Today, we’re going to cover five of our top picks for best budget GPU. With the release of the RTX Super cards and the falling prices of the RX 500-Series, the sub-$300 market for GPUs has never been better.
As long as you’re willing to spend a little more than $100, you’re bound to get a graphics card that offers a strong 1080p gaming experience, and if you’re able to push your budget more, you can even start playing 1440p, VR, and 4K games!
How We Picked
If you want the best graphics card for the money, you’re in the right place. We’re going to walk you through your options in this price range, and help you pick the best one for you. If you aren’t too familiar with graphics cards and PC gaming, don’t worry– we’ve also included a buying guide at the bottom of the article to help you understand key terms and the modern GPU hierarchy.
When looking for the best budget graphics card, there are a number of different factors to take into account. Of course, there will be compromises but we believe that if you want the most of a budget graphics card, focusing on VRAM, cooling and clock speed will provide the top performance. That’s how we selected the cards in this list. Additionally, we’ve given out some awards for some of our picks, which should help you narrow down your selection if you have a specific trait in mind.
With all that out of the way, though…let’s look at our contenders for best budget GPU!
Best Budget Graphics Card 2021
Good for 1080p gaming
Poor performance-per-dollar versus RX 570
The GTX 1050 Ti may not have the best value on the market, but it’s definitely better than any sub-$100 GPU. Compare the RX 550, RX 560, or GT 1030 and you’ll see why this is essentially the least amount of money you should be spending on a graphics card. A further comparison to the RX 570, however, reveals this card’s key weakness: value.
While this is still the GPU we’d recommend– and it should suffice perfectly fine for 1080p gaming, especially for older titles– its performance-per-dollar simply does not stack up to the RX 570. By shopping around, you’ll get a fairly dramatic boost in performance.
If you aren’t a particularly serious gamer and just need a graphics card for media purposes– or you intend on replacing your GPU very very soon– then the GTX 1050 Ti is great. If you only care about paying a low price, then this is the best budget GPU that we can recommend.
Great 1080p performance
Best overall value (performance-per-dollar)
Poor 1440p/VR performance with 4GB version, just okay otherwise
The RX 570 XXX Edition is our pick for best value GPU. In terms of performance-per-dollar, this card really can’t be beaten. You’re looking at a sub-$130 GPU that really packs a punch,
If you want to improve that VRAM, for little bit more money, you can also opt for the 8GB version of the RX 570 that’s available on Amazon. This gives you double the memory capacity alongside a clock speed boost for not that much money at all.
Now, let’s talk about the RX 570 XXX Edition in general. Typically, you’ll see superb performance in 1080p titles at maximum settings. All but the most intensive VR games should be playable as well, with SteamVR resolution scaling being an option for when this card isn’t enough. 1440p is where this card will start looking weaker, especially when compared to the RX 580 XXX Edition, in modern games at high settings.
In essence, this is pretty much just a 1080p and entry-level VR gaming card. With extensive tweaking, 1440p is possible as well but is mostly recommended against at this level of performance. Even with the 8GB version of this card, it simply isn’t built to push games at such a high resolution – at least, not with correspondingly high framerates and settings.
Stellar 1080p performance, at solid 60FPS
Outperforms 2060 and 2070 Competition
Drivers can be annoying to install
AMD’s series of GPUs have been criminally overlooked by a large portion of the gaming userbase, and the XFX RX 5500 XT Thicc II Pro is a great example of a card that should be a lot more popular than it is.
Right now you can buy this RX 5500 XT card for under $200, and that is vastly impressive when you consider what you are investing in. 8gb of DDR6 RAM, combined with a boost clocked at 1845MHz means that this card is well equipped to deal with a plethora of games both old and new, and put out power that is compatible to the 2070 series from Nvidia.
In fact, to find a GPU capable of outperforming this card from a competitor you are going to have to look to the likes of the 2070 Super – but why would you? For a marginal increase in performance, you will be paying upwards of $300 more, and the 5500 XT Thicc II is more than capable of providing you with satisfactory gaming at its price point.
You will be able to expect stable 60 FPS gameplay at a 1080p resolution, with that kind of performance readily available on titles like Monster Hunter World, The Witcher 3, and Gears 5. However, this does come with a trade-off.
The cards software can be a little tricky to install, and the drivers for the card can give you more problems than they are worth, with internet forums full of different bugs reported from unstable driver updates. If you can look past that though, and understand how to update your drivers safely and regularly then you shouldn’t have any problems, making this the best bang for your buck GPU on the market today.
Superb overall value
Superb 1080p performance, great 1440p/VR performance
Slower VRAM limits card’s capabilities vs 1660 Ti
No RTX features
The best overall budget GPU to buy today is the GTX 1660 Super.
