Awards: Worst & Best Graphics Cards of 2019 | GPU Recap

By Published November 29, 2019 at 3:54 am
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We return again to our annual Awards Show series, where we recap a year’s worth of content to distill-down our opinions on the best-of-the-best hardware that we’ve tested. We also like to talk about some of the worst trends and biggest disappointments in these pieces, hopefully shaming some of the industry into doing better things next year. This episode focuses on the Best Gaming GPUs of 2019, with categories like Best Overall, Most Well-Rounded, Best Modding Support, Best Budget, and more. NVIDIA and AMD have flooded warehouse shelves with cards over the past 11 months, but it’s finally calming down and coming to a close. Time to recap the Best GPUs of 2019, with all links in the description below for each card.

We’ve already posted two of our end-of-year recaps, one for Best Cases of 2019, the other for Best CPUs of 2019, and now we’re back with Best GPUs. As a reminder for this content type, our focus is to help people building systems with a quick-reference recap for a year’s worth of testing. We’re not going to deep-dive with a data-centric approach, but rather quickly cover the stack in a quicker fashion. If you want deep-dive analytics or test data for any one of these devices, check our reviews throughout the year. Note also that, although we will talk about partner models a bit, the “Best X” coverage will focus on the GPU itself (made by AMD or NVIDIA). For our most recent partner recap, check out our “Best RX 5700 XT” coverage.

Best Overall: RX 5700 XT

Find the AMD RX 5700 XT on Amazon (Sapphire Pulse)

Our first award is for Best Overall, which we’re assigning based on a criteria of competitive pricing, good performance in most gaming scenarios, overclocking support, and partner card selection. All totaled, we’re going to give this to the RX 5700 XT GPU.

rx 5700 xt pulse article

If we were talking straight performance, the obvious winner would be either the Titan RTX or RTX 2080 Ti, but those blow-out the budget for most of the userbase. The RTX 2070 Super will also get a mention for performance in the next category, but for this one, we’re we’re factoring in how cost-effective the GPU is, its partner ecosystem, and enthusiast modding support.

The RX 5700 XT has a diverse ecosystem of partner model cards that include some exceptional options at prices relatively close to MSRP. The RX 5700 XT Pulse, for instance, is one of the best options on the market for 1080p, 1440p, and even some 4K gaming, but manages to stick close to MSRP and price itself around $420. At time of writing, we see options for $410, which is an incredibly good deal. The RTX 2070 Super does offer more outright performance, but it’s also priced further away, typically in the range of $500. The extra performance uplift isn’t worth it for a lot of users, we think.

1 40dba gpu powercolor red devil review

2 40dba gddr6 powercolor red devil review

The 5700 XT also gets Best Overall for its enthusiast modding support, something we’ll talk about more with the RX 5700 later. Like the 5700, this card can be tweaked with Radeon PowerPlay Tables, despite AMD’s attempts to lock this down, and so it’s a fun project card for enthusiasts who want to play around more with frequencies and voltages. 4K gaming at $410 with actually good graphics settings and high-ish framerates is an accomplishment that AMD can be proud of for this generation.

As a bonus mention, although AMD doesn’t win outright in the power efficiency category – especially with a process shrink versus NVIDIA in its favor – we will note that the Navi GPUs are nearing parity for the first time in several generations.

Most Well-Rounded: RTX 2070 Super

Find the NVIDIA RTX 2070 Super on Amazon (Gigabyte Windforce)

Our next award is for Most Well-Rounded. Most Well-Rounded needs a mix of high-end gaming support, particularly at higher resolutions, alongside overall versatility of the GPU. This includes its performance in non-gaming applications like streaming, encoding, and acceleration in professional applications.

f1 18 1080p 1660 super review

hitman2 dx11 1440p 1660 super review

Most Well-Rounded goes to the NVIDIA RTX 2070 Super. The 2070 Super ends up one price category higher than the 5700 XT and isn’t as open with modding and OC support, but it is a generally higher-performing card at roughly 10% uplift on average, although scaling at 4K can grow to about 12% to 13%, depending on which partner models are tested. We’ve also found that, although they’ve been somewhat overwhelming with frequency this year, the NVIDIA driver updates have typically aligned with game updates and without major issues. AMD’s Navi still contain basic issues with tasks as basic as setting a fan curve, for instance, and we need to see its driver package improve before we’re able to assign the XT an award for being the most well-rounded. It’s good overall, hence its receipt of Best Overall, but AMD has a lot of room yet to improve in the GPU department. Hopefully some of that CPU money makes its way to RTG.

But this category is for the 2070 Super. Aside from its generally advantaged position in gaming, the RTX 2070 Super also offers a suite of useful features for other applications: CUDA acceleration greatly speeds-up renders in software like Adobe Premiere and Blender, which have both recently had updates to better leverage CUDA – Blender especially with 2.81. The NVENC solution in Turing is also significantly improved over the last generation, allowing an easy solution for same-system video recording or streaming in instances where CPU resources can’t be spared. In testing done by our friend EposVox on YouTube, NVENC’s video quality is a strong suit for streaming and gameplay capture. That said, with the prevalence of AMD’s Ryzen CPUs and their oft over-stuffed core offerings – and we mean that in the best possible way – this type of capture can also be more easily pushed via X264 than before.

