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Best cheap graphics cards 2021: the top graphics cards on a budget

Included in this guide:

a graphics card against a pink background
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re in the market for the best budget graphics cards 2021 has to offer, you have quite a few to choose from. Flagship graphics cards might be getting the most notice right now, particularly options such as the Radeon RX 6800 and the RTX 3080 Ti, but you can still get some solid graphical performance without spending $1,000/£1,000.

Thanks to the ongoing back and forth between AMD and Nvidia, even cheaper cards are quickly improving. These fantastic budget GPUs can handle fairly graphics-intensive tasks, whether it’s editing work or playing the latest PC games, as long as you’re not trying to work (or play) in 4K or 8K. If you’re willing to look past the top tier cards, there are some excellent and reasonably priced options available in the Nvidia GeForce and Radeon graphics lineup.

And, if you have a little more cash to put towards that GPU, you can find excellent performing mid-range options, such as the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti.

Best cheap graphics card at a glance

  1. AMD Radeon RX 5700
  2. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super
  3. AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT
  4. Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G
  5. AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT

AMD Radeon RX 5700 against a white background

(Image credit: AMD)

AMD's best cheap graphics card all around

Specifications
Stream Processors: 2,304
Core base clock: 1,465 MHz
Core boost clock: 1, 725 MHz
Memory: 8 GB GDDR6
Memory clock: 14 Gbps
Power connectors: 1 x 8-pin and 1x 6-pin
Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort 1.4 DSC, 1 x HDMI with 4K60 support
Reasons to buy
+Excellent performance+1440p gaming at Ultra/Max setting
Reasons to avoid
-No ray-tracing-Just barely "affordable"

When it comes to "budget" AMD graphics cards, the Radeon RX 5700 is about as good as it gets. Capable of delivering 1440p gaming on Ultra or Max settings, you're going to be hard pressed to find a better mid-range graphics card at this price point.

Some sacrifices had to be made for affordability, however – and it is just barely affordable. The Radeon RX 5700 doesn't come with ray tracing, so the budget minded will have to wait a little while longer before that feature makes it into even the best cheap graphics cards on the market. Maybe next year.

Read the full review: AMD Radeon RX 5700

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super against a white background

(Image credit: Nvidia)

A powerhouse for 1080p gaming

Specifications
Stream Processors: 1408
Core base clock: 1.520 MHz
Core boost clock: 1,785 MHz
Memory: 6 GB GDDR6
Memory clock: 14 Gbps
Power connectors: 1x 6-pin
Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort 1.4a, 1 x HDMI 2.0b, DL-DVI
Reasons to buy
+Excellent 1080p performance+Affordable
Reasons to avoid
-No RT Cores-Limited Ports

Replacing the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super is absolutely one of the best cheap graphics cards on the market right now. It is able to crank out nearly 80 FPS on Middle Earth: Shadow of War on Ultra graphics settings at 1080p and even managing a decent 54 FPS at 1440p. This is incredible considering it comes in at under $250 (£200, AU$400).

Still, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super does have its drawbacks. It still goes with a DVI port in lieu of a second HDMI port (or even a USB-C) and while it does have a DisplayPort, you won't be running several displays with this card. It also lacks ray tracing cores, but that's not surprising given that this is a budget graphics card. Still, you're going to be hard-pressed to find another graphics card that's as good as the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super for the price.

Read our full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super

 

AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT against a white background

(Image credit: AMD)

Raw performance at a budget price

Specifications
Stream Processors: 2,304
Core base clock: 1,355 MHz
Core boost clock: 1,560 MHz
Memory: 6 GB GDDR6
Memory clock: 14 Gbps
Power connectors: 1x 8-pin
Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort 1.4, 1 x HDMI 2.0
Reasons to buy
+Incredible performance+Competitive against more expensive cards
Reasons to avoid
-No ray-tracing-Limited ports

With all the cheap 1080p graphics cards out there, it's especially hard for gamers to find the right card for their systems and budget. In a market flooded with Nvidia offerings, the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT thankfully stands out as one of the best cheap graphics cards in its class, and can even bloody the noses of some of the more expensive mid-range cards in terms of raw performance.

Still, it is an AMD card, so it doesn't have ray tracing, and for a card that costs nearly $300 (about £250, AU$470), it's worth asking whether it's worth paying just a bit more for the Nvidia GeForce 2060 which does have ray-tracing capabilities. If you can get by without the ray-tracing though, the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT is possibly the best cheap graphics card you're going to find.

Read our full review: AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G against a white background

(Image credit: Gigabyte)

High-performance, low price

Specifications
Stream Processors: 1,408
Core base clock: 1,530 MHz
Memory: 6 GB GDDR5
Memory clock: 8 Gbps
Power connectors: 1x 8-pin
Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort 1.4, 1 x HDMI 2.0
Reasons to buy
+Turing architecture+Excellent performance
Reasons to avoid
-Only GDDR5

While Nvidia GeForce graphics cards tend to shine brightest on the high-end, they don't always pack the same performance-to-price value as a solid AMD offering. Fortunately, not every GeForce card is out of reach, and the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G brings the latest Nvidia Turing architecture to the budget-minded consumer.

With excellent 1080p gaming performance and even some solid 1440p gaming with the right settings, the GeForce GTX 1660 OC is one of the best cheap graphics card options for gamers who want a little bit more from their graphics card without paying a lofty premium.

Read our full review:  Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G

AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT against a white background

(Image credit: AMD)

AMD Navi at a budget price point

Specifications
Stream Processors: 1,408
Core base clock: 1,717 MHz
Core boost clock: 1,845 MHz
Memory: 8 GB GDDR6
Memory clock: 14 Gbps
Power connectors: 1x 8-pincompu
Outputs: 1 x DisplayPort 1.4 with DSC, 1 x HDMI with 4K60
Reasons to buy
+Very affordable+Solid 1080p gaming performance
Reasons to avoid
-Struggles with most-demanding 1080p games

If you're looking for solid 1080p gaming without spending a ton, you can't go wrong with the AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT. It definitely doesn't aim beyond its reach and it sticks to turning out quality 1080p performance, edging out the rival GeForce GTX 1660 when factoring in the price. 

Capable of pumping out 60 FPS on most AAA titles, the AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT will struggle with a Metro Exodus on high settings, much less ultra. But for most games, it'll be tough to find a better graphics card at this price point.

Read our full review: AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT

John Loeffler

John (He / Him / His) is TechRadar's Computing Staff Writer and is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.


You can find him online on Twitter at @thisdotjohn


Currently playing: Back 4 Blood, Metroid Dread, EVE Online