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Picking a graphics card for your new rig can be a frustrating process, and truth be told, it’s kind of a strange time to build a gaming PC. The latest graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia are all focused on high-end enthusiast gaming, with almost none costing less than $350 dollars.
Not everyone has the doubloons to spend so much on a GPU, even though it is objectively the most important component of your gaming PC. Still, you can get some fantastic budget graphics cards at price points lower than that. The options are limited, but they’re still there, and they’re extremely reliable and relevant even for the most visually demanding AAA titles.
Top 3 Best Budget Graphics Cards in 2021
The budget range we’ve selected for our favorite midrange graphics cards is from $150 to $250. These GPUs are excellent for gaming on 1080p resolution, which is still the most used resolution for video games among mainstream gamers. If you don’t own a 1440p panel and don’t plan to invest in one any time in the future, this range will suit you very well.
The RX 580 8GB is the best option for anyone looking to run most modern games at 1080p and 60fps on max settings with little trouble. This is truly the king of 1080p gaming in modern times.
Specs and Performance Overview: Sapphire Nitro+ RX 580 8GB
- Architecture: Polaris
- (Boost) Clock Speed: 1411MHz
- Memory Speed: 8000MHz effective
- RAM: 8GB GDDR5
- TDP: 185 watts+
AMD has done a lot in the CPU niche to give Intel some tough time with its release of the Zen architecture based Ryzen CPUs, but they’re still far behind Nvidia in the GPU department. Or at least that’s what Nvidia will want you to believe.
While it’s true that Nvidia has a monopoly in this market and dominate the high-end GPU niche, the midrange and budget tier side is more evenly balanced. AMD’s RX 580 is perhaps the best graphics card you can buy for less than $250 right now, beating the GTX 1060 6GB comfortably in several games despite costing less, and offering 2GB more RAM.
AMD RX 580 wasn’t a groundbreaking reinvention though. In fact, it is largely based on the older RX 480. Many considered it as a rehash, but the performance of the RX 580 has shown that it is a considerable improvement over the 480, running at far higher base clock speeds than the RX 480. Performance across the board is almost consistently similar to the GTX 1060 6GB which was superior to the RX 480 at the time of release, but the RX 580 offers far more memory and memory bandwidth. Additionally, DirectX 12 performance is far superior on the RX 580 when compared to the GTX 1060.
Games such as Hitman, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and The Division in particular massively benefit from the 580’s superior performance with DX12, and given that DX12 games will become more common, we see it as a wiser investment to consider the RX 580 over the GTX 1060 6GB.
AMD Radeon graphics cards have often suffered from power efficiency though, and that’s where the RX 580 is inferior to its Nvidia counterpart. We’re talking about an increase in consumption of over 60 watts here from the GTX 1060 6GB to the RX 580 8GB, which is a significant consideration if you’re running a modest performing power supply. Still, for most gamers with good power supplies above the 500 watts mark, there shouldn’t be any problem pairing a single RX 580 with a powerful processor. Do note that you’ll need a 6-pin and 8-pin power connection combo to run this card.
It’s important, however, that the RX 580 also comes in a 4GB version. The 4GB version, however, is far inferior to the mainstream variant, and we don’t recommend it because its performance isn’t as reliable, nor does it perform well at higher resolutions. AMD has also released the Radeon RX 590, which is more powerful than the RX 580, but is around the $300 mark, which we don’t consider the “budget” range.
Speaking of higher resolutions, although we’ve coined the RX 580 as a 1080p card (which it is based on its speed and performance), it can run many games comfortably on high settings at 1440p resolution as well. Just don’t expect to reach 60fps in most visually stunning titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Battlefield V. The overall performance at 1440p though is superior to the GTX 1060 6GB even in some DX11 games because of the higher VRAM available on the RX 580. VRAM is important for higher resolutions as higher resolution textures eat up a lot graphic memory.
We’d still recommend a higher budget for your graphics card if you plan to play exclusively on 1440p resolution because the RX 580’s performance (while good) isn’t going to bring you a consistent 60fps at ultra settings for every game.
Often, many users make the mistake of only observing the peak frame-rates with any graphics card to judge it. While peak frame-rates certainly tell a lot about the graphics card’s ability to perform, consistency of frame-rates is far more valuable for the overall gaming experience. Consistency is where the RX 580 beats its competition in videogames where it isn’t even the fastest card for a particular videogame.
Just below the $250 price point, the GeForce GTX 1660 is based on the same architecture as the latest line-up of GPUs by NVIDIA.
Specs and Performance Overview: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G
- Architecture: Turing
- (Boost) Clock Speed: 1830MHz
- Memory Speed: 8Gbps
- RAM: 6GB GDDR5
- TDP: 130 watts+
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 is one of the only cards in the GTX series along with GTX 1650 and 1660 Ti that has Turing architecture, while all the previous GTX 10 series cards use the previous Pascal architecture.
When NVIDIA introduced its RTX series of GPUs, it was assumed that the company had moved on from the GTX series of cards. But since everyone was moving towards the future of graphics, which is ray-tracing, the older GPUs had significantly fallen in price.
But regardless of the card being significantly new, since it did not support many features that the RTX series of cards did, the GTX 1660 was a more affordable priced card aimed at the budget gamers.
It has a higher core count than the GTX 1060, with a total count of 1408 CUDA cores, the card is also VR ready and has a GDDR5 interface. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 has a memory of 6GB, which is lesser than the 8GB of the AMD RX 590, but it still holds its own when it comes to gaming performance. The GTX 1660 Ti has a GDDR6 interface that has a higher bandwidth of 12Gbps than the GDDR5’s 8Gbps.
With this card, you can expect to play almost all new titles in 1080p in medium settings, but in the end, it depends on game to game, some games slow down even the best GPU in the market. But regardless this card will be able to allow you to game the latest titles without hitches.
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G, which has overclocking enabled and 2 WindForce fans let you push the cards limits further and give you an even better gaming performance. With enough airflow, you can overclock without problems and get more mileage from this card.
This card has G-Sync enabled so you can pair them with G-Sync compatible monitors for better visual performance.
This card is under the $250 price point, which is great, some people say NVIDIA introduced this card in response to the RX 590 that AMD introduced in late 2018. That card has a really superior performance and was also in an affordable price tag.
We recommend the RX 570 for all gamers looking to buy a graphics card in the sub $200 range. It outperforms the 1050 Ti and comes in around the same price.
Specs and Performance Overview: XFX RX 570 8GB
- Architecture: Turing
- (Boost) Clock Speed: 1328MHz
- Memory Speed: 7000MHz effective
- RAM: 8GB GDDR5
- TDP: 175 watts+
The Radeon RX 570 graphics card is the ideal choice for individuals looking for a graphics card that won’t reach the $200 price point. It’s lower powered than its bigger brother, the RX 580, but it manages to beat Nvidia’s e-sport focused GTX 1050 Ti in most videogames. Moreover, the additional RAM available on this card makes it far superior to the GTX 1050 Ti for playing certain titles on 1440p.
That’s not to say the RX 570 is capable of running all games on 1440p smoothly though. It will generally struggle due to its lower number of stream processors, lower memory speeds, and lower core clock speeds. Some videogames should run smoothly at 1440p and 60fps with no problem, but don’t expect that to be the norm across all AAA titles.
Multiplayer videogames like Overwatch, Fortnite, and PUBG will run comfortably at 60fps and above on 1080p resolution, provided you have a good CPU and fast enough RAM to assist it. The 1050 Ti will often struggle to reach such frame-rates on PUGB and Overwatch, so the RX 570 is the GPU of choice of those who play such online games extensively.
The major difference in the RX 570 from the RX 580 is the number of stream processors and texture units. As a result, handling of high-resolution textures is where the RX 570 will struggle despite the abundance of RAM available in the 8GB version. Yes, we say “version” because there is also a 4GB version of this graphics card available at a much lower price, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
Factory overclocking from companies like XFX and MSI will greatly boost the performance of this GPU beyond what you’d get in reference models and benchmarks as well. Furthermore, with a decent power supply, it’s quite easy to push the RX 570 near its wattage limit and get performances that can even much the GTX 1060 3GB in certain games.
The 6GB version of the GTX 1060, however, is still far ahead. You’ll be supplying the RX 570 with a total of 200 watts (75 watts from the PCIe bus and 125 watts from the 8-pin connector), so you can really push it far with the overclocking, provided your PC case gives great cooling and the manufacturer’s cooler is excellent.
Specs and Performance Overview: Gigabyte Radeon RX 5500 XT
- Architecture: 7nm RDNA
- (Boost) Clock Speed: up to 1845 MHz
- Memory Speed: 14000 MHz
- RAM: 8 GB GDDR6
- TDP: 130 W
The Gigabyte Radeon RX 5500 XT is a low-mid tier graphics card that is great for building budget-friendly PCs or upgrading the older ones. The RX 5500 XT is powered by the 7nm Radeon RDNA architecture. It features 8GB of VRAM with a base speed of 1647 MHz up to 1845 MHz.
It comes with dual Windforce 2X alternate spinning fans along with direct touch copper heat pipes for optimal airflow and cooling. The dual fan configuration gives it a length of about 8.9 inches, making it great for small casings.
The RX 5500 XT is no slouch when it comes to performance. With this card, you can expect to play games at 1080p on medium settings at the very least with a consistent frame rate. You can also use multiple displays without any problems. Even at the highest of loads, the card doesn’t make much noise. And thanks to the Active Fan feature, the fans remain off during low-power games and applications to provide an even quieter experience.
The Gigabyte Radeon RX 5500 XT is a card worth considering if you are on a budget. It packs solid performance, and along with its amazing cooling and active fan feature, it is one of the best budget graphic cards.
Unfortunately for gamers building a mid-range PC for 1080p gaming, there aren’t too many choices. Most of the graphics cards available for this budget range are over two years old. Nvidia is still obsessed with cramming the high-end gaming market with new cards, while AMD is desperately trying to give its rival competition in that budget area.
Yet, these graphics card from 2017 are still relevant and perform well on 1080p resolution in most modern games, and should be a consideration for anyone looking to build a good value gaming PC.