Finally, 4K gaming at high settings is accessible on the RTX 2070 Super in most instances tested, as is relatively high-refresh gaming at lower resolutions.

Best Enthusiast Modding: RX 5700

Find the AMD RX 5700 on Amazon (Powercolor Red Dragon)

This award is for the Best Enthusiast GPU. For this, we’re choosing the RX 5700 non-XT. The RX 5700 ticks a lot of boxes, but we like it most as an enthusiast tuning card. The 5700 can be modified to approach RX 5700 XT levels of performance without extreme cooling by using a combination of BIOS flashes and powerplay tables. The 5700 XT also has powerplay table opportunities, of course, but the 5700 can be unlocked past its artificial segmentation lock-down with mods, which allow it to meet 5700 XT performance in games which are not bound by compute unit count, but rather bound by frequency. In most games, the 5700 XT will still lead, but the 5700 can get close enough that it doesn’t much matter.

The 5700 performs excellently in comparative gaming performance, too. In our partner card testing, we found the PowerColor Red Dragon to be the best performer given the price – about $360 USD MSRP, but $350 with some of the holiday sales. The Red Dragon did well for thermals, noise, and gaming performance, with mods affording the headroom required to pull some bigger overclocks through the card.

All this is to say that the 5700 non-XT GPU is already good, but we like it most for its accidental support – despite AMD’s efforts – of the enthusiast tweaking community. It’s good enough to buy for normal use, yes, but anyone who enjoys tuning and playing with hardware should consider the 5700 GPU.

One major honorable mention, here: We assign these awards based on the literal GPU – meaning the silicon – not the video cards or PCBs. We do want to highlight the RTX 2080 Ti Kingpin card, though. If you’ve got a bigger budget nearing $1800 and have some startup interest in the type of overclocking we do on livestreams, the Kingpin 2080 Ti is the real enthusiast’s dream card for 2019. We didn’t give it the award since the 2080 Ti itself is not the best enthusiast tuning solution, and because it’s already pre-modded, but anyone interested in big overclocks on its stock liquid cooler or with liquid nitrogen should be in line for the 2080 Ti Kingpin. Both JayzTwoCents and I used this card in a live overclocking battle stream, and we really enjoyed working with it. It doesn’t fit the nature of our awards today, but the card is impressive enough to get an honorable mention.

Best Mid-Range: GTX 1660 Super

Find the NVIDIA GTX 1660 Super on Amazon (MSI Ventus)

Our award for Best Mid-Range will go to the GTX 1660 Super. We consider mid-range pricing to be in the $200-$300ish segment. This is, of course, totally nebulous and somewhat subjective based upon an individual’s wealth, but older pricing established a clear “high-end” at the $500 mark, despite the industry’s unfortunate departure from this pricing structure.

sniper 4k 1660 super review

The closest AMD competitor to the GTX 1660 Super would be an RX 590, which is an overclocked RX 580, which is an overclocked RX 480. The 1660 Super is not only more efficient in performance-to-power, but also able to supersede RX 590 framerate and frametime pacing in general. The 1660 Super comes with the annoyance of being flanked by NVIDIA’s own 1660 – which we think is mostly obsolete at this point – and its 1660 Ti, which is most definitely obsolete at this point, but only because of NVIDIA’s own 1660 Super. The improvement with the 1660 Ti is about 2% to 4.5% on average, and that means you shouldn’t even be wasting headspace thinking about it. The 1660 Super achieves almost all of the performance of a Ti, but for less money. The performance deficit isn’t even meaningful, and is rarely noticeable to the user despite potential to be measurable with tools.

The 1660 Super is an excellent fit for 1080p gaming at generally high refresh rates. The 1660 Super also does well in 1440p testing, scoring north of 60FPS in almost all titles tested. We wouldn’t recommend the card for higher resolutions than 2560x1440.

Best Budget: GTX 1650 Super

Find the NVIDIA GTX 1650 Super on Amazon (MSI Ventus)

If 1080p is more your style, we’re giving our Best Budget award to the last-minute GTX 1650 Super. The 1650 Super is priced at around $160 USD and manages performance that typically meets the RX 580 or sits within a couple percentage points above or below it. The RX 580 8GB cards are priced all over the place, but mostly sit around the $180 mark, with a few offerings at $160. They’re becoming rarer, which limits its argument further, but the 1650 Super’s rough equivalence with a reduced power footprint and modernized featureset makes it a victor in the budget category.

The $150 price-point is an important one for PC builders who are trying to maximize performance without exceeding a $500-$600 total build cost. As compromises are a must at this price-point, it’s OK to sacrifice higher resolution performance for good value and performance with a 1080p-class display.

Biggest Disappointment – Radeon VII & GTX 1650

The award for Biggest Disappointment is split in a two-way tie: We’re between the AMD Radeon VII – which launched and died in only 5-6 months – and the NVIDIA GTX 1650 non-Super, which we dubbed (quote) “Dead On Arrival” in our launch day review.

