Home Tech Best Gaming GPUs In 2021: Finding The Best Value In A GPU Hell-scape

Best Gaming GPUs In 2021: Finding The Best Value In A GPU Hell-scape

Trying to figure out which is the best graphics card for gaming has been somewhat of a challenge over the last 8 months...

And when I say that, I don't mean when it comes to performance, of course. The launch of both NVIDIA and AMD's latest GPUs have seen a plethora of phenomenal cards. But alas, through a combination of untimely events, the GPU market was practically thrown under not just one bus, but rather an entire fleet.

In some cruel twist of fate, everything that could have gone wrong, did. Between what was possibly the biggest Crypto-boom since Bitcoin first rocked up, Covid-induced supply strain butchering the global electronics market, exceedingly high demand, an enormous boat blocking the most traversed commercial route in the world, and opportunistic scalpers with armies of bots, the rest of us didn't stand much of a chance in the way of getting a decent graphics card for gaming - and especially not for anywhere near those originally cited MSRPs.

Ethereum Crypto Currency Prices 2021

With some of the availability issues finally looking to ease up (provided Elon doesn't go ham with his tweets again), many people have been clinging onto the hope that GPU costs will eventually start to come down. At least for the second-hand market, this is looking like it could be the case. But unfortunately, when it comes to getting a new card, prices don't seem to be following the same trend. Or at least, not yet.

There's a number of reasons for this. Namely, unprecedented shipping costs to import what are relatively small orders in the grand scheme of goods transportation. And of course, silicone shortages too, which has left the limited supply to be spread as thin as sugar paper across almost every major industry around the globe (from PCs, consoles and mobile devices, to cars, portable generators and more). So when it comes to shiny new GPUs, it's likely to be at least a further 6-8 months before things start to normalise, if not longer should the crypto market shoot back up again.

Freight Shipping Costs affecting GPU prices

All things considered, rather than longing for a world that is still some ways off, I thought I'd do my best to help folks find the best value in what is otherwise a rather overpriced market. Of course, we can keep comparing to MSRPs, but ultimately, they're about as real as ancient Greek myth at this point.

Instead then, I did a lot of legwork in an attempt to figure out which graphics cards are most worth your hard-earned cash right now. More than 200 GPU listings later (specifically not e-bay, where scalpers have been lurking for months-on-end), hours of scrutinising benchmarks, and a lot of head-scratching as I revisited Excel for the first time in a while, here's what I found (click to enlarge images):

GPUs 2021 1440p

GPUs 2021 4K

As you can see, there's a lot going on, but we'll break this down into more manageable reading within each of our categories. When it came to deciding on these categories, I resolved to go with a "sub x-value" approach. That way, if prices do miraculously continue to fall, then the ordering of these GPUs shouldn't change - only their associated price tag.

So without further ado, let's get down to cutting the chaff from the wheat...

Best value sub-£500 GPU - GTX 1660 Super/Ti (6GB)

Of all the GPUs on the market right now, the GTX 1660 Super and Ti variants are some of the few cards that have seen only a marginal uplift in cost over their original MSRP, at an average of 17%. This is fantastic news for anyone in the market for a sub-£500 GPU.

Able to consistently hit 60fps in the vast majority of titles, and at 1440p ultra settings too, these cards are a great option for those looking to dip their toes into stunning 1440p gaming. At an average cost of around £330, they're quite possibly two of the cheapest available graphics cards capable of offering that level of performance at 1440p. For comparison, that's only about 25% slower than the RTX 3060, but for around 80% of the cost on average, so still pretty great value even with their slight mark-up.

GTX 1660 Super/Ti

Granted, the RTX 3060 does include a whopping 12GB of GDDR6 VRAM, giving it twice as much video memory as the GTX 1660 Super/Ti. But the GTX cards are by no means 4K gaming cards, not by any stretch of the imagination - so the lack of VRAM by comparison isn't a particularly big deal.

They're also fantastic cards for high-refresh 1080p gaming, and can comfortably achieve between 75-120fps in most titles, and at high settings too.

