Recommended low profile card: MSI N750ti-2GD5TLP GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB (Newegg link) ($150)
Recommended low profile, single slot card: VisionTek 900702 Radeon R7 250 1GB 128-Bit GDDR5 (Newegg link) ($100)
Well, another GeForce 900 part has launched - the 960. I've seen some rumored specs for lower end cards but nothing concrete. But going by those, it looks like the 940 is going to be close to the 750's performance (and power use, so we may not see it in low profile single slot), and the 930, those specs only list a config with a 64-bit DDR3 interface. I guess we'll know more about them in March, if any of that is true, but I'd hope for a higher speed memory setup for the 930, at least. The current 730s have a 64-bit GDDR5 config that gets them 40GB/s of bandwidth; a similar setup with higher clockspeeds would be nice for the 930. Haven't seen any word on the low-end parts in AMD's Rx 300 series yet.
In the same way that it looks like the 900 series will be all-Maxwell (really, no need to drag Fermi back out at this point), I'm still hoping we won't see re-use of a GCN 1.0 part from AMD. I think "playable framerates at normal quality settings at 1080p" will be possible for all the low-end cards, but the 930 might be pushing it. Still, with the focus on efficiency in Tonga and Maxwell, and higher memory clocks, maybe it'll be doable even on a $65 video card.
Last year I put together a system in an Antec ISK 300. I'd hoped to use an A8-7600, but after waiting several months with no sign of availability (at that point it had already been about 6 months from "launch" and they were nowhere to be found), I just gave up and built it with a Haswell Core i3. I'm using a Pico PSU 160W for power. I'd like to put a video card in it, something significantly more capable than Intel's IGP, to make 1080p with middling quality settings (lightweight stuff like Diablo 3, Team Fortress 2, etc) playable.
My setup gives me video card height restrictions (low profile, obviously), width restrictions (single slot; there's only 20mm of space from the center of a motherboard's PCIe slot to the edge of the case) and power restrictions (no additional PCIe power, can only draw from what the motherboard provides). So, I've been keeping an eye on available options and thought it might be useful to others with similar space requirements. I've also included information for those who are just limited to low profile, but can do double-slot heatsinks (some OEM boxes, Dell, HP, etc, might be low profile but have room for multiple expansion cards, as do some DIY cases).
That said, if you happen to be reading this and are:
- considering building a new system
- in a small ITX case with room for only a single-slot video card, and
- you want to be gaming on it
Then you should look really, really hard at AMD's APUs, especially the A8-7600, before you decide you'd rather go with an Intel CPU and a discrete video card. You'll save yourself a lot of headache looking for a video card.
A note on performance:
The discussion thread about obsolete GPUs got me wondering about the kind of performance improvement you'd get out of these cards, especially the single slot ones, compared to Intel's HD 4600 (haswell), 4000 (ivy bridge) and 2000 (Sandy Bridge) graphics.
I browsed through Futuremark's database of user-submitted benchmark scores to try and get an idea of this. I went by their "cloud gate" scores, since there aren't firestrike results for Intel graphics. I used the i3-4360 as the Haswell CPU option, since it's the fastest i3 they have listed with HD 4600 graphics (the 4370 wasn't in their database at the time I compiled these), and the i3-3225 for Ivy Bridge, as they don't have much results for the 3240 (although I did use it for one test, see below). The Sandy Bridge processor choice was a bit of a "whatever" moment, since none of the scores they had listed were "valid" 3dmark results. However the performance matches up with what would be expected of HD 2000, so I went with the i3-2100 for that.
Since it's easy enough to spec an ITX system with 8GB of system RAM, I've looked for results from systems with that amount, and a few different video card options for each proc. I've "normalized" the results to the IGP score for each proc. I've tried to stick to "validated" results as much as possible.
