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Forget the RTX 4090. Here’s why you should buy an older GPU instead

Strangely, shopping for a graphics card has never been harder. During the GPU shortage, we weren’t spoiled for choice — you had to take whatever was on the shelf and be happy with it, or not shop at all. Now, with all of the best graphics cards in stock, the marketing war has begun once again.

Nvidia is pushing hard in this generation by focusing on performance. The RTX 4090 is intensely powerful but also expensive, and the other cards in the RTX 40-series aren’t any better in that regard. One might say that this is the price to pay for top-notch gaming capabilities. But do you really need a current-gen card for AAA gaming in 2023? Let’s find out.

EVGA RTX 3060 sitting on a table.
Digital Trends

Last-gen GPUs for modern games

Can you comfortably game on a last-gen GPU? Yes, absolutely. Does it need to be one of the flagships? Not at all.

We’ve tested the majority of the most popular graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia (and even Intel’s modest lineup, including the Arc A770). The good news is that most of the previous generation can withstand AAA gaming on max settings, and this is true even for budget-friendly GPUs.

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Our test suite includes a wide range of titles. For the purpose of this article, I’ll show you our benchmark results for three games: Cyberpunk 2077, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Red Dead Redemption 2. They’re some of the most demanding games your PC can run.

All of the tests were run at 1440p and the highest possible settings without ray tracing. Keep in mind that we paired the cards with a solid overall setup (AMD Ryzen 9 7950X and 32GB of DDR5-6000 memory), so the numbers may be lower if your GPU is bottlenecked by the rest of the rig. However, these three titles rely more on the GPU than the CPU, which is why benchmarking them is a good way to test the graphics card.

First, here are our benchmark results for Nvidia GPUs.

Cyberpunk 2077 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Red Dead Redemption 2 Average fps
RTX 3060 40 55 54 49.7
RTX 3060 Ti 50 53 71 58.0
RTX 3070 Ti 69 93 76 79.3
RTX 3080 86 92 101 93.0
RTX 3080 Ti 86 92 111 96.3
RTX 3090 87 96 113 98.7
RTX 3090 Ti 99 93 120 104.0
RTX 4070 Ti 95 130 111 112.0
RTX 4080 112 148 151 137.0
RTX 4090 140 167 190 165.7

Next, the benchmarks for AMD Radeon GPUs.

Cyberpunk 2077 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Red Dead Redemption 2 Average fps
RX 6600 XT 37 56 56 49.7
RX 6800 XT 85 105 104 98.0
RX 6900 XT 94 110 112 105.3
RX 6950 XT 96 122 117 111.7
RX 7900 XT 118 145 129 130.7
RX 7900 XTX 128 151 143 140.7

As you can see, both the Nvidia RTX 30-series and AMD RX 6000-series can handle AAA gaming just fine, although the RX 6600 XT, RTX 3060, and RTX 3060 Ti fall short of the sweet spot of 60 frames per second (fps). Lowering the settings down to high should be enough to reach a steady 60 fps in most games. Cyberpunk 2077 is the exception here, but that game is notoriously heavy on the graphics card and the rest of the system — so much so that only this generation of cards can run it smoothly with ray tracing enabled.

It’s also worth noting that some of these cards just weren’t made for 1440p. They did a decent job with it, but they’d do much better at 1080p, which is what they were intended for. I’m mostly talking about the RTX 3060, RTX 3060 Ti, and the AMD RX 6600 XT here. At 1080p, you’ll find them at 60 fps or close to it.

As we move up the list of graphics cards, the framerate grows more and more comfortable. At a certain point, it’s no longer necessary to aim for something better, because what you have is already doing well. Of course, with time, these last-gen cards will begin to fall behind. Some games are already calling for RTX 30-series flagships, but that’s only if you want to game at ultra settings with ray tracing on. The question of VRAM should be considered, but that’s only an issue on the latest games of the year.

If you’re okay with a little bit of compromise, you don’t need an RTX 4090 — or even any graphics card from this current generation — to run your favorite games. But does that mean you should shop for last-gen and last-gen only? Not necessarily. Let’s take a look at the prices — unfortunately, older GPUs aren’t anywhere close to being dirt cheap.

Check the prices

Nvidia's RTX 3070 Ti graphics card.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Okay, so I’ve established that buying an older graphics card is probably a smart move at this point. However, if you’re going to buy an older card, it’s important to know what to shop for, and GPU prices play a big part in that decision.

Nvidia has stopped selling its Founders Edition RTX 30-series graphics cards. There are still plenty in stock at various retailers, though, and you don’t need to buy a Founders Edition card in the first place — Nvidia’s partners typically have better cards, although often pricier.

As time goes on, the availability of the RTX 30-series and AMD’s competing Radeon RX 6000-series will continue dwindling. This is why, before you buy, it’s important to check the prices. Stock levels affect the pricing, and sometimes, last-gen cards may no longer be worth your money.

Here’s an approximate rundown of the current GPU pricing, taking into account the lowest prices possible — there will be more expensive models. Remember that these prices may change over time and this is just what they look like at the time of writing. Click on the links to check the current price.

