How to Shop for a Budget Graphics Card

Despite being the most important piece of hardware in a gaming rig, graphics cards don't need to be expensive purchases to be effective.

Picking up a budget graphics card is a PC builder's bread and butter for tying an affordable gaming computer together without breaking the bank. Across all of a reliable PC's components, from the CPU, PSU, RAM, and motherboard, the piece of equipment that's going to have the greatest effect on cost and performance is going to be the graphics card. When ciphering the information a game throws at a gaming PC, the CPU and RAM work hard to organize the game as instructed. This has the effect of loading assets quickly and processing player and AI inputs. For games like Civilization 6, for example, this is hugely important. However, the picture that's displayed in front of a gamer, along with its relevant frame rates and acceptable levels of detail, are almost exclusively handled by the graphics card. For every game in existence, this is the process that most gamers are going to care about. After all, what's the point of loading into a match quickly if the match itself is displayed at 20 FPS on low detail?

Buying a graphics card is a confusing process for an untrained builder for a couple huge reasons. Firstly, graphics cards are returning to a normal state of supply and demand after the global pandemic (along with some other blockchain-related happenings) upset the market normalcy, but prices still aren't always where they should be. This means that those who haven't been following GPU prices might not be sure if the deal they are getting is actually a good one. Second, a huge swath of new graphics cards are set to release this year, including Nvidia's RTX 50 series cards, AMD's 7000 series cards, and Intel's first ever gaming graphics card in the form of the ARC series. This means that the best graphics card of today are soon due to have price drops as they're replaced with a new generation of cards. Despite this obscurity, the current state of the market is ripe for those who know how to shop for a graphics card and want a good deal.

These good deals are fairly easy to find, even for beginners. The key is to understand what a desired graphics card is going to be used for and to shop according to performance needs instead of just pricing. For instance, many PC builders are pointed towards Nvidia's RTX 3050 card as a good starting point for making a budget build. The 3050 is marketed as a budget card and features Nvidia's Ampere architecture. Because of the novelty of the 30 series cards, their RTX functionality, and the stubborn market they were born in, they're currently valued higher than they necessarily should be. This is true even during the current market's slow price falls. For instance, the RTX 3050 retails for $250, with certain vendors listing it for much more. The GTX 1660 Super retails for $240 and often goes on sale. That's a MSRP price difference of roughly $10 that can expand to $50 or greater depending on current sales, despite the two cards being virtually identical in performance.

Budget Graphics Card For 4K Gaming

The 1660 Super is a great card for gamers who want to build a PC that's strong in the medium to high settings range for 1080p gaming. For gamers who are looking for a budget card that can give them access to reasonable performance at 4K resolution, its worth taking a look at AMD's RX 5700xt. Understandably, gaming at 4K resolutions will require more power that 1080p. Because of this, the 5700xt, which is a reliable option for 4K gaming at 60 FPS, is going to cost around $450, depending on sales.

The reality behind the best budget GPUs today has everything to do with their price to performance ratio, the ability for modern game devs to effectively optimize their games, and the GPU's position on the market relative to the closest competition. In short, this means that what is best for a budget gamer today might quickly become an ineffective choice soon in the future, which is why understanding the basics of what a gamer needs out of their budget graphics card is key to never being overcharged.

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