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6 Best Budget GPUs in 2021 (Buying Guide)

Even in the midst of a certain virus, we’re certain some of you will be looking for a respectably cheap way to upgrade your PC and improve your experience while you’re stuck indoors. We’ve narrowed down our selections to things that we’re certain have high availability in the midst of the crisis we’re in, but even once it’s over, these should all be great picks for the money!

In addition to a detailed breakdown of each GPU listed below and how you can expect it to perform, we’ll also be providing a detailed buying guide at the bottom of the article, just in case you need help deciphering the specs and jargon before making a pick.

With that out of the way, let’s dive in; in this article, we’re going to walk you through our top picks for best budget GPUs.

Best Budget GPU: Our Top 6 Picks

Based on our extensive testing we found these to be the top budget GPUs on the market.

#1. MSI Nvidia GT 710

Architecture: Nvidia Kepler | Clock Speed: 954 MHz | VRAM: 2GB GDDR3 | Width: 1-Slot | Length: 149 mm | Ports: 1 VGA, 1 DVI-D, 1 HDMI | Recommended PSU Wattage: 300W

  • Super cheap
  • Capable of multi-monitor support
  • Fine for GPU-accelerated video and hardware acceleration
  • Poor performance-per-dollar
  • NOT for gaming

MSI Gaming GeForce GT 710

The Nvidia GT 710 pretty much just exists for those who need a graphics card, and nothing beyond that. This is not a gaming card in any capacity, but if you need a proper graphics card in your system for GPU-accelerated video or multiple monitors, then this is as cheap as that gets.

If this doesn’t describe you, don’t get this card! Seriously, it’s not for gaming!

Verdict: Best Cheap GPU

#2. XFX AMD RX 570 4GB

Architecture: AMD Polaris | Clock Speed: Up to 1284 MHz | VRAM: 4GB GDDR5 | Width: 2-Slot | Length: 244 mm | Ports: 3 DP, 1 HDMI, 1 DVI-D | Recommended PSU Wattage: 500W

  • Superb performance-per-dollar
  • Super cheap
  • Ideal for modern gaming at 1080p
  • Low VRAM makes it unsuitable for higher resolutions and high texture settings
  • High PSU requirement for performance

XFX RX 570 4GB GDDR5 RS XXX Edition

If you want the cheapest GPU you can get that plays games without getting screwed on the price, then the RX 570 4GB is an excellent pick. At the time of writing, it’s being sold for under $140, but still offers superb performance at 1080p in most modern AAA games. As long as you have the chassis and PSU to support it, this is an excellent value pick.

If you’re wondering why we’re skipping over picks like the RX 560, which is available for cheaper, this is why. The RX 570 is the cheapest GPU that we’re willing to recommend for people who actually want to play games at acceptable settings and framerates.

Verdict: Best Cheap Gaming GPU

#3. XFX AMD RX 590 8GB

Architecture: AMD Polaris | Clock Speed: Up to 1565 MHz | VRAM: 8GB GDDR5 | Width: 2-Slot | Length: 270 mm | Ports: 3 DP, 1 HDMI, 1 DVI-D | Recommended PSU Wattage: 500W

  • The best performance-per-dollar under $200
  • Reasonably cheap
  • Ideal for modern gaming at 1080p and even 1440p, with lower settings, thanks to high VRAM
  • Performance-per-dollar is better in the sub-$300 range
  • High PSU requirement for performance

AMD Radeon Rx 590 - XFX Radeon Rx 590 Fatboy Core Edition 8GB OC

Our pick for the best GPU under $200 is the RX 590, which itself is a tweaked RX 580, which itself is a tweaked RX 480. GPU evolution is fun.

In the case of the RX 590, though, you do get a fair increase in performance over both of its previous iterations, even if it’s using the same Polaris architecture. Its 8GB of VRAM makes it capable of playing games in VR or at higher resolutions and using higher-res textures. For 1440p gaming, though, expect to turn down many settings to low or medium in order to achieve a steady 60 FPS.

While the raw performance-per-dollar of this card is beaten by our next bump up, we understand that many users will be limited to $200 as a hard limit for the amount of money they’re willing to spend on a graphics card. If that sounds like you, then an RX 590 is your best bet.

Verdict: Best GPU Under $200

#4. Gigabyte Nvidia GTX 1660 Super

Architecture: Nvidia Turing | Clock Speed: Up to 1830 MHz | VRAM: 6GB GDDR6 | Width: 2-Slot | Length: 226 mm | Ports: 3 DP, 1 HDMI | Recommended PSU Wattage: 450W

  • Strong performance-per-dollar
  • More than powerful enough for 1080p and VR games, as well as 1440p with settings adjustments
  • The best value in its price range
  • High PSU requirement for performance

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 Super OC 6G Graphics Card

The GTX 1660 Super is a refresh of the GTX 1660, offering a bump in VRAM speeds and other small tweaks that boost it up into spitting range of the 1660 Ti. GPU manufacturers really like competing with themselves, especially in competitive price ranges like this.