RTX 30-series:

  • RTX 3060: $350 on
  • RTX 3060 Ti: $420 on
  • RTX 3070: $550 on
  • RTX 3070 Ti: $670 on
  • RTX 3080: $900
  • RTX 3080 Ti: $1,150 on
  • RTX 3090: $1,400 on
  • RTX 3090 Ti: $1,700 on

RTX 40-series:

  • RTX 4070 Ti: $820 on
  • RTX 4080: $1,200 on
  • RTX 4090: $1,650 on

One thing to note here is that there is often a large gap between the cheapest and the most expensive models. In the case of the RTX 4090, some of them are listed for as much as $2,300.

AMD has a vast portfolio of GPUs in the RX 6000-series, but I will focus on the cards that can handle decent AAA gaming in 2023.

  • RX 6600 XT: $280 on
  • RX 6650 XT: $300 on
  • RX 6700 XT: $370 on
  • RX 6750 XT: $450 on
  • RX 6800 XT: $580 on
  • RX 6900 XT: $650 on
  • RX 6950 XT: $700 on

RX 7000-series:

  • RX 7900 XT: $820 on
  • RX 7900 XTX: $1,030 on

The prices are one thing, but how do they compare to each other? Which GPU is worth your money? The answer lies in performance per dollar.

Getting the best bang for your buck

The RTX 4070 Ti graphics card on a pink background.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Performance per dollar refers to how many frames per second the GPU can put out on average versus how much it costs to buy one. This metric doesn’t get a lot of attention from GPU makers, at least not unless they want to highlight it. Take Intel as an example here — it knows that its Arc Alchemist GPUs can’t win on performance, so it targets performance per dollar instead.

AMD also seems to be more conscious of this metric than Nvidia, which seems to be more focused on performance alone. The Ada Lovelace generation of cards marks a major step up from Ampere, but it all comes at a price.

For a budget-conscious gamer, performance per dollar is important. This is how you can determine whether a GPU is worth your money or not, and there are some quite surprising discoveries when you weigh the current price and the average fps of each card.

First, Nvidia. Keep in mind that these are all prices at the time of writing, not the recommended prices set by Nvidia (MSRP). As a side note, we’re only comparing relative performance within each GPU brand, with 100% referring to the top performer per dollar.

Current price Average fps per dollar Relative performance per dollar
RTX 3060 $350 0.14 100%
RTX 3060 Ti $420 0.14 97.3%
RTX 3070 Ti $670 0.12 83.4%
RTX 3080 $900 0.10 72.8%
RTX 3080 Ti $1,150 0.08 59.0%
RTX 3090 $1,400 0.07 49.7%
RTX 3090 Ti $1,700 0.06 43.1%
RTX 4070 Ti $820 0.14 96.3%
RTX 4080 $1,200 0.11 80.5%
RTX 4090 $1,650 0.10 70.8%

And the same numbers for AMD:

Current price Average fps per dollar Relative performance per dollar
RX 6600 XT $280 0.18 100%
RX 6800 XT $580 0.17 95.3%
RX 6900 XT $650 0.16 91.4%
RX 6950 XT $700 0.16 89.9%
RX 7900 XT $820 0.16 89.8%
RX 7900 XTX $1,030 0.14 77.0%

Some interesting insights here. For Nvidia, the numbers are all over the place, and it’s all due to the price. For AMD, as you move up the ladder of performance, the performance per dollar ratio drops lower and lower.

Ultimately, the cards that give you the best return on investment are not the ones that serve up the highest fps. Nvidia’s high-end RTX 30-series cards are still powerful, but why would you ever want to spend $1,700 on an RTX 3090 Ti when you can get the RTX 4090 instead?

In the midrange segment, things are different, and last-gen cards continue to shine. Look at the RTX 3060 and the RTX 3060 Ti, and especially the RX 6600 XT, which has the highest performance per dollar value of all AMD and Nvidia cards pooled together in this test. These GPUs are still suitable for AAA gaming in 2023.

Save your money

The RTX 4090 sitting on a table.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Based on these results, you can safely shop for last-gen cards from Nvidia up to and including the RTX 3070 Ti. If your budget is higher, you’re better off moving on to the RTX 40-series — but even then, you can safely settle for an RTX 4070 Ti instead of the RTX 4090.

However, you can most probably get better performance out of an AMD card for less, so explore the idea of an RX 6600 XT, RX 6800 XT, or even the RX 6900 XT, which is good enough to handle 4K gaming. Again, the current-gen cards are less worth the money, but AMD’s flagship RX 7900 XTX and RX 7900 XT still offer better performance per dollar than Nvidia’s entire Ada Lovelace lineup right now.

How good is Nvidia’s RTX 4090 in the performance per dollar metric? If we only go by these benchmarks, it performed poorly against its AMD and Nvidia rivals, with a relative 56%. On the other hand, Nvidia’s beastly GPU can handle things many other cards cannot, such as silky smooth ray tracing and DLSS 3.0. It’s a trade-off, sure, but you really don’t need all of that to play AAA games.

If you just want a solid gaming experience, you can save a fair bit of money by buying one of these last-gen GPUs or sticking to the cheaper models of new cards. If a GPU can run Cyberpunk 2077 at 60 fps, it’s good enough for most games that are out today. I’ve played games like Elden Ring with a GTX 1060, so I know this to be true.

The advantage of buying GPUs that are overkill for right now lies in futureproofing, so if your budget can stretch to it, there’s no reason not to — but you don’t have to, and the numbers are there to back that up.

Editors' Recommendations

Monica J. White
Monica is a UK-based freelance writer and self-proclaimed geek. A firm believer in the "PC building is just like expensive…
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