Like the GTX 1660 before it, the GTX 1660 Super is Nvidia’s true budget GPU king. In benchmarks, this card beats the GTX 1660 and RX 580 8GB by quite a fair margin but doesn’t quite catch up to the GTX 1660 Ti. This means the card is perfectly-equipped for modern AAA games at 1080p and maximum settings, as well as higher-end VR games and a number of games at 1440p and high settings. This card generally retails at about $240, too, which means it’s more expensive than the RX 580 but you’re getting much more overall performance.
The GTX 1660 soundly defeats the RX 580 in this price range. Without any reasonable doubt, it’s the best value offering that Nvidia has to offer, and it offers most of the 1660 Ti’s performance at a much better price point.
Unlike other Turing GPUs, though, this card does not offer Nvidia RTX features. At least, not with any semblance of good performance. Even at low settings, enabling ray-tracing in games like Metro Exodus or Battlefield V will drop your frame rates, which may be an intentional ploy by Nvidia to push sales of RTX 1660 Ti GPUs.
Stellar 1080p, 1440p, and VR performance
Poor ray-tracing performance, high price
While we’ve praised the GTX 1660 Super as the best value Nvidia GPU, the GTX 1660 Ti is a different story. This card is priced closer to $300 and doesn’t offer a proportionate boost in performance to either the RX 580 or the GTX 1660 Super. If you’re willing to spend just $50 or so more, you could get the RTX 2060 instead, which would serve as a much more powerful and future-proof GPU.
At that point, though, you’ll have spent over $300 on your GPU– not exactly “budget” by most standards– and if that jump isn’t enough for you, the GTX 1660 Ti may just be the right compromise for you.
The GTX 1660 Ti has great performance in 1440p and VR games. 1080p gaming isn’t even a question with this card, especially with the GDDR6 memory in tow. No question: you’ll be able to blast through modern games at 1440p with this GPU, and may even be able to push some as high as 1800p.
If your GPU budget has a hard limit at no higher than $300, then this is the best card for you. The Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti may not offer the best performance-per-dollar, but it is still the best graphics card under $300.
Things To Consider
GPU Size refers to two different measurements. There’s length, in exact millimeters, and width, measured in slots. Slots refers to both the PCI Express slots that a GPU is inserted into and the slots in the chassis, while length refers to how far into the case the graphics card extends.
Of these two measurements, GPU length is the one that is more likely to cause compatibility issues, especially in a Micro ATX or Mini ITX PC build. Width is really only ever a concern if you plan on installing additional expansion cards, which has become much less necessary with improvements in motherboard I/O and USB adoption.
In any case, be sure to check GPU clearance measurements against those provided by the case manufacturer in specs. You wouldn’t want to buy a massive graphics card that you find out doesn’t fit on the day you’re assembling your build!
GPU architecture refers to the technology your GPU is built around. Every card in a certain GPU series will be built with the same architecture, starting with a “pure” version at the highest end. Understanding these will help you better understand the graphics card hierarchy.
The RX 580, for instance, launched as the best AMD Polaris GPU. The lower-end RX 500-series cards that released later were really just trimmed-down versions of the 580’s Polaris, but ultimately shared the same architecture.
Thanks to this, the RX 570 was able to achieve much of the performance as the RX 580, but at a lower price.
Below, we’ve listed the relevant GPU architectures for consumers today:
- AMD Polaris – Used by the RX 500 series, iterative upon past generations.
- AMD Vega – Used by the RX Vega series and the Radeon VII, known for utilizing HBM2 and serving double duty as gaming and professional cards.
- AMD Navi – AMD’s next-gen architecture, due to debut later in 2019. Likely to replace Vega and Polaris entirely.
- Nvidia Pascal – Nvidia’s last-gen architecture, used by the GTX 10-Series.
- Nvidia Turing – Nvidia’s current-gen architecture, enabling features like real-time ray-tracing in the RTX 20-Series. The GTX 16-Series is also based on this architecture, but without the extra processing cores for ray-tracing features.
Clock speed isn’t very useful as a method of comparing different GPUs, especially not across different architectures. If you’re familiar with CPUs, it’s pretty much the same here: clock speed is generally only effective at comparing GPUs with the same architecture. In some cases, clock speed may only be useful for comparing different models of the same GPU, which further complicates matters.
A reference design of a graphics card is one released by the manufacturer as a baseline for others to work with. Nvidia and AMD both release reference designs, which are then iterated upon by companies like MSI and EVGA.
These new designs use aftermarket coolers and may even result in shorter or longer cards, as well as higher out-of-box clock speeds. When a card ships with an above-reference clock speed, this is referred to as a factory overclock, and you will find it is very common in the GPU market.
VRAM refers to the memory used exclusively by your graphics card. This differs from standard memory, or RAM, used by the rest of your PC in a few key ways.
