A lot of people associate PC gaming with spending a lot of money. A lot of minds automatically go to the image of a self-built computer with costly parts that make a run like a tank, perfect for hardcore gaming of any type. While those costly setups are definitely the case for a lot of people, it’s still completely possible to have quality PC gaming equipment without breaking the bank. Even graphics cards—which are often thought to be the most expensive part of any good gaming computer—can be found for under $100, just as long as you know where and how to look.
What is a Graphics Card?
With all the misconceptions that people have about how much PC gaming equipment costs, it mostly comes down to simply not knowing enough about the equipment itself—especially when it comes to graphics cards. Graphics cards are probably the most misunderstood or least understood parts of a PC gaming setup. What are they? Does every computer already have one? Do you need one if your gaming on your computer? Before you start running around looking for something to buy, take the time to understand what you’re looking for first.
When you think of a graphics card, the idea that comes to mind probably isn’t too far off from what it really is. The first thing you probably think of is that it allows your PC to process the graphics of a game. To put it simply, that’s essentially what it is, but there’s a little more to it than that. A graphics card helps your computer to display graphics with better quality. Basically, it takes a load of work off your processor or RAM and moves graphical duties to a dedicated GPU (Graphical Processing Unit).
Now, every computer doesn’t just come with a graphics card, but they do come with a general GPU. When you talking about graphics cards for PC gaming, what you’re actually talking about is upgrading your current GPU to a dedicated GPU—otherwise known as the graphics card. With that said, some computers do have something like a graphics card built into the motherboard. These are integrated GPUs, and they, more often than not, won’t be quite good enough for most modern games to be played on your PC.
A dedicated GPU, however, which is what most people mean when they talk about getting a new graphics card, lets your computer perform more efficiently, process more powerful graphics, and gain access to a couple more ports than it might have had already. To connect a dedicated graphics card, though, you’ll need to have an open PCI-Express x16 slot on your motherboard and a Power Supply Unit good enough to support the new GPU (or the right power connectors necessary to connect a separate power supply). You’ll also need to consider how much heat a dedicated GPU will produce. You’ll need to make sure you have enough cooling airflow going through your tower to make up for the extra heat.
With all the hassle that goes into upgrading your PC with a new graphics card, you may be wondering why people even do it. Well, without a good enough graphics card, your favorite game may not play as well as you want it to. In fact, it may not even play at all. If your current GPU can’t handle the graphical data being put out by a game, it’s likely that it won’t even load. So a dedicated graphics card may be absolutely necessary for some people. If you like playing older games, an integrated GPU may be just fine, but modern games with 3D and 4K graphics will need something a little better.
What to Look for in a Good Graphics Card
The first thing you’re going to notice and consider when buying a new graphics card will be the price, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the most important. For the most part, the price is a pretty good deciding factor regarding what kind of quality you’re going to get out of your graphics card. It’s important to know your budget and to know what you need before you start looking.
If you want something that will let you play the best AAA titles coming out today, you’re likely going to be spending a couple hundred dollars on it. With that said, you don’t necessarily have to spend more than that to get better quality. A lot of the higher end graphics cards that cost a thousand dollars or more end up being just about the same as the ones that only cost around $500 or less. Of course, if you’re looking to spend less than $100, the quality will match that.
You also need to make sure that the quality of the graphics card you buy matches the quality of your current computer. You don’t want to buy a graphics card that’s too good for your machine. Certain processors won’t be able to higher-end graphics cards, just like some lower-end graphics cards wouldn’t be fast enough for better processors.
One thing you’ll see a lot that is actually pretty important—when it comes to the specifications, at least—is something called VRAM. This is just like the normal RAM you’re used to seeing on computers, but it’s specifically dedicated to your graphics card and displaying graphical data. Depending on what kind of graphics card you’re looking at, you’ll see VRAM amounts that range anywhere from 1GB to 16GB.
