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GPUs can be an incredibly expensive investment, but the best PC video cards for under $250 should still reliably deliver solid performance in modern games. You may not hit 4K 60 in the most graphically intense triple-A titles, but FHD should definitely be in reach for even the most demanding games. There are plenty of cards still on the market from the last generation, especially in Nvidia's product stack, that you can find at huge discounts but that will still deliver the performance you need to stay competitive.
So what should you prioritize when you're looking at budget GPUs? As with the best PC video cards higher up the stack, you first you need to consider what type of games you'll be playing; if you're primarily going to be playing lightweight titles like Minecraft or League of Legends, you can save yourself even more money and buy one of the least expensive options on our list. Your monitor also plays a role, so if you're still rocking an older model that can only deliver lower resolutions and frame rates (without extras like HDR support), you won't need a monster graphics card outputting to it.
Great performance for the price
Struggles at 1440p
EVGA’s GeForce GTX 1060 gaming card has new and innovative technology that makes it the best you're able to get the sub $250 price point. Utilizing NVIDIA’s Pascal GPU architecture, the GTX 1060 offers excellent performance for the price (and even enough power to run virtual reality software and beyond). The 1060 consumes very little power; the likely gaming load is just 120-135W. Thanks to additional energy efficient designs, the card only requires a 400-watt power supply and a single six-pin power connector, which leads to less heat production overall.
At just under seven inches long, the 1060 can more than handle games at Full HD scaling of 1920 x 1080 with details close to or at maximum settings for a frame rate of 60fps. It’s likely that you’ll also get the opportunity to utilize scaling at 2560 x 1440 for some games, but doing so would require a reduction in quality settings. Beyond scaling, the 1060 offers more than enough juice to power through VR games on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, opening the door to a whole new world of gaming. Additionally, the inclusion of 6GB of DDR5 memory and overclocking the boost speed from 1.7GHz to over 2GHz promises the average PC gamer a 15 percent faster performance than similar gaming cards.
12nm Turing architecture
No real-time ray tracing
The ASUS ROG Strix GeForce GTX 1660 Super is built on Nvidia's 12nm Turing architecture to be VR ready and provide enhanced lighting and graphical rendering. With direct-contact copper piping and dual fans, this video card has more efficient heat dissipation than its predecessor. The fans also have a silent operation mode; they won't start spinning until the card reaches temperatures of 55 Celcius or above for quiet casual gaming.
The rigid metal backplate gives the card support and prevents damage from flexing or twisting. The card has both HDMI and display port inputs and supports up to three separate displays to let you create the perfect custom setup. With the included GPUTweak II software, you can overclock your video card to a maximum of 1860MHz. With 6GB of GDDR6 RAM, you'll be able to play popular games like Fortnite and Call of Duty without any issues. The card also features customizable RGB lighting to personalize your PC build.
"Higher-end graphics cards that utilize Turing architecture offer real-time ray tracing for more realistic lighting environments in games. These kinds of video cards create diffused lighting and shadows as well as bright reflections and refractions." — Taylor Clemons, Product Expert
May be too big for some mid-size tower cases
No RGB lighting
Whether you're looking to build your first gaming PC or want to upgrade your current build, the MSI VGA RX 580 Armor is an excellent choice if you're working with a budget. This video card uses an older AMD Radeon chipset and GDDR5 RAM, but it still delivers plenty of processing power to take on the hottest AAA games. It supports both 4K UHD graphics and VR headsets so you can keep up with the latest trends in gaming without breaking the bank. With two HDMI inputs, two display ports, and a DVI input, you can connect up to five displays for the ultimate gaming station. The military-grade components ensure long-lasting durability and reliability.
The copper pipes are embedded in the heatsink plate for more efficient heat dissipation, and the dual fans feature both traditional and dispersion blades for better airflow. With AMD FreeSync technology, you'll get great contrast with deeper blacks and brighter whites as well as smoother motion with better refresh rates. This video card also supports multi-GPU setups with Crossfire connections; this allows you to connect two of the same video card for more processing power. With the included suite of software, you can adjust overclocking settings, fan operation temperatures, and even record in-game footage.
OC and Gaming modes
Nvidia G Sync
The phrase "ultra-budget" doesn't have to mean terrible quality. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050Ti video card may use an older Nvidia Pascal chipset and GDDR5 RAM, but it still packs enough power to tackle popular AAA games featuring an overclocked and game mode that lets you boost it to up to 1442MHz and the included Xtreme Engine utility software lets you switch between these modes and adjust clock settings with a single click.
