How To Compare GPUs of The Same Tier [Updated]

CG Director Author Christopher Harperby Christopher Harper   /  Published 

Ever wondered how to compare GPUs of the same tier? This is a pretty common issue if you’re in the process of assembling your own PC build without assistance, or just really trying to get the best GPU upgrade for your money.

By same tier, to be clear, I mean the same underlying GPU chip. For example, how would you be able to tell whether one RTX 4060 Ti is better than another (E.g. from different brands/AIBs or even different models within the same brand)?

This is the article where I teach you how to determine the answer to that question yourself. Let’s get into all the information you need to know!

A Note on GPU Manufacturing and AIB Partners

First, let’s take a moment to establish the market conditions that led us to the creation of this article.

While modern GPUs (what’s the difference between GPU and Graphics Card, anyway?) primarily come from one of three manufacturers (AMD, Nvidia, and Intel as of the Intel Arc GPUs), you’ll only be buying the finalized graphics card from them if you’re seeking out the Founders Edition/reference design intentionally.

Founders edition vs AIB cards

Otherwise, you’re most likely to end up buying an Add-In Board (AIB) design from one of their partners, like MSI or Gigabyte.

The dominance of AIB GPUs in the market is why this article exists.

Not only are AIBs generally more-liked than reference design GPUs, but they also tend to be available in much higher numbers, since a bunch of different manufacturers are selling them, not just the original GPU vendors.

Now, let’s break down how the nature of AIB partners can change GPU performance.

How The Same GPU Chip Can Perform Better or Worse on Another Card

So, how does allowing an AIB partner to manufacture a different version of what is otherwise the same graphics card impact performance?

The answer can be found by taking a closer look at what they’re actually changing. Typically, an AIB GPU will exhibit one or more of the following traits:

  • A much larger or smaller cooler design compared to the original/reference/”Founders” design
  • A light factory overclock to a GPU’s Core Clock or Memory Clock compared to the reference design
  • Additional onboard lighting, ie RGB lighting or a programmable mini-display
  • Completely unique form factors, like downsizing length & width for SFF/Mini ITX PCs or replacing/supplementing the traditional GPU air cooler with an AIO loop.
  • Brand-specific Software & Tools that can be practical for certain purposes

What are Base Clocks and Boost Clocks

How To Compare GPUs of The Same Tier

With all the preamble established, how should you be comparing GPUs of matching tiers across brands or even different models of the same GPU within a single brand?

Let’s break it down into four digestible points.

Assess Size and Form Factor

First, assess the full size and form factor of the cards that you’re comparing.

GPU Clearance Explained - Woll my GPU Fit into my Case

Common GPU widths vary from Dual-Slot (suitable for even Mini ITX PCs) to Triple-Slot and Higher (only suitable for Micro ATX or ATX PCs).

There are also commonly “2.5” or “2.7-Slot” GPUs— be wary of these in a Mini ITX case or another SFF chassis where you may not have the extra slot width to spare.

Beyond slot width, you’ll also want to look out for the length of the GPUs you’re comparing, which is usually given in millimeters.

A “full-length” GPU will usually have at least two cooling fans. Conveniently in this case, the form factor of your AIB GPU can also give some strong hints as to how differently it performs compared to its contemporaries.

Assess Cooling and Cooling Performance

Where things usually get most interesting when comparing different AIB GPUs of the same tier is when you start comparing their cooling solutions.

GPU Cooler sizes

Depending on the priorities of the manufacturer, you’ll begin seeing significantly smaller or significantly larger cooler designs.

In general, the smaller designs (ie, single fan) are restricted to the mid-range GPUs and below, since their lower-wattage design prevents them from getting too hot for that size.

A truly high-end GPU like the RTX 4080 would be too bottlenecked by a single fan cooler for AIBs to even consider manufacturing them in that form.

Of course, cooler size and fan count don’t necessarily tell the full story regarding cooling performance.

You may be looking at differing factory clocks that make one card run slightly hotter than the other despite both being dual-fan units, for example. And, of course, not every cooling fan is made equal.

For really specific comparisons on cooling and other performance differentials, you’ll need benchmarks. But before you go looking for those, let’s talk about a few more things that you’ll be looking for while you’re making these comparisons.