If you want to play your games in 1080p settings, you’ll need at least 3GB of VRAM available on your graphics card. Playing modern AAA titles with max settings, on the other hand, will require 6GB of VRAM or more. Budget graphics cards tend to only have 1GB or 2GB of VRAM available, which will only be good for lower settings and casual gaming with older games, indie titles, or modern eSports-type titles. This is where knowing what you want out of your graphics card is important.
The necessary power supply is also an important factor to consider. Budget graphics cards likely won’t need much extra power than what your computer can already provide, but higher-end cards will need a little more than that to function. Regardless of what kind of graphics card you’re getting, though, you need to make sure that your current setup has enough power, as well as the right power ports to connect. Budget graphics cards and power supplies usually come with a 6-pin power connector, but keep your eye out for graphics cards that have two 8-pin power ports, as you’ll need to have those same ports to connect and run your graphics card properly.
On the note of ports, your I/O (Input/Output) ports are also something to consider. A lot of budget graphics cards lack a VGA port, so you wouldn’t be able to use them if that’s all your computer had. Compare the I/O ports on your computer and potential graphics card choices to make sure that you’ll be able to actually connect the card once you have it in your hands.
The Best Graphics Card for Gamers on a Budget
If you’ve done any research into buying a new graphics card already, you may have noticed that a lot of them are quite expensive. A couple hundred dollars seems to be the average norm, but some can go as high as a thousand dollars or more. With so many graphics cards out there for those prices, it may seem impossible to find one for less than $100. While you certainly won’t be getting the quality that a couple hundred dollars can get you in a graphics card, it is still entirely possible to find one that fits within your budget.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you definitely do “get what you pay for” when it comes to lower-end graphics cards. The differences between graphics cards for a couple hundred and graphics cards for over a thousand dollars may be arguable, but getting a graphics card for under $100 will definitely leave some quality out. With that said, low-end budget graphics cards will still be plenty good enough for people who love eSports-type games like Counter-Strike, Defense of the Ancients, or Overwatch.
- Powered by GeForce GT 1030
- Integrated with 2GB GDDR5 64bit memory
- Supports HDMI 4K@60Hz
- Smooth 4K video playback and HTML5 web browsing
- One-click overclocking via AORUS Graphics Engine
- Form Factor: ATX
Overall rating: 4.4 out of 5
Nvidia’s GeForce GT 1030 graphics card is a popular low-profile card that brings older graphics cards to modern standards. Its performance could be compared to the GTX 750 Ti, which was a previously very popular budget graphics card on the market. This card uses an improved graphics processor, GP108, for better performance and a higher pixel rate. Gigabyte keeps things simple with this card, which keeps it at its low price, but ups the antes with some extra quality, as well.
Gigabyte’s GeForce GT 1030 offers 2GB of VRAM and can handle casual gaming at 1080p with medium graphics settings. Of course, you’ll only average around 40 frames per second, but that’s still plenty doable, especially for gamers who are on a budget. With that said, it’s still better for use with games like Counter-Strike, Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends, etc.
With these games, the GeForce GT 1030 is a bit faster than its competitors and offers higher efficiency when it comes to power usage.
The GeForce GT 1030 graphics card is designed to be accessible to anybody. It’s priced fairly, doesn’t use up a lot of power, and performs well in its category. Gigabyte even takes things a step further in their design to make things more efficient at lower temperatures. In the end, if you have a PCI-Express slot open, you’ll be able to make use of this card.
- Powered by NVIDIA GeForce gt 730 GPU
- Integrated with 2GB GDDR5 64bit Memory interface
- Core Clock： 902Mhz
- Features Dual-link DVI-I/ HDMI
- Support PCI Express 2.0 x8 bus interface
- Form Factor: ATX
Overall rating: 4.1 out of 5
The Gigabyte GeForce GT 730 is easily a great graphics card for its price, with Nvidia’s GeForce GT 730 frequently coming in as the number one budget graphics card in several different review lists. For just about $70 on Amazon, this graphics card basically has no competition. It’s a great upgrade to allow your PC to play casual games with ease.
