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Best Budget Graphics Card

We’ve all been there. You’ve purchased a new game and you’re super excited about it, but when it finally arrives, you install it and to your horror, it doesn’t work, or it works, but stutters or jumps to the point where it’s unplayable.

Maybe your PC is struggling to cope with the programs you’re trying to run, or your browser takes forever to load a page, and you’d like to use GPU acceleration to give it a helping hand. But graphics cards are really expensive, aren’t they? Not necessarily! In recent years, companies like AMD and NVIDIA have been creating inexpensive graphics cards that focus on low to mid-range PCs, and we’ve rounded up some of the best budget graphics cards to ease the strain on your wallet and get you back to where you belong: at the top of your game.

Best Budget Graphics Card – Comparison Table

We’ve separated our top picks by category, so you can easily see which is best for you based on your needs by taking a look at the graphics card comparison chart below. We’ve listed the amount of RAM, inputs and performance in FLOPS (floating point operations per second). FLOPS are a good way to measure the number of calculations per second a card can handle, and thereby, a card’s performance.

You can comfortably pick the best budget graphics card 2018 in the table below.

Product NameRAMInput ConnectorsFloating Point Operations per Second
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (New Product)4GB GDDR51x DisplayPort, DVI-I, HDMI 2.01733 GFLOPS
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 9502GB GDDR53x DisplayPort, DVI-I, HDMI1572.9 GFLOPS
Sapphire Radeon RX 460 NITRO4GB GDDR51x DisplayPort, DVI-D, HDMI2200 GFLOPS
AMD Radeon R9 380 4GB4GB GDDR53x DisplayPort, 1xDVI-I, 1xDVI-D, HDMI3476 GFLOPS
AMD Radeon R9 Fury4GB HBM3x DisplayPort,  HDMI7526 GFLOPS
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 9704GB GDDR53x DisplayPort, DVI-I, HDMI3494 GFLOPS

All too often, it’s difficult to tell which is the best budget graphics card by looking at the numbers though, so without further ado, let’s take an in depth look at each of our top picks.

1

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 – Best Budget Graphics Card

We decided to start this list off with the best budget GPU, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950. This is a solid graphics card, capable of running the latest games at 1080p and with the maximum settings, with a minimum of 30 frames per second. On top of this, if you’re a fan of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, like League of Legends or DOTA 2, you’re in luck. This card comes pre-optimised to maximise performance in these kind of games, where a split second can be the difference between winning and losing. In fact, the GTX 950 boasts 270 frames per second in League of Legends, which is faster than most PC monitors can refresh! So what if later, you choose to buy a new monitor to make the most of this, and it has a higher resolution? No problem, the GTX 950 is even capable of playing games smoothly in 1440p, albeit with a slight drop in framerate.

There’s something else that makes this card worthwhile too. It’s extremely energy efficient, using just 61 watts when idle, which is less than two thirds of the power requirement of a similarly priced card, the AMD R7 370. In addition to this, when idle, the card is silent. Yes, silent. In fact, even at peak performance, this graphics card only reaches 37 decibels. For comparison, that’s a fraction louder than a bedroom at night.

As with any piece of technology, this card does have its shortcomings. It will struggle with fully maxed settings at 1440p, and it lacks the power of graphics cards just above its price range, but as far as entry level GPUs go, this one is a winner, can really hold its own and is more than deserving of the title of “Best Budget Graphics Card”.

PROS
  • Great for 1080p/mid settings on 1440p
  • Very reasonably priced
  • Ultra quiet
CONS
  • Struggles with maxed out 1440p games
2

Sapphire Radeon RX 460 NITRO – Best E-sports Graphics Card

Let’s say for a second that you’re into competitive online games. Like, REALLY into them. Sure, you care about graphics quality, but your main focus is on speed and especially consistent speed. AMD, the makers of this GPU, have promised a minimum of 90 frames per second, at 1080p when playing the most popular E-sports like Rocket League, Counterstrike and Overwatch online, and that’s when playing on high settings.

Aesthetically, this GPU is very pleasing to the eye, and the creators have obviously taken a lot of care to ensure that it looks high quality, even with such a low price point. It has a very slick design, and has an illuminated logo on the underside, which will look fantastic if you have a clear sided tower.

Ultimately though, however cool something looks, we’re most concerned with performance, so let’s take a look at the facts.

It’s an extremely affordably priced GPU, and of course, there is a trade-off between graphical capabilities and stable performance, so this card is unsuited to playing in anything higher than 1080p, however the main selling point of this card cannot be understated: consistently greater than 60 fps even on recently released games. In addition, this card has a fraction more energy usage than the GTX 950, but is still very energy efficient.

