Most desktop PCs today have CPUs with basic integrated graphics capabilities, but some require a separate GPU (graphics processing unit) which comes in the form of a plug-in graphics card and can be several times more powerful. If you want to play 3D games at high resolutions with all the effects turned up, you're going to need a graphics card even if you already have integrated graphics. Today's integrated GPUs generally capable of anything a home or office PC might need, and can handle even 4K video playback. Graphics cards come in when you need to do anything more intensive, such as play high-quality 3D games, accelerate photo and video editing, or even just have multiple displays.
What is a GPU and how should you choose one?
The terms ‘GPU' and ‘graphics card' are often used interchangeably, but there is a huge difference. The GPU itself is the chip that determines how much power you get with each card. There are a huge variety of graphics cards from different manufacturers in the market, many of which are based on the same GPUs. No matter how impressive a graphics card looks, how many fans it has, and how expensive it is, the thing that matters most of all is the GPU. Each graphics card is built around one specific GPU with a suitable fan and a fixed amount of dedicated video memory.
In fact, many graphics cards from different brands will give you practically identical levels of performance. Companies such as Asus, Zotac, MSI, Sapphire, Gigabyte, and Galax are popular in India but they only create the packaging around GPUs. They rely on design, branding, and of course pricing to compete with one another, but they have no control over the actual technology at the heart of a GPU.
Nvidia and AMD are only two manufacturers of GPUs for graphics cards in the world at the moment (with Intel set to jump into this market next year), and so it's these products that we will focus on in order to choose the best options for your budget.
Nvidia's GeForce product line dominates the GPU market with a roughly 75.5 percent market share worldwide, according to current Steam Hardware and Software Survey figures. The GeForce brand is widely recognised – more so than Nvidia or its partner brands, in many cases.
Nvidia's GPUs can be found in graphics cards ranging from approximately Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 1,30,000 so there's plenty of choice on offer. The company introduced its GeForce RTX 20-series last year and just recently launched new GeForce RTX 20 Super variants. Alongside, lower-powered GeForce GTX 16-series GPUs are also sold. Old and new models are still commonly available in the market.
Interestingly, while Nvidia supplies GPUs to its partner brands, it also sells graphics cards that it makes itself, called Founders Editions. These are available directly to customers from Nvidia's own website, and are priced very well in India.
On the other hand, AMD with its Radeon GPU lineup has about a 15 percent global market share. Its products are not as widely available in India. AMD has fewer partner brands and we've seen local prices in India that aren't as favourable as Nvidia's. Still, AMD often manages to identify sweet spots where Nvidia leaves gaps in the market, and gives top-tier games away for free with each purchase.
We're now finally beyond the cryptocurrency boom, a long period when graphics cards were nearly impossible to buy and wildly overpriced thanks to massive demand from currency miners. Pricing is fairly stable now, but do make sure to check around as some retailers might still be offering inflated rates because stock has piled up. Capable alternatives to your chosen product might be available at much better prices.
Be aware that many retailers try to push graphics cards that are many years old onto unsuspecting customers, often at their original prices. Graphics cards depreciate tremendously, as newer ones always raise the bar for performance. For Nvidia, don't buy anything older than the GeForce 16-series, and for AMD, the Radeon RX 5xx series and Radeon RX 57xx series are considered current. The names “GeForce” or “Radeon” alone are no guarantee of great gaming performance.
If you're a serious gamer, you might have already invested or might be planning to invest in a FreeSync or G-Sync monitor. These two terms, used by AMD and Nvidia respectively, refer to two different ways to make monitors synchronise their refresh rates dynamically to the output of a graphics card, which greatly reduces tearing and stuttering on screen. FreeSync monitors are generally much more affordable than G-Sync ones, but not all are created equal. Your choice of monitor will decide which brand of GPU you need to stick with, and that may override many of the priorities we use to identify the best GPUs.
Here are the best graphics cards for gamers at different price levels, plus a budget pick for non-gamers.
Best graphics card under Rs. 5,000
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GT710
Graphics card: Inno3D GeForce GT710 2GB SDDR3 (Rs. 2,800)
At this price level you won't be able to play modern games but you will be able to upgrade an old PC with very weak integrated graphics, or use two monitors. You might also need something very basic if you're dealing with a CPU that does not feature integrated graphics at all. The Nvidia GeForce GT 710 is far from modern but it will get the job done. As a bonus, it works with a passive heatsink rather than a fan so it's completely silent when running.
