Want to know what the best graphics card you can buy for under $100 in 2017 is?
In this post we’re going to show you a few of the current top options for cheap graphics cards that will still actually give you good gaming performance for the price.
The good news is:
AMD and nVidia have recently released a few graphics card options in the budget range that will allow you to play games smoothly in high definition (720p) or even full HD (1080p) while still getting decent frame rates.
The things is though, you can’t expect too much from a sub-$100 video card, so remember to keep your expectations in check.
With a budget of $100 or less, you can still comfortably game at Full HD 1080p resolutions and get reasonable framerates of 30-60 fps.
Just remember though, that on some more demanding games you can’t expect to run with quality settings on high without experiencing some stuttering/lag.
So When Should You Buy a Graphics Card In the Sub $100 Price Range?
For gamers, your graphics card is the most important hardware component in your computer, and you should spend the most money you can on it.
Because of this, it doesn’t always make sense to go cheap when buying a graphics card. Throw as much money at it as you possibly can, if great gameplay really matters to you.
So when would you want to spend less than $100 on a graphics card?
There are just a few situations we can think of:
- For a new entry-level gaming computer (with a total budget of less than $400 or so).
- Upgrading an existing computer (no previous graphics card, or a very low-spec one) to an entry-level gaming computer.
- The casual gamer who doesn’t want to spend too much money on a video card but still needs decent performance.
If this sounds like you, let’s go ahead and dive in to our top-picks for 2017 (in the order that we recommend them) of the best cheap graphics cards for budget gaming builds:
PC Build Advisor’s Recommended Budget Graphics Cards Under $100 for 2017
*Scores as of October 11, 2017 according to Passmark’s Videocard Benchmarks.
**Note: The current cryptocurrency mining boom has resulted in huge disruptions in the video card market and has led to unpredictable price fluctuations, so actual prices may vary.
1) RX 460
The RX 460 is the highest performing card we could find that can (sometimes) be had for near or occasionally under $100.
(Prices tend to fluctuate, so sometimes it can cost a little over $100 – but by checking multiple sources, you may get lucky and find it for a good price).
It benchmarks well and in terms of performance, is a tier down from the GTX 1050 card.
If you’re not sure what all the talk about ‘benchmarks’ is – its a way of measuring the real-life performance of graphics cards.
The other thing that makes the RX 460 a great card is that it’s recent. With a release date of August 2016, it’s less than a year old at the time of writing, and is based on AMD’s latest 4th generation Polaris architecture.
When comparing graphics cards, it’s always a good idea to prioritize newer cards over ones that have a good benchmark score or were recommended in the past.
Well really, you want to look at both factors…
…but here’s the thing:
Newer cards have all the benefits of incorporating all the latest technology and algorithms that have been developed prior to their release.
For the RX 460, this means things like:
- Incredibly smooth gaming at nearly any framerate due to Radeon FreeSync™ technology.
- Support for DirectX® 12 and Vulkan™ games.
- Virtual Super Resolution for giving smoother rendering on larger displays with a near-zero performance impact.
- AMD Eyefinity technology which can support up to 5 monitor displays.
- HD Game Streaming with virtually no performance impact – thanks to the latest Polaris architecture.
- Easily customised overclocking using AMDs WattMan overclocking tool.
Compare this to a card like the R7 240 (a commonly recommended card which costs less than $100 but was released in 2010)…
…and you simply do not get all the benefits and latest improved versions of these features.
You get the benefit of an extra 6 years of AMD’s product and technology development with the newer card (which is why it benchmarks way better too).
So what can you expect from the RX 460?
Even though it’s a budget card, you will be able to comfortably play pretty much any popular game on with this card on medium to high settings at Full HD (1080p).
In terms of other graphics cards, it performs better than the GTX 750 Ti, and worse than the GTX 950, so finds the middle ground between these two.
