Ultra Budget GPUs

Looking at the cheapest discrete graphics cards available, there are a ton of overlapping product names and it is extremely easy to get confused. Not only do you have overlapping product names, but you also have a lot of different clock speeds and architectures, making it even more difficult to determine which options are the best. We are looking to keep prices in the Ultra Budget category under $75, but we will actually look at two price brackets: cards that cost under $50 and cards that cost between $50 and $75. The less expensive cards will be good for people that just need any graphics card, either because they want a DVI port, other features not available with integrated graphics, or perhaps because they just want a good overclocking motherboard and there are more such options available if you aren't looking for IGP.

Looking at the sub $50 graphics cards, most of the least expensive options support either the Radeon X300 SE HyperMemory or the GeForce 6200 LE TurboCache graphics chip. The X300 comes with four pixel shaders and two vertex shaders - twice as many as the Radeon Xpress 1100 - and a stock clock speed of 325/400 MHz core/RAM. Nearly all of the X300 chips are going to have a 64-bit memory bus with 64MB of memory onboard and the ability to share up to 256MB of system memory. The 6200 TurboCache parts are very similar, with four pixel shaders and three vertex shaders, a 64-bit memory interface, and 64MB of onboard memory with the ability to use up to 256MB of system memory. Clock speeds are slightly faster than the ATI X300, at 350/700 core/RAM. You also get Shader Model 3.0 support with the NVIDIA parts, making them a slightly better overall option out of these two chipsets (not that they're fast enough to play any SM3.0 games anyway).

For only a few dollars more, you can also start to find the ATI Radeon X550 HyperMemory, which has 128MB of onboard memory and the ability to use up to 512MB of system memory, as well as slightly higher clock speeds relative to the X300: 400/500 core/RAM. This GPU is basically a slightly faster version of the X300 with an otherwise identical feature set. Coming closer to the $50 mark, we begin to see some of the X1300 HyperMemory cards. The good news is that not only do you get slightly faster clock speeds than the X550, but you also get SM3.0 and AVIVO support. On the NVIDIA side, the 7100 GS and the 7300 LE are both available for close to $50. The 7100 GS really isn't much better than the 6200 TurboCache, as it has the same core clock speed, but the 7300 LE improves performance slightly by running the core at 450 MHz. None of these cards are particularly fast, so if you want the absolute cheapest option we would recommend a 6200 TurboCache card, while if you are willing to pay slightly more for performance we would suggest trying to get one of the X1300 cards. The ASUS EAX1300/TD/128M would be our choice if you're trying to keep costs as low as possible but still get a bit more in the way of performance and features.

As we move up to the $75 range, we start to see 7300 GS, X1300 LE, a few older cards like the GeForce 6600 LE and 6600, and near the top of the price limit there are a few Radeon X1300 Pro and GeForce 7300 GT cards. The 7300 LE and GS are both pretty anemic when it comes to performance, and the X1300 (along with the LE and Pro variants) is definitely going to be faster. However, the 7300 GT actually turns the tables and begins to offer reasonable budget gaming performance, particularly if you get one of the factory overclocked models. For end-user overclocking, the 7300 GT is also going to be a good choice, at least relative to the X1300 Pro. There are a few games where the X1300 Pro might be a bit faster compared to the stock 7300 GT, but overall we would give the edge to the NVIDIA GPU. If you still prefer ATI hardware and are considering the X1300 Pro, you would probably be better off spending an extra $10-$15 to get an X1600 Pro instead, which will basically match the performance of the 7300 GT when looking at a large selection of games. If we stick to a strict $75 budget, however, the best of the more expensive Ultra Budget offerings would be the EVGA 256-P2-N443-LX GeForce 7300 GT for $75. That particular 7300 GT has a 64bit memory interface, however, so we would suggest spending $85 to get the factory overclocked Biostar V7302GT21 7300 GT (400/700 core/RAM) that comes with a 128bit memory bus.

Taking a quick look at the AGP side of the market, at the extreme low end of the price spectrum there are a few Xabre and Volari cards that cost under $25. We would take the Chaintech SLV3-128 Volari V3 128MB for around $28 as the cheapest AGP card with a DVI port that we can find. Just don't count on driver support and gaming compatibility being all that great. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of older GPUs still available on the AGP platform, but we wouldn't recommend most of them. Radeon 9600 parts are basically the same as the X300 PCI-E parts in terms of performance, so if you're not too demanding they might fit the bill. We would recommend staying away from the GeForce FX line as that series of GPUs never performed as well as we would like, but you can find a few GeForce 6200 and 6600 LE cards priced under $75. If you're stuck looking for a better performing AGP graphics card, you might look at trying to pick up something like a used Radeon 9800 Pro instead, rather than spending more money for less performance on a new card. If you haven't noticed already, when compared strictly on price PCI-E definitely offers more bang for the buck than AGP these days.

