The Best Graphics Cards for Gaming & Sim Racing

a zotac 4090 GPU installed in my sim racing PC
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Featured image: my Zotac GeForce RTX 4090 Trinity OC

What is the best graphics card for gamers who are into sim racing? And, importantly – have you checked the one you already own is actually good enough to run your sim racing software on higher settings already? It might just be getting too hot and stuttering.


Thanks to unfortunate economic circumstances for GPU manufacturers, a great window of opportunity has opened for gamers to get their hands on a next-generation GPU for their sim racing or gaming setups.

For the last few years, new graphics cards have been in painfully short supply. Not that the manufacturers would acknowledge this, as NVIDIA reported an increase in GPU production in 2021! Scalpers have been very successful at adding as much as 100% markup over MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) for some cards. This trend of scarcity is well and truly over and I’m delighted to present the 2023 edition of our gaming GPU buyer’s guide. If you’re just looking for a recommendation, check out our top 5 via the links below, or read on to learn about thermal issues, GPU performance, and why you might not need a new GPU right now at all.

What are the best GPUs for gaming and sim racing?

a pile of GPUs
Weird flex: I’ve tested and run most GPUs for sim racing – there’s some nice stuff in this pile!

A new GPU (and sim racing PC for that matter!) is a big investment. And for sim racing, do you actually need the latest flagship NVIDIA GPU? The answer, in my humble opinion, is a firm no – especially not for iRacing and especially not if you understand the key element for all GPU performance: cooling.

I own most flavors of 30 series NVIDIA GPUs, so you’d think then that I still run a 3090 FE in my sim racing PC? Well having just installed a Zotac 4090 to update this article, clearly, the answer is no. Spoiler: a 4090 is huge overkill for iRacing, for now.

Here are our best Gaming GPU recommendations for the 2023 crop of products, or you can read on to understand more about GPU performance, and temperature management and see our test data for iRacing’s graphics performance.

Best Overall Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4080

Gigabyte GeForce RTX 4080 Gaming OC Variant

If top-tier performance is your primary concern, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4080 stands as the undisputed champion. Specifically, the Gigabyte GeForce RTX 4080 Gaming OC variant shines with its superior cooling system and sleek aesthetics.

Gigabyte GeForce RTX 4080 Gaming OC Variant
Gigabyte GeForce RTX 4080 Gaming OC Variant

Pros:

  • Unmatched speed for a breathtaking gaming experience
  • Stellar ray tracing capabilities for realistic lighting and reflections
  • Ideal for 4K gaming with smooth, high-quality visuals
  • Features DLSS 3.0, offering image enhancement and performance boosting
  • Comes loaded with dual BIOS
Gigabyte GeForce RTX 4080 Gaming OC Variant (rear)

Cons:

  • Its large size may pose a compatibility issue for smaller cases
  • Comes with a hefty price tag, making it less accessible for budget-conscious gamers.

Best Budget Graphics Card: PowerColor Fighter AMD Radeon RX 6600

For gamers seeking performance on a budget, the PowerColor Fighter AMD Radeon RX 6600 is the perfect choice. Its compact design, excellent 1080p gaming performance, and competitive price make it a standout in the budget category. While the cooling setup is basic, it’s more than capable of supporting the RX 6600 GPU.

PowerColor Fighter AMD Radeon RX 6600

Pros:

  • Delivers superb 1080p performance for high-quality gaming
  • Offers significant value for money
  • Compact design allows it to fit in smaller cases easily
  • Priced competitively, making high-end gaming more accessible


Cons:

  • The cooling setup is relatively basic, although it’s adequate for the RX 6600 GPU’s needs.

Best High-End Graphics Card: ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX 4090 OC Edition

For those who crave the absolute peak of performance, the ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX 4090 OC Edition is a triumph of engineering. This card is ideal for 4K gaming at high refresh rates, boasting 24GB of memory, an expansive design, and a cooling setup that keeps it both cool and quiet under load. However, this level of high-end excellence comes at a significant cost.

ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX 4090 OC

Pros:

  • Holds the crown as the fastest graphics card currently available
  • Provides strong overclocking potential for an RTX 4000 series card
  • Features abundant RGB lighting for aesthetic enthusiasts
  • An exceptional cooling setup ensures the card remains cool and nearly silent even under heavy load
  • Comes equipped with DLSS 3.0 for image enhancement and performance boost
  • Dual BIOS for flexible configuration

Cons:

  • It carries a hefty price tag, reflecting its high-end status
  • The card’s size is even larger than the RTX 4080, so it’s crucial to check your case clearance before purchasing.

Best Graphics Card for Gaming: ASRock Challenger Pro Radeon RX 6750 XT

For gaming enthusiasts, the ASRock Challenger Pro Radeon RX 6750 XT stands out as a stellar choice for both AAA and eSports 1440p gaming. This graphics card, with its competitive pricing and over-engineered cooling setup, offers value and performance that outshines similar NVIDIA competitors.

ASRock Challenger Pro Radeon RX 6750 XT

Pros:

  • Tailor-made for 1440p gaming, ensuring high-quality visuals
  • Comes with 12GB of video memory, making it future-ready for 1440p gaming
  • Priced competitively, delivering top-tier performance at an affordable cost
  • Outperforms any NVIDIA competitor at a similar price point
  • The overkill cooling setup keeps the card cool and whisper quiet under load
Slot size: ASRock Challenger Pro Radeon RX 6750 XT


Cons:

  • The size of the card is relatively large for a mid-range GPU, potentially posing compatibility issues with smaller cases
  • The design is simple and lacks the aesthetic appeal of some other models.

Best AMD Graphics Card: MSI Radeon RX 7900 XTX GAMING TRIO CLASSIC

The MSI Radeon RX 7900 XTX GAMING TRIO CLASSIC represents AMD’s top-of-the-line offering and it does not disappoint. Although it falls short of the RTX 4090’s performance, it holds its own against the RTX 4080. It is more affordable and boasts a larger memory capacity of 24GB compared to the 16GB of the RTX 4080.

MSI Radeon RX 7900 XTX GAMING TRIO CLASSIC
MSI Radeon RX 7900 XTX GAMING TRIO CLASSIC

Pros:

  • Equates the RTX 4080 in terms of rasterized performance but at a more affordable price point
  • Packs 24GB of video memory for advanced gaming needs
  • Offers dual BIOS for configuration flexibility
  • Ideal for high refresh rate gaming monitors at both 1440p and 4K resolutions
rear of the MSI Radeon RX 7900 XTX GAMING TRIO CLASSIC


Cons:

As with most high-end GPUs of the current generation, its size is substantial, which could cause compatibility issues with smaller cases
Despite being cheaper than the RTX 4080, it’s still a significant investment
Its ray tracing performance is not as impressive compared to some competitors.

GPU power, efficiency, and temperature.

This article was somewhat inspired by my good friend Geoff who reported stuttering in iRacing during a race session with me. He has an EVGA 3080 RTX 3080 FTW3 Ultra. Even running triples, this card should be able to handle extremely high framerates in iRacing, with all the settings pretty high if not on max, without stuttering.

We investigated using GPU-Z and found that the GPU core temperature was hitting 77c in the replay! This would put the VRAM temperature very much in the 100c realm, possibly higher. The card wasn’t short on power, it was thermal throttling. I’ve seen the 3080s begin to throttle at GPU temps of 66c – so 77c will drastically reduce that GPU’s life. Sorry, Geoff!

Therein lies the problem. If you’ve got an NVIDIA 30 series GPU for sim racing, you’ve probably got enough power unless you’re running a really out-there setup.

But even then, check this video from Will Ford:

Will Ford's 65" 4k sim racing setup
Will Ford’s 65″ 4k sim racing setup look outrageously good

That setup was running a 2080 RTX ti! I think it was water-cooled, and if I’ve understood correctly he was overclocking the CPU (a 9900k overclocked to 5.5ghz).

Hardware-wise though, this is a perfect example of extracting the maximum performance from what you own, not what you want.

If you’ve got a 2080 RTX ti, that’s still an amazing bit of kit for sim racing.

Power, efficiency, and temperature

GPUs need more power to perform as their temperature increases. This makes them less efficient. Less efficiency means more heat, and so a dangerous cycle begins. This issue is particularly terrible when the thermal pads used to conduct heat away from the silicon and into the cooler are very cheap.

Nasty thermal pad material found in 3080/3090 Founder's Edition GPUs
Nasty thermal pad material found in 3080/3090 Founder’s Edition GPUs (source)

Overheating VRAM temperatures is an issue that particularly affects the Founder’s Edition GPUs from NVIDIA, but it is endemic across all 30 series reference board manufacturers in one form or another. Replacing the thermal pads on a £1000 GPU is not a difficult job for someone who can follow instructions and observe the relevant precautions when stripping down the card’s ancillary components. But it isn’t for everyone – nor should it be.

Replacing the thermal pads on an RTX 3080 FE
Replacing the thermal pads on an RTX 3080 FE (yes, I cleaned up the thermal paste!

As a gamer, the best thing to do is make sure your PC case is very well-ventilated. You can upgrade the case fans or even just set them to max in the motherboard’s bios. Those things will get you a long way, but ultimately the solution is to a) check your GPU and VRAM temperatures using GPU-Z and b) carry out a thermal re-pad if (when!) necessary!

oily patches on the back of this EVGA RTX 2080 ti
Note the oily patches on the back of this EVGA RTX 2080 ti – signs the thermal pads are losing oil and will need replacing

So before you start thinking you need a new GPU I’d check what you’ve already got isn’t suffering from runaway temperature issues.

A lot of gamers think that miners abuse their cards – I can tell you with absolute certainty being a miner myself, miners always run by the thermal performance of the card. When a new Founders Edition turns up, I’ll re-pad it before I even power it. Gamers don’t think like this – well, not all of them! Check your temperatures under load and act accordingly. This is what good looks like:

GPU temperature, Hot Spot and Memory Temperature are all very healthy on this Zotac 3090

OK, I get it – but what’s the best GPU for sim racing?

As I mentioned before I removed the 3090 FE from my sim racing PC as keeping it cool enough was very challenging – it was hitting extreme VRAM temps of over 100c unless I ran it at 60% power.

While I was re-padding my 3090 I swapped it for an EVGA 3070 FTW3 Gaming Ultra. I was really impressed.

After swapping the card, I ran iRacing on maximum settings with an unlimited frame rate to see what sort of frame rate the 3070 could settle down to. Obviously, the FPS from the 3090 FE was much better than the 3070 (the 3090 would top out at around 270/280 fps depending on temperature).

Once set up, that little 3070 would sit happily at rates as high as 160fps in iRacing with little to no trouble. The only compromise I made on the settings was to disable grandstands and crowds. Everything else set to max, no problem.

160 fps from a 3070 is absolutely fine for iRacing, and that 3070 was a fair bit less expensive too. Not to mention the power consumption. A 3070 can be optimized to run at around 140w vs the 3090 which will chew up every last drop of 350 watts if you let it. More power, more heat, and more potential for thermal throttling unless you’ve fixed your thermal pads.

Testing for the best GPU in iRacing

I was going to stop there, with the conclusion being that I think that when you weigh up the price compared to performance; a 3070 RTX Ti is the perfect GPU for iRacing. If of course, you can afford better then go for it but beware that some GPUs overheat and actually perform worse over a longer period of time.

the EVGA GeForce RTX 3090 FTW3 Ultra Gaming, 24GB GDDR6X, iCX3 Technology
Still considered the daddy of all GPUs for sim racing: the EVGA GeForce RTX 3090 FTW3 Ultra Gaming, 24GB GDDR6X, iCX3 Technology

But I slept on that point and decided to collect some data because despite having run a fair few cards in the past it was a very subjective opinion. So I set up a test using 6 GPUs, ranging from a 3070 to a 3090 Founders Edition.

The process

For each of the GPUs, I re-ran the iRacing graphics config after checking the latest driver was installed and the GPU was working in device manager. After the settings config ran, I applied “maximum” settings:

iracing
Settings used in iRacing for test using a Ferrari GT3 at Monza in a public practice session

These are my typical settings except, I normally run with crowds and grandstands set to off. This keeps the 3070 very stable at around 160fps.

For each card, I took note of the highest FPS seen in the session, the typical FPS and logged the GPU temp and VRAM temp in GPU-Z. Note that the 3070 doesn’t have this information so I’ve replaced that data point with the hot spot temp.

Some important caveats:

  • I ran a session of about 10 laps for each GPU.
  • Both Founder’s Edition cards have had their thermal pads replaced – they’d be by far the hottest and potentially suffer issues during a long session
  • The FPS (av) is where the GPU’s framerate seemed to settle
  • Rendering the grandstands as you drive down the pit straight appears to be, by far, the most GPU-intensive operation and drops the FPS on the least powerful cards more significantly than the most powerful.
  • iRacing isn’t as GPU intensive as Assetto Corsa – I have not included Assetto in my tests as I’m very much an iRacing person!
  • I have several Zotac 3090 ArcticStorm water-cooled cards mining – I didn’t fancy draining a water-cooled mining rig and building a water-cooled sim rig for this test. If I had, it would win hands down!
  • Update: The 4090 absolutely destroyed all the other cards in this test, but it is overkill for iRacing

Our GPU test data in iRacing

Here’s the raw data from our own tests performed last year – of course a new generation of GPUs have been launched since – but the 4090 clearly still rules in 2023:

GPUFPS (peak)FPS (av)GPU temp /°CVRAM temp/°CManufacturer
Zotac GeForce RTX 4090 Trinity OC 24GB GDDR6X438190-2406571 (hot spot)Zotac
EVGA GeForce RTX 3070 Ti FTW3 ULTRA GAMING1871065969 (hot spot)EVGA
NVIDIA 3080 FE (thermal re-padded)1701176984NVIDIA
EVGA GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 ULTRA GAMING2051455670EVGA
Aorus GeForce RTX 3080 XTREME Rev 2.02321756372Gigabyte
EVGA RTX 2080 Ti1801196680EVGA
NVIDIA 3090 FE (thermal re-padded)2451706681NVIDIA
GPU by best FPS in iRacing

Which GPU / graphics card is best for iRacing?

I was genuinely surprised by the Aorus GeForce RTX 3080 XTREME Rev 2.0. This is a 2nd hand card I bought on eBay. It just needed a clean and off it went! It’s a 10GB card – clearly with excellent cooling. It comes in a really nice case with an OLED screen running animation and lots of nice RGB. If you’re somewhat uninhibited on the budget side, this is probably the best all-rounder you can buy for your sim.

Note how incredibly well the EVGA RTX 2080 Ti does in comparison to the 30 series GPUs! If you own one of these I really wouldn’t bother you with looking for a new GPU if you’re planning to only run iRacing. What an incredible card!

EVGA has now stopped building GPUs which is an incredible shame as they’re so good. They really do make great reference board graphics cards. The EVGA GeForce RTX 3080 FTW3 ULTRA GAMING GPU performed quite well, although in the 3080 group, the Aorus beats it.

If you can afford one, and there’s one available, buy a 3090 ti Founder’s Edition and sleep well at night knowing you’ve probably bagged a bargain. The FPS out of the box is amazing, and I’ve no doubt that with some time spent using Afterburner, you could squeeze a higher framerate than the results in my test. If you’re a high-budget kind of driver, build a water-cooled rig with a Zotac 3090 ArcticStorm and *know* that you’ve got a real beast of a gaming PC.

Obviously, the 3090 ti addresses the majority of issues the 3090 Founder’s Edition came with, notably, it runs a great deal cooler and offers around a 10% improvement in performance.

But, if you’re looking for a less expensive option, I really think a 3070 RTX ti is a great purchase, it’s the least expensive GPU on the list and runs iRacing brilliantly. If you turn grandstands and crowds off in iRacing but leave everything else maxed out, you’ll not notice a difference in FPS vs cards at twice the price.

zotac 4090 gpu for sim racing
My new Zotac 4090

The Zotac 4090

For fun, I swapped my 3080 FTW3 for a Zotac GeForce RTX 4090 Trinity OC 24GB GDDR6X. Firstly, it’s massive. Check out the size difference compared to its predecessor:

The 4090 is probably 3″ longer than this EVGA 3080 FTW3

It also needs a lot of care with the cabling, as it’s known that bending the new power adapter can cause some serious problems. So, bending the adapter cable was not an option, rather gently encouraging it to accommodate itself in my Corsair 700D case (see the build here).

Given the power requirements (4xPCIe 8-pin power), this little adapter feels very insufficient

The results; the card runs cooler than the 30 series units and frankly, isn’t troubled by iRacing. I caught a 438FPS peak:

Generally speaking around 200FPS was the norm at 5120 x 1440 on my Samsung G9 set to run at a 240hz refresh rate in HDR. Basically, if I was running Assetto Corsa Competizione on maximum settings with 1440p triple monitors, this card still wouldn’t break much of a sweat (in my humble opinion)

Perhaps when iRacing updates to DX12, a 40 series GPU will be more appropriate. But for now, if money isn’t an issue, buy the best – but there are some brilliant cards out there at a bargain price.

AMD Gaming GPUs

AMD is very much a decent alternative to NVIDIA and, for the most hardcore gamers out there, you might be interested to know that the latest AMD cards feature DisplayPort™ 2.1 at 12-bit HDR allowing full-color coverage of the REC2020 color space at up to 8K 165Hz.

That’s an amazing specification and at the moment NVIDIA doesn’t offer DisplayPort™ 2.1, period. As I understand it the NVIDIA cards are slightly better in areas such as raw framerate but the AMDs have gone in a direction that keeps up with the latest monitor tech. This of course means I’ll be updating our best gaming monitors for sim racers article with devices that support DisplayPort™ 2.1!

AMD Radeon RX 7900XT Ultra Gaming Graphics Card

XFX Speedster MERC310 AMD Radeon RX 7900XT Ultra Gaming Graphics Card with 20GB GDDR6, AMD RDNA 3 RX-79TMERCU9
XFX Speedster MERC310 AMD Radeon RX 7900XT Ultra Gaming Graphics Card with 20GB GDDR6, AMD RDNA 3 RX-79TMERCU9

This is clearly a high-performance graphics card but it’s priced at an astonishingly low $799. The card features the latest AMD RDNA 2 architecture, which delivers up to 40% higher performance per watt than the previous generation. It also has 80 compute units, 5120 stream processors, and a boost clock speed of up to 2250 MHz, which makes an impressive GPU for the money.

Image source: Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The graphics card also supports DirectX 12 Ultimate, Vulkan, and OpenGL 4.6, which allows for realistic and immersive gaming experiences. It also has support for AMD FidelityFX, which provides high-quality visual effects and improved image quality. The XFX Speedster MERC310 also supports AMD Radeon Software, which provides gamers with a range of features, including Radeon Boost, Radeon Anti-Lag, and Radeon Image Sharpening. The config software is where you can enable Displayport 2.1.

AMD RX 7900 XTX

The slightly more advanced GPU (and consequently, priced at closer to $1100) has more memory. 24gb to be precise with a Boost Clock set up to 2615 MHz:

It comes with 16GB of GDDR6 (not GDDR6x like the NVIDIA GPUs) memory, which provides enough space for gaming and other graphics-intensive tasks.


Sapphire 21322-01-20G AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX Gaming Graphics Card with 24GB GDDR6, AMD RDNA 3

It comes equipped with 24 GB of memory, which ensures smooth and lag-free performance even when running demanding applications or playing the latest games at high resolutions. The memory interface is 384-bit DDR6, which is among the fastest and most efficient memory technologies available today.

Performance-wise, it’s impressive:

None

3DMark TimeSpy Extreme

Port Royal (Ray Tracing)

Cyberpunk

Blender

AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX

12,969

14,696/68fps

4K FSR RT: 57fps

2,899

AMD Radeon RX 7900 XT

11,688

13,247/61fps

4K FSRT RT: 50fps

3,516

NVIDIA RTX 4080

12,879

17,780/82fps

4K DLSS RT: 74fps

9,310

NVIDIA RTX 4090

16,464

25,405/117.62 fps

4K DLSS RT: 135fps

12,335

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT

7,713

9,104/42.15fps

N/A

N/A

The graphics card has a 3-slot form factor and is designed for ATX motherboards, making it compatible with a wide range of systems. It also offers multiple output options, including 1 x HDMI, 2 x DisplayPort, and 1 x USB-C, enabling users to connect a variety of displays and peripherals. Furthermore, the graphics card supports PCI-Express 4.0, which delivers twice the bandwidth of the previous generation, ensuring maximum performance and speed. Overall, this graphics card is an excellent choice for professionals and gamers who require top-tier performance and cutting-edge technology.


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