Alternative: Galax GeForce GT 1030 EXOC White 2GB (Rs. 5,900)
The GeForce GT 1030 is the lowest-end of Nvidia's previous-generation 10-series and doesn't even qualify for the ‘GTX' label that gamer-grade GPUs get. Still, at this price, it's decent enough for a little casual gaming at low settings, and older games will run nicely. It's great for old PCs because it doesn't require PCIe power, which means you won' have to replace an older or weaker power supply. Being a half-height single-slot card, the Galax model we've picked will also fit into slim cabinets such as those commonly used for office PCs.
Best graphics card under Rs. 15,000
GPU: AMD Radeon RX 570
Graphics card: MSI RX 570 ARMOR 8G OC Gaming (Rs. 14,700)
Thanks to a recent price drop, the older AMD Radeon RX 570 pulls the carpet out from under Nvidia's category leader in this segment, the GeForce GTX 1650. Performance is better with the Radeon RX 570, but it does consume more power and graphics cards tend to require bulkier coolers. This is a great choice even for gamers on tight budgets, as you can get reasonable performance at 1920x1080 using medium quality settings in most recent games.
There are a few Radeon RX 570 graphics card in the market at this price at the moment, and our pick is the lowest priced one with 8GB of RAM, the MSI RX 570 ARMOR 8G OC Gaming. You'll also get a very slight edge from the minor factory overclock that MSI ships this card with.
Alternative: Inno3D GeForce GTX 1650 Compact 4GB (Rs. 11,700)
Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1650 uses the modern Turing architecture, minus Nvidia's dedicated ray tracing hardware – but you wouldn't be able to benefit from the latest special effects at this price level anyway. If you aren't after brute force performance, this choice will save you a little money and also get you a GPU that sips so little power, it doesn't even need a PCIe power connector.
Best graphics card under Rs. 25,000
GPU: AMD Radeon RX Vega 56
Graphics card: Asus ROG Strix Gaming RX Vega 56 OC 8GB (Rs. 23,000)
In a bizarre development, this one Asus graphics card which is usually priced above Rs. 40,000 is currently selling for just over half as much. It's an absolute steal but you can expect a loud, oversized graphics card that needs a lot of power. It has 8GB of very high speed HBM2 memory so you'll have plenty of grunt even for games that will release a few years from now. If you can find this deal, it's well worth snapping up. This price drop makes AMD's own Radeon RX 580 and Radeon RX 590 irrelevant, but Nvidia has a few options if you would prefer something more power-efficient.
Alternative: Zotac GeForce GTX 1660Ti Amp Edition (Rs. 24,960)
The brand new GeForce GTX 1660 Ti might not be able to deliver the flashy ray tracing effects that Nvidia has shown off in demos for its high-end RTX series GPUs, but that's all they are — effects. Only a small number of games support ray tracing as of now, so if you're fine waiting one generation, you'll find tremendous value on offer here. The GeForce GTX 1660 Ti uses the same new Turing architecture as the more expensive RTX 2060 and delivers better performance than the previous-gen GeForce GTX 1060 at almost the same price.
Several brands offer similar cards priced within a few hundred rupees of each other, so you can choose whichever one you like the look of best. We've gone with the Zotac option because of its factory overclock, which gives it a slight edge.
Best graphics card under Rs. 35,000
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Super
Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Super Founders Edition (Rs. 34,890)
At this price level, there's no point considering older products. The recently launched GeForce RTX 2060 Super gives you roughly the same gaming performance as the older and more expensive GeForce RTX 2070 or GeForce GTX 1080, and AMD's brand new Radeon RX 5700 XT is priced just slightly above our cutoff point.
You get the benefits of the new RTX ray tracing and DLSS upscaling features which are still not very widely supported, but there's no harm in future-proofing if you have the money for it. You're guaranteed smooth visuals even when using a high-refresh-rate monitor at 1920x1080, and there's loads of headroom for gaming at 4K in most titles.
Nvidia's own Founders Edition card wins out because of its relatively low price in India, coupled with the company's excellent industrial design. The card runs cool and quiet and we liked it very much in our own review. You can of course choose alternatives from other companies if you find a deal or prefer their looks.
