There are plenty of great cheap graphics cards on the market today – but which is the best? Follow along as we figure out what to look for when selecting your next video card! Just like our guide on how to build the best budget gaming PC, this guide will give you a clear picture of what the best options are for selecting the best budget graphics card to buy in 2017.
The definition of budget varies widely for many people. In this guide, I will give you several tiers to choose from, anywhere from sub $150 to $250. You will first need to figure out the price that you can afford to allocate to your graphics card. Make sure to put a great deal of thought into what you need from your overall system build, as it will determine whether or not you should dedicate a significant amount of the cost to the video card.
Step 1: Figuring out your budget
The first thing you will need to do when deciding on graphics cards is to look at your overall system. If you are trying to build a gaming computer, then you will have different requirements from someone that is building a computer for video editing/ 3D modeling. We will explore your options for each of these purposes. You will need to decide how much you can afford to spend on graphics cards. This will be a very important choice as it determines how well your computer can perform graphics-intensive tasks.
For the purposes of this build, I will assume that you don’t have significantly more than $250 to dedicate to the graphics card. I will also assume that you have more than $100 to spend on a dedicated graphics card. If you don’t have enough, or have significantly more, then you will want to do some more research and approach this process differently. The graphics card will be a major contributor for how well your computer will run games. Due to this, you will want to dedicate a decent percentage of the overall budget to this part.
Step 2: Figuring out performance requirements for a budget gaming graphics card
Once you have figured out how much you are willing to spend on a budget graphics card, you are ready to determine what kind of performance you want. This step is entirely subjective. You will want to decide how powerful of a graphics card you really need. If all you want to do is play games like Minecraft, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, or browser based games – such as Runescape, you really don’t need exceptionally powerful hardware to push decent framerates. If you are wanting to play the current AAA titles at 1080p, with very good framerates, then you will want to buy something that can handle itself better.
For lower-end games, you can usually get by with integrated graphics (assuming you are using an Intel-based system) – saving you money for other areas of your PC. If you bought a CPU without integrated graphics, then you will need to buy a video card regardless. Additionally, if you bought a very high-end CPU, you will not want to pair it with a low-end graphics card, as you will be bottlenecking your computer unnecessarily.
Step 3: Looking at your options
There are a ton of cheap graphics cards on the market – and that doesn’t just mean a ton of inexpensive cards! While it can be a tedious job researching all of your options, I have put together a list of several solid choices in various different price levels. I have assembled a list of cards between $95 and $240 that are excellent for most budget oriented tasks.
You may find that you have a preference between AMD and Nvidia cards, so I will list both in the following lists of the best budget graphics card. Some people find that they like the inter-connectivity of the Nvidia cards with other devices, while others prefer the tweaks that AMD allows in their software. It really is just up to the individual, and the software doesn’t affect the overall performance noticeably.
[Editor’s note – I actually prefer the software that comes with Nvidia’s cards, but this is just a personal preference. I use the Nvidia products throughout my house like the Shield devices.]
Step 4: Looking at the list
We will now take a look at the list of budget graphics cards I have compiled for this guide. In it, I have selected some of the best budget level graphics cards currently on the market. I’ll compare and contrast the various cards at each price point, and give you the best one for each level. We’ll look at the price, the architecture (AMD vs Nvidia), the amount of VRAM, and whether each card is overclockable.
The best budget graphics card between $95 and $110
As you can see, there is a great deal of difference in price between the ‘low-end’ budget video cards and the ‘high-end’ budget cards. Does price dictate how much better your card will perform? Let’s find out!
The first cards we’ll take a look at are the exceptionally low-priced RX460s and GTX 1050s from AMD and Nvidia, respectively. There are two manufactures each for the two different types of cards. At this price level, you shouldn’t expect to max out frame rates for newer games. In fact, at this price point you shouldn’t expect to play current AAA at 1080P with higher than medium settings. If this is all you can afford, however, then you still want to grab the best card for the price. Let’s take a look at how each card stacks up in this range!
The first two cards on the list are the ASUS Dual-Fan Radeon Rx 460 2GB and the XFX RX-460P2SFG5 AMD Radeon 2GB which are AMD cards. These two cards are very similar in price, and frankly they will be nearly identical in performance. They both have 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM, meaning that they can handle most AAA titles at low to medium settings at 1080P (albeit most likely only at 30fps, which is still playable but not pretty). They both have similar thermal performance as well. The main thing that differentiates these cards is the ability to overclock these cards. Overclocking is a tool to increase the base frequency of the GPU. It allows for slightly more performance in many situations. Normally, you would have to pay more for the overclocked editions. This is the exception, however. The ASUS card is the winner due to its lower price, and overclockability.
