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The video card has had an interesting past in the history of home computing. What was once a nicety, extravagance, or luxury is now a necessity for gamers, home theater enthusiasts, and everyone who wants great graphics from their home computer.
One could argue that when it comes to gaming and other graphics-intensive applications, the graphics card is a more important consideration than either the CPU or memory. Still, not everyone needs or wants the greatest graphics card on the market. Some home users only need something to get by, a step up from the onboard video arrays so prevalent on budget home computers.
The purpose of this article is to identify the top 5 budget video cards on the market and discuss their function in the budget home computer. Note that these cards are not capable of running the newest games, but they are perfect choices for anyone who wants a budget graphics card to do basic computing. If you are building a new computer on a strict budget, this is the article for you.
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1 – EVGA GeForce 7200 GS – 512MB GDDR2, PCI Express
It doesn’t get any more budget than the EVGA GeForce 7200 GS. What was once a top of line graphics card is now a good choice for low-cost computers. Still, the 7200 GS does sport 512MB of RAM, not much less than some of the better cards in today’s market.
At a price of just US$32.99, this is definitely one video card that won’t break the bank. The GeForce 7200 GS is compatible with the PCI Express (PCIe) x16 standard and doesn’t come with its own fan to make your computer any noisier than it already must be. This card is cooled by a low-profile, dedicated heat sink. Its small size and simple design makes it perfect for budget and small footprint PCs such as those that use micro-sized motherboards. Its small size and lack of fan also make it a good choice for some home theater applications.
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2 – PNY GeForce 210 – 512MB DDR2, PCI Express 2.0
A small but important step above the 7200 GS, the PNY GeForce 210 sports a much more advanced processor to justify its higher price. Still a budget video card, the GeForce 210 is a watered down version of the 200-series video cards that represent the best cards currently offered on nVidia-based graphics cards.
The price of the GeForce 210 is a slight jump over the GeForce 7200 at US$49.99. Still, at under $50 it makes a perfect addition for your low-end computer graphics needs. Much like the GeForce 7200, the GeForce 210 is not going to offer you eye-popping graphics or jaw-dropping animation. Its 512MB DDR2 memory is on par with the memory of the GeForce 7200. Unlike that card, it is compatible with the PCIe 2.0 x16 graphics port, although this card will not push the bandwidth limits of the 2.0 standard.
Luckily, PCIe 2.0 video cards are backwards compatible with motherboards that were designed for PCIe 1.0. There is no need to upgrade your motherboard if your current board supports only PCIe 1.0. If you need a little more punch in your budget computer, consider the GeForce 210. Just don’t expect anything too spectacular.
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3 – XFX Radeon HD 4650 – 1024MB DDR2, PCI Express 2.0
The XFX Radeon HD 4650 is quite a step up from the previous two budget video cards. First, it sports a full 1024MB of DDR2 memory, twice as much as the graphics cards mentioned so far. As with the GeForce 210, it is compatible with a PCIe 2.0 graphics port.
What sets this card apart from the others is a significantly more powerful graphics processor. Capable of delivering far better graphics, this card is a perfect choice for a mid-range, budget PC that must be capable of several things at the same time. A jack-of-all-trades, the Radeon HD 4650 is a good choice when you are multitasking and need some more power for graphics such as when watching movies or playing low to moderately graphic-intensive games.
At a price of US$64.99, the Radeon 4650 is starting to inch its way up into the upper range of a budget-positioned video card. Still, since it is well under US$100, it can be the right choice in the right application.
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4 – XFX GeForce 9600 GSO – 768MB, PCI Express 2.0
The XFX GeForce 9600 GSO video card was a standard in the gaming industry for quite a while. At the time, it was used for many benchmarking applications and is today still a card by which several newer cards are judged.
At the time of its release, video cards sporting nVidia’s 9600 graphics processor averaged about 512MB of memory. In fact, many people still had cards in their computers that has only 256MB of RAM. The 768MB of RAM in the 9600 GSO was capable of astonishing feats putting many other contemporary cards to shame within the same category.
At US$74.99 it is still a good value and will let you do far more than the cards above. Compatible with the PCIe 2.0 standard, you can be sure that the 9600 GSO will be capable of working with just about every modern motherboard. This card is a better choice when mid-level gaming is a possibility or if you just want to get the most graphics for your dollar out of your budget home computer.
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5 – XFX GeForce 9800 GT – 512MB GDDR3, PCI Express 2.0
At the top of the budget graphics cards sits the XFX GeForce 9800 GT. Although over the US$100 mark, it is easy to justify the US$104.99 price tag when you realize just what this budget card can do for your budget computer.
A few years back, the 8800 GT was one of the best graphics processors offered from nVidia. The release of that card corresponded with the release of a game called Crysis from Crytek. This game sported the most advanced graphics any computer game ever had and is still one of the best graphics games you can buy.
Crysis recommended use of the 8800 GT with the game and so the 8800 GT quickly became a standard in the computing industry. Soon after, the 9800 GT hit the market. Although it was similar to the 8800 GT, the 9800 GT did produce marginally better graphics than its predecessor did.
Today, the 9800 GT and the 8800 GT can be purchased for about the same price. This is why the 8800 GT is not on this list. The same price and better graphics make the 9800 GT from XFX the better value and a great choice for a budget home computer.
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The video cards discussed above are all great choices for a budget machine and leave a lot of wiggle room for anyone who needs a super-budget card to someone who needs a card that is capable of delivering a reasonable level of graphics in a budget home computer. Still, none of these cards are capable of producing excellent graphics, hence their location on a top 5 budget graphics cards list such as this one. For graphics cards for mid-range computers, read the second article in this series that covers moderately powerful cards for mid-range home computers.
The Top Five Budget Video Cards for Home Computers
Learn about the features and prices of the top 10 budget (5) and mid-range (5) graphics cards for your home computer.