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Best Budget Gaming Graphics Cards for the Money 2016

Updated on September 12, 2016
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I've been testing graphics cards for nearly a decade now. Here are some of my thoughts on the current GPU market.

Right now everyone knows that the GTX 1080 is the king of the high-end GPU market. If you don't have that much to spend, what should you go for?
Right now everyone knows that the GTX 1080 is the king of the high-end GPU market. If you don't have that much to spend, what should you go for?

PC gaming is all about getting the best performance for your dollar in order to see things in a way that's unavailable to console gamers. Since the majority of your computer's performance comes down to your processor and graphics card, it's a good idea to put a majority of your budget towards these two pieces of hardware.

With some PC games being more CPU-intensive or GPU-intensive it's also a good idea to check benchmarks for the specific game you're trying to play so you can make the most of your purchase.

Below, I'll rank graphics cards in order of what I think gives you the best value as of the date this post was updated. For this reason I'll be taking into consideration rebates, brand, and using current benchmarks from popular games like GTAV.

Future Proofing your Gaming PC

I receive a lot of questions from gamers wanting to know exactly what they should spend on their graphics card in order to future-proof their rigs. The truth is you can never future proof your rig entirely. The best thing you can do is understand when you'll need to upgrade and set aside money to get there.

Can you future-proof your graphics card?

Sometimes the best way to future-proof is to simply not go with the highest-end graphics card each time and then upgrade every few years. This has worked well for me going with the GTX 770 years ago and now going with a GTX 1070 for just about the same price. Selling off the old card recouped me some of the cost and allowed me to stay current.

What about the CPU?

My typical strategy for the CPU is to stretch a little right away so that I have a processor that's more than adequate for many years to come. For example, if you purchased the Sandy Bridge i7-3770k a few years ago, you'd probably still be more than happy with what you had. Upgrading to the Skylake i7-6700k from there would net you little in terms of frames even today and especially if you're willing to overclock it.

In other words, I'd be one to recommend you go with a lesser performing graphics card today in favor of a better CPU that won't bottleneck you down the road. Doing so you'll be able to avoid upgrading your motherboard as well.

Best Graphics Cards for The Money (2016 Version)

I really like what I'm seeing from AMD in the $100 to $250 price range right now. The RX 460 is a great option for 1080 gaming and costs under $125 for the 2GB version.
I really like what I'm seeing from AMD in the $100 to $250 price range right now. The RX 460 is a great option for 1080 gaming and costs under $125 for the 2GB version.

Graphics Cards for Gaming Under $100 2016

In late 2016 I've been able to regularly find the R7 370 for under $100. It's a clear winner in terms of price and performance and a solid option for those looking to build a budget gaming PC.

The 750 Ti is another good option if you're sure about staying under $100 while the RX 460 2GB edition and GTX 950 would be the natural upgrades from there. I'd put the RX 460, R7 370, and GTX 950 at a very similar performance level.

These three cards are good for a 1080p budget build. For a build using these cards, check out my $500 to $600 max performance gaming PC.


Late 2016 GPU Benchmarks Source: Guru3D

Graphics Card
Max Detail, 2x MSAA DX11 1080p
Rise of the Tomb Raider 1080p Very High, Pure Hair, HBAO+, DirectX 12
Total War: Warhammer - 1080p, Max Detail, FXAA, 16:1, AF, DX12
RX 460
43
34
35
GTX 950
45
28
25
RX 470
76
61
65
GTX 1060 6GB
90
78
70
RX 480 8GB
84
70
74
GTX 1070
152
109
90
GTX 1080
159
133
97

Top Graphics Cards for Gaming Under $150 to $200

The RX 470 4GB and GTX 1060 3GB represent PC gaming's ability to offer an inexpensive way to max settings in 1080p and even some titles in 1440p.
The RX 470 4GB and GTX 1060 3GB represent PC gaming's ability to offer an inexpensive way to max settings in 1080p and even some titles in 1440p.

I briefly mentioned the GTX 950 and RX 460 above which are both technically under $150. Still, if you actually have $150 to spend, I'd go with something like the RX 470 4GB version or the GTX 1060 3GB. While these go over the $150 budget, they simply make sense in terms of the price to performance ratio.

