The best budget graphics card promises to deliver seamless and high-resolution graphics performance without digging a hole in your pocket. While most computers come with their integrated GPUs, they cannot beat the performance of a dedicated unit. If you play games on your PC (any game at all), a dedicated graphics card is a must-have. In this article, we will look at the best-performing graphics cards offering the best value for your money.
What Is a Graphics Card?
A graphics card is a specialized processor that comes with its own memory and other hardware resources. The sole purpose of the graphics card, at least within the context of PC gaming, is to accelerate the creation and rendering of images and videos.
The central and most essential component to any graphics card setup is graphics processing (GPU). A GPU is a microprocessor dedicated solely to operations that have to do with graphics processing, otherwise known as “floating point” calculations. The GPU takes over graphics processing tasks from the central processing unit (CPU) to allow the latter to focus on general processing tasks. Here is an article explaining the difference between the GPU and CPU.
In terms of the actual process, everything starts with the CPU offloading the graphics data into the GPU. The GPU then converts the data into an analog format, which is the only format that the computer display can understand. The conversion process is essentially like converting computer code into pictures, and it makes it possible to display images and videos in high-resolution or even 3D quality.
A dedicated graphics card also necessarily contains additional components, most of which serve and support the GPU. Additional components usually comprise a video RAM (VRAM), Random Access Memory Digital-to-Analog Converter (RAMDAC), and video BIOS. Graphics cards also tend to produce a lot of heat, especially with process-heavy tasks. As such, it’s necessary to equip the cards with their own cooling systems to prevent them from overheating.
8 Best Budget Graphics Card Options for Gaming
A graphics card is arguably the most crucial component of a gaming PC, so selecting the best graphics cards with the best specifications is ideal. Unfortunately, the best graphics cards with the best specifications usually come with the highest price tags. If you’re on a budget or simply on the lookout for cost savings, you should check out this list of the best budget graphics card options:
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050
The GeForce GTX 1050 from Gigabyte is a Pascal-generation graphics card and one of the best budget graphics card options. The graphics card case has a rugged yet sturdy appearance and is made of thick PCV material. The card itself is relatively compact and lightweight, measuring only 8.6 inches lengthwise.
The setup comes complete with card ports, and you get a DisplayPort 1.4, DVI-D, and HDMI 2.0b connectors. There are no ATX power connectors on this unit, which means it’s powered entirely through the PCI ports.
The GTX 1050 is being marketed mainly as an e-sports friendly pick. It offers full high-definition (1080p) resolution at 60 fps for casual e-sports games and high frame rates for more competitive games. Some games that fit well with this category include League of Legends (LoL), DOTA2, or Counter-Strike Global Offensive.
At the core of the GTX 1050 is Nvidia’s GP107 GPU. The GP107 features 768 shading units, 48 texture mapping units (TMUs), and 32 raster operations pipelines (ROPs). As for clock speeds, the device promises to deliver a core frequency of 1318 MHz which you can adjust to up to 1380 MHz. The card also features a GDDR5-type memory with 4GB clocked at 7 GHz.
The GTX 1050 was released alongside a similar model called the GTX 1050 Ti, and both models share the same GPU. The only difference is that Nvidia enabled all the cores on the GTX 1050, while they disabled some of the cores on the GTX 1050 Ti.
The system also offers support for DirectX 12. DirectX12 is a tool that allows you to apply special graphics effects, some examples of which include ray tracing and variable rate shading. This tool can help you speed up graphics rendering and will also help you deliver realistic visual effects.
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 retails typically for upwards of USD 300 but less than USD 500, making it a mid-range graphics card. In general, though, you may be able to purchase the unit for anywhere between USD 360 to 390.
MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1650
The MSI GeForce GTX 1650 offers the perfect balance between performance and cost, making it one of the best budget graphics card options. The GTX 1650 has a unique look with a thick plastic case and a modern-looking pair of cooling fans. The single Torx 3.0 cooling fan and Twin Frozr heatsink work together to protect the interior of the graphics card from extreme heat. The fans operate entirely silently, which is a big plus for gamers who are sensitive to noise. You also have two external ports to choose from, including a DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 20b.
