Gpu Hierarchy: Five rounds of great competition. Which One Should I Choose?
So, you’ve decided to upgrade your GPU. You want to be able to run more demanding games or software than you’ve done so far. But there are too many choices in the GPU market. There are many technologies that make a great graphics card. More memory is not always the best option.
We’ll help you take the pain and uncertainty out of shopping, with our look at GPU hierarchy. Below you’ll find an introduction to GPU hierarchy for all current-gen GPUs. We’ve also got some quick recommendations for you. We’re assuming you’ve already made sure your system is not too old to warrant an upgrade!
Top GPU Performance Hierarchy Table
A search on Google will reveal several desktop GPU hierarchy tables, like the detailed one over at Tom’s Hardware and laptop GPU hierarchy tables. You should be looking for discrete GPU chips that don’t share memory with the CPU. Integrated GPUs will eat into your system RAM and won’t give you the computing power of discrete GPUs.
GPU hierarchy tables rank GPUs by overall performance, considering things like average FPS performance in HD resolutions and beyond. Go for the highest-tier card you can afford. But make sure you know the limiting factors of your system, or you could end up wasting your dollars.
Tips & Thought:GPU Hierarchy
The most important performance indicator of GPUs is the model number. It indicates a combination of GPU, memory bandwidth and clock rates. It’s not easy to always compare GPUs across brands and different generations. But it’s such a hot topic that there’s been enough research done. Experts have arranged cards by performance and keep adding to the list as new graphics processors are released
- Here’s a quick tip: when you’re looking for an upgrade, you should go for the highest-tier graphics card that you can afford.
AMD and Nvidia are really the only manufacturers we’re considering on our GPU hierarchy, since they make the best display chips. Until Intel releases its desktop gaming GPU codenamed Arctic Sound, we won’t bring it into the arena.
- Note: You may also come across MSI, ASUS and other video cards and scratch your head. These companies only take chips from the big three and modify them. They may modify things like power draw, clock speed, cooling solutions, and amount of RAM. These modified GPUs rarely outclass the Nvidia or AMD reference model they’ve tried to beat.
Nevertheless, the variations in GPUs available is mind-boggling. We can’t review six different versions of an AMD card. But you can rest assured, if a reference card is a solid contender, its third-party variations will be too.
Part#1 GPU Hierarchy 2018: 5 Tier
A simple way to organize GPUs is in five tiers. This hierarchy begins at the top with the cards that are meant for serious gamers and goes down to the most budget-friendly card for occasional gamers.
You’ll find that Nvidia makes the most expensive and the best GPUs when it comes to high frame-rate deliveries at 4K or lower resolution. The budget range is dominated by AMD, although Nvidia also makes some nice mid-range and value GPUs for the more budget-conscious gamer.
Tier 1 : The Absolute Best
The absolute best are for those without budget constraints. These GPUs will deliver all the power you need to consistently achieve 60 fps on 4K resolutions or your surround display setup. These cards are the ones that push boundaries in technological advancements. While we wait for the Nvidia Turing series to arrive, with its rumored DDR6 memory, check out the best GPUs in the current market.
About These Absolute Best GPU
The Nvidia’s GeForce Titan V could top the GPU hierarchy table, with its 12 GB HBM2 memory, 5120 CUDA cores and prohibitive three grand price. It’s the fastest affordable GPU around but meant for machine learning and not so much for gamers.
The Nvidia Titan Xp or the Titan X Pascal and the GTX 1080 Ti offer excellent performances. But the 1080 Ti is hugely more popular than the Titan Xp, for its price advantage. Both are based on the Pascal architecture, but the 1080 Ti offers greater value. These are heavy lifting GPUs for gaming, video processing, scientific use, etc. Nvidia is the unmatched champion of this tier.
Tier 2: Superb Performance
GPUs in this desktop GPU hierarchy tier is also led by Nvidia, but AMD offers some expensive HBM2 memory-run Vega GPUs. Expect between 30 to 60 fps performance in 4K and over 60 fps in 2K. Remember not to compare CUDA cores (an Nvidia technology) with Stream technology (from AMD), as they’re not comparable technologies.
