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If you're a casual gamer or just getting into gaming, you might feel reluctant to invest a lot of money in an activity you won’t spend much time on. High-end graphics cards can range from $700 to $3000 while mid-range ones can cost you anywhere between $300 and$500. However, if you don't care about playing the latest triple AAA titles, then a good graphics card under 100 should serve you just fine.
Even with the very best graphics card under 100, you're going to have some significant trade-offs. The biggest is that most of the time, you'll be gaming at lower resolutions like 720p and 900p. You may be able to play some older games at 1080p however, and esports titles like CS: GO and League of Legends should work just fine since they don't have amazing graphics, to begin with.
100 dollar graphics cards are also suited for video and photo editing and other creative work that rely on graphics-intensive software. They're a big step above integrated graphics. In this blog post, I'm going to be reviewing what I consider to be the best $100 GPUs from both Nvidia and AMD that you can get.
|MSI Gaming GeForce GT 710 2GB GDRR3 64-bit HDCP Support DirectX 12 OpenGL 4.5 Single Fan Low Profile...||CHECK PRICE|
|MSI AMD Radeon R72402364P 2GB DDR3 VGA/DVI/HDMI Low Profile PCI-Express Video Card||CHECK PRICE|
|Gigabyte GV-N1030OC-2GI Nvidia GeForce GT 1030 OC 2G Graphics Card||CHECK PRICE|
|XFX RX 550 2GB DDR5 DD 1203MHz DP HDMI DVI PCI-Express 3.0 Graphics Card RX-550P2DFG5||CHECK PRICE|
|EVGA GeForce GT 1030 SC 2GB GDDR5 Passive, Low Profile Graphics Card 02G-P4-6332-KR||CHECK PRICE|
|ASUS AMD Radeon R7 250 1GB DDR5 128-Bit DisplayPort HDMI DVI Graphics Card R7250-1GD5-V2||CHECK PRICE|
|Asus GeForce GT 710 2GB GDDR5 HDMI VGA DVI Graphics Card Graphic Cards GT710-SL-2GD5-CSM||CHECK PRICE|
A brief note on how I made this review:
As always, I make it a point to only recommend products I’ve personally tested. So a couple of months ago, I broke out the old’ piggy bank, called a couple of friends and got my hands on a big pile of sub-$100 graphics cards. I then spent a couple of days putting each card through the paces, trying out all sorts of games and photo/video/3D applications. This allowed me to more accurately choose which graphics cards I could confidently recommend to anyone.
|MSI Gaming GeForce GT 710||NVIDIA|
|The MSI AMD Radeon R7240||AMD|
|GIGABYTE GeForce GT 1030 OC||NVIDIA|
|XFX RX 550 2GB DDR5||AMD|
|EVGA GeForce GT 1030 SC||NVIDIA|
|Asus GeForce GT 710||NVIDIA|
Best Budget GPU (NVIDIA)
About the GT 710 Chip
Note: if you don’t know what to make of all these technical terms, take a look at the buying guide towards the end of this post for easy explanations.
The MSI GT 710 is a great option for the low price bracket it retails at. It's got 2GB of DDR3 RAM which means that you're not going to be able to play high-end games at a reasonable frame rate. However, this should support indie titles like 'Life is Beautiful', Steam titles and other less graphics-intensive games just fine. GT 710 is great for all types of creative work as well. I tested it with a few Adobe software including Illustrator, Animate and Dimensions and the performance was smooth.
This graphics card comes with MSI's proprietary Afterburner technology, which allows you to do numerous things. It simplifies overclocking, which is the process of pushing your GPU's clock speed to its upper limit (If you want to know more about clock speed, read my handy buying guide below). This essentially allows your card to render graphics faster, resulting in a smoother gaming experience. Also, Afterburner allows you to monitor and tweak the graphics card's temperature, keep an eye on the frame rate and record in-game footage using an add-on app called 'Predator'.
As an alternative, MSI also offers a GeForce GT 710 graphics under with 1GB V-RAM. It also features a low profile design and supports HDMI output. While it might not be as great for gaming and 3D rendering as the 2GB variant, it's still great for people on very tight budgets and who just plan on running software like Photoshop and Illustrator.
About the AMD Radeon R7 240 Chip
The MSI R7 240 is similar to the GT 710. It's got 2GB of GDDR3 of V-RAM, which means that it is more suited for less graphics-intensive games but can support most photo/video editing software. In addition, the R7 240 is also compatible with the MSI afterburner, which means you can overclock this unit to get better gaming performance.