It offers 2GB of VRAM (RAM for display cards), which gives an added advantage over older cards that only offer 1GB. The extra gigabyte here will let you increase your graphics settings just a bit. Overall, you may not be able to play at 1080p, but 720p should function well with this card.
As a low-profile GPU, you won’t need any additional power cable or supplies to run it. All you need to do is hook it up to the PCI-Express x16 slot on your motherboard, and it should be powered efficiently. With that said, your computer will need to have either an HDMI or DVI port to connect to since Gigabyte’s GeForce GT 730 is missing a VGA port.
Overall, this graphics card is essentially as good as a budget graphics card for under $100 is going to get. Casual gamers or eSports players will be just fine with the GeForce GT 730, and you get a little extra oomph out of it with the additional gigabyte of VRAM.
Of course, just like with any other piece of PC gaming equipment, there are still plenty of options out there to consider, even if you’re on a tight budget. Graphics cards may be better when they’re in the couple hundred dollar range, but budget graphics cards can still perform. In fact, there are even plenty of graphics cards for under $50 that can get the job done. The important thing is that you check out all of your options because you never know what you’ll find with a bit of research.
- Chipset: NVIDIA GeForce GT 710
- Video Memory: 1GB GDDR5
- Output: HDMI/DL-DVI-D/D-Sub
- Memory Interface: 32-bit; Bus: PCI-Express x16
- 300W system power supply requirement. Please refer the User Guide before use
Overall rating: 4.3 out of 5
For around $20 on Amazon, it’s pretty clear that this graphics card is basically the lowest of the bunch. That doesn’t mean that the GT 710 can’t perform, though. For what was available, MSI delivered a powerful graphics card that could do great for indie games or casual eSports titles. Overall, the MSI Nvidia GeForce GT 710 is for gamers on a budget who are just looking for something to get them by. You won’t get a whole lot out of it, but it’s definitely something.
The best parts about MSI’s GeForce GT 710 is that, because it’s so simple, it barely uses up any power and produces very little heat. In fact, you could run it without a fan and it would still be fine. Because of that, it’s not very noisy, which is definitely a plus. It may not be the best gaming graphics card out of the bunch, but it’s definitely a good place to start.
- Full Product Specifications: Click to view
- API Supported: DirectX 11.0
- Chipset Manufacturer: AMD
- Chipset Line: Radeon
- Chipset Series: R5 200
Overall rating: 5.0 out of 5
AMD’s R5 230 is a generally decent budget graphics card, designed primarily for video playback. When it comes to gaming, like with other low-end graphics cards you won’t be able to play any new AAA titles, but casual gaming, indie titles, and older games will do just fine. Of course, that’s exactly what the market has come to expect from these budget graphics cards, so it’s nothing out of the norm.
With the Radeon R5 230, you get 2GB of DDR3 VRAM and the ability to support screens with 4K resolution and up to three monitors connected at once. You also get a DVI, HDMI, and VGA port, which is surprising since a lot of budget graphics cards on the market are missing the VGA port. On that note, one advantage this card offers is an inexpensive way to add an HDMI or DVI output to an older computer. Otherwise, XFX’s AMD Radeon R5 230 is a budget graphics card that takes a step to improve the quality further. With an average of a five-star customer rating on Amazon, it’s pretty clear that this has been tested and approved by the community.
Clearly, there are several options to consider when it comes to budget graphics cards. They may all boil down to around the same quality, but some take a step higher than others. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have, but don’t feel too discouraged. As prices continue to fluctuate, you’ll be able to find some better graphics cards for under $100, as well. All it takes is a little patience and research to know when the time is right. You might also consider waiting for sales like Black Friday or Cyber Monday to order a better graphics card for a deal.
No matter what, though, there are definitely options out there. Regardless of your budget, you can still build a pretty decent PC gaming setup across the board. You just have to know what you’re looking for and where to find it. Before you go out and start looking for graphics cards, try making a list of all the things you’d like out of one. Compare this list to the specifications of each graphics card you look at. While you may need to make some compromises based on your budget, make sure that your new graphics card will actually be able to do what you need it to.