Best value sub-£500 GPU Runner Up - RX 5700 XT (8GB)

The next best GPU you could get your hands on, AMD's RX 5700 XT is a solid 1440p contestant. Another card with a relatively marginal increase over MSRP at 24%, it's more than capable of maintaining comfortably over 80fps on average, making it more than ideal for those looking to get the most out of a 75Hz monitor at 1440p.

RX 5700 XT

Offering a 33% uplift over the GTX 1660 Super/Ti, and an additional 2GB of GDDR6 VRAM, it's also a healthy step up from our winning card. Being 6% faster than an RTX 3060, whilst only 11% slower than an RTX 2080, it comes in at only a fraction of the cost (around 30% and 160% less, respectively).

Meanwhile, when it comes to 4K, unlike the GTX cards, getting playable framerates is definitely possible. With some game-to-game fine tuning and a handful of the more demanding settings tweaked down, you could feasibly crack the 60fps mark. That gives those with a budget and the curiosity a chance to dip their toes into 4K gaming. And with an average cost of around £455.00, you're getting performance that out-paces NVIDIA's 2070 Supers for anywhere between £50-150 less.

It is however about 40% more expensive than the GTX 1660 cards, which is quite a large step up for those with tighter budgets. It also puts the card right on the edge of retaining a decent value proposition, since anything much higher puts you in our next price bracket. And, as you'll see momentarily, if your budget is capable of stretching that far, the RX 5700 XT wouldn't make a whole lot of sense.

Best value £500-1000 GPU - RTX 3060 Ti (8GB)

Speaking of dipping toes and crossing the £500 threshold, our pick for the best value card here goes to the RTX 3060 Ti. Able to deliver a comfortable 100fps on average, placing it a few percent ahead of the RTX 2080 (a card which is a hefty 85% more expensive), it's around 25% faster than its non-Ti counterpart. That extra 25% performance will also only cost around 8% more too, working out at only £6.16 per frame, compared to the £7.15 per frame of the RTX 3060. You do lose some VRAM, but it doesn't affect gaming performance in the slightest, so is only really a consideration for those that might also require it for non-gaming, productivity tasks.

RTX 3060 Ti

In comparison to the RX 5700 XT, the RTX 3060 Ti offers a reasonable performance uplift here as well, with an 18% increase in frames at 1440p, and a further 21% advantage at 4K. That makes it perfect for those wanting to play at 4K high settings, with a steady 60fps on average.

With the second smallest mark-up over MSRP from the 30-series cards, at 34% (just 2% more than the RTX 3060), it comes in at 40% more expensive than the RX 5700 XT. However, that extra £200 also offers more than just rasterization improvements; for the additional cost, you of course have access to a host of NVIDIA specific features including, most notably, Ray Tracing. 

Although it is by no means the best card for having RTX ON, at 1440p the 3060 Ti does do admirably well in all but the most demanding of ray traced titles. Not to mention that in supported games like Control and Cyberpunk 2077 (some of the best examples of ray tracing in games to date), DLSS can help significantly restore some of the lost framerate that comes from enabling the feature. For the most part, that translates to a comfy 60+fps, giving gamers a great point of entry into ray tracing should they wish to see for themselves whether they prefer RTX ON, or off.

Best Value £500-1000 GPU Runner Up - RX 6700 XT (12GB)

With another fairly large price jump, we arrive at our second-place spot, which goes to the RX 6700 XT. Also more than capable of pushing over 100fps at 1440p, and perfectly hitting the 60fps average at 4K, this is another excellent card which out performs the RTX 2080 whilst still remaining 33% cheaper - even at its particularly pricy 89% mark-up over the original MSRP.

In relation to the 30-series, that makes it 36% faster than the RTX 3060, and 8% faster than the RTX 3060 Ti, whilst meeting the two cards in the middle with its 12GB GDDR6 memory. However, as with all of AMD's newest GPUs, the ray tracing performance leaves a lot to be desired, with most titles slashing framerates by as much as 60%, or worse. Even with AMD's newly announced DLSS equivalent, FSR, there's no saving that kind of performance loss without seriously degrading the visual fidelity of the game.