The RX 460 is known for being an ‘e-sports’ optimized graphics card; which means it really kills it when running less demanding game titles like Overwatch, Counterstrike: GO, League of Legends and Dota 2.
If playing titles like these, expect to see framerates in the order of 90-150fps even on high settings and Full HD (1080p) resolutions with the RX 460 – really awesome stuff.
For more demanding games and AAA titles, you can still expect to be able to play these on Full HD (1080p) with very playable framerates of around 30-60fps; but most likely you’ll have to lower the settings to medium or sometimes a bit lower on some titles.
If you’re willing to lower your gameplay resolution down to HD (72op), then you will definitely be able to get decent gameplay with the RX 460 on pretty much any recent game.
Finally, the RX 460 has been optimized for live streaming with nearly no decrease in framerates – so you can record to twitch or other live stream platforms with no issues.
For an entry-level/budget purchase, we’d recommend going with the 2GB version of the RX 460.
If you have more to spend on a 4GB version, in our opinion you’re better off going for a slightly more expensive card to get that little bit of extra performance (E.g. the RX 560 or GTX 1050).
Check out the video below to see how the 2GB versions of both the RX 460 and the RX 550 (which we’ll look at next) perform in various other games.
The benchmarks in the video below were based on a budget computer build running a Pentium G4560 processor (games tested were – Mass Effect: Andromeda, Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Sniper Elite 4, For Honor, Tom Clancy’s:The Division, Farcry Primal, Hitman 2016, Rise of the Tomb Raider, DOOM, Watch Dog 2, Witcher 3: Wilds Hunt, Grand Theft Auto 5)
2) RX 550
If you can’t get your hands on a RX 460 for under $100, then our next recommended decent budget graphics card is the RX 550.
This card is AMD’s answer to those gamers who have a really tight budget, and will allow you to game at 1080p even with a $300-$400 gaming PC build.
It’s actually a newer release (April 2017) than the previously mentioned RX 460, but we can tell by the model number that it’s the model below the RX 460.
(The first number generally indicates the generation of the card (and can give you an idea of how old it is), while the second number usually indicates the model series (bigger is usually better). Keep in mind this is a very general rule of thumb and may not always be true!)
Since it’s a lower model (_50 versus _60), the RX 550 doesn’t perform as well as the RX 460, but it still benchmarks quite well with a score of 3562 from Passmark Video Benchmark.
Like the RX 460 though, the RX 550 it also uses the latest Polaris architecture, and you get all the benefits of AMDs latest technologies including FreeSync™ technology, support for DirectX® 12 and Vulkan™, Virtual Super Resolution, AMD Eyefinity, AMD LiquidVR™ Technology, Radeon™ Chill and more.
What to expect from the RX 550
Similar to the RX 460, the RX 550 is optimized and marketed towards those who play a lot of e-sports games.
If you’re playing games like Counterstrike:GO, League of Legends, Dota 2 and the like; expect to see framerates of around 100fps with high settings and 1080p gameplay resolution.
For more demanding games, you can still game at 1080p with the graphics settings on medium to high and expect to achieve framerates of around 25-50fps, depending on the game.
(Of course, you can tweak your settings and gaming resolution to get even more frame rates.)You may even be able to bump your graphics settings up to medium or high if you’re willing to game on a lower resolution like 720p.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the RX 550 versus the GT 1030 (which we’ll look at next). As you can see, these cards perform very similarly.
(Games tested were – Assassin’s Creed Unity, Battlefield 1, Watch Dogs 2, The Witcher 3, Project Cars, Far Cry Primal with an Intel i3 6100 OC 4.2GHz processor)
Again, we wouldn’t really recommend going with the pricier 4GB version – instead stick with the 2GB version (if you have the cash spare, put it towards getting the RX 460 instead as it’s a better performing card).
3) GT 1030
The GT 1030 is nVidia’s answer to the RX 550 and performs essentially in the same league as the RX 550.