The GTX 1650 is powered by the Turing TU117 GPU, outfitted with 1,024 cores, 64 TMUs, and 32 ROPs. Four active controllers give it a 128GB/s of bandwidth, which delivers a superior RAM speed. The GTX 1650 also features a GDDR-5 type of memory at 4GB that clocks in at 8MHz. These specifications should deliver Ultra high-definition (1080p) image quality at 60fps.
The GTX 1650 delivers a standard frequency of 1665MHz, which you can increase further to 1,665 MHz. Meanwhile, it posted a memory clock frequency of 2001 MHz. Nvidia is known for reporting conservative estimates about its clock speeds. The implication is that performance may go above the rates reported.
Like other Turing GPUs, the GTX 160 can handle both 32-bit floating-point (FP32) and INT calculations. This dual processing ability can speed up the graphics card’s operation by 15-35 percent relative to the older Pascal architecture. However, external factors such as VRAM capacity or power consumption may affect the GPU’s performance.
The MSI GeForce GTX 1650 is a mid-range graphics card and retails for USD 399 to 450.
AMD Radeon RX 560
The AMD Radeon RX 560 is another stellar performer and one of the best budget graphics card options. The RX 560 has a compact, stylish, yet robust design. The graphics card is encased in a thick, rubber plastic material that gives way to a few ports on the card.
The unit is also small enough to necessitate a single cooling fan, accompanied by an aluminum fin-stack array heatsink. The fan blades are longer than usual (9cm) in length to increase the amount of heat dissipated from the fan.
The RX 560 only features two ports, a DisplayPort 1.4 and an HDMI port. It generates a maximum of 75W at any given point. As a dual-card slot, the graphics card will take up a maximum of two PCI slots on the motherboard. It relies exclusively on the PCI slot for power and doesn’t require an additional power connector.
The Radeon RX 560 runs on AMD’s native Polaris architecture, which acquires the name of Polaris 21. For those who don’t know, the Polaris architecture is in direct competition with Nvidia’s Turing chip line. In fact, AMD seems to have designed the Radeon RX 560 in response to Nvidia’s GTX 1050.
Polaris 21 packs three billion transistors into 123 square millimeters of die space. Not to mention, it has 1,024 shading units, 64 TMUs, and 16 ROPS. The chip typically operates at a standard frequency of 1175 MHz (base clock), increasing to 1275 MHz (boost clock). Also integrated is a 4 GB GDDR-5 VRAM memory running on a clock speed of 1750 MHz.
With these parameters in mind, you will likely get a maximum resolution of 1440p at 40fps. Tweaking your settings a little can get you higher frame rates or higher resolution, but you’ll have to sacrifice a little bit on the other. For example, you can increase the frame rate to 75fps, lowering the resolution to 1080p. Lastly, the system also supports DirectX 12.
The AMD Radeon RX 560 is usually sold for upwards of USD 250 but not more than USD 500. But chances are, its price point will stay within the USD 249 to 260 price range.
ASUS GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
The ASUS GeForce GTX 1050 Ti is one of the more popular graphics cards, and it’s also one of the best budget graphics card options. The card itself looks sophisticated and smart, with its thick plastic casing and specially-designed ridges. The card is small enough to fit a single cooling fan that uses double ball bearings to reduce friction.
Naturally, it also features the standard spread of output display options, including DVI-D, HDMI 2.0b, and DisplayPort 1.4. The card draws power entirely from the PCI slots, which doesn’t require any external output connector. The maximum power input required by the unit is set at 75W.
At the heart of ASUS GTX, 1050 Ti is Nvidia’s GP 107 GPU. The GP107 GPU pack sin 3.3 million transistors into 132 square millimeters of die space. In addition, the chip also features 768 CUDA cores with 48 TMUs, 32 ROP.
The standard resolution and frame rate to be expected from GTX 1050 Ti is at 1080p at 60fps. You can push that resolution upwards, but this will cause your frame rate to drop by a significant margin (i.e., Ultra-HD (1440p) at 41 fps). The opposite is also possible, which entails lowering your resolution to pull up your frame rates frame rate (i.e., 720p at 90fps).