RX 6700 XT

However, if ray tracing isn't something that interests you, then this combo of strong rasterization performance and ample headroom provided by the 12GB of VRAM make it a great choice for those wanting high fps at 1440p, across multiple ultrawide monitors. So if super immersive sim racing is right up your street, this card will work a treat.

Despite its drawbacks, provided you aren't concerned by the likes of ray tracing and super-sampling features, the RX 6700 XT still makes more sense than the RTX 3070, which only offers a marginal 5-10% (1440p-4K) uplift over the AMD card for a further 38% price increase and 4GB less VRAM.

Best value £1000-1500 GPU - RTX 3080 (10GB)

If you read my article earlier last year, where I compared the value proposition of the RTX 3080 vs the RTX 3070, then this probably won't come as much of a surprise. Able to consistently deliver well over 140fps at 1440p, the RTX 3080 comes in at only 10% slower than the RTX 3090, a meagre 7% slower than the RTX 3080 Ti, and a barely noticeable 4% slower than the RX 6800 XT. Meanwhile it's 25% and 18% faster than the RTX 2080 Ti and 3070 Ti, whilst being an impressive 54% faster than the RTX 2080.

At an average cost of just over £1200, it puts it in the territory of last gen 2080 Ti cards, which were generally between £1200-1500 depending on the model. So in theory, it's a 25% performance uplift and for no actual increase to cost.

RTX 3080

Though you lose 1GB of VRAM by comparison, the RTX 3080 still out performs the 2080 Ti at 4K by almost 30%, thanks to it utilising the much faster GDDR6X memory. The card also features the newer and far more powerful RT Cores, making ray tracing actually possible without slashing fps in two; at 1440p native it can average as many as 90fps, whilst at 4K with DLSS enabled it can comfortably maintain 60fps in all but the most demanding of ray traced games.

Although it isn't leading the pack in terms of performance, from a value perspective, it smashes its two bigger brothers. Coming in at half the average price of an RTX 3090 or 3080 Ti, it costs just £13.67 per frame, compared to the £23.80 and £24.38 of the former cards. It also offers up to 16% more performance than our runner up, for a measly 1.5% increase to cost on average. Speaking of which...

Best value £1000-1500 GPU Runner Up - RX 6800 (16GB)

The RX 6800, another fantastic performer at 1440p, claims our second-place spot for this category. With nigh on 140fps averages, the card comes in at just 8% shy of the RTX 3080, whilst remaining an acceptable 16% ahead of the RTX 3070 (working out at a 1:1 ratio for performance-cost increase) and with twice as much VRAM to boot. Meanwhile, even at its almost 130% mark-up over MSRP, the RX 6800 is still 45% cheaper on average than the RX 6800 XT, which offers only a marginal 13% performance increase both at 1440p and 4K, and with no additional VRAM.

RX 6800

Much the same as all Radeon's new GPUs, our runner up suffers the same drawbacks as its predecessors. Namely, the sub-par ray tracing performance which even the likes of FSR will struggle to recoup. Once again though, and similarly to the RX 6700 XT, provided ray tracing isn't on your list of must haves, then the strong rasterization performance paired with more than enough VRAM makes it a great pick for those that want a GPU capable of managing multiple high refresh ultrawides.

However, despite the additional VRAM, the gap does widen at 4K, with the RTX 3080 outpacing the RX 6800 by 16%. Of course, almost 80fps at native 4K and ultra settings is perfectly acceptable though, and so in the absence of the 3080, makes it a fantastic alternative.

Best value £1500+ GPU - RX 6900 XT (16GB)*

Yes, for our final card we have a *caveat*, which we will get to shortly. But for now, our preferred pick for the big bucks goes to the RX 6900 XT.

