The best 4K graphics card for PC gaming

We explain the best graphics card you can buy for gaming at 4K resolution, and other options for higher and lower budgets.

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Brad Chacos/IDG

4K gaming used to break the bank. For years, 3840x2160 monitors cost a small fortune, and the ferocious graphics cards needed to drive a 4K display cost even more. That’s not even counting the price of the high-energy power supplies required to juice all that hardware.

It still is expensive—at least if you want the best possible 4K gaming experiences. But now we have options. An Ultra HD gaming setup won’t be cheap, but with basic 4K monitors available for around $200 and upper-mid-range graphics cards able to drive them at a decent clip, you no longer have to remortgage your house to achieve satisfying 4K gaming. We’ll break down all your options below, because not everyone can afford the face-melting GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and its unbelievable performance.

Not sure if 4K gaming is right for you? Be sure to check out our overarching guide to the best graphics cards for PC gaming, where we also explore your best video options for 1080p and 1440p resolution, and share tips to keep in mind while you’re on the hunt for new hardware.

The best 4K graphics card: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super

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Your best option for PC gaming at 4K resolution on a standard 60Hz display is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super. Its price theoretically starts at $700, but Nvidia’s own Founders Edition models have dried up. Most custom options start around $720 or $730 and only get more expensive as you add features. You can occasionally find custom models on sale for around $700, however.

That’s a lot of money, but it buys you stellar 4K gaming performance. The GeForce RTX 2080 Super achieves the hallowed 60 frames per second in most modern games with all standard graphics settings configured to maximum or near-maximum. It’s fast.

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Ray tracing performance at 1440p resolution (NOT 4K) in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Like other RTX 20-series graphics card, the GeForce RTX 2080 Super contains dedicated hardware for real-time ray tracing tasks, but the strenuous cutting-edge eye candy absolutely tanks frame rates and will often require a drop to lower resolution. If possible you’ll want to pair it with Nvidia’s performance-enhancing Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) technology to gain back some of those lost frames, though DLSS can negatively impact visual quality at times. Some games appear noticeably blurrier with DLSS enabled.

AMD’s rival Radeon graphics cards lack real-time ray tracing capabilities. The most powerful Radeon option, which we’ll discuss shortly, isn’t at the GeForce RTX 2080 Super’s performance level. If you want to drive a 4K/60 display with minimal visual compromises, the GeForce RTX 2080 Super is your best bet.

Don’t confuse the RTX 2080 Super with its predecessor, the non-Super RTX 2080. You’ll still find non-Super versions on sale all over the place for prices close to the Super version, but the older model is slower—and barely faster than the $500 GeForce RTX 2070 Super. Don’t be a sucker.

The best 4K graphics card: Other options

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Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2070 Super.

That GeForce RTX 2070 Super is also worth considering for 4K gaming if you don’t have $700+ to spare on an RTX 2080 Super. The lower-priced sibling can also hit 60 fps at 4K resolution, though you will need to drop down graphics settings to High to achieve that frame rate.

Very intensive games may require dropping one or two particularly intensive graphics options down to Medium, if 60 fps is a must-have. If it’s not, and you’re fine with a console-esque 30 frames per second in exchange for maximum eye candy, the RTX 2070 Super should be able to hit that in virtually every game with all visual bells and whistles cranked to the max. The card also supports real-time ray tracing.

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The Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 5700 XT.

The $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT doesn’t pack specialized hardware for ray tracing, but it’s such an outstanding value proposition that it might not matter. AMD’s graphics card comes within striking distance of the GeForce RTX 2070 Super’s performance (it’s only about 5 percent slower) for $100 less. It’s significantly faster than the comparably priced $400 GeForce RTX 2060, which isn’t really a contender for 4K gaming. Everything we said about the RTX 2070 Super above holds true for the Radeon RX 5700 XT as well.

If you’re considering the Radeon RX 5700 XT for 4K gaming in particular, consider the $440 Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 5700 XT specifically.  Sapphire’s Trixx software includes a “Trixx Boost” function that creates new, slightly lower monitor resolutions (3264x1836 for 4K gaming by default) that enable vastly faster performance. There’s little to no hit on visual quality, thanks to a boost from AMD’s Radeon Image Sharpening technology.

With Trixx Boost’s custom resolutions enabled, the Nitro+ delivers 4K performance at or above the GeForce RTX 2080 Super’s level for hundreds of dollars less. You can manually configure custom monitor resolutions in other software if you don’t want the Nitro+, but Sapphire’s software makes the whole process dead simple.

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Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition: An unassuming beast.

Finally, if you’ve purchased one of those newfangled 144Hz 4K displays or just absolutely, positively want the best 4K gaming experience possible, the monstrous GeForce RTX 2080 Ti blows even the RTX 2080 Super away—but it costs $1,050 or more on the street. Even this beast can’t feed a 144Hz 4K display to its full potential with all in-game eye candy maxed out, but nothing else comes close to touching its performance.

Yes, it also supports ray tracing, though yes, you’ll still probably need to drop your game’s resolution to be able to enable it at higher visual settings.

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.

If you aren’t sure how fast your monitor is, click the Start button in the lower-left corner of the Windows 10 taskbar, the 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.

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You’d need a $1,200 GeForce RTX 2080 Ti to feed this 4K, 120Hz display well.

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 4K gaming winds up being a bit too rich for your budget, or you’re more interested in the ultra-fast refresh rates that are easier to achieve at less strenuous resolutions, be sure to check out our guide to the best graphics cards for PC gaming to see the best GPU options for 1080p and 1440p.

This story, "The best 4K graphics card for PC gaming" was originally published by PCWorld.

  
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