The last 5 or 6 months have been excruciating for PC enthusiasts looking to build a new gaming machine, thanks to the inflation of graphics card prices which has been caused by cryptocurrency miners. A good midrange video card from either AMD or NVIDIA would have cost you anywhere between 150 and 200 dollars somewhere around mid-2017. But fast forward to this day, and the very same graphics card has a price tag of 400 dollars on it. It is no secret; video cards are in short supply and the select few which are available brand-new will put a big hole in your wallet.
Thankfully, the extreme budget end GPUs haven’t been hit as hard by the mining craze. But if you are a hardcore gamer or PC enthusiast, we recommend that you wait for a few more months till GPU prices settle down, instead of caving in and purchasing a sub 100-dollar video card which can’t even run GTA V on the lowest graphics settings at a playable framerate. And GTA V isn’t even that demanding of a game, it was released more than 3 years ago.
So, who is this article for? Well, if you own a desktop computer that is 4 or 5 years old and uses the integrated graphics, then fitting a brand new NVIDA GT710 or AMD R7 240 in will breath new life into it. The best part about super low budget graphics cards is that they don’t need any external power connectors, just slide them into a free PCIe slot and they will perform just fine (most of them consume less than 75w of power). Without any further ado, let’s begin our list of the 6 best video cards under 100 dollars.
Here are our top gaming video cards you can buy with a $100 budget:
This is a midrange GT 730 graphics card equipped with 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM, and a 64-bit memory interface. It supports Microsoft’s DX12 graphics API and can handle a maximum output resolution of up to 3840 x 2160 (4K). If you’re looking to buy a really cheap single-slot video card for your SFF desktop computer, then the Gigabyte GV-N730D5-2GI REV2.0 is definitely worth considering. It requires no external power supply and will work on a PCIe 2.0 x 8 interface.
The GT 730 from NVIDIA is by no means a powerful, or even semi-decent gaming graphics card. It wasn’t considered decent even in the year that it was originally released, which is the year 2014. However, it is still capable of playing casual games or e-sports titles such as League of Legends, DOTA 2, Counter Strike Global Offensive, Rocket League, World of Tanks, etc. You will have to turn down the settings all the way to low even on older games such as COD Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3, in order to maintain a playable framerate at 1080p resolution. The GT 730 GPU was originally released in 3 different configurations- DDR3 with a 128-bit memory interface, DDR3 with a 64-bit memory interface, and GDDR5 with a 64-bit memory interface.
The ones with 64-bit memory interfaces costed more and featured 384 CUDA cores instead of 96. The extra CUDA cores resulted in a significant performance boost while gaming, as compared to the cheaper DDR3 version with a wider memory bus. One thing worth noting over here, is that the GDDR5 version has the highest memory bandwidth of all 3, thanks to its 5 GBPS memory clock. The base clock for a GT 730 equipped with GDDR5 memory is 902 MHz, but there are several instances of gamers overclocking the core on their GT 730’s by as much as 35%, all the way up to a core clock of 1200 MHz. Now, your card may overclock differently based on its cooler and the quality of the silicon, but it is safe to assume that the Gigabyte GT 730 we are reviewing can handle at least an extra 100 MHz on the core. It is actively cooled, so you have more room for overclocking the core as well as the memory, unlike some of the GT 730s out there which are passively cooled.
Finally, this is a single-slot video card, and will work on a PCIe 2.0 x 8 interface, so pretty much any old motherboard with a PCI express slot can support this little guy. It also requires no external power, since the average power consumption on the chip is a measly 25 watts, and it gets that much through the PCI slot. The card is rather slim, and extremely short, so it will fit into any small form factor PC. If you are still running an Intel HD 2000 or HD3000 graphics on your 2nd or 3rd gen Core i5/ Core i7 processor, this dedicated GPU will significantly boost HD video playback capabilities, and even allow you to watch 4k footage smoothly. We recommend this GPU for older prebuilt office machines from 4 to 5 years ago, you can transform them into entry level gaming systems or home theater PCs.
- Very silent
- Consumes 25 watts of power on average, no external connecters needed
- Low profile design enables you to install it in mini ITX systems and SFF cases
- Fairly good overclocking support, thanks to the active cooling (there is an 80mm fan on top of the heatsink)
- Features DVI, HDMI, and VGA outputs
- Not at all capable of running modern AAA titles such as GTA V, Battlefield 1, COD WWII, etc.
