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Best Cheap Graphics Cards: Group Test

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Best Budget Graphics Cards: Group Test

Gamers used to fork out hundreds to play the toughest titles on the latest graphics cards, but that’s not the case now – PC gaming has never been so accessible, with cards that can play high-end games at demanding quality levels now available for £100 or less.

Rather than save up for one for the Xbox One or PS4, perhaps now is the best time to invest in a cheap, upgradable gaming PC?

If that sounds like a good idea to you, you’ll need a graphics card before anything else, which is why we've decided to find out which AMD graphics cards and Nvidia graphics make for the best cheap graphics card.

Need a bit more performance, try our GTX 750 Ti vs R7 265 comparison.

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Which cheap graphics card should I buy?

To answer the above, we’ve rounded up AMD and Nvidia’s current-generation cards that cost around £100 or less to find out which is the best budget graphics card, and also how they compare against the latest integrated graphics options.

That’s because integrated graphics cores are, finally, viable alternatives to discrete cards when it comes to gaming. AMD’s APUs lead the way, but Intel’s new Haswell processors have threatened to crash the party, too.

AMD’s APUs cram processing cores and Radeon GPUs into one chip, and they’re potent enough to threaten mid-range discrete cards – and they’re priced aggressively, as the most expensive costs just over £100.
 
Intel’s Haswell chips introduce the HD Graphics 4600 core, which promises a huge improvement over older Ivy Bridge processors. The new GPU includes more execution units than Intel has ever crammed inside one of its integrated cores, and they’re clocked at higher speeds than ever.

It’s a four-way fight in the budget graphics market, which is why we’ve lined all of these products up for an extensive group test.

How we test cheap graphics cards

To help us find the best cheap graphics card, we’ve tested each GPU with four games: Bioshock Infinite, Crysis 3, Battlefield 3 and DiRT 3. We’ve also used 3DMark’s Cloud Gate and Fire Strike benchmarks to test the theoretical power provided by each part.

In each case, the focus here is on single screen gaming at 1080p and with decent image quality. That definition varies from game to game, but the goal is to be realistic without tolerating sheer ugliness. You have to make some compromises when buying a budget graphics card or gaming PC, but it's not worth it after a certain point. We're looking for cards that manage an average 30fps across all three of the games tested.

Every dedicated, discrete card was tested inside the same machine: an Intel Z77-based motherboard with a Core i5-3450 processor, 8GB of RAM and a Seagate Barracuda hard disk. Our Intel Haswell and AMD Richland testing rigs use the same components.

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