This leads us to main selling point number 2: the RX 460 Nitro comes with the Dual-X cooler built in. That’s the two fans visible in the picture above (each of which is easily removable should you wish to upgrade) and a program with which to manage them. And get this, there is a zero decibel mode. We were amazed at the quietness of the GTX 950, but zero decibels is a whole new level of silence. Obviously, this won’t apply if you’re gaming, but for films or other low impact activities, this will be a godsend. Image that, no more PC components whirring loudly whilst you’re trying to watch a tense, plot important scene on date night.

If you’re an e-sports enthusiast who’s looking for a graphics card on a budget and you aren’t bothered about gaming at high resolutions, we can definitively say that is the GPU for you.

PROS
  • Very high framerates at high settings on 1080p
  • Very reasonably priced
  • Removable fans
  • Zero decibel mode
  • Attractive design
CONS
  • Struggles with 1440p games
  • Not as powerful as similarly priced alternatives
3

AMD Radeon R9 380 4GB – Best GPU for 1440p

If you’ve got a 1440p monitor, you’re going to want to put it to good use, but GPUs which play with consistent framerates at 1440p tend to be quite expensive. Luckily, we’ve done the research for you, and come up with an inexpensive card which can handle recent games on medium to high settings with a minimum of 30 frames per second.

Even if your games only display up to 1080p, this you can use NVIDIA’s Virtual Super Resolution option to upscale to 1440p. As well as this, the R9 380 4GB provides the perfect introduction to the world of overclocking, since it’s really simple to do using the software that comes with the card and will provide small but noticeable performance boosts. Overclocking has its downsides though, and with your card working overtime, it’s going to heat up. The 380’s two built in fans can more than handle the maximum temperature of 70oC, so rest assured, you’ll have no trouble there.

On a technical level, this card is quite plain, meaning that it’s very easy for a third party to tweak and modify this card for additional performance. There are a few different versions of this card by partners like Sapphire or MSI, so feel free to browse and choose the best one for your needs, however all cards should be roughly around the same price.

This card is a fantastic entry level 1440p graphics card and will be at home in any mid-range gaming PC. The only downside is that it lacks the power to play 1440p games at maxed out settings, however generally cards which can do this are a lot more expensive.

PROS
  • Great performance at 1440p
  • Very powerful for the price
  • Easy to overclock
  • Large variety of partner cards
CONS
  • Struggles with maxed out 1440p games
  • Is a niche card, and won’t satisfy hardcore gamers.
4

AMD Radeon R9 Fury – Best Graphics Card for 4K

This is the most expensive card in this list, by far. It is also the most powerful by leaps and bounds and has more than double the processing power of some of the other cards we’ve reviewed. So why is such an expensive card on a budget GPU list? Well, we did our research and found that this is the absolutely best budget card for 4K gaming.

4K is a relatively new technology, and with all new tech, there’s going to be a premium price tag, however, when compared to some of the newest GPUs, which can run into the thousands of dollars, this card is a breath of fresh air.

Performance wise, this card runs games like Far Cry 4 and the Witcher 3 at a minimum of 30 frames in 4K resolution, and can go as high as 55 frames with a few graphical settings turned down. This of course, means that it will run games at 1080p or 1440p maxed out at even higher framerates.

Additionally, if you’re an early adopter of virtual reality technology, this is the perfect starter card, since it’s recognised as being VR ready and capable of running VR games on very high settings with no problems. It also uses High Bandwidth Memory which provides faster processing than standard GDDR5 RAM.

With such a powerful card, there will of course be a larger power requirement. When running at 100% capacity, it draws around 370W of power, which is a lot more than comparable GPUs. Additionally, even with three built in fans, this card reaches temperatures of 80oC under stress, so it’d be a good idea to consider your tower’s airflow to ensure that it doesn’t run any hotter than it needs to, since temperatures above 95oC for a long period of time can be dangerous for your GPU.

This card will not be for everyone, and indeed, there are better cards out there if you just want to play games in standard resolution, however if you have a burning desire for 4K or VR, you can’t do any better than this card for this amount of money.