I chose i3 processors for the results comparison for two reasons: I have an i3 in my system, and I figure smaller systems with these space constraints will not likely be crammed full of i7 CPUs. However, as kuririkura pointed out, the higher-end processors can push their onboard graphics much harder (here is a comparison link between the results in Cloud Gate for an i3-4360 vs an i7-4770K, showing the "graphics score" on the 4770K to be 50% higher than the 4360, and the overall score to have increased by 65%).
Cloud Gate is not a graphics-only test; it also does a physics test and the overall score is averaged somehow from all of the results. Below you will find only the "overall" score, as I think the that is more indicative of the actual performance increase you'd see from these cards.
i3-4360 results (HD 4600 graphics):
Quick notes: systems specced with 8GB of RAM. Memory type was determined by reported clock speed and known video card configurations.
- Baseline HD 4600: 5973 (1.00)
- GT 730, 2GB of DDR3: 5159 (0.86)
- R7 250, 2GB of DDR3: 6925 (1.16)
- GTX 750, 1GB GDDR5: 11387 (1.91)
- GTX 750Ti, 2GB GDDR5: 13233 (2.22)
Well. Some interesting results in their database here, and it confirms my suspicions (and those of many others) that a card with DDR3 is absolutely not worth the cost of entry at this point. The GT 730 with DDR3 is actually slower than the HD 4600 on the i3-4360. The R7 250 with DDR3 is a marginal improvement over the HD 4600 - but given the prices of these cards, you'd be paying near $100 for a 15% improvement in performance. Figure that in actual games, not synthetics, this difference might be even smaller, and I can easily say it's just not worth the cost.
The 750 and 750ti are really the best option if your case has room for a double-slot low profile card. If it doesn't, well, I couldn't find numbers for a GDDR5 730 or 250 with the i3-4360 and didn't want to muddle the numbers by switching the Haswell processors around, but I did find some on the Ivy Bridge proc. Read on!
i3-3225 results (HD 4000 graphics):
Quick notes: systems specced with 8GB of RAM. Memory type was determined by reported clock speed and known video card configurations. R7-250 results come from a system with an i3-3240 (100MHz faster) so may be slightly askew. GT 740 results from a system using i3-3220; same clock speed as 3225 but has onboard HD 2500 instead of HD 4000.
- Baseline HD 4000: 4533 (1.00)
- GT 730, 1GB GDDR5: 7578 (1.67)
- GT 740, 2GB of GDDR5: 8447 (1.86)
- R7 250, 1GB of GDDR5: 8824 (1.95)
- GTX 750, 2GB GDDR5: 10676 (2.36)
- GTX 750ti, 2GB GDDR5: 11407 (2.52)
I was able to find results for a GT 730 with GDDR5 and it paints a pretty compelling picture: even though those cards have a 64-bit memory interface, it manages to punch a full 66% faster than the HD 4000 graphics. A quick browse of their database showed a not-validated score of 7730 when paired with an i3-4130, so I don't think there's much room for the 730 to score much higher. It might be worthwhile for an Ivy Bridge system, then, but still not a big bump for a Haswell proc with HD 4600. Also, you'll notice the GT 740 is marginally faster than the GT 730 when both are using GDDR5, but the R7 250 still has a slight advantage - seems the 64-bit GDDR5 interface is a pretty good match for the 384SP config in the 730, and the 740, with the same amount of SPs, isn't really able to make use of the extra bandwidth.
Comparing the Haswell scores of the 730 and 250, though, you can see that the 128-bit DDR3 does not provide sufficient bandwidth for these "cheap" GPUs. Looks like the "sweet spot" of bandwidth will be somewhere in the 60GB/s range.
i3-2100 results (HD 2000 graphics):
For the curious, before I jump into the numbers from the i3-2100, I checked the DB to see if there were comparable results for the HD 2000 vs HD 3000. There were, although they weren't "validated". The i3-2120 and i3-2125 are same clock speeds, but one has HD 2000 graphics and the other has HD 3000. I don't think the 3000 was as common in the low-end processors for Sandy Bridge, but honestly can't recall - I skipped from Clarkdale to Haswell on the desktop, with a big gap of "not paying attention to this stuff" in between.