The biggest difference between the two is that the R7 240 contains an AMD Radeon chipset rather than an Nvidia one. Also, the R7 240 has a much slower clock speed of 600 MHz when compared to Nvidia. However, it does have more shading and texture mapping units than the GT 710, which means that it can generate more realistic graphics.
Best Low Profile Graphics Card / Best Gaming Graphics Card Under 100 (NVIDIA)
About the Nvidia GeForce GT 1030 Chip
While the GT 1030 has a 2GB V-RAM it's a GDDR5, which has more than double the bandwidth as GDDR3. This essentially means that files are loaded and transferred much faster with the former type of RAMs, leading to overall smoother performance.
My favourite feature of this graphics card is the one-click overclocking function that's shipped with the AORUS graphics engine. Using this engine, you can also control the fan performance as well as voltage.
When you take it out of the box, you’ll see that the card is quite tiny, requiring only a PCIe 3.0 x4 socket to fit into a motherboard. Something you’ll notice about this card is that it’s extremely silent. This is probably because it has both a fan and heatsink, which means that the fan doesn't have to work overtime to keep the internal temperature from spiking.
Last but not least, it supports 4K.
Best Gaming Graphics Card Under 100 (AMD)
About the AMD RX 550 Chip
Despite the relatively low price tag, the XFX RX comes packed with a whole host of wonderful features. First of all, its V-RAM is GDDR5, which means it's got impeccable bandwidth for speedy file transfers. It's shipped with AMD's App Accelerator software which allows it to have a little more speed. This is done by directing the CPU to allocate more space and resources for other tasks while menial things like DVD to HD video conversion is going on in the background.
Notably, you also get two other AMD software with it: True Audio and Crimson, which produced 3D audio effects and allows VR gaming, respectively.
Overall, it seems to be one of the best budget GPUs in the market right now for those who prefer AMD over NVIDIA.
This graphics card from EVGA is a slightly more expensive alternative to the GIGABYTE GeForce GT 1030 OC. It comes with NVIDIA's proprietary GPU Boost technology, which helps you accelerate clock speeds to improve frame rates. You don't have to do any work since the speed adjustment is controlled in real-time by the GPU itself.
In addition to that, the EVGA GeForce GT 1030 comes with 2GB DDR5 V-RAM and supports HDMI output. Overall it's a solid graphics card for the price and you can expect to play some mid-tier games with it, especially once it’s overclocked.
It’s larger than the GIGABYTE GeForce GT 1030 OC, requiring a PCIe x16 socket.
Best Budget GPU (AMD)
About the AMD Radeon R7 250 Chip
This graphics card from Asus isn't really a powerhouse, considering that it's only got 1GB of V-RAM. However, it's quite decent, with a few features up its sleeve that makes it a worthy consideration.
It has a DDR5 V-RAM which means it's got lots of bandwidth despite the low storage size. The card is quite small, which means it won't crowd your case and motherboard and the dust-proof fan is a nice touch, limiting the amount of maintenance it needs.
When reading the product specs, you'll notice a mention of 'AUTO EXTREME Technology' which refers to Asus' automated manufacturing process. Without going into detail, this assembly process results in circuit boards that are less prone to dust buildup and oxidation on the connectors. This ultimately leads to greater overclocking stability because the extra pressure won't hurt the stronger internal components.
This GPU also comes with GPU Tweak II software, which allows you to easily tweak certain performance settings. For instance, you can switch between three different performance modes: overclock, gaming and silent. Overclock mode allows you to unlock the card's maximum performance while gaming mode retains default settings, extending gameplay time by several hours. Silent mode pulls on the reins a bit and its perfect for when you want to listen to music or watch videos. In addition, you can customize your own mode, configuring settings like GPU and memory clock speeds, max GPU voltage and even fan speed.
This graphics card from Asus is an alternative to MSI Gaming GeForce GT 710. While they both feature the same GPU, there are a few key differences. For starters, the Asus GT 710 is smaller than the MSI card, requiring only a PCIe x8 slot in the motherboard. It also comes with a GDDR5 V-RAM instead of a GDDR3 which means programs are going to boot up much faster.
Just like the Asus R7250-1GD5-V2, this card is manufactured using the AUTO EXTREME Technology manufacturing process. This means greater oxidation stability since its components are likely to be sturdier and the circuit board generally will be dust-free. Similarly, the Asus GT 710 also comes with the GPU Tweak II software which allows you to switch between different performance modes or construct your own.