- May get a little noisy when you bump up the core and memory clocks
The GT 710 is the lowest end graphics card in the entire GT 7XX series from NVIDIA, but we must give props to MSI for pulling off an amazing job with what little they had to work with. This 1GB video card isn’t going to play a whole lot of games other than some indie titles or e-sports stuff, but it is definitely an amazing choice for home theater PCs.
One look at the heatsink, and you can immediately tell this graphics card is not designed for heavy duty workloads. It is tiny, cheap, and slow. But hey, this outdated amalgamation of silicon and plastic definitely has some positive aspects- it acts as a nice placeholder until you are able to afford a more “premium” graphics card, and the power consumption is so low that you don’t need any external connectors for it. Finally, the super small heatsink is an indication of the fact that this GPU barely generates any heat, which means the fan doesn’t have to spin very fast in order to cool the chip. You could even remove the fan, and this graphics card would still function perfectly fine.
So, who is this video card for? Well, it is certainly not meant for gamers who wish to play AAA titles, that much we can tell you right now. The GT 710 was originally intended to act as a display adapter for outdated PCs, or as an upgrade module to transform a really cheap computer into a media consumption device. For example, you have a 4k TV in your living room and wish to hook it up with a compact PC so that you can browse the web, enjoy Netflix, playback ultra HD videos, etc. Well guess what, you can purchase a second-hand slim tower computer from eBay or craigslist for about 150 bucks, buy one of these GT 710 video cards, slide it in, and voila- you have yourself an ultra-silent home theater/ media consumption PC for less than 200 bucks!
Or, perhaps you are a low budget gamer who has desperately been scraping for a dedicated video card since your Intel Core i5 2400 or Pentium processor is equipped with a terrible integrated GPU, and you know that even a GT 710 will provide a significant performance boost in gaming compared to the iGPU you are currently using. Whatever the case may be, we believe this is a decent graphics cards for the price, not a whole lot of options out there right now which can compete with it at this price range. But if you are really passionate about gaming, wait for a couple months, save up an extra 50 or 60 dollars, and buy yourself an NVIDIA GTX 1050 or AMD RX 460 instead.
- Super cheap and easy to install
- Doesn’t make much noise
- No external power connector needed
- Perfect for slim tower builds
- Equipped with HDMI and DL-DVI-D ports
- Not really a gaming graphics card
- Isn’t future proof at all with just 1GB of video memory
This is the AMD equivalent of the NVIDIA GT 710, although it is not a technically accurate comparison since the R5 230 features a lower core clock, has fewer stream processors, and doesn’t support DX12. However, the two video cards compete in the exact same market segment because of their similar prices.
We understand that not everyone is a fan of the green team, which is why we thought it would be appropriate to include a couple competitors from the other side- meet the AMD R5 230, this one happens to be a XFX model. Nothing special about it, just another ultra-cheap video card that is designed primarily for video playback applications. Yes, you can definitely use it for gaming, but keep in mind the fact that this tiny GPU isn’t going to run any modern AAA titles, not even on the lowest settings and 768p resolution. It doesn’t support DirectX 12, but then again- not a whole lot of games are out there which support the newest API. But for the games that do support DX12, you will be at a disadvantage compared to someone using a GT 710 from NVIDIA.
Moving on to the technical specs, this GPU boasts a 625 MHz core clock, up to 160 stream processing units (analogous to the CUDA cores on NVIDIA GPUs), and 2GB of DDR3 VRAM. One really interesting thing that we noticed is the presence of Crossfire support up to 2 cards, the low-end NVIDIA cards seem to lack this feature (NVIDIA calls it SLI). But why would anybody want to hook up two of these cards together is beyond our comprehension (please don’t do it, you barely get any performance boost and the effective VRAM is still going to be 2GB). It also consumes the exact same amount of power as the GT 710, 19 watts. Meaning, you don’t need an external power connector (true for any low-end single slot video card).