- i3-2120, HD 2000: 2164
- i3-2125, HD 3000: 3390
Quick notes: the R7 250 results were found paired with an i3-2105 CPU, which has the same clock speed as the 2100 but HD 3000 graphics onboard. I figure it is comparable. The 750ti results came from a system with only 4GB of system RAM. Memory type was determined by reported clock speed and known video card configurations.
- Baseline HD 2000: 2082 (1.00)
- GT 730, 2GB of GDDR3: 4729 (2.27)
- GT 730, 2GB of GDDR5: 7048 (3.39)
- R7 250, 1GB of GDDR5: 8013 (3.85)
- GTX 750, 1GB of GDDR5: 10179 (4.89)
- GTX 750 Ti, 2GB of GDDR5: 10724 (5.15)
So the R7 250 is the definite winner for single-slot low-profile. If you're already on Haswell HD 4600 graphics, however, The roughly $100 one costs would be getting you about 50% more GPU performance. That's a tough call, but in that form factor, it's the best option. If these cards were priced a little better it'd be an easier choice, but even regular sized R7 250s are $80-$90, so we're not really looking at much of a premium for low profile format. The pricing makes less sense when compared to other equivalently priced cards. AMD needs to get these into the sub-$75 range and make them the new "bottom line" - much the same way NVIDIA has done with the GT 730 cards sitting in the $60-$70 range. Maybe they'll do that with the Rx 300 series.
The R7 250 looks like a much nicer proposition if you're using Ivy Bridge HD4000 (and obviously would be an even bigger upgrade for Sandy Bridge HD2000/3000, as well).
If you can do double-width low profile, though, the 750 or 750ti are the definite winners. The 750 isn't much slower than the 750ti, so unless you can get one for an especially good price, it seems the 750ti makes the most sense.
The big list (updated 17 November 2014):
Low Profile - NVIDIA
GeForce GTX 750 Ti - 60W power draw and the full capabilities of GM107 (as far as we know, at least) makes this the best option for a low profile gaming card right now. And yes, there are low profile GeForce 750 Ti cards.
GIGABYTE GV-N75TOC-2GL G-SYNC Support GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB - 2GB of RAM and readily available at the egg, here's your fastest low profile video card currently available.
Newegg link ($150)
Amazon link ($155)
MSI N750ti-2GD5TLP GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB - MSI doesn't seem to have a link on their US website for this card, but according to newegg, the GPU clocks on this are ever so slightly lower than the Gigabyte card: 1020 core and 1085 boost, vs 1033 core and 1111 boost; memory on both is the same at 2GB of 5400MHz, 128 bit GDDR5. However, I think more important than that: it has a dual-fan cooler setup, instead of the single fan on the Gigabyte. I'd expect less noise and better cooling, and as a result I'd recommend this over the Gigabyte card.
Newegg link ($150)
GeForce GTX 750 - with excellent performance for its segment and a mere 55W power draw, a few vendors have already pushed out low profile versions of the GTX 750. While a 750 Ti is going to get you better performance, maybe your budget is really tight, or maybe you're just going to be casually gaming, and don't need the extra horsepower of the 750ti. So here are a few 750 options which might save you a few bucks:
ZOTAC GeForce GTX 750 1GB (ZT-70702-10M)
Amazon link ($136)
GIGABYTE GV-N750OC-2GL G-SYNC Support GeForce GTX 750 2GB - Gigabyte's version of the 750 in low profile comes with 2GB of RAM, and is $20 less than their 2GB 750Ti (linked above). I don't think this is quite enough of a discount - it's got 20% less "cuda cores" or "stream processors" or "whatever marketing is calling them these days" but isn't quite 20% less dollars. But it might be enough for you!