The GP 107 GPU has a base clock of 1290 MHz and can boost up to 1392Mhz as per Nvidia specifications. These rates are slightly better than average but still fall within the purview of the specifications on a mid-range graphics card. Also featured is a 4GB GDDR5 VRAM memory connected to a 128-bit memory interface. The VRAM’s memory clock runs at 3504 Mhz.
The GTX 1050 Ti comes with various tools that you can use to improve the gaming experience. GPU Tweak II is one of them. This tool lets you tweak essential parameters as well as monitor them to maximize your graphics performance. It’s practically the graphics card equivalent for a settings toolbar, and with it, you can modify your base and boost clocks, memory frequency, voltage settings, and so on. XSplit Gamecaster is another key feature, and this one lets you stream and record your game without using a capture card.
The ASUS GTX 1050 Ti should cost anywhere from USD 319 to USD 330.
Maxsun AMD Radeon RX 550
The Maxsun AMD Radeon RX 550 offers a significant performance leap over integrated graphics for e-sports games and HD movie streaming. This leap in performance makes it one of the best budget graphics card options.
The Radeon RX 550 looks formidable and professional with its dark black casing and ergonomically curved shape with ridges. Lodged in the middle of the case is a frost-blade cooling fan with the green Maxsun logo in the center. Each fan is slightly longer than usual to help maximize the volume of hot air being pulled from the case.
The Radeon RX 550 also naturally contains various ports, including DVI-D, HDMI 2.0b, and DisplayPort 1.4. The unit doesn’t require additional ports, as it relies solely on the PCI ports it’s connected to. The maximum rate of power pulled by the unit is 50W.
The Radeon RX 550 runs on AMD’s Polaris 12 GPU. The Polaris 12 GPU is smaller than Polaris 11 and 21 and also features better clock rates. The chip is outfitted with 640 cores, with 512 cores activated for the desktop version. It also features a 4-GB GDDR memory with a clock speed of which 6000 MHz.
The Polaris 12 GPU promises to deliver a base frequency of 1100 MHz to 1183 MHz. With these theoretical values, you should get a maximum of 4096 × 2160p resolution at 60 fps. But then again, you might need to rely on the DirectX 12 program to achieve a better balance between your resolution and frame rates.
On top of everything, the Radeon RX 550 also features access to the latest and brightest technologies from Radeon. This privilege is only afforded to releases under the RX-500 series, of which the RX 550 is a recent addition. This special feature should give you access to advanced graphics software like Radeon Crimson ReLive (for VR games). Additionally, the software offers support for FreeSync-compatible monitors.
The Radeon RX 550 is widely considered a mid-range unit and can set you back between USD 250 to USD 300.
ASUS TUF Gaming GeForce GTX 1650
The ASUS TUF Gaming GeForce GTX 1650 is another favorite among gamers and the best budget graphics card option.
The card looks very sturdy with its thick plastic case, stainless steel metal bracket, and rigid backplate. The metal backplate was specially designed to prevent the plastic case from bending. As for aesthetics, the designers outfitted the flanks of the card with a light grey metal panel with a camouflage pattern. The card also features a dual-fan with blades coated in IPX5 material to protect against dust.
The GeForce GTX 1650 is a dual-card slot means that it does not require additional power connectors. You can also find the standard array of ports, which includes DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort. As for power requirements, the unit requires 75W of power input.
The ASUS TUF Gaming GeForce GTX 1650 runs on the robust Turing architecture, with the TU117 GPU at its core. This small but mighty processor packs in a total of 4.7 million transistors into a die area of 200 millimeter-squared. It also features a higher-than-average number of processing units, with 896 shading units, 56 texture mapping units, and 32 ROPs.
When it comes to the processor’s overall performance, it has a base frequency of 1485 MHz that you can increase to 1665 MHz. In addition, the card features a 4GB GDDR VRAM running at 8,000 MHz clock speeds, delivering a bandwidth of 128 GB/s. The memory is connected to the card via a 128-bit memory interface.