For those wanting a quick rundown of all of the various GPUs available in this price range, here are the standard features, clock speeds, and estimated prices. (We won't include any AGP chips in this list.) We have organized this table in order of roughly estimated increasing performance, with the slowest cards at the top. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of cards that we aren't listing, due to variations in clock speed. Missing features (i.e. SM3.0) also come into play, so don't place too much weight on the rankings. This is merely a quick look at how we see things without regards to price, and we would generally focus on the GPUs we've specifically recommended above.

Budget GPUs
GPU Pixel
ROPs Core
X300 SE 4 2 2 325 400 64bit $38
6200 TC 4 3 2 350 700 64bit $38
X300 LE 4 2 2 325 400 128bit $70
7100 GS 4 3 2 350 667 64bit $49
X550 HM 4 2 2 400 500 64bit $47
X550 4 2 2 400 500 128bit $60
X700 8 6 4 400 700 128bit $75
7300 LE 4 3 2 450 667 64bit $52
7300 GS 4 3 2 550 800 64bit $59
X1300 4 2 4 450 500 128bit $52
6600 LE 8 3 4 300 550 128bit $66
X1300 Pro 4 2 4 600 800 128bit $75
X1600 Pro 12 5 4 500 800 64bit $85
7300 GT 8 4 4 350 667 128bit $75

Integrated Graphics Solutions Entry Level GPUs
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  • justly - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    I apoligize for straying from the video topic, but I really get annoyed at the all to often trash talk about VIA and SiS chipsets.

    I understand that this is a GPU article so I can see Anandtech not recommending SiS or VIA integrated graphics based on their lack luster video capabilities. My question (or maybe I should call it a complaint) is how can Anandtech claim SiS and VIA boards are not stable or reliable? The last reviw (that I can remember) of a SiS based board was over a year ago, even then I dont think it was a production board. Coverage of VIA based boards isn't much better but at least Anandtech does give VIA some budget coverage.

    I can fully understand if Anandtech doesn't want to recommend VIA or SiS to their enthusiast crowd due to poor overclocking, or being "a bit more quirky" as your article states.
    I'm not going to read all the way through old articles just to try and figure out what these stability and reliability issues mighy be (mainly because most of the articles are so old that a BIOS update could easily have made any stability issues invalid). Well I lied a little, I did briefly look through the VIA board articles within the last year and found no stability issues at stock settings. In fact, the only stability issues I saw mentioned in an article happened when "we tried to exceed the SPD settings of our DDR memory modules" but the next line reads "We did not experience these same issues with our DDR2 memory modules" (and that article is 1 week shy of 9 months old).

    I hope Anandtech decides to either stop repeating these claims of unstable, unreliable and quirky boards based on VIA & SiS or start reviewing these boards and show its readers why they deserve these remarks.
    Then again if the only thing we as readers get from reviews of these chipsets/boards is complaints about how budget boards are not able to overclock, or the lack of a tweakable BIOS in a sub $60 board then blame the board not the chipset as most people are already aware that budget boards are like this reguardless of what chipset they use.

  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    I know of at least one attempted SiS board review in the past year that was canned because our reviewer could not get the board to function properly (after several BIOS updates and two boards, IIRC). Motherboards (and chipsets) are such an integral part of any computer that I would never skimp in that area. Then again, maybe I'm just too demanding of my computers?

    If you read user reviews of VIA/SiS boards you typically see a pattern that indicates the boards are overall "less reliable" - periodic instabilities and far higher failure rates. Some people report no problems and love the low prices, while others try to do a bit more with their systems and encounter difficulties.

    If you just want to use a computer for office tasks, just about any system will be fine... but then again, if you're doing office work and your computer crashes, you probably won't be too happy. Anyone planning on running a higher-spec GPU should avoid cheaper motherboards IMO, as running a $300+ GPU in a <$75 board is just asking for problems. (For the same reason, I recommend $75+ PSUs for anyone running a CPU+GPU that cost more than $400 combined.)

    Basically, I just can't recommend a questionable motherboard that saves a person $10-$20. The fact that the companies aren't out there promoting their products says something. If they're not proud enough of their work to try hard to get reviews at reputable sites, perhaps it's because they know their boards won't pass muster.

    I actually had a company representative complain to me once about my stress tests being "unrealistic". He asked, "How many people actually try to run Folding@Home and a bunch of gaming benchmarks in sequence?" Basically, the system would crash if I used my script to benchmark games at various resolutions without rebooting in between each run. It's true that a lot of people might never stress a system to that level, but when I've looked at dozens of computers that handle that workload without problems, a system that crashes/locks in the same situation is clearly not as "stable or reliable" as competing solutions. All things being equal, I would recommend a different PC at the same price.