Assess Overclocking Headroom

A big part of picking AIB GPUs is trying to pick the one that has the most overclocking headroom. Depending on the design of the cooler, your GPU will have more or less overclocking headroom compared to its stock design.

GPU Overclocking

Generally speaking, a smaller cooler will correspond to less overclocking headroom, due to less thermal mass available with which to dissipate heat.

If you’re buying AIB cards with a focus on overclocking headroom, you’ll generally be best-served by triple-fan cards and liquid-cooled GPUs.


Source: ROG ASUS

Between dual-fan cards, the physical differences can be harder to spot but can still present themselves in things like slot width.

One way GPU manufacturers show off the headroom of their version of a GPU before it leaves the factory is actually by applying what’s called a factory overclock.

A factory overclock means that the manufacturer decided to bump up core clocks, memory clocks, or both before shipping the GPU to you. This means more performance for free-out-of-the-box and also serves as a gesture of confidence from the manufacturer in question.

A higher factory overclock shows higher overall confidence in the cooler design.

Benchmarks will still ultimately serve you best when you’re trying to assess cooling performance and user-overclocking headroom for sure between two cards, though.

Verify RMA and Return Policies

Last but not least, don’t forget to take a look at RMA and return policies if you’re evaluating GPUs from different brands!

Nobody wants anything to go wrong when they’re building or using their nice new PC, but unfortunately intent alone will not save the world or your graphics card.

Knowing your options in the worst-case scenario before you buy your hardware is always the best move, and identifying the value in metrics like this can help make choices between otherwise-fairly-similar graphics cards a lot easier.


What Are The Best GPU Brands?

Want some guidance on which GPU brands to be choosing from before buying a new graphics card?

I can’t really work on all of my recommendations within the limited scope of this article, but I have worked all my recommendations into a huge mega-guide on The Best GPU Brands!

Feel free to head there if you want some insight as to what the leading GPU AIB partners are, and which ones may best suit you and your workloads.

Should I Use a Reference GPU?

Open-air vs Blower GPUs

While this article primarily refers to picking between different AIB GPU designs (as that is where you will see the most variation), what about reference or Founders Edition designs?

While it’s true that these GPUs won’t be clocked higher or have particularly high-power cooling systems, there is still a lot of utility in a reference design blower-style GPU, especially in a multi-GPU setup.

If you’re using a multi-GPU setup, blower-style GPUs (the most common reference design) actually become the best option.

Benefits of Blower Style GPUs

Source: Gigabyte

Since your goal is no longer pushing a single graphics card to its limits, having a cooling architecture designed to simply remove heat as fast as possible rather than cool the GPU die as fast as possible actually makes more sense.

Single-GPU setups can also benefit from a blower card in cases with weak airflow, like a Mini ITX chassis with a sealed front panel.

What GPU Tier Should I Start With?

Unsure of what GPU tier to start your comparisons at?

I’d recommend one of our up-to-date tier lists of either Nvidia GPUs in Order of Performance OR AMD GPUs in Order of Performance, depending on which graphics vendor serves your needs better.

If you’re unsure where to start, I’d generally point professionals and high-budget gamers toward Nvidia first, and recommend AMD more to value-oriented gamers and enthusiasts.

AMD can be used for productive work as well (especially streaming or OpenCL-supported tasks), but in general, Nvidia has a healthy lead in the pro field thanks to the ubiquity of CUDA acceleration.

Over to You

And that’s all, at least for now!

I hope this article helped teach you how to compare GPUs of the same tier next time you’re trying to determine which specific graphics card is the best one for your money.

If you still want help making a decision like this, you can also head down to the comments section or over to the CGDirector Forum to speak with myself or another member of the CGDirector Team!

We’re always happy to help with hardware recommendations and questions when we see them, and the Forum community is even open to sharing projects and builds in a lot more detail.

Until then or until next time, happy building!

And remember: no matter how much better an AIB’s GPU is compared to the reference design or another AIB, it is still ultimately the same graphics card at the end of the day. Never overspend on a high-luxury AIB design when you’re able to bump up an Actual GPU power tier!

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Christopher Harper

I have been a passionate devotee to technology since the age of 3, and to writing since before I even finished high school.

These passions have since combined into a living in my adulthood and have made writing about PC Hardware very satisfying.

If you need any assistance, leave a comment below: it’s what I’m here for.


Also check out our Forum for feedback from our Expert Community.

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