Newegg link ($130)
Low Profile - AMD
Radeon R7 250 - 384SPs, with GDDR5. Good memory bandwidth, about 800GFLOPS/sec of power... so the question becomes: is the 512SP card so bottlenecked by the slower DDR3 that it can't keep up with a lower-end card with faster memory? It's possible. There are a lot of single slot solutions for these cards, so scroll down to the "low profile, single slot" for more R7 250 cards.
Radeon R7 250 Core Edition - Low Profile (R7-250A-ZLF4)
A dual slot solution (incorrect heatsink height listed on their website specs, at the time of this writing it showed 14mm, actual height is about 36mm), with a shrouded heatsink/fan, so it's possible you'll get less fan noise and better cooling with this than you would with a single slot solution.
Newegg link ($100)
Amazon link ($90)
For other R7 250 cards, the rest of which I have listed are single slot, see below.
Low Profile, Single Slot - NVIDIA
GeForce GT 730 GDDR5 - while these cards have a 64-bit GDDR5 interface, it's more memory bandwidth than the 128-bit DDR3 setup would provide (40GB/s vs 28GB/s). Further, those 128-bit DDR3 cards are Fermi-based, and have only 96 shaders/cores/whatever. 384 cores on the 64-bit GDDR5 versions, along with double the ROPs (8, vs 4 on the older Fermi one) will get you the best performance of all current versions of the 730.
EVGA GeForce 730 1GB GDDR5 low profile
EVGA GeForce 730 2GB GDDR5 low profile
The heatsink on these appears to extend past the usual "single slot" width, and while the pictures on their website make it seem single slot without any protruding past the bracket, Newegg's product photos show slightly differently. I e-mailed evga about the photo discrepancy and got back this, which is good enough for me:
It is designed as a single slot solution, so it should have no problems fitting in your computer. I'm not sure why the pics differ between our site and Newegg's though. Even as pictured on their site, it should fit in a single slot area according to PCIe industry standards.
Amazon link ($70)
Newegg link ($75)
Amazon link ($80)
PNY GeForce 730 1GB GDDR5 low profile
If, on the other hand, you prefer something with the very thin single slot heatsink/fan, PNY has you covered. PNY doesn't list it on their website currently, although it appears to be the same cooling unit as on their low profile 740 (see below), and while they did have a PDF posted that I found a couple weeks back with the details, it seems to be gone now.
Newegg link ($75, through a non-newegg seller)
Amazon Link ($65)
Low Profile, Single Slot - AMD
Radeon R7 250 - As mentioned above. Based on AMD's "Oland" GPU which launched, as near as I can tell, as the OEM only Radeon HD 8500 and 8600 cards, these GCN architecture GPUs offer the processing capabilities of the onboard GPU in the A8 Kaveri chips (with 384 stream processors), but there are several sporting 128-bit GDDR5, giving them significantly more bandwidth than a system using DDR3 can provide. They've also been around long enough that there are a few good options:
VisionTek R7 250 1GB GDDR5 (900702)
I'd be curious to see performance comparison between this guy and one of the GeForce 730s, but I unfortunately don't have $175 lying around to do a comparison myself. IMPORTANT: There seem to be two versions of this card available. One is model 900685, which they list on their website, and one is model 900702, which is the one in the Newegg link. From what I can see from the product pictures, the 702 version has a low profile bracket, while the 685 version does not.
Newegg link ($100)
Amazon link ($98)
PowerColor AXR7 250 2GBD5-4DL
This one has 4 mini displayport outputs if you want to drive that many monitors off of a low profile card; also has 2GB of GDDR5 (which I expect you'd want with four displays). Also, fellow forum member arunphilip reports that GPU-Z is showing his as a Cape Verde card, with the 512/32/16 config, no idea if that's typical of this one. It has also gotten increasingly more expensive since I first started this thread, originally sitting around $120 (when the premium made sense for 4 outputs). Now I can't recommend it at all unless you need 4 display outputs in a single slot, low profile form factor - the only reason I still have it listed here at all.
Newegg link ($180)
Amazon link ($190)