What graphics card should you buy? Our best graphics cards in the world article is regularly updated.
The battle for the top graphics card of this generation started earlier than normal this year with AMD unleashing its top two graphics cards: the Radeon HD 7970 and Radeon HD 7950, right at the start of the year in January.
Typically Nvidia was late to the next-generation party, releasing its first Kepler GPU-based card: the GeForce GTX 680 in late March. It's a tradition that has worked in Nvidia's favour previously.
The last few generations of graphics cards have seen AMD come out first, allowing Nvidia to finalise its pricing and clock-speeds to a level where it knows it can comfortably sit above the competition. This does give AMD time to dominate at launch though, pricing its cards with impunity, and reaping the rewards that can come with being first.
But this generation is still a little different as both companies have taken different approaches to their latest GPUs. Both manufacturers have come up with different architectures, with AMD's Graphics Core Next definitely being the more radical chip redesign.
What both new chip architectures have in common, however, is the new 28nm production process. That means both the top-end Tahiti XT and the GK104 GPUs are smaller in both transistor size and in die size than their last generation equivalents. It also means that both GPUs are, in some cases significantly, lower-powered than their older siblings.
They are also rather expensive too. This generation has seen AMD try to go toe-to-toe again with Nvidia in the top-end graphics card bout, releasing the HD 7970 with a £400 price tag, which is Nvidia's top-end precedent.
But it's not all about the new generation of graphical greatness, oh no. Thanks to the stalled console technology holding back the current 3D games engines, there are still fantastic graphics cards lower down the stack, from the last generation, that are quite happy to spit out excellent gaming frame rates.
As much as we might like to moan that the unfeasibly long life of this generation of games consoles is bad for PC gaming technology, it's impossible to get away from the fact that a £100 graphics card will have you gaming at high definition resolutions, in most of the latest DX11 titles, and at over 30fps.
It's true this isn't great news for those at the top-end of the graphics market as there's a lot of wasted performance in the vast range of usage scenarios. A GTX 680 simply isn't going to be taxed enough to justify its price at 1,920 x 1,080 in any modern game. But for the average PC gamer those £400+ cards are beyond the realms of possibility anyway.
With most PC games coming from console origins, in terms of development at least, they are being designed to run comfortably on six-year-old hardware. That means they are being designed to run on the equivalent of the top-end graphics cards of around five years ago.
At the rapid iterative pace of the PC technology industry those top-end graphics cards were long ago superseded by speedier and speedier GPUs. Now a £100 PC graphics card is exponentially better than the weedy chip sitting inside the Xbox 360, for example.
That ought to mean that PC exclusive titles should be pushing things in terms of PC graphics. Well, yes they kind of are. Look at the beautiful, though faintly ridiculous in terms of functionality, Diablo III. It's a PC-only title and it's gorgeous, but comes with the minimum system specs of a computing geriatric.
We're getting all nostalgic and misty-eyed looking at the minimum graphics card of an ATI Radeon X1950 Pro. It was a beautiful card of its time; single-slot and it wore it well. But it has no place in a contemporary gaming system, with the Diablo III recommendation of an AMD HD 4870 or Nvidia GTX 260 being a far more reasonable option.

No nostalia

But you could never recommend anyone goes out to purchase either of those cards if they were looking to pick up a new GPU. For a start, because they are no longer being made, the few that are around seem to be nostalgically priced for the collector; although it will be a long time before these graphics cards take pride of place on Antiques Roadshow.
Instead we'd recommend you start looking for a recent graphics card at, and around, the £100 price point. That sort of card will happily power games on a 1080p HD monitor at native resolution and deliver decent frame rates and decent settings. It will also give you a few years more gaming down the line too.

From those humble beginnings though you can quickly shift through the gears and spend anything up to £880 on a single graphics card. That is a vast amount of money to spend on a graphics card, and you might ask why would anyone spend cash when the game engines aren't demanding that sort of graphical processing power?Below that sort of price tag and you're going to have to be seriously cutting back on the graphical shinies in-game. Post-processing effects and texture quality will have to be compromised, but at around the £70 to £80 mark you can pick up an AMD HD 6770 that will still prop up your modern game engines.
But there are the elite of the landed-gentry, sorry, gaming community, that will spend that sort of cash in order to get the very best on offer to power their 30-inch monitors-of-awesomeness at breakneck frame rates. That will either buy you a pair of GTX 680s in SLI or a single GTX 690; a dual-GPU beast that offers a few advantages over the SLI solution.
At the 2,560 x 1,600 scale of resolutions and beyond, and with the likes of EyeFinity from AMD and Surround 3D from Nvidia, you do need serious graphics grunt to push frame rates in cutting-edge PC titles.

Lone mid-rangers

So at the very top of the graphics tree you're looking at multi-GPU technology pushing things, but in the middle there are a lot of fantastic options out there. And in these more mid-range graphics cards some can offer top-end performance with their own SLI and CrossFire pairings.

You can pick up a decent mid-range card now and then a few months down the line pick up a second for close to double the performance. And as newer cards come out pricing for the existing stock of older cards can come down significantly.Recent Nvidia history has shown the GTX 670, a £320 card, can trade blows with both the top AMD and Nvidia GPUs. Not only that but with two of them costing £640, you can get near-GTX 690 performance for £240 less. Though we'd always recommend buying the best single-GPU card you can afford at the time over buying a mid-range multi-GPU pair in one go, it does offer a great way of future-proofing your machine or spreading the cost of top-end graphics performance.
For example, anyone sitting with a GTX 570 in their machine can hit GTX 670 performance by adding a second card to their system. Multi-GPU tech can still be a mite flaky in terms of needing patching for newer releases, but with modern cards and drivers we are getting very close to the 2x performance boost you'd hope for with an additional GPU.
But who is the winner in the graphics war? Well, the cheesy answer is that we are. Prices of seriously high-performance components are dropping all the time, to the point where £100 will buy you an excellent pixel-pusher capable of flinging polygons around your full HD screen at a serious rate of knots.
In terms of who is the winner out of the top two graphics card manufacturers around today, that's a much trickier question to answer. If it was purely a question of who has the fastest graphics chip on the market then the answer would be Nvidia.
The Kepler GPU is a winner in terms of both raw frame rate performance and in efficiency. Nvidia has crafted a GPU that's the fastest currently available, but also has lower power requirements than the second-tier chips of the last generation.
AMD, though, has the edge in terms of mainstream GPUs and in terms of product availability. It's got the sub-£200 market sewn up with the tag-team pairing of HD 7850 and HD 6850 beating down the GTX 560 Ti and 550 Ti. That's the price band where the most cards are sold, so things don't look too bad for AMD right now.