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)
About a month since the GeForce GTX 960 launch... I've seen some rumored specs for lower end NVIDIA cards but nothing concrete. 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. Maybe we'll know more about them in March, if any of those rumors are 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 (maybe use some of that 7GHz memory in the other 900 series cards, that would bump 64-bit bandwidth to around 55GB/s).
Still haven't seen any word on the low-end parts in AMD's Rx 300 series yet, not on any of the sites I've checked at least.
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 low profile 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, and, as you'll see, if you're limiting yourself to low profile, single slot, you may not find much extra performance in a discrete card anyways.
About that performance:
The discussion thread about obsolete GPUs got me wondering about the kind of performance improvement you'd really 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.
To try and get an idea of this, I browsed through Futuremark's database, looking for "Cloud Gate" scores. I focused on these processors:
Ivy Bridge: i3-3225
Sandy Bridge: i3-2100.
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 chose i3 processors for the results comparison for two reasons: First, I have an i3 in my system, and second, I figure smaller systems with these space/power constraints will not likely be crammed full of unlocked Core i7s.
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. I've listed all three scores below, but I think the "overall" score is going to be most indicative of the kind of performance increase you can expect from installing one of 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.
- HD 4600, DDR3-1600: 5973 (1.00) - Graphics 7132 - Physics 3809
- GT 730, 2GB DDR3: 5522 (0.92) - Graphics 6278 - Physics 3886
- R7 250, 2GB DDR3: 6925 (1.16) - Graphics 8953 - Physics 3864
- GTX 750, 1GB GDDR5: 11387 (1.91) - Graphics 28650 - Physics 3663
- GTX 750Ti, 2GB GDDR5: 12739 (2.07) - Graphics 34469 - Physics 3973
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, 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, DDR3-1600: 4533 (1.00) - Graphics 5133 - Physics 3218
- GT 730, 1GB GDDR5: 7578 (1.67) - Graphics 11949 - Physics 3324
- GT 740, 2GB of GDDR5: 8447 (1.86) - Graphics 15117 - Physics 3320
- R7 250, 1GB of GDDR5: 8824 (1.95) - Graphics 16021 - Physics 3431
- GTX 750, 2GB GDDR5: 10676 (2.36) - Graphics 28903 - Physics 3329
- GTX 750ti, 2GB GDDR5: 11407 (2.52) - Graphics 35552 - Physics 3378
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, overall, than the HD 4000 graphics. A 730 might be worthwhile for an Ivy Bridge system, but 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 from the 128-bit config. 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, DDR3-1333, HD 2000: 2164 - Graphics 1992 - Physics 3107
- i3-2125, DDR3-1333, HD 3000: 3155 - Graphics 3150 - Physics 3173
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.
- HD 2000 with DDR3-1333: 2082 (1.00) - Graphics 1929 - Physics 2889
- GT 730, 2GB of GDDR3: 4729 (2.27) - Graphics 5733 - Physics 2933
- GT 730, 2GB of GDDR5: 7048 (3.39) - Graphics 11685 - Physics 2951
- R7 250, 1GB of GDDR5: 8013 (3.85) - Graphics 15859 - Physics 2934
- GTX 750, 1GB of GDDR5: 10179 (4.89) - Graphics 31616 - Physics 3018
- GTX 750 Ti, 2GB of GDDR5: 10724 (5.15) - Graphics 36271 - Physics 3095
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.
Some results from my own testing:
As kuririkura pointed out, the higher-end processors can push their onboard graphics a little harder than these i3s. I've done a bit of testing on one of my own systems about this, out of curiousiry, including some memory tweaking and overclocking results.