It does support 4K resolution and can handle up to 3 monitors. The XFX R5 230 features DVI, HDMI, and VGA outputs, so you can hook it up to your TV or modern computer monitor. One of the main reasons why someone would wish to buy a really cheap video card like this is because their old computer lacks an HDMI or DVI output (many of the old office machines from 2011 don’t feature DVI or HDMI display outputs). If you wish to play games on this video card, try to limit yourself to e-sports titles and old AAA games from 2007-2011. It is not meant for running graphics intensive games such as Witcher 3, NFS Payback, etc.
- Extremely slim, perfect for SFF (Small Form Factor) builds
- Comes with DVI, HDMI, and VGA connectors
- 2GB of DDR3 VRAM
- Really silent, even when overclocked
- No DX 12 support
- Can’t handle modern games
Unlike the R5 230, the R7 250 provides full support for DX12, and some newer APIs such as OpenGL 4.5 and Vulkan. The R7 250 also features AMDs POWERTUNE and ZEROCORE technologies, both of which we shall discuss in the features section. It is loaded with 1GB of VRAM, which may seem inferior to the 2GB memory buffer of the R5 230 on paper, but it is worth noting that this is GDDR5 memory and is several times faster than DDR3.
The R7 250 boasts 512 SPUs, which is more than thrice as many stream processors as the R5 230. But it is not just the extra SPUs, the core of the R7 250 is capable of speeds up to 1050 MHz which is almost 68% faster than the R5 230. While certain variants of the R7 250 are equipped with 2GB of VRAM, this ASUS version comes with 1GB of GDDR5 video memory. On paper, this may seem like a downgrade from the R5 230 as far as memory size is concerned but remember that size doesn’t tell the whole story. This is GDDR5 memory, and is running at a much higher clock speed, enabling it to transfer the same amount of data in less time.
The good stuff doesn’t end there, the R7 250 is designed on a 28nm lithographical process, so it is more power efficient than the R5 230 and also boasts some really neat power saving technologies like AMD ZEROCORE and POWERTUNE, both of which are available on laptop and desktop versions of the R7 250. POWERTUNE enables the GPU to dynamically change its clock speed based on the amount of load, for example- your R7 250 will ramp up core clock all the way up to maximum (780 MHz) while playing games, but when you are browsing the web or watching videos, it will settle down somewhere in the middle (let’s say, 420 MHz). When your computer is idling, this number will drop all the way down to zero. ZEROCORE is a feature that shuts down all core graphics card functions, reducing power consumption in the idle state by up to 95%.
Just like the R5 230, the R7 250 supports Crossfire up to 2 cards, although we seriously discourage you from going out and buying two of these in hopes of improving game performance. Most manufacturers are moving away from dual or triple card setups, and very few games or video card drivers offer proper support for multi GPU gaming, even to this day.
- Features AMD ZEROCORE and POWERTUNE technologies
- DX12 support
- Vulkan enabled
- AMD Freesync support
- 05 GHz max core speed
- 1GB GDDR5 high speed memory
- Slightly larger than the XFX R5 230 (it is still a single-slot GPU and doesn’t need external power connectors)
- Supports up to 2 displays, while the R5 230 supports a maximum of 3 displays
It is the fastest video card on our list and is more powerful than the GT 730 thanks to its faster core clock and extra shader units. The ViewMax version that we are reviewing is equipped with 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM, clocked at 3200 MHz, along with an engine clock of 1059 MHz. It is capable of overclocking even further, but the card can get rather noisy if you push it beyond the factory overclock.
Just like the 64-bit memory interface GT 730, the GT 740 is equipped with 384 CUDA cores. But these two cards differ when it comes to core clocks and shader counts. The GT 740 runs about 90 MHz faster on the core and features 32 texture mapping units instead of the 16 found on the 730. The extra TMUs, combined with a wider memory bus and higher core clock result in superior pixel rates and far higher texture mapping. Technicalities aside, the GT 740 should be about 25 to 30 percent faster than a GT 730 in games.
In terms of support for technologies, the GT 740 is DX12 compliant and is equipped with all the NVIDIA exclusives such as Adaptive Vertical Sync, PhysX, CUDA, 3D Vision, etc. Certain models of the GT 740 require an external 6-pin connector in order to operate, since this card can draw close to 70 watts of power when clocked at 1000 MHz or higher. The ViewMax version is a dual slot card, it features DVI, HDMI, and VGA outputs. There is a stylish little plastic shroud on the cooler, and the fan is 80mm in diameter. It is HDCP compliant and supports a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600 on the DVI port, 3840 x 2160 is supported at 30 Hz on the HDMI port, or you can choose 4096 x 2160 at 24 Hz (also on HDMI).