Taking a look at the Gigabyte Geforce GTX 1050 2GB and the EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 GAMING 2GB which are the Nvidia offerings in this price range yields similar results. Both cards are similar in price, performance, thermals, and have the same amount of memory. Again, the only difference is the ability to overclock. The cheaper Gigabyte card wins due to its factory overclock, and higher base clock. While this really won’t matter too much right now, it may be the deciding factor for future-proofing.
The real problem for this price point is choosing a top overall card. Both the AMD and Nvidia cards are very similar in most aspects. You probably won’t notice a difference the two. In this case, since money is probably pretty important, the small difference in money may be enough to choose the AMD card over Nvidia’s offering.
The best cheap graphics card between $130 and $150
In this price range, we really only have two options: the GTX 1050 Ti and 4GB version of the RX 460. These two cards are significant improvements over their cheaper counterparts. With these cards, you should be able to play current games at medium to high settings at 60FPS on 1080P. The price jump is definitely worth the extra performance if you can spare it!
The AMD card in this price point is a solid budget level graphics card. It doubles the VRAM from the previous entries, giving it more ability to play current games, and increasing the length of time you will be able to actually use this card for gaming. At it’s price, this card offers decent performance. It should be able to hit 60FPS on medium settings at 1080P. This is generally considered to be the ideal playable frame rate for PC gaming. Anything less is not usually smooth enough for many PC gamers. This is a short card, meaning that it will fit in almost any computer case and setup. It does have only one fan, however, so thermals may prove to be an issue if you want to overclock this card. That said, you absolutely can overclock this card if you would like.
The Nvidia card for this price range is a great 1080p performer. The GTX 1050 Ti is generally considered to be a king of the ultra-budget level of graphics cards. It really is one of the best budget graphics cards. It has the same form factor as the AMD offering, and the same fan design. This means that you won’t want to go crazy with overclocking. The GTX 1050 Ti is certainly able to play games at 60FPS on medium to high settings for 1080P. This card comes with great support for most modern games, and should be able to play anything currently on the market (though you may not get great performance).
Which card is better? Well this choice is slightly easier than the cheaper category. While both cards have similar power, the Nvidia card is much more optimized for the current games. You will get better performance from the GTX 1050 Ti than you will the 4GB version of the RX 460. The additional cost shouldn’t deter you from buying the Nvidia card, as you will get a much better overall experience.
Graphics cards for around $200
There exists a strange price grouping at around $190 of two different AMD cards. These two cards are unique in that they are definitely improvements over the previous offerings, but are not quite up to snuff with their more expensive rivals.
The RX 470 and RX 480 at this price point are definitely worth a look if all you can spend is around $200. They offer solid performance, great design, and are just generally a solid budget offering. Neither card is significantly better than the other. Frankly if you want to buy one, go with the RX 480 just so you can get the better overclocking. But this price range doesn’t actually have a clear winner. If you have $200, try to save up a little more for our next few cards.
Top graphics cards between $220 and $250
We have finally come to the pinnacle of our list for the best budget graphics card. The budget video cards in this section will all do significantly better than the cheaper options. There are three entries in this price range, with two AMD options and a single Nvidia offering. The three cards all offer exceptional performance for their price. Let’s take a look at each card, and determine which card you should purchase.
The first card in this price point is the XFX RX480 8GB card. This is a single blower style card, which is factory overclocked. It is very similar to a reference card, and as such will not offer the same level of cooling as the other RX 480 in this range. That said it is still a very solid performer. There is really nothing to make this card stand out, it’s just a great card for cheap.
The second card in this range is the GTX 1060. This is a very good card from the people at Nvidia. It is quite powerful, and will easily handle any current game at 1080P at high settings. It can even hit Ultra settings on some titles. The Nvidia software that comes with this card will give you a great deal of functionality.
The third card is the RX 480 from ASUS. This is the best budget graphics card for gaming on our list from a company that excels in gaming hardware. There’s not much I can say about this that you can’t glean from the look of it. It’s a beast, and our winner in this category.
Step 5: Overall winner for the best budget graphics card
The winners in each section are all great. The overall best budget graphics card is the RX480 from ASUS though. I hope this guide will help make your choice easier!
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