My two system configs:
i3-4370 (3.8GHz), 8GB DDR3-1600, HD 4600 graphics & Radeon HD 7570 1GB GDDR5
i5-4670K (3.4GHz, 3.8GHz turbo), 8GB DDR3-1600, HD 4600 graphics
Conveniently the i5's max turbo clock matches the i3-4370's clock. 3dmark seems to report this processor as an i3-4360, despite reporting a different clock speed. I also got my hands on an OEM low profile, single slot Radeon HD 7570 with GDDR5 to toss in for comparison's sake - this is not quite the level of an HD 7750, which is a GCN 1.0 part. It's an earlier Terascale 2 (VLIW5) chip, near as I can tell a rebranded Radeon HD 6670, rated at 65W.
i3-4370 / 8GB @ DDR3-1600 / HD 4600: 6168 (1.00) - graphics 7399 - physics 3899
i3-4370 / 8GB / Radeon HD 7570 1GB GDDR5: 7011 (1.14) - graphics 8951 - physics 3987
So it's a teensy bit faster, but not by much. That puts HD 4600 graphics a little slower than a mid-range part from April of 2011... that sounds about right to me. Moving on, let's see the i3 vs the i5, all other things being equal:
i3-4370 / 8GB @ DDR3-1600 / HD 4600: 6168 (1.00) - graphics 7399 (1.00) - physics 3899 (1.00)
i5-4670K / 8GB @ DDR3-1600 / HD 4600: 7077 (1.15) - graphics 7968 (1.08) - physics 5087 (1.30)
So the i5 is a little faster than the i3, but not by much - seems a good portion of that increase comes from the higher physics score. I also have a system with an i7-4790k in it, and if I get a chance to connect another drive to that box for a quick Windows install and benchmark run I'll include those numbers here, but I expect what you'll see is largely the same as the i3 vs the i5: higher physics score, slightly higher graphics score, overall HD 4600 is still bumping into a ceiling due to available memory bandwidth and GPU clock.
I think the takeaway here is that a beefier processor may well make the IGP a little faster, but not by a massive amount.
But hey, if you've got an unlocked processor and can do a little overclocking, why not try that and see what it does for performance? I was running the i5-4670k on an ASRock Z87E-ITX which has a few "one-click" type overclocking settings. I've normalized these results to the DDR3-1600 one. I changed memory speeds but couldn't get my DIMMs to go past 1866MHz, also tweaked the max turbo (default 3.8GHz) and max GPU speed (default 1.2GHz). I didn't push these too far - small systems aren't likely to be used for overclocking, and OEM boxes in this form factor with i5s/i7s may not even have an overclock-capable motherboard, so this was really just for fun:
i5-4670K / 8GB @ DDR3-1333 / HD 4600: 6817 (0.96) - graphics 7670 - physics 4907
i5-4670K / 8GB @ DDR3-1600 / HD 4600: 7077 (1.00) - graphics 7968 - physics 5087
i5-4670K / 8GB @ DDR3-1866 / HD 4600: 7403 (1.05) - graphics 8435 - physics 5184
i5-4670K @ 4.0GHz Turbo / 8GB @ DDR3-1600 / HD 4600 @ 1500MHz max: 8244 (1.03) - graphics 9488 - physics 5651
i5-4670K @ 4.0GHz Turbo / 8GB @ DDR3-1866 / HD 4600 @ 1500MHz max: 8564 (1.07) - graphics 9986 - physics 5717
That 25% increase in GPU clock speed, paired with the extra 266MHz on the RAM, made for a 25% increase in the graphics score, although the overall score didn't jump by much - just 7%. That might make a difference in gaming performance, but I don't know that it would be enough to keep me from wanting to install a discrete card. It might be enough to hold me off until all the new cards have launched, though!
The list of cards:
After looking through the results above, I've got a few suggestions:
Low Profile - NVIDIA
GeForce GTX 750 Ti
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)
Low Profile - AMD
Radeon R7 250 There are some single slot solutions for these cards, so scroll down to the "low profile, single slot" for another model if you're limited by slot width.
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)
Low Profile, Single Slot - NVIDIA
GeForce GT 730 (Kepler version with GDDR5)
EVGA GeForce 730 1GB GDDR5
EVGA GeForce 730 2GB GDDR5
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)
Low Profile, Single Slot - AMD
Radeon R7 250
VisionTek R7 250 1GB GDDR5 (900702)
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)