VRAM is mainly used for dealing with high resolutions, post-processing effects, and high-fidelity texture streaming. The more VRAM you have, the better your card will be at handling these things… as long as your card can keep up. The type of VRAM used can also be an influencing factor here.
VRAM types, from slowest to fastest:
- GDDR5 – Used by AMD Polaris and Nvidia Pascal GPUs.
- GDDR5X – Used by high-end Nvidia GPUs and low-end Turing GPUs.
- GDDR6 – Used by midrange and high-end Nvidia Turing GPUs.
- HBM2 – Used by AMD Vega cards and high-end Nvidia GPUs.
VRAM capacities and matching resolutions:
- 2GB – Suitable for 720p and 1080p in most scenarios.
- 4GB – Suitable for 1080p and 1440p in most scenarios.
- 6GB – Suitable for 1440p and VR in most scenarios. 4K needs GDDR6 or better.
- 8GB – Suitable for 1440p, VR, and 4K. The underlying GPU will need to be powerful enough to keep up, though.
In general, if you see two versions of the same card and one version has more VRAM go with that version. It’ll futureproof your system just a little bit more.
Resolution and FPS
When we talk about how each GPU performs, we’ll be mainly referring to its resolution and FPS, or framerate. Below, we’ll provide some explanation for common figures.
Additionally, note that the FPS you can actually see is limited by your display. Most displays only display up to 60 Hz, or 60 FPS. The same applies to resolution, though this is measured the same by games and displays.
- 720p and 900p (HD) – HD resolutions, targeted by consoles and very low-end GPUs.
- 1080p (Full HD) – Full HD, and the minimum resolution targeted by the GPUs on this list. This is where the PS4 and Xbox One usually try to stay in games. Looks great on a TV, but just okay on a monitor.
- 1440p (Quad HD) – Common target for midrange PCs. Some PS4 Pro and Xbox One X titles upscale from this resolution to achieve 4K.
- 1800p (Quad HD+) – Common target for midrange to high-end PCs. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X also upscale from here. This is where most cards on this list cap out.
- 2160p (4K Ultra HD) – The dream for high-end PCs. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X will rarely if ever, achieve a true 4K resolution in their games. Only one card can sort-of play at this resolution.
- 30 FPS – Anything below this is considered unplayable. Not smooth, but not jittery either- just okay.
- 60 FPS – Smooth, and the smoothest that a 60 Hz refresh rate display can show. The ideal target in most scenarios.
- 100 FPS – Very smooth- a common compromise made by those with high refresh rate displays, who want smoother gameplay without totally sacrificing visuals.
- 120 FPS – Ultra smooth.
- 144 FPS and higher – As smooth at it gets.
Tech and Terms
In this section, we’re going to list a few common terms you might see tossed around in this article and in product reviews elsewhere.
- V-Sync – V-Sync is used to prevent screen tearing when a game’s framerate exceeds a display’s refresh rate. This comes at the penalty of performance loss and more input latency.
- G-Sync and FreeSync – An improved version of V-Sync, corresponding to Nvidia and AMD, respectively. Requires a compatible monitor to function properly.
- Upscaling – The practice of rendering at a lower resolution and upscaling to a higher one. This is used by the upgraded consoles to achieve a 4K image, and is an option in many PC games. However, an upscaled image will never look as a good as a true, “native” image.
- AA (Antialiasing) – Used to remove jagged edges from an image. Especially common and necessary at 1080p and lower resolutions, but becomes less of a hard requirement at higher resolutions.
- SLI, NVLink, and CrossFire – Multi-GPU technologies that have mostly fallen out of favor and support. The first two are Nvidia, the third is AMD. NVLink is the best of the three, but only supported by the highest-end Nvidia GPUs.
- Real-time ray-tracing – The big feature of the Nvidia RTX GPUs vs GTX GPUs. Looks great, but only supported by a few games. Should eventually come to AMD GPUs as well, but is a niche technology for now. (GTX 1060 and newer Nvidia GPUs now support this, but with horrific performance. Thanks, Nvidia!)
- DLSS – An Nvidia-exclusive technology used by RTX GPUs. A form of anti-aliasing fuelled by AI deep learning, allowing far better image quality in supported games.
While we’ve selected a bunch of budget GPUs for this buying guide which are all stellar in their own right, we think that the best overall budget GPU has to be the GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1660 Super. This is due to the fact that this card will more than cope with today’s AAA titles at 1080p while also doing a reasonable job of supporting VR and 1440p. Usually coming in well under the $300 mark, it’s also pretty decent value too, especially considering it beats out the 570. Overall, with the 1660 Super, while it’s not the absolute cheapest GPU, it certainly backs up its slightly higher price point with the performance it churns out and well worth the money.