About These Superb Performance GPUs
You’ll hear many gamers praising the Nvidia’s GTX 1080, the 1070 and the 1070 Ti. The GTX 1080 is going strong since its launch in 2016. Two GTX 1080 GPUs in SLI will pack a powerful punch in 2K or 4K.
If you’re looking for a card to power 1440p QHD display, the GTX 1070 Ti should be your top choice in its price range. The GTX 1070 does run cooler than the Ti version and uses less energy. But the overall performance is better with the 1070 Ti, though both offer superb performance.
AMD’s RX Vega 56 punches above its weight on the GPU hierarchy table in graphics performance. The 8GB HBM2 memory drives the price up, but it’s fantastic for full HD gaming. It will prepare you for more demanding games in the future. The Vega 64 is a high-end graphics card great for VR, and graphics performance is as good as the Nvidia GTX 1080.
Tier 3 – Good Performance at Reasonable Prices
You don’t always have to spend an arm and a leg for good graphics. Some pocket-friendly graphics cards – more from AMD – help you get solid frame-rates at affordable prices. You can easily achieve 30 to 60 fps in 2K and brilliant 1080p performance.
About These Good Performance GPUs
We really like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 to start PC gaming with, and so does most of the world. There’s no question that for a mid-range GPU, the 6GB DDR5, great overclocking and brilliant 1080p performance is a steal. You get the most bang for your buck with the GTX 1060, and even 4K gaming capability.
AMD also has two solid GPUs we like. The AMD Radeon RX 580 came out in 2017 offering brilliant full HD performance and decent QHD. It does hog a lot of power, but it’s quite close to the Nvidia GTX 1060 in performance at a great price.
It outperforms the AMD Radeon RX 570 in graphics quality on the GPU hierarchy table, and is only slightly more expensive. But both are great graphics cards at a popular mid-range price.
Tier 4 – Great Value for Those on a Budget
When budget is a constraint, don’t worry. The best budget GPUs can help you achieve 60 fps performance on your 1080p display. As long as you’re not trying to run the most demanding scientific software and games on your PC, AMD and Nvidia have some good budget options for you.
About These Value GPU
We think the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and the GTX 1050 are some of the best budget cards at the same tier in GPU hierarchy. The 1050 has a small form factor, lets you play games like Overwatch on medium settings, and achieve 60 fps smoothly on games like the latest CS. If you’re an eSports gamer, you’ll like the 1050 Ti, with its great 1080p performance and 60 fps delivery.
AMD’s budget offering that we like is the AMD Radeon RX 560. It’s also great for eSports and you can play some AAA titles as well. Just make sure you don’t accidentally get your hands on the cut-down 14 compute-unit version that AMD also released, while paying the price of the full-fat (16 computing unit) version.
Tier 5 – Affordable Solutions for the Less Demanding Gamer
There’s also a selection of GPUs fit for those who enjoy playing eSports and other online multiplayer games that aren’t too demanding. Integrated graphics cards may not run some of these games. But the Nvidia GeForce GT 1030 and the AMD Radeon RX 550 should.
About These Affordable GPUs
The Nvidia GT 1030 is for you if you like to play games or run applications that your integrated graphics card won’t support, like smooth 4K YouTube content or World of Warcraft at over 110 fps. It’s great for DirectX 11 game titles.
The AMD Radeon RX 550 is a comparable card in the same price range. It lags slightly behind the Nvidia 1030 in terms of graphics performance in DirectX 11 games. But AMD RX 550 is smoother with DirectX 12 titles and games like Doom that use the Vulkan 3D API.
You may be able to play at a steady 60 fps on 1080p with these GPUs. But be prepared to struggle to achieve 30 fps on games that are more demanding.
Part #2 Desktop & Laptop GPU Hierarchy Lists (Updated)
So far, we’ve taken a look at the latest and best GPUs across the board, for a certain budget range. Now, here’s a quick look at desktop GPU hierarchy and laptop GPU hierarchy separately. A laptop GPU will usually have an ‘M’ on the card number, to imply it’s a mobile version. But Nvidia’s 10-series GPUs and AMD’s 400 series GPUs don’t come with the ‘M’ anymore when designed for a laptop.