- Faster than the GT 730 by up to 30% in gaming applications
- 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM clocked at 3200 MHz
- Really good overclocker, thanks to the 80mm cooler
- Well-built, with a plastic shroud on the cooler
- Supports up to 3840 x 2160 in 30 Hz or 4096 x 2160 in 24 Hz
- Dual slot design takes up more space
- Can get really loud at maximum clock speed
This is the most expensive graphics card on our list, barely nipping at the 100-dollar checkpoint that we have set. But is it worth the money? After all, this is just another GT 730, right? Well, it appears so but there are a couple of crucial changes compared to the first card on our list which is also based on the GT 730 GPU. This ZOTAC model comes with 4GB of DDR3 memory and is completely silent because it is passively cooled.
Presenting the “ZONE Edition” GT 730 graphics card from ZOTAC. Probably one of the best GT 730’s you can find on the market, this beauty of a single slot graphics card is loaded with 4GB of DDR3 VRAM, more than any other graphics card on our list. Does the extra memory make an enormous difference while gaming? Well… not exactly. You see, there is only so much memory you can stuff into a computer before it makes no difference in most practical applications. For example, try loading a 5-year-old Core i5 computer with 16 GB of RAM. It isn’t going to magically run faster just because more data can be stored at any given point in time, the processor is still the same, so all of that data isn’t moving anywhere. The GT 730 graphics core has a limit on how fast it can process instructions, just like any other microprocessor.
But this extra memory does come in handy when you are editing videos or working with 4k content. It also proves its merit in certain games that are quite memory intensive, for example- open world games such as Grand Theft Auto and Assassins Creed. The performance gains in gaming from the extra VRAM is not that significant on average, but will notice that 4k videos play effortlessly, and editing high resolution photos feels smoother on this card compared to a 2GB GT 730. Just like the Gigabyte GT 730 that we reviewed earlier, this ZOTAC model boasts 384 CUDA cores along with a 902 MHz base clock. It is HDCP compliant and supports up to 3 displays.
The ZOTAC GeForce GT 730 also supports most NVIDIA technologies like Adaptive Vertical Sync, NVIDIA 3D Surround, PhysX, CUDA, hardware video decoding, etc. It requires a PCI express 2.0 x 8 interface to function, no external power connectors required, just make sure you have a 300 to 350-watt PSU in your computer, the required power is supplied through the PCIe slot. The ZOTAC GT 730 supports a maximum resolution of 2840 x 2160 and is equipped with a passive cooling system (no fan, just the heatsink).
- Low profile design, completely silent
- 4GB DDR3 VRAM
- 902MHz base clock, 384 CUDA cores
- HDMI, DVI, and VGA output
- Lower overclocking headroom since it is passively cooled
- The extra memory doesn’t prove useful for gaming (because the GPU core is still a GT 730), it is more suited to productivity-oriented applications or 4K video playback
BONUS ENTRY – Best Performance Per Dollar
It is well known in the PC gaming community that the cheapest option doesn’t necessarily offer the best value. Of course, there are premium GPUs that cost several hundreds of dollars and deliver amazing performance. But the overall value goes down as you increase the price to ridiculously high margins. Is the NVIDIA GTX Titan Xp the most powerful graphics card that you can buy on planet Earth as of now? Of course, it is the best in terms of performance, but is performance the sole metric when it comes to determining if a graphics card is good? When we look at a graphics card, we consider things such as value for money, build quality, overclocking headroom, etc. A GT 730 will cost you 80 bucks and it probably struggles to run GTA V at 30 fps on the lowest settings in 1080p resolution. But, spending 170 dollars will get you a GTX 1050 2GB GDDR5 graphics card which easily runs GTA V on high details and at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. In short, you are getting less for your money by opting to go cheap. In our analogy, the GT 730 is the ultra-cheap graphics card which offers less value for money, the GTX 1050 is what we like to call the “sweet spot”, it offers maximum performance per dollar, and the GTX Titan is the high-end GPU which delivers the most performance, but you are probably paying something like 6 times the money for 4 times the performance of a GTX 1050. If you are really serious about gaming, don’t spend that money you have been saving up for a new budget GPU right away. Wait a couple months, save a little more money, and get yourself something like the GTX 1050 we have reviewed below, this GPU offers massive value in terms of fps per dollar. It will cost you more initially but is going to play games for least a couple of years, whereas the super cheap graphics card that you are currently eyeing has already turned obsolete 2 years ago.