The Radeon VII was disappointing for a lot of reasons, but the primary of those is that it launched on February 7 of 2019 and slowly vanished from stores from May to July. When the Super refresh happened, about 9 months after the initial RTX launch, a lot of people talked about “buyer’s remorse” for initial purchasers of the RTX cards. If anything, Radeon VII is something that even late adopters of the RTX series can look at and go, “you know what, maybe I didn’t have it so bad.” This is mostly for a good reason for AMD, which is that the RX 5700 XT was often able to minimally match Radeon VII performance in gaming, but at a price point of $400 instead of about $700. AMD delivered a massive generational improvement in its performance at a lower cost, which is a good thing, but Radeon VII was clearly a last-minute shoe-in to try and dump remaining silicon or, maybe, to meet partner requirements with its foundries. Either way, Radeon VII was born with numerous driver anomalies that weren’t resolved before its early death. We hardly knew ye.

Then there’s the GTX 1650 non-Super, which we said died on arrival for its comparatively poor performance versus the RX 570, a two-year-old card that was built on top of a three-year-old GPU. The GTX 1650 filled a single market, which was small, low-power video outs with extremely minimal ability to process menial GPU loads. Our problem was that this reduced power consumption was largely meaningless for budget buyers, who care more about maximizing performance without stretching their dollars too thin.

The 1650 was not competitive at its ridiculous launch price of $150 to $170, so NVIDIA and AMD can share the award for Biggest Disappointment. We’ll send half a cube to each office, then maybe they can combine their powers at CES or something.

Worst Trend: Video Card Naming & Pointless Product Segmentation

Our next award is for the Worst Trend of 2019. We have one of these for each end-of-year recap, and so far, all of them have had the same Worst Trend recipient: Pointless Product Segmentation. The level of segmentation we’ve seen in every category this year, all the way down to PC cases, only serves to confuse buyers.

one year product segmentation nvidia

You might think that Intel would be uncontested for releasing the Intel Core i9-10980XE, but think again – NVIDIA is trying its hardest to compete. In the past 13 months, NVIDIA has released the following list of video cards:

RTX Titan X, RTX 2080 Ti, RTX 2080 Super, RTX 2080, RTX 2070 Super, RTX 2070, RTX 2060 Super, RTX 2060, GTX 1660 Ti, GTX 1660 Super, GTX 1660, GTX 1650 Super, GTX 1650

The company has also released the Quadro RTX 4000, RTX 5000, RTX 6000, RTX 8000, and Tesla T4, but we’re less worried about these since they’re actually spaced out. Goes to show that the professional community won’t put up with what the gaming community has to.

We think NVIDIA deserves a firm smack for its desire to dazzle and confuse buyers by releasing a product in nearly $20 increments. Even the survival of different solutions has gotten confusing, with the 1660, 1660 Ti, and 1660 Super all still existing alongside each other, even though the 1660 Ti offers between 2% and 4.5% uplift from the 1660 Super. That level of segmentation is completely unnecessary. If it’s not sufficiently different, it shouldn’t exist. The reason this happens is because NVIDIA has learned that a mere price reduction is comparatively boring and gets less coverage, and so it’s just launching pseudo-new products to keep things fresh. Where NVIDIA mis-stepped, in our opinion, was its decision to also keep many of the predecessors alive. The company technically killed the RTX 2080 non-Super and 2070 non-Super, but then the RTX 2070 non-Super came back from the dead. The 2060 and 2060 Super were both kept alive. The entire 1600-series has been kept alive. With about 13 cards in the GeForce line in one year, NVIDIA has enough devices where we wonder whether buyers are just getting confused and buying the most expensive card in their budget range. That’d be the easy solution, after all, rather than spending hours researching potentially 5 cards in a $150 price range.

The only company that has even more product density is Bitfenix for its Nova, which has something like 26 configurations across a $40 price range.

Either way, we’d like to see NVIDIA find a way to produce less confusion in the next year. To provide some constructive feedback, we’d suggest being more aggressive in cutting back old SKUs as they’re replaced. Everyone should be happy, then: NVIDIA gets to release a refresh rather than announce a price cut, which will undeniably get more coverage, but reviewers can stop complaining about naming confusion.

Oh, and stop making 1080 Tis. We liked that card a lot, but it doesn’t need 2 replacements.

We’re going to give an Honorable Mention to the AMD reference cooler for Biggest Disappointment, but this was circumvented with partner models, so it’s not nearly as disappointing.

Conclusion

As one commenter pointed-out in our video upload of this content, the GTX 1080 Ti really did spoil us for the last few years. That card isn’t readily available anymore, but plenty of good cards still exist. We do hope that another 1080 Ti happens some day, though. For now, the RX 5700 XT and 5700 non-XT offer good price-conscious options, the RTX 2070 Super offers the most well-rounded featureset (and more mature drivers), and the rest is covered in the lower-down budget sections.

Editorial, Testing: Steve Burke
Video: Keegan Gallick, Andrew Coleman

Last modified on November 29, 2019 at 3:54 am
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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