When it comes to the actual image and video quality, the best that you can expect from the GTX 1650 is a 1920 x 1080p resolution at 60fps. Depending on your gaming priorities, you can readily modify these parameters using a dedicated utility tool (GPU Tweak II). This tool should allow for a quick and painless adjustment of your core clock, memory frequency, as well as other parameters.
The ASUS TUF Gaming GeForce GTX 1650 falls within the upper mid-range price category. As such, it can cost anywhere between USD 420 to USD 510.
ZOTAC GeForce GT 730
The ZOTAC GeForce GT 730 offers a simple and affordable solution to your gaming needs. Compared to the others on this list, the card has been drastically bared down, meaning it does not have any shell or outer casing. Thankfully, everything else you expect to see in a graphics card is present, including a cooling fan and metal bracket.
Despite its bare-bones presentation, this graphics card does not skip on all the necessary ports, including DVI-D, VGA, and HDMI. It also features two low-profile brackets for easy integration into other small form factor systems. Moreover, the unit relies exclusively on PCI ports for power, and it draws a maximum of 49W at any given time.
The powerhouse behind this bare-bones graphics card is Nvidia’s GF 108 GPU. The GF 108 packs in 585 million transistors within a die area of 116 millimeters-squared. You also get 96 shading units and 16 texture mapping units on top of 4 ROPs.
The GF 108 GPU is operating at a frequency of 1344 MHz. Also incorporated into the graphics card is a 2 GB DDR3-type memory that runs on 1600 MHz. With these specifications, you can get a maximum of 1280 x 720p resolution.
The ZOTAC GeForce GT 730 falls squarely within the entry-level price range. More specifically, it should cost anywhere between USD 100 and USD 150.
Gigabyte Nvidia GeForce GT 1030
The Gigabyte Nvidia GeForce GT 1030 is an entry-level graphics card ideal for first-time gamers and PC builders. This standard-length graphics card looks simple yet reliable with its thick, ergonomic case and full-sized slot bracket. Gigabyte has also included an extra half-height bracket H if the default bracket doesn’t fit into your PC.
Also incorporated into the graphics card is a small cooling fan and heat sink. Both the heatsink and fan are located to the right of the chipboard. The device is integrated with DVI-D and HDMI ports.
The GT 1030 makes use of a relatively new entrant GPU called the GP108. This chip, in particular, is composed of 1.8 billion transistors packed into a near-microscopic space of just 70 millimeters squared. And as it turns out, the GP 108 was manufactured using the same 14 nanometers (nm) FinFET process used to manufacture the GP107.
The GT 1030 comes with three streaming multiprocessors, which is the part of the GPU that runs CUDAs to grant access to the instructions set on the card. Also integrated with the card are 384 cores, 24 TMUs, and 16 ROPs. As for clock speeds, the GT 1030 ships with a clock speed of 1227 MHz and a 2GB of GDDR5 memory with a 64-bit memory bus. Meanwhile, its memory clock runs at a frequency of 10400 MHz.
The GT 1030 features a unique utility tool called the AORUS Graphics Engine Utility. Actually, it appears less of a tool and more of a command center for the unit. You can use it to manage the specifications for parameters including clock speeds, voltage, fan performance, and so on. Not to mention, it supports DirectX12 to give you the best-ever effects for your graphics.
The Nvidia GeForce GT1030 can cost anywhere between USD 199.99 to USD 250.
Key Considerations for Purchasing a Budget Graphics Card
Graphics cards are highly complicated devices, and there are a handful of parameters used to measure their performance. These parameters directly impact the quality of your gameplay, especially the quality of your graphics. Allow us then to explain the essential parameters for graphics card performance and the ideal specifications for them.
Graphics Card Size
Like with any PC component, the first action you need to take is to check whether the graphics card fits into the PCI port on the motherboard. Whether it will fit or not largely depends on two things: the length of the card (measured in millimeters) and the number of PCI slots that it occupies. A PCI slot is a dedicated port on the motherboard that’s meant to hold a GPU.