This graphics card runs silently unless you overclock it, thanks to the passive cooling system. It comes with a large heatsink, which means that it can dissipate heat quicker. As a result, I could watch movies and play music out loud without any fan noise.
Before you buy a graphics card, it's important that you understand what it can do and whether it fulfills your needs. For instance, if you're just going to be doing photo editing and you're not at all interested in gaming, then you may not have to go for the most expensive card within the $100 range. So understanding the specifications of a GPU can help save you some money.
If you haven't researched graphics cards in the past, you might understandably be confused by some of the technical terms thrown around in this post. So in this section, we're going to look at what some of these common jargons mean and why they’re important.
Simply put, Video RAM or V RAM is the temporary memory found in your graphics card. While regular RAM modules are needed for the general loading and running of programs, V-RAM's job is to help the computer render images. When instructions are given to the computer, asking it to display a graphic on the screen, the particular image is first read by the processor and then written into the V-RAM. Finally, a digital-to-analog converter converts this data into an analog signal and sends it off to the display.
The more complicated the graphics are, the greater the amount of data, which in turn requires more V-RAM. We recommend buying a graphics card with at least 2GB of VRAM for games while you won't need that much for creative work unless you're running sophisticated software like Houdini or Cinema4D.
All GPU's have components called 'cores' whose task is to render graphics. GPU clock speed, measured in MHz and GHz, simply measures how fast these cores can do their job. Another type of clock speed known as 'memory clock speed' indicates how fast the V-RAM can transmit data. The faster the clock speeds are the 'smoother' your experience will be as there will be no lags in rendering times. This is important when you're gaming and can save you a ton of time when you're doing photo and video editing.
Most graphics cards under $100 will have a max GPU clock speed ranging from 600 to 1000 MHz. The very best budget GPUs will have faster speeds.
The connectors present in a graphics card determine how you can connect it to your PC. The most common connectors you'll find in graphic cards are HDMI and Display Ports. If you want flexibility, we recommend that you get a unit that has both ports. The downside is that these graphic cards typically cost more money.
Graphics cards are connected to motherboards via PCIe ports present on the latter. Before you buy a GPU, you need to make sure that it’s compatible with the type and size of the PCIe sockets that your motherboard contains. For instance, some cards require PCIe 3.0 while others need the older 2.0 variant. Depending on the form factor of the graphic card, you might need an x16 socket (larger) or an x8 socket (smaller).
If you've played games on a PC before, you might have dealt with DirectX before. But what is it? To put it simply, DirectX is a software from Microsoft which communicates with your PC's hardware and completes tasks that are related to rendering 2D and 3D graphics, rendering video and playing audio.
Currently, DirectX 12 is the latest version and therefore you may most likely need it to run the latest applications and games.
GPUs have programs called 'shaders' that produce a range of effects on 2D and 3D structures, including altering the lighting, saturation, hue, brightness as well as adding things like blur, distortion, and shadows. Game developers and animators these days, spend a lot of time fine-tuning and making sure that their models have a lot of realism to them. For your PC to accurately render these nuances, your GPU will need to have a specific number of shading units. So, the greater the number of shading units, the more accurate the rendered graphics will be.
Games use textures to generate virtual environments such as fields, roads, walls, beaches, lakes…etc. Graphics cards have these components called 'Texture Mapping Units' or TMUs that apply textures and texture behaviours to each pixel that is rendered on the screen. So not only does it render the look of the textures used but also animates and responds to the user's actions. When you're comparing two graphics cards, take a look at how many TMUs they each contain. The one with more TMUs will be faster at processing textures.
This is a tough question to answer and internet warriors have been arguing about this one for decades. Here's my take on it: instead of focusing on the brand, just look at the specs. AMD is said to be better if you're budget is low-to-mid-tier and NVIDIA is best if you've got more money to shell out.
However, this hasn't been true in my experience. NVIDIA does put out some killer entry-level GPUs and this post is proof of that.
In all honesty, you can’t go wrong with any of the graphics cards that are listed above. Just make sure that they fit your needs. For gamers, I’d highly recommend the GIGABYTE GeForce GT 1030 OC if you’re an NVIDIA user and the XFX RX 550 if you’re going to go with AMD. In my opinion, they’re the best overall picks on the list.
So the next time your elitist gamer friend tells you there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ $100 Graphics Card, just show them this list!