    That's basically how I see the VIA/SiS situation. $10 is about 100 miles of driving, a trip to most restaurants, a two hour movie.... It's not worth the risk just to save $10. If it is, maybe a new computer isn't what you really need; a used PC would probably be just as good and likely a lot cheaper (and possibly faster as well).
  • justly - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    I agree with most of what you say, no one wants a system that crashs.
    One thing I do notice though, is that most of your arguments can be atributed to low priced boards, yet the comments I find annoying are the generalizations about chipsets. Do you actually believe a $50 nvidia based board is significantly more stable or reliable than any other chipset? and if you do, couldn't this just be a side effect of being a more popular chipset thus less work programming a bios? I'm sure this isn't what you meant, but going by your comments about motherboard pricing, if I found a $100 SiS based board it should be more stable and reliable than a $50 nvidia board.

    You also want me to read "user reviews"? this doesn't sound like a good way to judge reliability to me. Most user reviews are either in enthusiast fourms like the ones you have here, these usually only rewiew overclocking abilities, or on retail sites like Newegg, and to be honest most of the bad reviews I see there look more like PEBKAC.

    You really haven't cleared up why VIA or SiS chipsets should be considered unreliable or unstable, although your dislike of budget boards is quite evedent.

    I'm not trying to deny you your opinion, I'm just asking that you refrain from singling out specific chipsets if what you are really having a problem with is all budget boards, if there actually is a chipset specific problem please try to get a review published indicating what the problem is.

    BTW if the board that wouldn't function, and had the review canned was a production board I feel sorry for the person that bought it without a proper warning from a review site that knew it was flawed (you don't want to know what I think of the review site that would let this happen).
    Knowing what to expect from a product can help a budget builder as much as it can help an overclocker.
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    I tend to view guids like these through the eyes of my own system, and having a 7900GT at 500/1500, there is little reason to upgrade if I'm going to continue to play games at 1280x1024. However, 22" (widescreen) LCDs have also become a lot cheaper, and with my poor eyes, the 1650x1050 or so resolution will probably work pretty well. That leads me to the great situation I'm apparently in - it looks like my card will fetch around $200 if I sell it, and I have the option of either a perhaps slightly faster X1950pro for $199, basically making it a free change but only slightly faster, or a X1950XT 256meg for only $249. That's a lot of additional card for only $50, and pretty tempting. I cannot see why the $249 part doesn't get the nod for your pick over the 7950GT though.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Despite the fact that they are separated by quite a few cards in the table, the X1950 XT 256MB and the 7950 GT give relatively similar performance. The XT is probably 10-15% faster depending on game, but that's not really enough to mean the difference between one resolution and another in my opinion. You also get 512MB of RAM with the 7950GT, and it tends to overclock better than the XT resulting in performance that is basically equal.

    However, you're right that it is still worth considering, and so I added it to the final table. This is particularly true for people that don't like NVIDIA hardware for whatever reason - just as the 7950GT is worth considering for people that don't like ATI's drivers. Honestly, I'm still unhappy with ATI's drivers overall; they NEED TO DITCH .NET! What's next, writing low level drivers in C# or Jaba (that's big, fat, slow Java for the uninformed)? I know the .NET stuff is just for the UI, but it still blows, and I get about a 45 second delay after Windows loads while the ATI driver starts up. If I weren't running CrossFire, I might not have as many issues with ATI's drivers, though.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    As a side note, Neverwinter Nights 2 appears to require/use .NET 2.0, and for those who have played the game that probably explains a lot of the performance issues. I'm not sure if CrossFire/SLI support is working yet, but I do know that my CrossFire X1900 XT config can't handle running with antialiasing, and/or water reflections/refractions at resolutions above 1280x1024. Seems decent without the AA and water stuff at 1920x1200 with the latest drivers and patch, though.
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Something seems to be missing from this part of the last paragraph on page 8.


    As another example, we wouldn't recommend upgrading from a GeForce 6800 GT to a GeForce 7600 GT, because even though the latter is faster fair so fundamentally similar in terms of performance.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Weird speech recognition there, I guess. I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be "they are" instead of "fair so"... but I can't honestly remember if that's what I said or not. LOL
  • gerf - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link


    (which is preferred for LCDs were possible)
    On the second page, were should be "where."

    BTW, good article. Laptop integrated's good enough for me though (ex-gamer).
  • Noya - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Chart of best values jumps from about $100 w/rebate to $200+, while a highly overclockable 7900gs can be had for $145 after rebate (about $35 over a 7600GT).

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