Generally speaking, a graphics card is about as long as the motherboard, around 30 cm (11.81 inches). A card will generally fit into a slot of the same size or something slightly larger, but never a slot that is smaller than itself. It always pays to check the size of the PCI slot on your computer before buying a graphics card.
Perhaps even more important than the length of the card is the number of slots that it will occupy on the motherboard. Entry-level graphics cards, for example, are small enough to fit into a single PCI slot. Mid-range and high-end graphics cards, on the other hand, are usually larger and, as such, occupy between two to three PCI slots.
Resolution and Frame Rates
When we talk about graphics cards, the first parameters to come to mind are resolution and frame rates. Resolution refers to the clarity of an image or video, measured through the number of individual pixels on the screen. On the other hand, the frame rate measures how fast individual images pass through the screen per second, indicated as fps.
The majority of parameters for graphics performance depend on a single component, the GPU. The GPU determines the maximum resolution and frame rates that you can get for any type of game, and it also determines how many competitive games you can play on your PC.
Resolution and Frame Rates: How Much Is Enough?
There is a wide selection of resolutions to choose from (i.e., 720p, 10180p, 1440p, 4K, and even 8K). 8K is usually reserved for high-end graphics cards, so most gamers aim for 1440p or 4K resolution. Frame rates are slightly different, and 30fps is already a decent starting point for casual games. However, a minimum of 60fps is recommended for super-smooth gameplay and faster responsiveness. The same rule applies to when you’re playing highly competitive and graphics-intensive games.
Resolution vs. Frame Rates: The Tradeoff
While the ideals for resolution and frame rate follow the same rules, it’s often not impossible to maintain a high frame rate without compromising on resolution and vice versa. Generally speaking, higher resolutions lead to lower frame rates and vice versa. This is a natural part of the natural tradeoff between these two parameters. For example, specific graphical effects like motion blur or film blur may look beautiful, but they lower your frame rates. On the other hand, playing a highly competitive game requiring high frame rates often result in a less-than-ideal resolution.
Now, we’re not suggesting that you break the bank to assure that you have the very best resolution and frame rates. Gamers using entry-level or mid-range graphics cards boils down to adjusting the parameters depending on their needs. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of understanding your gaming needs and your priorities at any given moment.
Graphics cards are known to be the most power-hungry components on any system. Having said this, it’s crucial to have a power supply unit (PSU) that can meet your graphics card’s power requirements. Not only that, the PSU has to match the specifications of the graphics card as well.
The truth is that the power requirement of the graphics card is determined by the GPU model that it uses. Generally speaking, a high-powered GPU will require more power than a mid-range or entry-level GPU. Case in point, most mid-range, and entry-level graphics cards require a power that requires anywhere between 100W to 300W of GPU power. On the other hand, it’s not unusual to find high-end graphics cards that require more than 320W of GPU power. It’s also quite common for high-end GPUs to require special connectors.
Having said this, the actual consumption rate varies depending on the type of game that you are playing. If you play a highly competitive game, you can expect the card to work harder and draw more power. On a similar note, a low power requirement may be a sign that the processor is not strong enough to handle complicated processing tasks. It’s certainly better to have a power-hungry processor with a better processing capacity than the other way around.
There are many parts involved in power usage, but the first thing you need to check is the PSU’s maximum wattage (wattage is a measure of energy transfer, abbreviated as W). You can check the PSU wattage either by physically checking the hardware or by looking through the specifications for your hardware online. The maximum wattage should be indicated on the side panel of the PSU.
The next thing you need to check is the PSU’s power requirement. Generally speaking, the maximum wattage of your PSU should be above the power requirement of your graphics card. Because if your PSU offers less than what’s required, then the graphics card will not work at all. For example, a graphics card with a power requirement of 400W should be paired with a PSU with at least 500W maximum output.
You will also need to check the ports on your graphics cards to ensure they work and that accessory devices can plug into them. The standard sets of ports usually include at least one of each: DisplayPort, DVI-D, and HDMI. Some of the more common cables on graphics cards also include SATA, CPU 8-pin, and 6-pin and 8-pin PCI cables.