The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 2GB model that we are reviewing here has a boost clock of 1493 MHz and is a dual slot graphics card with a single cooling fan attached to the heatsink. It requires no external power connector and is a fairly decent overclocker. The build quality is really good for an entry-level GTX 1050 model, and the card seems to run pretty quiet even while playing the latest AAA titles such as Battlefield 1 and Witcher 3.
We chose this particular GTX 1050 model because it offers the most value for money out of all the graphics cards currently available on the market. Is it the best GTX 1050 version out there? Of course not, there GTX 1050’s equipped with dual fan coolers and fancy stuff such as LED lighting and backplates. But RGB lights don’t make your card run faster, and the backplate is primarily for aesthetics. If you cover up your Honda Civic with racing stickers, is it going to beat a Lamborghini? Of course not, and that’s the point we are trying to make over here. The basic 2GB GTX 1050 is all a budget gamer needs, it will perform within 5% of the ultra-high-end models which are basically the exact same chip on a different board and with fancy coolers strapped on top.
And this card is surprisingly well-built for how cheap it is relative to other GTX 1050’s on the market from ASUS and MSI. Here is a neat little trick you can pull off to bring this card in range of the more expensive 1050’s- just install the proprietary GPU management software that is available on Gigabytes website, overclock the core to about 1550 MHz (yes, most 1050 cards can hit that clock speed without getting too hot), and now you have the extra little bit of performance for free. The GTX 1050 draws 75 watts of power on average, overclocking may bump that up to 90 watts maximum. You will notice that the dual cooler models are equipped with 6-pin power connectors since they are clocked higher by default from the factory and require extra cooling to dissipate all the heat.
Since this card has no external power connectors, it is really easy to install- just open up the PC case and slide it into an empty PCI express slot. Download the latest drivers from NVIDIAs website, and you are now ready to game. The GTX 1050 is based on the latest NVIDIA GPU architecture available to customers- Pascal (10th generation NVIDIA graphics architecture). The GTX 1050 features 640 CUDA cores, along with a 128-bit memory bus. It supports all the latest features such as G-SYNC, GameStream, Ansel, GPU BOOST 3.0, Vulkan, DX12, etc. The display output consists of DVI, Display Port, and HDMI.
- The best value for money you can get.
- 1493 MHz boost clock on a single fan cooler, runs really quiet.
- Capable of overclocking to 1500+ MHz
- Really compact, fits into mini ITX cases and SFF towers
- No external power connector needed
- Will run all modern AAA titles on medium graphics settings and 60 fps
- No LED lights or backplate
- Limited number of display output ports, the dual cooler version comes with 3 HDMI ports + one DVI and one Display Port
We hope this article gave you an idea of the kind of graphics horsepower that you can expect to own in 2018 for less than 100 dollars. It is not much but remember- these GPU prices are sure to fall back into reasonable ranges sooner or later, and we will be able to purchase the actual current generation budget GPUs such as the GTX 1050 and RX 460 for under 100 dollars when the prices come down to where they should be. The graphics cards on this list are intended to be placeholders until then, or upgrades for 4 to 5-year old prebuilt desktops from companies such as Dell or HP that didn’t come with a dedicated GPU when you purchased them. The integrated GPUs in 2nd and 3rd gen Intel processors are absolutely terrible, and struggle with HD video playback or decoding 4k footage. If your purchase something like a GT 730 or R5 240, you can transform the 100-dollar second hand tower that you purchased on eBay into a highly capable home theater or media consumption PC.
While you’re upgrading your PC, consider upgrading another part that is often overlooked: your network card. Even a powerful PC doesn’t matter if you’re suffering lag and disconnects. Check out our list of the best PCI network cards, and take full advantage of your internet connection!