For now, though, if your budget is something like “best GPU under $250” or “not too far past $200″, this is definitely your best option. It’s also the point at which 1080p performance pretty much caps out, at least until you start turning on real-time ray-tracing, which this card cannot do. VR and 1440p should also be very doable with this card, but expect to make many settings adjustments to medium or low, especially with newer AAA games.

Want other GTX 1660 Super options, or the current option not available? See if this 243 mm 1660 Super is available, or check out this article!

Verdict: Best Budget 1080p GPU

#5. Sapphire AMD Radeon Pulse RX 5600 XT

Architecture: AMD Navi | Clock Speed: Up to 1750 MHz | VRAM: 6GB GDDR6 | Width: 2-Slot | Length: 254 mm | Ports: 3 DP, 1 HDMI | Recommended PSU Wattage: 500W

  • Strong enough for 1440p gaming at high settings, blasts through 1080p and 1440p
  • The best in raw performance on this list
  • High price- that’s what happens when you combine “budget” and “1440p”
  • High PSU requirement, but good for performance

Sapphire 11296-01-20G Radeon Pulse RX 5600 XT

The RX 5600 XT is our pick for best budget 1440p GPU. It retails for under $300 most of the time, and provides a level of performance that simply can’t be beat. Its performance-per-dollar is also much better than that of competing cards- expect to spend over $100 more to get even marginal performance improvements over this GPU’s performance.

If you want a card suitable for playing modern games at 1440p, high settings, and 60+ FPS without the need for excessive tweaking at the lowest price possible, then the RX 5600 XT is the card for you. It doesn’t have real-time ray-tracing, but otherwise, it handily beats every other card on this list in terms of raw performance.

Verdict: Best Budget 1440p GPU / Best GPU Under $300

#6. EVGA Nvidia RTX 2060 KO Edition

Architecture: Nvidia Turing | Clock Speed: Up to 1680 MHz | VRAM: 6GB GDDR6 | Width: 2-Slot | Length: 202 mm | Ports: 1 DP, 1 HDMI, 1 DVI-D | Recommended PSU Wattage: 500W

  • Great 1440p gaming performance at high settings, blasts through lower resolutions and VR
  • Real-time ray-tracing support!
  • Superb performance in productivity tasks, since this specific 2060 is actually a repurposed 2080
  • In raw gaming performance, beaten by RX 5600 XT for cheaper
  • High price- that’s what happens when you combine “budget” and “ray-tracing” or “workstation”
  • High PSU requirement, but good for performance

EVGA 06G-P4-2066-KR GeForce RTX 2060 KO Gaming

The RTX 2060 KO is a peculiar card.

Mind, we are explicitly recommending the EVGA-branded 2060 KO card here, not the previous-gen RTX 2060 or RTX 2060 Super from any other manufacturer.

IF you’re curious as to the reason why, that’s because the RTX 2060 KO is…special. In addition to offering all the same gaming performance one would expect from an RTX 2060 for its price, we also have the benefit of massively improved workstation performance over the stock RTX 2060, to such a dramatic extent that it’s comparable to an RTX 2080. (In workstation performance- gamers, this is still pretty much just a 2060!)

In addition to making this the cheapest ray-tracing GPU you can get at the time of writing, that also makes this the best budget option for workstation GPU users, who are used to spending way more money for this level of performance.

We recommend this card for gamers who want ray-tracing as cheap as possible, professionals who want great workstation performance at a low price, or even the niche out there that may want to do both workstation and gaming work on the same PC. Don’t let us stop you!

Verdict: Best Budget Ray-Tracing GPU / Best Budget Workstation GPU

Buying The Best Budget GPU For You and FAQ

In this section, we’re going to give you all the information that you need to know in order to grab the best budget graphics card for your needs.

How will each of these cards perform?

Generally speaking, each of our picks climbs in performance the further down you go on the list, culminating in #5 and #6, which have roughly the same level of gaming performance but branch off in some key ways.

To learn how an individual card on this list performs, just check its respective entry and we’ll tell you all the info that you need to know.

Nvidia or AMD?

Nvidia and AMD both put out some very good graphics cards, but this range is dominated by AMD in terms of performance-per-dollar. That’s because AMD puts a stronger focus on raw gaming performance, whereas Nvidia likes to add extra features to their GPUs, including superior video encoders and ray-tracing capabilities.

Sans #1, we’ve made each of our choices with gaming performance for the money in mind. Sometimes that goes to Nvidia, but often AMD takes the crown here due to previous-gen AMD GPUs having dropped in price but still being widely available in this price range.

What makes higher refresh rates and framerates better?

First, a quick disclaimer: refresh rate and framerate (FPS) are incredibly similar, but technically different things. They both refer to the number of images that can be displayed per second, but refresh rate refers to that on a hardware level via the monitor, whereas framerate determines that on a software level by the application itself. Even if a game can support 300+ FPS, you won’t be able to see all of those extra frames if you’re playing on a 60 Hz refresh rate monitor. A 144 Hz monitor will allow you to see up to 144 FPS, though, and a 240 Hz monitor will allow you to see up to 240 FPS, and so on.