Also look out for SLI (from Nvidia) and CrossFire (from AMD) features that allow you to link multiple cards together. It’s not always the best option for better performance, however.
Desktop GPU Hierarchy
Now you’ve seen the desktop GPU hierarchy and the best cards on it. Next, you’ll want to make a choice considering your budget, needs, and the hardware limitations of the system you’re upgrading. Don’t let hierarchy or price alone motivate your choice. Consider things like whether the cooler you’re getting with your GPU is good enough, for instance. You may find that paying $100 more for a GTX 970 version with a warranty and better cooler will save you repair costs in the long run. Compare different manufacturer versions. Check reputations, clock speeds and RAM bandwidths, not just GPU hierarchy.
Don’t forget, you may not need a high-tier graphics card with higher memory unless you’re running incredibly large resolutions. If you’ve no desire for 4K, there’s no need for you to spend over $400 on a Tier 2 card when a Tier 3 card would do just as well for sub-$300. Don’t forget the law of diminishing returns.
Laptop GPU Hierarchy
Every year or two years, AMD and Nvidia launch more powerful laptop GPUs. Nvidia’s latest architecture is the Pascal. Maxwell (2015) or 1-st Gen Maxwell (2014) cards are older. AMD’s 5th gen Polaris is the latest series from the manufacturer.
You could arrange laptop GPUs into five tiers of laptop GPU hierarchy. High-end cards like Nvidia’s Pascal-based 10 series GPUs will let you run the most demanding games and multimedia software in full detail settings and high resolutions. AMD’s RX 400 series is good for gaming and multimedia as well.
Mid-range cards like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M, 880M SLI and Quadro M5000M are good for playing modern games smoothly at medium settings and HD resolutions. Nvidia’s Quadro series is good for workstations and so is Intel’s HD Graphics.
Casual gamers and mainstream users who don’t mind modern games at low settings will find Nvidia’s GeForce 930MX and AMD’s FirePro W4190M good enough for their needs. Intel’s integrated HD graphics cards and the Intel Iris Plus 640 series are good for non-demanding games and software.
We won’t even talk about the office-class graphics cards, since you’re probably here considering an upgrade.
For a detailed comparison of laptop card performances, check out this list at NotebookCheck.
Gpu Roundup Time
Now it’s time to round up top GPUs that we think stand out for gaming and graphics-heavy software. We’ve picked five graphics cards in the high-end to mid-range category in the GPU hierarchy. Whether you’re a gamer or someone who uses resource-hungry multimedia or business software, one of these will suit you.
First, some quick tips to choose your GPU:
- Higher RAM isn’t always better. Bandwidth is more important. 1GB DDR6 is better than 4GB DDR3.
- Make sure your CPU and monitor supports the GPU you’re eyeing. High-end GPUs are a waste on older dual-core processors. At least 4 cores are the standard for modern GPUs. An old 1280X1024 monitor also doesn’t need an expensive GPU.
- You won’t usually need 2/3/4 linked GPU configurations, unless you’re running multiple displays and 4K.
AMD Radeon RX 480 Roundup
Way up there on the desktop GPU hierarchy along with the Nvidia GTX Titan is the mid-range AMD Radeon RX 480. This card is VR-ready, and supports modern, demanding games on DirectX 12 and Vulkan. You can stream and record games in 4K, easily achieving 60 fps at high res. It’s probably the cheapest VR-ready GPUs in the desktop GPU hierarchy. But if you can find a cheaper Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 470, you might have a tougher call. It’s a little noisy, and not much faster than the GTX 970.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Roundup
We’re big fans of the GTX 1060, though it’s more expensive than the RX 480. It runs quieter, uses incredibly low power (120W), and still delivers stunning full HD and QHD performance. At 1440p, it’s ahead of the RX 480 on most games, including GTA V. It’s VR-ready as well.