RX 6900 XT

At 1440p, the RX 6900 XT is as good as it gets, delivering a mighty 171fps on average, placing it ahead of the RTX 3090 by almost 2%, and the 3080 Ti by 5%. This isn't anything major of course, but the biggest difference by an extremely large margin is the cost of these cards. The RX 6900 XT comes in at around £1875 on average (woof), which offers markedly better value than the GeForce cards which are up to 30% more expensive (double woof).

Meanwhile, at 4K, although both of the GeForce cards outperform the RX 6900 XT, it's only by a margin of 7% and 3%, respectively. For us, that is not enough of a difference to justify that 30% increase in cost, especially when the RTX 3080 Ti only offers 12GB of VRAM, and the RTX 3090 has just 8GB more (particularly seeing as none of these cards really need that much VRAM for gaming to begin with).

You might be wondering why we didn't opt for the RX 6800 XT here. After all, it is only 9% slower than the RX 6900 XT, and for around £150 less. At the same time, it's also 13% faster than the RX 6800 at both 1440p and 4K. The problem though, is it's also ludicrously more expensive than it really should be at around 192% over its original MSRP value, making it the most inflated price of the bunch.

RX 6800 XT

At an average £1750 it's 42% more expensive than the RTX 3080, which is just 4% slower at 1440p and 3% faster at 4K. With that considered, it makes far more sense to just make a massive saving and go for the RTX 3080 instead, leaving you £500 better off. Even if you bought an RTX 3080 at £1500, that would still be more cost effective and better value than picking up an RX 6800 XT at this price point. So for us, that was the clincher, and why you'd be much better off choosing the RX 6900 XT.

However, and I did say there would be a however; in the exact same way as every other Radeon card we've mentioned today, ray tracing performance just is not on par with the GeForce cards. It isn't a surprise, as this was AMD's first ever crack at ray tracing, but it's something that has to be considered nonetheless. So, in this instance, and given the lofty price tags anyway, we also think that the RTX 3090 would be a valid alternative - its value in this case purely coming from features, rather than pure cost per frame.

But why not the RTX 3080 Ti? The supposed "new hope" for gamers?

Well, it's simple really. The RTX 3090 is still better at 4K and 1440p for the most part, even if only marginally, and is truly the best card when it comes to ray tracing performance. What's more, that extra bit of performance comes at barely any extra cost over the 3080 Ti, and, despite it being mostly unnecessary for gaming, it does still have 24GB of VRAM, giving it more than double the 3080 Ti. That at least means that the card is likely to retain more of its value over time, since it can be resold as a GPU for productivity and non-gaming workloads that will actually make far better use of additional VRAM.

RTX 3090

Both the RX 6900 XT and RTX 3090 are indeed the best of the best when it comes to gaming performance. But depending on which resolution you play at, whether you can live without decent ray tracing performance at this price point, and how bothered you are about saving money at these kinds of figures anyway, will largely determine which card you pick.

Conclusions

In the current market, trying to determine which cards are the best value GPUs for gaming has not been an easy task. But hopefully, with some of the breakdowns in this post, I've been able to help you evaluate where the best possible value lies and which card is right for you.

As a side note, and something certainly worth considering for those that are looking to spend money on the higher-end cards - if prices continue to remain high for individual components, it could be worth considering an entire system upgrade...

It sounds extreme, I know, but look at like this. If you were to spend, let's say, anywhere from £2400-2800 on an RTX 3090 or 3080 Ti, for example, using our Reign Gaming PCs as a reference, for the same sort of cost you could buy a Reign Vanguard Core iCUE. That would give you an RTX 3080 paired with a Ryzen 7 5800X, 16GB of RAM, and more than 2TB of all-SSD storage, plus all the other components too. And you'd be sacrificing less than 10% performance in gaming. Less than 10% lost, but an entire system gained? I know what I'd do...

And on that bombshell, I think we'll leave it here for today. As usual, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to hit us up down below.
 

Posted in Tech

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Published on 28 Jun 2021

Last updated on 28 Jun 2021

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