With a rebate I've found the RX 470 4GB for as little as $179. Considering it'll give you a huge boost vs the RX 460, it's well worth spending a little bit more here.

The GTX 1060 and RX 480 are both good options in the $250 to $300 price range.
The GTX 1060 and RX 480 are both good options in the $250 to $300 price range.

Best Budget Graphics Cards Under $250 to $300 2016

In the $250 to $300 price range you can go with the RX 480 8GB or the GTX 1060 6GB. Both of these offer stellar performance in 1080p on all modern titles. It's amazing how much better performance we're getting at that level this year.

With these cards, you'll even be able to do some titles in 1440p, which seems to be the new goal for the PC gamer. In terms of performance the GTX 1060 6GB version has a clear advantage in DirectX 11 titles. These are your everyday titles you've played in the past. For DirectX 12, I would give the slight edge to the RX 480 8GB although we still need more information.

Keep in mind that if you go with the GTX 1060 6GB that there's no SLI support so upgrading with an additional card in the future is not a possibility. On the other hand, it does have the clear overclocking and energy efficiency lead.

For some it may ultimately come down to whether they use a AMD FreeSync or NVIDIA G-Sync monitor. FreeSync monitors certainly cost less. That being said, I'd still give the overall quality level of the experience to NVIDIA.

Best Gaming GPU Under $500

The GTX 1070 gives you the best bang for your buck in 1440p gaming. It's efficient, powerful, and should last you a long time.
The GTX 1070 gives you the best bang for your buck in 1440p gaming. It's efficient, powerful, and should last you a long time.

For a single card the GTX 1070 is my favorite and certainly in the $375 to $450 range. It defeats the Fury X handily and really gives you a lot of the performance of the GTX 1080 for a few hundred dollars less.

Is SLI or Crossfire Worth it Anymore?

Some might argue that a pair of RX 480s would be better here at this price point. That being said from my experience these is an extremely unreliable thing to do out of the gate. Some games scale very well, others don't Some games the RX 480 doesn't even reach GTX 1070 levels. If that's not enough, it's also an inefficient use of power.

Does it make sense to use a dual configuration down the road as your GPU gets old? Perhaps. Does it the day it comes out? Not anymore.

Best High-End Gaming Graphics Card Solution from Under $1,000 to $2,000

If you're looking to game in 4k or achieve high frames in 1440p, there are a couple really good options right now. The most efficient option would be to go with a single GTX 1080. It offers a lot of performance for the money you spend. The higher-end option would be a single Titan X pascal GPU. This would give you better FPS in all games and even beat out a pair of GTX 1080s in many titles. In games that scale well like The Witcher 3, the pair of 1080s certainly takes the title.

Ultimately, you'll have to decide what means the most to you and your 4k or 1440p setup. I think for most gamers, a single GTX 1080 would be the best option.

Interactive Poll

Has AMD made up ground vs Intel in 2016?

See results

GTAV and Battlefield Benchmarks for Previous Gen GPU

Looking to purchase a used graphics card or get a deal on a previous generation GPU? Here's a look at a few benchmarks to give you an idea of what to look for.

While there are numerous benchmarks we can take a look at I feel those that come from demanding games are more meaningful as fewer will have issues with games like Hearthstone or Minecraft.

AMD and Intel Titles:

That being said I wanted to take from two different sources of benchmarks. Specifically from a title that many feel favors AMD (Battlefield 4) and one which favors NVIDIA (GTAV).

Previous Gen Benchmarks

Graphics Card
GTAV Very High 2xMSAA Softest Shadows (Linus Tech Tips)
Battlefield 4 Ultra (Bit-Tech)
Price Range After Rebate (Low to High Excludes Outliers)
R7 260X
27
27
$89 to $130
GTX 750 Ti
31
30
$117 to $152
R9 270X
41
42
$139 to $184
GTX 960
52
51
$180 to $260
GTX 970
81
78
$296 to $350
R9 290X
66
72
$269 to $380
GTX 980
97
87
$512 to $610
Titan X
115
119
$1089 to $1156

Final Impression

Those are my thoughts on the current state of the graphics card market. Have a differing opinion? I'd love to hear it below. Also be sure to check out my YouTube channel and facebook page for more information.

Current Graphics Card Discussion for PC Gaming

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