It comes in 3GB and 6GB models. The former is only slightly slower (about 2% to 10% slower) than the 6GB model in most games. Overall, this GPU is powered with the same Pascal architecture that goes into the more pricey GTX 1070 and 1080 a tier up in the GPU hierarchy.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Roundup
Of course, if you have the cash, we recommend investing in the GeForce GTX 1070. It’s built for gaming, is super quiet, power efficient and a less-expensive Pascal-based GPU than the GTX 1080. The 1060 is an alternative VR-ready match that’s also more affordable. But if you want to take advantage of anti-aliasing in your games, the GTX 1070 is your graphics chip.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Roundup
The GTX 1080 is one of the best graphics cards you could put your money on. It’s up there in the top of the GPU hierarchy. But it’s more future-ready than the 1070, with 4K capability. If you want the highest resolution graphics as you play games or run multimedia software, the 1080 is better for you than the 1070. It’s also half the price of the Titan X cards.
How To Build A Gaming PC
Are you building your PC from scratch? We suggest keeping the costs of your GPU to a third of the cost of the other expensive hardware, like the motherboard, processor, power supply and cooling solution. Also, if you want a top-tier GPU, the rest of your hardware should match. A budget processor should only go with a budget GPU. Also, make sure the card you’re eyeing will fit in the space your case has for it. Powerful, high-end cards will need a powerful cooling system so your system isn’t fried by the heat generated.
Best GPU For Gaming
The GPU is critical for gaming. It handles complex calculations, maps textures and runs complex shaders and anti-aliasing. There’s no single best GPU for your gaming needs, despite the GPU hierarchy. Your choice will depend on the games you play and your budget. At the very least, you’ll need a 4GB VRAM.
If money is no factor, we suggest Nvidia GTX 1080Ti for high-end and lightning quick processing. GTX 1070 is excellent for 1080p and 1440p gaming. The 1060 3GB is a solid mid-range card offering a balance of performance and value. The 1050 is the best ultra-budget card for 1080p on medium to high settings.
Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy
Here’s an important note on Intel and AMD GPU hierarchy and what the GPU model number says about performance. With Intel, you have to pay close attention to the architecture. Within a certain generation (indicated by first digit), higher the following numbers, better the performance.
For instance, Intel HD Graphics 620 (the latest Kaby Lake architecture) is more powerful than the Intel HD Graphics 5000 (an older Haswell GT3 architecture). It’s also more powerful than the HD 520 (earlier Skylake architecture).
Pay attention to the numbering for AMD as well. AMD’s R9, for instance, is high-end. R7 is mid-tier and R3 is entry-level. An AMD processor will typically carry the Radeon title, followed by the R-number indicating the chip’s performance. This will be followed by the generation number, revision number (higher the better), and an X for a faster version of the original GPU.
The GPU of Tomorrow
With the rise of AI (artificial intelligence) there is a growing demand for more powerful GPUs for faster image rendering. Nvidia seems to be planning to explore multi-chip GPUs. In such a GPU, multiple modular chips would be linked in one package for a powerful monster of a GPU. Experts think such a GPU would be faster than the largest GPU possible to build, by as much as 44.5%. Right now, the most powerful and largest GPU possible is the Tesla V100.
Theoretically, this will be different from and more powerful than multi-GPU CrossFire and SLI setups. Every GPU you add to a multi-GPU setup at the moment squeezes less and less performance out of the new GPU. It will be interesting to see how the multi-chip GPU shapes itself.
The Final Verdict
Having taken a look at the best GPUs on GPU hierarchy tables, you would have come to certain conclusions about which Nvidia, AMD or even Intel HD GPU is the best for your budget and requirements. I have to be honest though. This is only a starting point on your journey to find the perfect GPU for your needs.
You could always get yourself a setup that lets you play games at ultra settings on 4K resolution at 120 fps. But would that be overkill? Ask yourself if you’re sure about what you really want. What do you intend to use your PC for? What are the specs of the CPU and RAM of your rig?
Don’t ignore the bonus features that many third-party manufacturers provide on Nvidia and AMD cards. And finally, compare memory bandwidth, clock speed and most importantly, model numbers.
You’re on your way to finding the perfect GPU for your needs!