow is increased while reducing noise output at the same time.
Gigabyte has been coming out with some pretty smooth looking graphics cards lately, but this might just be one of their masterpieces when it comes to GPU cooler design. There are three Windforce fans mounted onto the plastic GPU shroud, hence the name “Windforce 3X”. The AORUS logo on the side of the graphics card lights up in RGB, along with some LEDs on the rear.
You can control lighting through the Xtreme Engine software, and the AORUS Graphics Engine can be used for overclocking. This is an “enhanced” version of the regular GTX 1060, with a much faster memory clock that results in total memory speed of 9 GB/s.
A standard GTX 1060 6GB model features 8000 MHz memory, but this one comes with memory that can be overclocked all the way up to 10000 MHz, resulting in faster asset loading times as well as stutter-free performance while playing with high-resolution textures enabled.
You won’t notice any more than a 5-10 fps difference between this and a standard 8 GB/s GTX 1060, but the difference should be more apparent in certain games that utilize high resolution assets/ textures such as DOOM or Mirrors Edge 2. Also, the Triple Windforce cooler keeps temperatures very low while gaming, and allows you to overclock the core all the way up to 1900+ MHz with ease.
The cooler shroud looks very sleek and mostly unobtrusive because of the all-black design, except for a couple of orange streaks on the front and back sides. You need to ensure that you have a 400W PSU minimum before installing one of these, although we still recommend 500 watts since this card does tend to draw more power than a standard 1060 6GB model, and you will most likely be overclocking it anyways.
The backplate is made from copper for further help in heat dissipation, and has a nice AORUS logo imprinted onto it. There are 3 Display ports, along with a single HDMI and DVD-D port. This card measures 11.02 x 4.38 x 1.51 inches, and weighs 2.5 pounds.
Very sleek looking, with an unobtrusive all-black design
Triple Windforce cooling fans with curved blades and ribbed lines for added airflow with reduced noise
6 gigabytes of 9GB/s GDDR5 memory
Easy overclocking, 1860 MHz boost clock by default in OC mode
No SLI support
Very long (11.02 x 4.38 x 1.51 inches)
We hope that you enjoyed reading this article, and have now got a good understanding of how a graphics card functions, as well as the numerous factors that go into selecting a good graphics card. There are tons of options at varying price points, but we believe that one should always go for the choice that offers the most value per dollar. This does not necessarily mean a cheap card, rather one that offers a satisfactory gaming experience at reasonable prices.
The GTX 1070 and RX 580 are highly recommended for midrange gamers, while budget gamers will love the GTX 1050ti as well as RX 570. Make sure that you check your power supply for compatibility before selecting a graphics card. If the PSU is incapable of supplying desired amounts of power, your graphics card will not function and might even overload the PSU, resulting in a short circuit.
Are you building your own custom gaming desktop? There’s another important part that many people overlook in their build: The network card. All the computing power in the world won’t save you if you don’t have a strong network connection. Read our breakdown here on the best options to make sure you’re not held back!