With two HDMI inputs, a display port, and DVI input, this card can support up to four displays. With Nvidia G Sync technology, you'll get buttery smooth motion and prevent screen stutter and tearing during chase scenes and intense firefights. The short length and low profile makes this card perfect for slim cases or smaller builds.
External GPU support
Not 4K ready
The Sapphire Radeon Pulse RX 580 delivers an excellent balance between price and power. This video card uses a fourth-generation AMD Radeon graphics core and 8GB of VRAM to let you play the latest AAA games without any issues. It also includes a suite of AMD programming and technologies, including AMD Eyefinity to display game footage across multiple monitors, AMD XConnect to utilize external graphics cards, AMD LiquidVR for virtual reality gaming, and Crossfire to support multi-GPU setups.
With frame rate control target technology, this card can play games in 1440p at 60 fps without any issues. The dual fans feature dual ball bearing construction for smoother action and longer life. With two HDMI inputs, two display ports, and DVI input, this card can support up to five displays. It also features AMD FreeSync technology to prevent screen tearing and stuttering as well as provide enhanced contrast and detailing.
Limited power draw
Starting to show its age
Small enough to fit into compact PCs and lacking the need for any dedicated card power wires, the EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 SC offers one of the best ways to play classic and modern games. Part of the latest additions to Nvidia’s “Pascal” line of graphics cards, the GTX 1050 is one of the fastest, smoothest and power-efficient ways to game today on a budget. Moreover, it’s 5.7-inch compact size draws just 75 watts of maximum power and removes the need for a supplementary six-pin power connector. It also reduces the previously required 350-watt power supply down to 300-watts. Ultimately, this reduces the card’s support for older PC machines, but the tradeoff is the outstanding performance on more up-to-date computers.
The improved performance of the Pascal card leads to classic and modern games playing beautifully at 1080p and 60 fps. The base clock speed of 1417MHz pairs with an overlock boosted speed of 1531MHz and 2GB of GDDR5 ROM to help round out the specifications. Additionally, the Nvidia-based Ansel in-game photography and GameWorks offer an interactive and cinematic experience with today’s modern games.
4K and 8K support
Multiple monitor support
Nvidia software suite included
No multi-GPU support
No VR support
With mini ITX computer builds gaining popularity, it's easier than ever to find video cards that fit these ultra-small computers. The EVGA GeForce GTX 1650XC Black is built from the ground up to deliver stunning graphics capabilities in a small package. This video card gives you up to 70 percent higher performance than its predecessor, letting you tackle everything from video and image editing, media streaming, and AAA gaming. The single fan features the EVGA raised logo on the blades for more air dispersion to keep your card running cooler and more efficiently.
The card is built on Nvidia's new Turing architecture to deliver enhanced lighting and graphics rendering. It can support up to three monitors with an HDMI input and two display port inputs. If you need to be on the cutting edge of gaming, this card supports both 4K and 8K resolutions to help keep your computer future-proof. It comes packaged with a suite of Nvidia software for overclocking, temperature monitoring and control, and even recording in-game video and screenshots.
If you're looking to game on a budget, EVGA's version of the GeForce GTX 1060 is a fantastic choice, offering a great balance of price and performance. If you're looking for a little more horsepower but still don't want to spend a bundle, consider the MSI Gaming GeForce GTX 1070.
Taylor Clemons has over three years of experience writing about games and consumer technology. She has written for IndieHangover, GameSkinny, TechRadar and her own publication, Steam Shovelers.
David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience, with a background in PC hardware, mobile devices and consumer tech. He's previously written for tech companies like T-Mobile, Sprint, and TracFone Wireless.
Memory - When comparing two similar cards, look at the onboard VRAM. You can get by with 2GB for many games, but you’ll have a better experience with 4GB. Some cards on our list even come with 8GB of VRAM. If it comes down to a choice between a faster GPU or more memory, go with the faster GPU as long as it has at least 2 or 3GB of VRAM.
Size - If you built your own gaming rig in a full-sized tower case, you don’t need to worry about the physical size of your video card. If you’re upgrading a pre-built system that’s in a smaller case, look for a low-profile card that pulls under 75 watts of power.
VR support - If it’s time to upgrade your video card, why not go with one that’s powerful enough to run a VR headset? Oculus, Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality all have different minimum requirements, but each one has a variety of compatible options.
We haven't had a chance to put this collection of video cards through their paces quite yet, but our testers will be running benchmarks with a variety of resolutions on AAA titles like Doom Eternal and Division 2 as well as stress testing using free tools like 3DMark and Heaven to push these cards to their absolute limit. We'll also be weighing the performance of particular cards against their typical MSRP to make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck.