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In 2021, it’s now even easier to find a graphics card that can max out games on common resolutions like 1080p or 1440p than ever before. A few years back, we saw how the graphics cards which were barely touching 60fps at 1080p and were costing much more than $200 or sometimes even more than $300 just to play the games properly at 1080p.
Things have changed drastically from the last 2-3 years due to the heated competition between Nvidia and AMD, which led to the release of compelling powerful graphics cards for a lower price.
A budget graphics card for some people falls in the range of $80-$120 while for some, it may be above $150. We currently have more than a dozen graphics cards from both the manufacturers ranging from $80 up to $300. This provides good flexibility to build gaming PCs with a wide range of budget.
Here is a list of the top 5 best budget graphics cards in 2021 which provide excellent value for per dollar spent and are capable for playing most of the games at 1080p with smooth frame rates on medium to ultra settings.
Note: I update this list almost every month and sometimes more frequently than that to make sure you are aware of the current prices and performance of these cards.
RX 560 from AMD is one of the cheapest cards you can buy for around $100. It is not an ultimate choice for 1080p Gaming but you can surely play most titles with playable frame rates. Expect somewhere around 40-50 fps in most of the games on settings which will provide good eye candy.
The card is sufficient for 1080p gaming on medium to high settings. Games like the Shadow of the tomb raider, Doom, Hitman, Fortnite, PUBG will all run smoothly on this card unlike the slower card from Nvidia, the GT 1030, which I removed from the list because that isn’t worth now after the release of Ryzen 3400G. The RX 560 mentioned here is the 4GB edition and you can increase the graphical settings more than you could do with the 2GB one.
The card is also power efficient compared to most budget graphics cards and requires less than 80 watts to operate and therefore, requires no external power connector which means you don’t have to invest a lot in a big capacity power supply although a reliable power supply is always recommended to protect the components from faulty currents and voltages.
The RX 580 4GB is one of the RX series cards which falls in between the RX 570 and RX 590. This card competes head to head with the sub $200 Nvidia GPUs although it costs noticeably lower.
It is not just an entry-level card but actually, a solid 1080p card which can play most games on ultra settings. AAA titles can easily achieve 60+fps with high-ultra settings while there are a few games which will require you to lower down some settings to get to that number.
The ASRock RX 580 PGU 8GO above features a stylish black shroud with a decent sized aluminium heatsink that uses heat pipes and features RGB lighting that is visible from the side. With overclocking you can easily achieve over 1400MHz on this card while the reference clock of RX 580 is 1257MHz. This will result in a significant performance boost needed to achieve 60+fps without tweaking the settings.
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The price range of $150 to $200 is filled with several graphics cards and there are so many options to choose from. We have the GTX 1650 Super, the RX 590, and some entry-level editions of GTX 1660. All of these cards are close to each other in performance while the GTX 1660 being a winner by some small margin.
The RX 580/RX 590 and GTX 1650 Super, in my opinion, are the ones you should look for if you want something under $200. The difficulty in selecting between these two is that both of these cards are almost equivalent in gaming with RX 590 winning in some games and the GTX 1650 Super in others.
But according to the current pricing situation, most of the GTX 1650 Super editions cost lower than the RX 590. The RX 590 has 8GB of VRAM while the GTX 1650 Super has 4GB. Though the difference in performance in some cases isn’t due to the memory only. GTX 1650 Super is perfect and 4GB should be enough for 1080p ultra gaming.
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GTX 1660 Super is one of the latest addition to the Nvidia’s catalogue that is supposedly faster than the GTX 1660 and should provide much more than 60 fps at 1080p. I previously listed down GTX 1660 Ti as a recommendation but GTX 1660 Super is only a little bit behind it and the price difference is significant.
GTX 1660 Super features 6GB of GDDR6 memory with 1408 Cuda Cores and a boost clock of 1785MHz on the reference edition. But the MSI GTX 1660 S Gaming edition features 1830MHz on OC mode which is significantly higher and should provide a good boost. This card can also play most of the games at 1440p with high to ultra settings with around 60 fps. If it’s available for around $250 in your region, then there is no other better card for this price and you should combine it with something like i3 10100 or i5 10400F for getting the most out of your money.
While GTX 1660 S and 1660 Ti are sufficient for 1080p ultra gaming and cost reasonably well, the RX 5600 XT from AMD also costs less than $300 but delivers considerably higher performance in almost every game than both of these Nvidia GPUs.
RX 5600 XT is astonishingly 30% faster than the GTX 1660 Ti and is capable of playing almost every game at 1440p resolution with 60 fps. It challenges the more expensive RTX 2060 without exceeding $300 price mark. It comes with 6GB of GDDR6 VRAM and base/boost clock of 1560/1620MHz.
Combine it with Ryzen 5 3600/5600X or i5 10400F/10600K to get the most out of it.
Important things to know before you buy a Graphics card
1. Price and Requirements
Make sure before you buy a graphics card, you know your budget. You can have $100 or even $500 for buying a GPU but if you are going to build a completely new PC then defining and distributing the expenditure between different components is a little difficult. If you are buying a new PC, then make sure you don’t buy an overkill graphics card for your CPU. A Pentium processor can’t handle RTX 2080 or GTX 1080 Ti. Similarly, a GT 1030 is too slow for an i7 9700K.
Another important thing is to define your requirements. Without knowing what you want, you can either overspend or underspend on your graphics card. If you are just starting out and want to enjoy some eSports or Casual games then a budget graphics card will be enough for the job. But in case you want to enjoy the games on ultra textures at 1080p or higher resolution then you will need to buy higher-end graphics cards like GTX 1070 or RTX 2080 etc.
VRAM is the memory that is different from the main system RAM and is only dedicated to providing the horsepower your graphics need. Every dedicated Graphics card has some dedicated VRAM which now in modern GPUs can vary from 1GB up to 16GB. To play games on higher settings at 1080p at least, you need to have around 3-4GB VRAM on your Graphics card. If you go lower than that, then you may have to lower down some of the settings in your games for getting good frames per second.
If you want to max out textures, anti-aliasing, foliage, shadows, etc. in a AAA game, then you will need at least 6GB of VRAM that is present in GTX 1060 and higher-end Graphics cards. Right now, I don’t know of any game that utilizes more than that except in the case of higher resolution like 4K.
Low Profile graphics cards have smaller heatsinks and therefore aren’t efficient in maintaining good temperatures if you overclock them but graphics card with bigger aluminium heatsinks with copper heat pipes with 2 or more fans are extremely important for maintaining good temperature even while overclocking to the full potential. If you are not doing any type of overclocking, you should still make sure that your PC chassis has enough ventilation for proper air intake and exhaust.
4. Power Supply
Different graphics cards have different TDP and their power consumption vary. So, you need to check the graphics card’s TDP before buying it. Make sure your power supply is having enough wattage capacity to run your whole system without any bottleneck.
A system that uses low end or budget components will have no problem in running on a 400 watts reliable power supply but when it comes to running a GTX 2080 Ti, i7 9700K, Multiple Fans, AIO coolers, and several storage devices, then you will need a higher wattage power supply. Make sure you check the TDP of all of your components and see if your PSU still has enough wattage capacity to power your Graphics card.
Another important thing to note is the graphics card power ports. Make sure your Power supply has those power connectors that your graphics card requires. A GPU with 6-pin port will use a 6-pin power connector from the power supply. Generally, almost all the budget power supplies in the modern day have a 6-pin power connector at the minimum. If your graphics card has 2x 8-pin power ports, your PSU must have those in order to run the graphics card with stability.
5. I/O Connectors
Sometimes a particular graphics card from a different manufacturer will not have the I/O ports for connectivity as your monitor requires to show the display. Check the I/O ports at the back of your monitor and also the I/O ports of the graphics card you are buying.