We’ve recommended it after the RX 550 as it’s retail price is a little over the RX 550, but if you can get it for cheaper then go for it.
One benefit of the GT 1030 over the RX 550 is its comparatively lower power consumption – it’s much lower at 30W compared to the RX 550’s 50W and RX 460’s <75W power consumption specifications.
And despite looking like it has a lower benchmark score (according to Passmark’s Videocard Benchmarks), in user tests it actually seems on par.
As you can see in the video below, the GT 1030 seems to hold its own against the RX 550 and also outperforms the older R7 360, making it a worthy contender for 2017’s best budget video card.
4) R7 360
If you can’t get a hold of any of the above cards, then another one to consider could be the R7 360 graphics card which was released in 2013.
(Provided you can find one cheap enough.)
Although it appears to benchmark lower than the GT 1030 according to the Passmark data, other sources like real-world gameplay benchmarks on youtube show that the GT 1030 does seem to outperform the R7 360.
It’s a clear example of a newer card having an advantage over older technology – we can see that the GT 1030 just seems to perform better in actual gameplay.
Check it out for yourself in the below video:
That being said, the R7 360 is still somewhat of a decent budget graphics card that will allow you to comfortably play games at 1080p, just like the previous cards mentioned.
We hesitate to recommend it fully due to its age, but if you’ve got your heart set on getting a budget graphics card and none of the others are available, it should do the trick.
(Just keep in mind that it won’t age as well as one of the newer cards we presented before would).
A Word Of Advice on Buying Graphics Cards For Less than $100
If you are looking to buy a graphics card in the <$100 range, there’s one more thing we need to share with you.
If you are at all able to stretch your budget over $100, its something we’d usually recommend.
At this price range, usually for an extra $10-20 dollars you can get a massive percentage increase in graphics performance.
(As an example of this, we mean that a card priced at $130 perform say 40% better than a card priced at $100)
The reason why there haven’t been too many options in the <$100 market for graphics cards previously is because the value wasn’t there.
The latest releases by AMD and nVidia of budget graphics cards have helped to fill that gap a little, but in our opinion you’re still better off saving that little bit extra to buy in the $100-$150 range if possible to get a lot more performance per dollar spent.
5/6) RX 560 and/or GTX 1050
If you can stretch your budget just that little bit more than $100, we’d recommend looking at the RX 560 or the GTX 1050.
While these cards are still considered lower-end cards, the truth is that you get a substantial amount more bang for your buck, so it can definitely be worth taking a little longer to save that extra cash and opting for the more expensive card.
The GTX 1050 is a card we’ve been recommending in our $500 gaming build as a minimum, and it will allow you to play on 1080p all day, every day without the need to drop your gameplay settings down too much.
Again, it’s worth saving some extra money if you can to get a GTX 1050 as cards above the $100 price range tend to offer a noticeable amount of performance boost over the super budget cards that we’ve looked at in this post.
Cards to Avoid
Among the list of budget graphics cards, there were a few that always came up previously:
R7 240 (released in 2010)
R7 250 (released in 2010)
GT 720/730 (released in 2014)
We see these graphics cards all the time in entry-level prebuilt gaming PCs, and it’s a real shame (especially in this day and age).
Do not buy these cards – they’re terrible for budget cards! Instead, go for one of the newer options we’ve listed above.
Honestly, some of them (e.g. the R7 240) benchmark worse than the integrated graphics that you get on recent Intel processors.
While they may have been okay at the time they were released, there’s not really any place for them nowadays.
Finally, we recommend that you stick to some rules when buying budget graphics cards:
(to make sure you don’t end up with some underperforming piece of junk)
The rules are:
- Try to buy as new a card as you can
- Check how the card benchmarks before you buy
- Sometimes it might be worth waiting and saving a few extra dollars to get an overall better card
Note: Sometimes you may need to weigh up all of these factors. There’s often a compromise between price, performance (i.e. benchmark scores) and the age of the card.