Alternative: Sapphire Radeon RX 5700 (Rs. 31,900)
All Radeon RX 5700 series graphics cards on the market right now are identical, no matter which brand you pick up, so just get the one with the lowest price you can find. If you can wait for a little while, cards with custom designs will be launched soon. This GPU is a solid performer and beats Nvidia's competition as well as AMD's older models at this price level, though you do have to deal with a bit of running noise and high power consumption.
Best graphics card under Rs. 50,000
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super
Graphics card: Zotac GeForce RTX 2070 Super Amp Extreme 8GB (Rs. 47,300)
One step higher up the performance ladder, Nvidia's GeForce RTX 2070 Super gives you additional headroom to push quality or framerates up. It performs at the level of the more expensive GeForce RTX 2080, so if you're serious about 4K or high-refresh-rate gaming, this is a good option at its price. Zotac's Amp Extreme edition is overclocked and has a beefy triple-fan cooler.
Alternative: Sapphire Radeon RX 5700 XT 8GB (Rs. 36,600)
AMD's new Radeon RX 5700 XT trades blows with the GeForce RTX 2070 Super in many ways, but lacks ray tracing, which you might want to show off if you're spending so much on a PC upgrade. The options in the market right now all use AMD's stock blower-style cooler with no overclocking or other customisations, so just get the lowest priced unit you can find. Unfortunately, our review revealed that this cooler is quite loud, so you might also want to wait a few weeks for custom graphics cards to make an appearance. Also, be aware that AMD's current game bundle is not available in India.
Best graphics card over Rs. 50,000
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition (Rs. 1,05,000)
With no budget limits, we're going straight to the top. Nvidia's GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is unchallenged as the best consumer GPU right now, even after the launch of the GeForce RTX Super series. Even AMD's Radeon VII cannot touch this level of performance. If you demand the absolute best, and have a 144Hz 4K or ultra-wide monitor, this is the kind of power you need to feed it with.
It won't come cheap though — Nvidia's GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition costs an eye-watering Rs. 1,05,000 and partner boards can cost as much as Rs. 1,35,000. We've chosen this particular card over partner models simply because it looks great and has a very capable vapour chamber cooler.
Alternative: Nvidia Titan RTX (Rs. 2,27,000)
Of course if you want to go completely overboard there's the absurdly expensive Nvidia Titan RTX, priced at Rs. 2,27,000. This is a very slightly faster version of the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti intended for pro workstation users, but there's nothing stopping it from running games like a beast. You don't get anywhere near double the performance for over twice as much money but it's still the fastest, and for some people that's all that matters. You'll have to purchase it directly from Nvidia's website.
These are our choices for the best GPUs at any price level, and the best graphics cards based on them that you can buy in India right now. Let us know what you think of these choices, and which ones you would pick, in the comments section below.
How we picked the best graphics cards?
Our research focused on products easily available in the Indian market, both online and offline. We sourced pricing information from dealers that have nation-wide footprints or who at least deliver online purchases to anywhere in the country. Prices do fluctuate and products dip in and out of stock, so your luck may vary – especially for the deep discounts we're seeing on older Radeon products that we're seeing right now. Keep in mind that AMD and Nvidia don't use the same formulas to determine pricing in India, so graphics cards that compete with each other at exactly the same US dollar price don't always line up so neatly here.
We identified key price points and chose the best graphics cards closest to each target. These price bands roughly line up with what both AMD and Nvidia offer buyers based on intended performance at each target resolution: 1080p, 1440p, and 4K.
We have relied on our own reviews and analysis of these GPUs' capabilities, which involve the use of synthetic tests, benchmarks, and manual game playthroughs. We have also considered factors like power consumption and noise. Since many of them are brand new, we have consulted reputable third-party reviews including those by AnandTech, Tom's Hardware, The Tech Report, Techspot, HotHardware, and Hexus.
Outlook for the future
Both AMD and Nvidia have just refreshed their lineups, but that doesn't mean that they're done. We can expect both companies to tweak prices and introduce new offerings at the very top and bottom ends of the market. There are huge price gaps between some product tiers that are ripe for filling, and these segments are currently stagnant with older models. We hope to see some great value in the sub-Rs. 10,000 space now, and some truly earth-shattering performance in the Rs. 60,000 – 1,00,000 price band either later this year or in early 2020.