No single component defines a computers gaming ability like the GPU. It is often the first upgrade to a pre-bought system when the performance in games is found to be inadequate or a key purchasing decision when you’re building a gaming PC to a tight budget. Grabbing market share has long been a goal of the major manufacturers in this key market, and AMD has recently brought it’s new Navi Architecture to the entry level with the Radeon 5500 XT. Competition with the Nvidia GTX 1650 Super has driven down pricing at the entry level. In this article I’ll examine the options from $150-$200 to ensure that you get the most performance for your money when building a cost efficient system, or upgrading a system you already own on a limited budget.
Navi Architecture at the Entry level:
AMD launched its Navi architecture with the release of the lauded RX 5700XT towards the end of 2019. This complete GPU redesign moves their GPUs’ to 7nm node size bringing with it efficiency and performance gains. The RX 5500XT was released at the end of last year and the RX 5600XT has just started shipping at the end of January 2020 (although there may be delays – see our linked RX5600XT launch article to find out why). AMD Ceo Lisa Su has dropped some not so subtle hints about a high end ‘Big Navi’ GPU towards the end of 2020 but for not that remains speculation. Production is ending for the outgoing ‘Polaris’ RX570/580 GPU’s and the Navi based GPUs will take over.
Navis smaller GPU dies should also translate to lower pricing, and indeed the die size on the 5500XT is tiny, just 158mm2 . The Outgoing RX 570 is 232mm2, and a RX 5700XT is 251mm2. Whilst Nvidia offer in built Encoders on every Turing GPU from the 1660 upwards, and hardware ray tracing and tensor cores on their RTX line up as well, AMD has focussed on what they believe is important to gamers: The most rendering power for the least money.
The real blow to confidence in the RX 5500XT came with the release of benchmarks, however. It was clear once tested that the new entry level GPU really hadn’t moved forwards from a value perspective from the existing Polaris cards, especially after the older cards had undergone aggressive price cuts.
So, the RX5500XT was launched into choppy waters, rich with aggressive competitors. As such it has it’s work cut out to find a niche, but it does exist: The right card at the right price is a strong 1080p gaming GPU.
RX 5500XT performance: Respectable in most games at 1080p
The RX5500XT is squarely aimed at 1080p gaming. At medium settings levels it provides excellent performance in most games: Far Cry 5 will average around 95 FPS, Forza horizon 4 about 110 FPS, Metro Exodus should reach 60FPS (but will dip to 30 fps, not a surprise in such a demanding game) and Shadow of the Tomb raider will average 80Fps. If you crank the settings to Ultra, you’ll experience 60FS average in most AAA titles, which when paired with a 60hz monitor is all you need.
4Gb Vs 8Gb VRAM for entry-level gaming?
It’s worth discussing the 4Gb and 8Gb Versions of this card in the context of their relative performance: In short, the 4Gb and 8Gb versions perform exactly the same in most circumstances. That’s to be expected, because they have the same core.
When you’re not exceeding 4Gb of VRAM usage, there is no advantage of having the extra ram. However, there are some games where at ultra settings the 8Gb Version will out perform the 4Gb version – Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Assassins Creed odyssey for example. The issue is this: the 8Gb Vram versions come at a stiff $30 premium, and you can avoid the disadvantages by simply turning texture quality down to reduce VRAM usage below 4Gb – a settings change that will have minimal impact to fidelity at 1080p. And at a $210+ price point the 5500XT is outclassed by a host of other GPU’s, the Nvidia 1660 Super and even AMD’s own RX 590 8gb. The primary advantage of the 5500XT is value, but you need to opt for the 4Gb version to get that value.
Best Radeon RX 5500 XT: Gigabyte Gaming OC 4Gb
This triple fan aftermarket RX 5500XT card certainly looks the part with a 3 fan long cooler and boasts multiple DisplayPort outputs. It claims slightly higher boost clocks than other RX 5500XT aftermarket cards, but the impact on performance is likely to be minimal. Again, with the entry-level graphics card market so competitive, your decision should be based mainly on price. And this is why it’s hard to recommend the 8gb versions of the 5600XT – their pricing puts them level with GTX 1660 Super’s which roundly out-perform them.
The GTX 1650 Super: The current ‘best’ entry level graphics card.
Nvidia’s GTX 1650 Super is a refresh of the existing Turing based GTX 1650. Now sporting faster GDDR6 ram, the higher memory bandwidth offers a marked uptick in performance. It lacks Turing’s NVENC stream encoder, so if you’re looking for a cheap way to get into twitch streaming you’ll have to look up to the 1660 or 1660 Super.
GTX 1650 Super Performance: Good 1080p Gaming
The GTX 1650 matches the RX 5500XT on average, delivering startlingly similar performance in most circumstances. However there are some game engines that prefer AMD or Nvidia Architecture, so in some titles there can be relevant differences. If one particular game occupies the bulk of your gaming time, then it’s worth looking up benchmarks in that game between the two cards just to check it’s not one of the titles that has a strong advantage on one of them.
The 1650 Super will give 60-100fps on medium settings in titles like Hitman 2, Far Cry 5, Borderlands 3 and Forza horizons. Demanding AAA titles such as Metro:Exodus and Shadow of the Tomb tax it harder, yielding 60FPs and 80FPS on average respectively.
It’s really in the whole suite that the Nvidia’s value shines though, with the inbuilt encoder and CUDA acceleration useful in some photo editing and video editing applications. If you use Adobe suite products you’ll want to look to an Nvidia GPU, and for the occasional gamer the 1650 Super is a good option that doesn’t break the bank.
Best GTX 1650 Super – Gigabyte Geforce GTX 1650 Super Windforce OC 4G
The GTX 1650 Super is a relatively forgiving GPU for the manufacturers – it doesn’t produce a lot of heat so most cooler solutions are capable of adequate cooling. The purchase decisions come down to pricing and the connectivity on offer. The Gigabyte is currently available at $169 on amazon, has a dual fan cooler and usefully incorporates HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI for maximum compatibility with a broad range of monitors. There is also the Zotac Twin Fan, and EVGA SC Ultra Gaming, all twin fan designs with the same monitor connectivity. We’d advise buying whichever is cheapest at the time you purchase. If you find yourself looking at versions beyond $180 then you’d do well to look up to the GTX 1660 Super instead, which offers a substantial performance hike for relatively little additional spend.
Best GTX 1650 for PC’s lacking additional power– Gigabyte Windforce OC 4G
What If you don’t have additional PCie power connectors? The GTX 1650 shines through! If you’re restricted by the PSU in a prebuilt PC, then you need a GPU that can draw a maximum of 75W from the PCIe slot itself. This means taking advantage of the GTX 1650 non-Supers party trick – incredible efficiency. At $150 you have several options, including the Zotac Gaming low profile GTX 1650 if you happen to have a compact office PC. These are the most cost effective means of adding a competent GPU to an office hand me down, but please temper your expectations: They’ll play most games acceptably well at 1080p, but you’ll need to reduce settings to low or medium in most cases and certainly for AAA titles. The GDDR 5 Vram and lower power draw limit the GPu’s performance, and you should only consider a non-Super variant of this card if supplying additional power via PCie cables really isn’t an option.
The Gigabyte Windforce OC is a twin fan GPU has two HDMI outputs and one DisplayPort output, making multiple monitor set ups easy to configure. It’s compact and a twin slot so should fit into the majority of PC’s. If you’re severely space constrained however, you may want to consider the Zotac Gaming 1650 Low profile which is designed to fit into slim office style PC cases. The two smaller fans will be louder, but it’s certainly better than any integrated graphics option.