PROS
  • Great 4K performance
  • Very powerful
  • More than enough for 1080p or 1440p gaming
  • VR ready
CONS
  • High power requirement
  • Cooling could be better
  • Expensive for a "budget" card
5

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 – Best Graphics Card 2016 for the Value

Note that newer models have come out, the NVIDIA 10XX series. Click here to find the best graphics cards.
How many times have you mentioned building your own PC, just to have someone tell you “In a year it’ll be too old, and you’ll need to start from scratch”? We did our research and found a GPU that can handle the majority of today’s games at Ultra or Very High settings with a minimum of 60 frames per second at 1080p, and 30 frames per second at 1440p.
Price wise, this card lies in the gap between traditional budget GPUs and high end GPUS. It’s a little more expensive, but the trade-off is that you won’t have to replace it any time soon, in fact, we predict it’ll be more than enough for at least the next two years.
So why bother with anything else? Well, for a start, while the GTX 970 can play 4K games, the framerates are too low to be considered consistent, and you’d have to turn graphical options to around Medium to be able to actually make the game playable.
There are additional benefits to this card though. It is capable of playing most VR games, assuming you have the additional VR accessories that you need. Again, it’s easily overclocked using the NVIDIA graphics card overclocking utility and after doing so, you can reach performance comparable to the next card in the series, the GTX 980, for a lot less money.
This card is perfect for someone who just wants a solid performing mid-range GPU that is built to last. You can just install it, and you’re good to go for the foreseeable future, and if you find its performance lacking in a year, spend an afternoon overclocking it and it’s like a brand new card.

PROS
  • Will be able to handle anything that comes out for the foreseeable future at 1080p or 1440p
  • Very powerful
  • Exceptional overclocking performance
  • VR Ready
CONS
  • Limited 4K functionality
  • Slightly more expensive

Best Budget Graphics Card - Buyer's Guide

Before you buy a graphics card, it’s important to understand a few things:

Bottlenecks
Firstly, the age old saying “Your PC is only as fast as its slowest part”. Even if you buy the latest and greatest graphics card, if you have an old processor, you aren’t going to see the maximum benefit from it, since your processor can’t handle it. This is why it’s important to make sure all of your other components are reasonably up to date before spending hundreds of dollars on a GPU.

Size and power
Second, make sure you have the space in your PC tower. Cards come in all shapes and sizes, with some being very large and bulky and others absolutely tiny. Make sure you have a power supply capable of providing the power your GPU needs! A good rule of thumb is to get a power supply with double the power usage of your GPU, so for example, if your GPU uses 200W, buy a 400W power supply. If you’re unsure, or want to know exactly how much power you need, you can use the online power calculator here.

Brands
Brand wise, there are two main contenders, NVIDIA graphics cards and AMD graphics cards. Both of these companies produce high quality cards, and you can use an NVIDIA GPU on an AMD motherboard, and vice versa. This is really a non-issue when considering a GPU, so don’t worry about it.

RAM
There are a bunch of different types of more Random Access Memory (RAM), with the standard (in 2016) being GDDR5. There is also a new contender, High Bandwidth Memory (HBM), but for the most part, you only need to look at the amount of RAM a card has. Generally speaking, higher is better in that the RAM a GPU has, the more capacity your card has to deal with  complex things like textures or post processing effects (the things that make your games pretty). This is important if you’re planning to play in a graphically intensive way, like with multiple screens or high resolutions.

Benchmarks
Realistically, it’s all too easy to get lost in the jargon when comparing cards, and at the end of the day, just because a card has more of x and less of y than another card, that doesn’t necessarily make it inferior. The single most reliable way to evaluate performance of a GPU is to look up benchmarks. That is, the performance of a card in use. This can be measured in terms of heat produced, frames per second at various resolutions or time taken to process data.You can then use this data to assess another important factor: cooling.

If a card produces a lot of heat, you’ll want to make sure that your tower can cool it effectively. Installing additional fans or elevating it from the floor are two good ways to improve airflow, and you can even buy mesh panels for some PC towers that allow hot air to escape more easily. On the other hand, if your cooling is up to scratch but the card is very loud, you can buy sound dampening foam panels for your tower to help cover up some of that noise.

Conclusion


There are a million different types of graphics cards, and more are released almost every week, however most people aren’t going to need the latest and greatest graphics card, and can find a low to mid-range GPU that will suit their needs and price range, but it’s difficult to choose one when you’re being bombarded with facts and figures that are all too difficult to figure out. That’s where we come in. We’ve scoured the internet for the best graphics cards and come to the conclusion that the best budget graphics card of 2016 is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970. It’s a solid piece of tech that can handle just about anything you throw at it, and is built to last as well. If it’s not suited to your needs, don’t worry, take a look at our list and buy with confidence knowing that we’ve thoroughly researched every aspect of these cards for you, and we only choose to feature the best of the best. Good luck, and we’ll see you on the battlefield.