For competitive gamers, high FPS is really important: much moreso than high graphics settings. That’s because higher framerate increases the perceived smoothness and fluidity of a given image, and technically allows you to see and react to things sooner. (Extreme example, but imagine only seeing a single image per second, and compare that to seeing a million images per second. Even if you don’t have nearly enough brain processing power to distinguish them all, you’ll notice changes much more quickly than you would otherwise. Less extreme example…just try a 20 FPS cap on your 60 Hz monitor, if you want an idea of how an FPS disadvantage can hurt you competitively.)

If you’re willing to turn things down, even the lower-end cards on this list should be capable of pushing 120+ FPS in modern games, but especially eSports and lightweight multiplayer titles. (Fortnite, CS:GO, Overwatch, Dota 2, League of Legends, Valorant…pretty much anything you can think of that you’d want to be competitive in.)

Want help optimizing your games for higher framerates? Check out our starting guide on FPS optimization

For a detailed study on this topic, watch the video embedded below:

What games are considered “modern” or “light”?

Take “modern” to mean AAA games with matching production values, and “light” to refer to past-gen games or lightweight modern games. We’ll list popular examples of both below:

“Modern” Game Examples:

  • The Witcher 3
  • Crysis 3
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Devil May Cry 5
  • Resident Evil 2/3 Remake
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Metro Exodus

“Light” Game Examples:

  • CS:GO, Dota 2, Team Fortress 2, and other Source-based games
  • League of Legends, Dota 2, and other MOBAs
  • Fortnite, Apex Legends, and most other battle royale shooters
  • Rocket League and other miscellaneous eSports titles

Most big multiplayer games on the market are “light” by necessity, at least for GPU performance, since they’re made to be played on as many platforms as possible, regardless of hardware power. Fortnite can even be played on a phone!

To push 120+ FPS in these games, though, you’ll need a great gaming CPU.

Do I need real-time ray-tracing?

In so much as you “need” anything related to video games, no.

But even if we’re talking in terms of visual impact…it depends.

For the only ray-tracing-capable GPU in this price range, you will need to make a lot of smart settings adjustments to maintain good framerates with these features enabled. Don’t expect to play past 1080p, and don’t be surprised if you have to lower other settings to maintain 60 FPS.

What you get in return is much more realistic handling of lighting and reflections, though. For some fully ray-traced games, like Quake 2 RTX, the difference is staggering.

GPU length, width, and compatibility

GPU length and width are the specs most relevant to compatibility, because they determine whether or not a card will physically fit inside of your system.

If you have a standard Mini ITX, Micro ATX, or ATX case, you shouldn’t need to worry about GPU width. Not only are you guaranteed to have 2 or more slots for your card, but those slots will also be of the proper width.

If you’re using a slim desktop PC or prebuilt from a company like Dell, you may not be able to fit a full-sized GPU in your build at all, and will instead need a low profile GPU. Unfortunately, your options there are super limited. If you want a gaming-grade Low-Profile GPU, your best bet is going to be this MSI GTX 1650, but be warned: it comes at a high price premium for performance compared to full-width GPUs.

Even if you’re using a standard Mini ITX, Micro ATX, or ATX case, however, you will need to keep an eye on GPU length. GPU length measures the longest side of the card in millimeters, and you should be able to find the maximum spec your chassis supports on your manufacturer’s site. If you can’t find those specs, you may need to measure manually- just try not to buy a GPU unless you’re sure it’ll fit!

Our case articles for Mini ITX, Micro ATX, and ATX cases all have specifications for max GPU length listed. If you’re trying to put together a new PC build and want a quick guarantee that your new case and GPU will fit together, feel free to consult one of those articles.

GPU video ports and what they’re good for

You’re going to see a lot of different GPU video ports in this price range, and beyond it. We’re going to break them down for you now.

  • VGA – Old, analog standard. Max resolution and refresh rate varies greatly, but don’t expect to go beyond 1280 x 1024 at 60 Hz. No audio.
  • DVI-D – One of the first digital video standards. Can go up to 2560 x 1600 at 60 Hz, which is roughly equivalent to 1440p. At 1080p, can push 144 Hz, but not at higher resolutions. No audio.
  • HDMI – A TV-centric standard. May have issues working with arbitrary resolutions between 1080p and 4K. Newer HDMI standards can do high-refresh at 4K. Has audio. Recommended for use with a TV.
  • DisplayPort – A monitor-centric standard. Excellent with all kinds of arbitrary resolutions, but can also support super-high resolutions and refresh rates just fine. Has audio. Recommended for use with a PC monitor.
  • USB-C – Used for VirtualLink connections with cutting-edge VR headsets.

Parting Words

And that’s it!

We worked very hard on this article, because we wanted to make sure that you knew absolutely everything that you needed to know before making any kind of purchase. Even if you didn’t buy anything today, we hope that everything you’ve learned here sticks, and that it helps you in the future.

Leave a comment below and let us know if you need any assistance. Otherwise, consider sharing this article if it helped you!

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