If your monitor is a 144Hz gaming monitor, then you must have a DVI port or a DP port on your monitor/GPU to get those 144Hz refresh rate smoothness. Make sure both your graphics card and monitor have these ports to avoid the mishappening.
FAQ (Most Common Questions Answered)
Which is better Radeon or Nvidia?
Well, both are good, to be honest, and it only depends on the performance of their GPUs. A few years ago Nvidia had the best performing GPUs for the money but right now there are similar graphics cards from AMD too. You can have a good graphics card both from AMD and Nvidia but Nvidia stays up to date in the driver compatibility better than AMD. Nvidia also has Ray Tracing technology in the RTX series which is currently absent in the AMD GPUs but AMD may release Ray Tracing GPUs soon.
Is RTX better than GTX?
Yes, both in performance and technology. Although both the GTX 1600 series and RTX 2000 series graphics cards are based on the same Turing architecture, the GTX graphics cards are not capable for Ray Tracing which increases the graphical quality with real-time light reflections and dynamic shadows. Also, the fastest GTX 1600 series card which is GTX 1660 Ti, is slower than the slowest RTX 2000 series card, which is RTX 2060. The most powerful RTX GPU is the RTX 2080 Ti which is way more powerful than any other GPU produced till now.
How can I get a cheap graphics card?
If you want to get a graphics card cheaper than its regular price, then it’s recommended that you stay up to date on Newegg and Amazon for a regular price check. I recommend checking the prices on a daily basis because at any time the seller can reduce the prices.
Do I need a graphics card if I don’t play games?
Well, it depends on what tasks you do on your PC. If you are a graphic designer or a video editor or someone who works on a GPU dependent program, then you will need a graphics card. Graphics card needed in these tasks may not need to be high-end but when it comes to gaming, it depends on the resolution of your monitor, the games and the graphics settings you want to play on.
You can also check our detailed guide on if you need a graphics card or not for making up your mind.
How much should I spend on a GPU?
It depends on how much money in total you are willing to spend on your computer. Generally, a graphics card should be the most expensive item in your entire PC as compared to the other parts if you are focused on gaming only. So, suppose you have $500 for a gaming PC, you should separate at least $150 dedicated only for a GPU which is roughly 1/3rd of your total budget. This rule can also be applied on PC’s that are less or more expensive.
Recommended Gaming Monitors for Budget Graphics Cards
While it’s cool to have a decent graphics card for gaming, it’s also necessary to buy a gaming monitor that goes well with it. So, suppose if you have a GTX 2080 and you buy a 1080p 60Hz monitor, then this would be the worst choice. GTX 2080 can handle any monitor with 1440p resolution with up to 144Hz or higher refresh rate. Similarly, if you have a great 1440p 144Hz or 165Hz monitor, and you buy a GTX 1650 Super, then you won’t be able to keep up the graphics to more than high for a smooth gaming experience. So, here I have listed the monitors which will go well with any GPU present on the list.
For the cheapest graphics cards on the list which can handle 1080p gaming at max, I recommend going with a TN panel 2ms response time monitor from Viewsonic which is cheap and provides refresh rate up to 75Hz. It’s better than IPS monitors because the response time is fast and will let you play the fast-paced games easily. Although it’s not the best, but it goes well with graphics cards like RX 560 up to GTX 1650.
For graphics cards that are above GTX 1650 like GTX 1660 up to GTX 1660 Super, I recommend going with a 144Hz monitor as these GPUs can easily provide much more than 60 fps in most of the games. Some games can easily reach above 100 fps with some tweaked settings and the gameplay will be much smoother which will make you faster in games where it requires you to take action quickly.
This monitor also comes with a GSYNC technology which will remove the tear in the game if you own an Nvidia graphics card. Also, with a response time of as low as 0.5ms, you will see almost no lag input and you can also overclock it to reach up to 165Hz refresh rate.
As there are a lot of other cool monitors too, I don’t say that you should only go for these two choices. There are some curved monitors too with bigger displays and other technologies but these two should be ideal for the graphics cards I have listed above. Rest you can discuss in the comments section if you have a thought in your mind.