There are two speed-based variables in the graphics card that you need to manage: memory clock and core clock. The memory clock speed refers to the speed of the VRAM, while the core clock speed refers to the speed of the GPU chip.
Memory clock speed is measured by the number of cycles per second that the memory takes to transfer data to the GPU. On the other hand, core clock speed is measured by the number of instructions executed by the GPU per second. Between the two parameters, the core clock speed usually has a larger impact on system performance. However, there are cases when the opposite is true, and it’s usually when you have to run memory-intensive applications.
Clock speeds also matter when you want to record your gaming experience for online streaming. The task of recording is usually assigned to the GPU as well, and there’s a chance that the double-tasking will affect your resolution and frame rate. If you are using a moderately capable GPU, you could benefit from using a capture card for this purpose. Here is a guide for installing a capture card for your PC or console.
Standard Clock Speeds
A GPU on a modern graphics card can have a core clock speed of anywhere between 1,000 GHz to 4,000 GHz. Meanwhile, it can have a VRAM memory clock speed of anywhere between 3,000 MHz to 8,000 MHz. Higher clock speeds result in better frame rates, and better frame rates lead to better performance overall.
Nonetheless, there still needs to be some balance between the GPU clock speeds and memory clock speeds if image quality is to be kept at a high level. Case in point, a high core clock speed will not have any effect if the power supply or VRAM is insufficient.
One of the time-tested ways to improve your graphics card’s performance is to overclock its components. Overclocking is when you run your components at speeds that exceed the limitations set by the manufacturer. Many gamers habitually overclock both their GPUs (base and boost clock) and VRAM (memory clock). Overclocking is an efficient way to improve performance without having to upgrade to newer, more expensive models. Check out this guide on how to overclock your GPU for superior performance.
Video Random Access Memory (VRAM)
VRAM is shorthand for video random access memory. VRAM is a speedy and high-bandwidth type of memory, and it serves as a buffer between the CPU and the display. The way the VRAM works is relatively simple. Whenever graphics information from a game comes through to the CPU, it stores the data temporarily on the VRAM o the graphics card before being displayed on your monitor via an HDMI or Display Port.
The amount of VRAM you’ll need depends mainly on the average resolution of the games you play. For example, a game that runs on 1440p resolution will inevitably consume more VRAM space than a game running on 1080p or 720p. Higher-resolution games carry more pixels, which increases the texture size, thus requiring more storage space.
Another factor that can contribute to your VRAM usage is something called anti-aliasing. This is a data processing technique that eliminates jagged patterns in video games.
Standard VRAM Capacities
But this begs the question, how much VRAM do you need? As a general rule, the higher VRAM you can get, the better. But if you really must crunch the numbers, then 4GB of VRAM should already be a good starting point for most games. But for high-definition (1080p) and ultra-high definition (1440p) gaming, you will likely be above 4 GB of VRAM.
There are not many options for VRAM capacities in graphics cards. The options tend to be limited to 2 GB, 3 GB, or 4GB of VRAM storage. Meanwhile, high-end graphics cards offer VRAM capacities from anywhere between 8 GB to 32 GB. But even then, it still pays to know how much VRAM storage you will need.
It’s also important to point out that the GPU and VRAM are connected in many ways, and the performance of one always affects the other. Case in point, it’s not advisable to pair an 8GB VRAM with an entry-level GPU because it will not be powerful enough to run games at HD. At that level, the system will only consume about 2GB of VRAM, and the rest of the space will remain unused.
Final Thoughts on the Best Budget Graphics Card Options
This concludes our compilation of the best budget graphics card options. As you may have noticed, we have included both mid-range and entry-level options since there tend to overlap with specifications. Naturally, the manufacturers of these graphics cards had to make a few sacrifices here and there to make their cards more affordable. Nonetheless, most options should work well for playing casual gaming.
However, if premium features are what you are after, then you can wait for the specifications to ‘trickle-down’ to a lower price range. It’s a widespread fact among gamers that most of the specs seen on high-end graphics cards (i.e., ray tracing, variable-rate shading) eventually make their way down into mid-range or even entry-level options. However, this process can take years, which means you’ll have to wait a while to get those features for less.