If you’re looking for a good graphics card in the under or around $200 price point, you’re likely as confused as I’ve been as to what graphics card would be best in this price range. As this is one of the more confusing GPU markets I’ve been a part of I thought I’d like to try and provide some clarity where I can.
Before I move forward with my GPU picks let’s talk about DirectX 12 and whether it’s important or not going forward.
How Important is DirectX 12 Going Forward?
DirectX 12 is a software developed by Microsoft (Windows 10 API) that talks to all of your computer’s components. What it aims to do is decrease your CPU overhead by more efficiently using the GPU. By using the graphics card more often, your processor won’t have as much to do.
Processors with additional cores should also have a solid advantage vs those with dual cores. DirectX 12 will use all the cores simultaneously rather than putting as much of the load on the first core as DirectX 11 had done in the past.
It’s important to realize that the games most affected by DirectX 12 going forward will be those built from the ground up with DirectX 12.
If you’re wondering what games support DirectX 12 right now, I’d point you to an ongoing list from Wikipedia. In the upcoming games list, there are some huge titles we’re all looking forward to here including Battlefield 1, Gears of War 4, and Civilization VI. You can bet that many more games will be added to this list shortly.
So, is it important?
It’s definitely important moving forward but it’s also important to realize that many of the games we play right now were built with DirectX 11. As we move forward and more and more games are released, it will become increasingly important.
How Much VRAM Do you Need?
You’ll have to think about more than just DirectX 12 when purchasing a graphics card at this price point. What resolution you plan on using and whether you want to go with a FreeSync or G-Sync monitor are a few of the questions you’ll need to ask yourself. How much VRAM you’ll need as well as your insistence on gaming with the Anti-aliasing cranked all the way up is another discussion.
Is 3-4GB Enough for 1080p Gaming?
It’s likely the majority of people using the graphics cards at this price point are still planning to play in 1080p with a few wanting to game in 1440p. The higher the resolution, the more VRAM you’ll need. With most games, 3GB will, in fact, be enough. That being said I do see a trend where more modern titles are using more and more VRAM. So, 3GB may be an issue at this resolution in particular games. If you get 3GB, adjusting the anti-aliasing or textures in a VRAM-heavy game will give you better performance.
VRAM – AMD is a Bit More Generous:
In this category, NVIDIA is using a bit less VRAM here with 3GB on its 3GB 1060 card and 6GB on it’s $250 version. AMD, on the other hand, offers 4GB for it’s $200 RX 470 and 4GB 480 and 8GB for its $250 RX 480. There is an 8GB version of the RX 470 as well but at around $240 it’s not a viable option when compared to the RX 480 or 6GB GTX 1060.
How frames are affected if you don’t have enough VRAM varies quite a bit by card. Also, just because a card doesn’t have enough VRAM, it won’t put up as good as numbers as another card with more. Graphics Driver software manages GPU memory in different ways as well which makes the answer even less clear.
Best Budget Graphics Cards Under $200 to $250 – AMD VS NVIDIA
AMD RX 480 4GB vs 8GB
If you could find one of these cards in stock, it would probably be my choice here. The RX 480 4GB edition gives similar performance to the 8GB edition and costs $50 less. These cards can even be flashed to 8GB cards as the memory is actually there.
Unfortunately, these cards are simply not around. So, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
RX 480 8GB
I was impressed when AMD first released the RX 480. It’s a solid performer but the average price for this card is around $52 over our budget. Many people will tell you that the extra 4GB of RAM here is worth it vs the 4GB so that the card has more longevity and better resale. From what I’ve seen, this could be true.
We’ll compare the RX 480 to the GTX 1060 below but if you’re wondering how it does against a previous generation card like the GTX 970, check out our GTX 970 vs RX 480 graphics card comparison. We’ve also done a similar comparison of the GTX 1080 vs the 980 Ti.
AMD RX 470 4GB and 8GB Models
While the RX 470 comes in 4GB and 8GB models it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go with the 8GB version as it’s price is around $240, just $10 below the RX 480.
I’ll compare the RX 470 with the GTX 1060 3GB which is also in it’s price range, below. Overall, it’s a solid 1080p choice for gamers.
GTX 1060 6GB vs RX 480 8GB
The GTX 1060 6GB card is similar in performance to the RX 480 8GB edition. I’d give it a solid edge in performance right now vs. the RX 480 8GB right now in DirectX 11 titles with what I see as inconclusive performance in DirectX 12.
There are those that will argue that the 1060 gets trounced by the RX 480 in DirectX 12, but more benchmarks are required to truly see what we’re looking at here.
As of right now, in DirectX 12, the 1060 edges out the 480 in Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p and 1440p) and falls behind in Hitman and Total War: WARHAMMER. AMD cards also have a slight edge in a title I’m not fond of using, Ashes of the Singularity.
If this trend continues I’d say that AMD cards will benefit more overall from DX12 than NVIDIA cards. Again, I’d still like to see more testing. Battlefield 1 will certainly be a good opportunity to see more.
If power consumption matters to you, the 1060 is simply more efficient than the RX 480. Unfortunately, SLI is not available on the GTX 1060. So, keep that in mind if you were thinking about doing a multi-GPU configuration in a couple of years.
GTX 1060 3GB vs RX 470 4GB 2017
If you’re sticking to the $200 budget, this is the true battle right now.
It’s important to point out that the 1060 3GB isn’t the same card as the 1060 6GB with half the memory. The 3GB model get 1152 shader processors activated when compared to the 1280 shared processors of the 6GB. Because of the 3GB of VRAM I’d consider this a 1080p card. Those who want to game in 1440p are better off saving for the RX 480 8GB, 1060 6GB, or even the GTX 1070.
Even in 1080p, the 1060 is likely to come into contact with the occasional game that will use more than 3GB of VRAM. For $50 less it gives about a 10% dip in performance in most games when compared to the 1060 6GB. So, it may be a value play for some.
Compared to the RX 470 it gets edged out in DirectX 12 titles, other than Rise of the Tomb Raider, while carrying a solid edge in DirectX 11.
Overall, I’d personally spend $50 more here to go with either the GTX 1060 6GB or RX 480 8GB. I think it’ll give you a bit more longevity and improve the resale ability of these cards in the future. The GTX 1060 is likely to give you better performance on titles you already play out of the gate while the RX 480 will likely close the gap or perhaps even exceed the performance of the GTX 1060 going forward. You’ll have to decide what’s most important.
Before you go, leave us a comment and take our poll to let us know what you think. If these cards are out of your price range, be sure to check out our analysis of the $100 Graphics card market.