Best Budget CPUs and GPUs Launched in 2021: Affordable processors & graphics for the budget conscious
The years 2020 and 2021 have been absolutely crazy, with the pandemic outbreak, chip shortage, scalpers, and all. In the PC tech industry alone, these whirlwind of issues eventually caused the current GPU crisis, effectively eliminating most up-to-date entry-level components as serious price-to-performance options.
That being said, while the idea of “budget” PC components seems ridiculous right now, we can at least still count on new releases this year that somewhat helped stave off the cost issue. The list includes CPUs, of course, which thankfully are still widely available at or near MSRP.
Budget CPU Releases for 2021 Overview
Here is a quick run down of our line-up, the best budget CPU in the past 12 months:
- AMD Ryzen 3 5300G
- Intel Core i3-10105F
- AMD Ryzen 5 5600G
- Intel Core i5-11400F
Budget GPU Releases for 2021 Overview
Now for the line-up for GPUs for the past 12 months:
- Intel Xe DG1
- Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060
- AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT
- AMD Radeon RX 6600
1. Integrated Budget Champ: AMD Ryzen 3 5300G
The Ryzen 3 5300G is a powerful resurgence of the Ryzen 3, 3300X, and Ryzen 5 3400G, but this time packaged within AMD’s powerful and efficient Zen 3 architecture. While its Vega iGPU might have slightly lower clocks and number of compute units compared to the 5600G and 5700G, its maximum output balances very nicely to the 5300G’s lower core count and L3 cache without significant bottlenecking.
In other words, the whole package of this CPU is more efficiently used, for a significant reduction to its individual (as a component) cost. This makes it perfect for a permanent casual iGPU build, effectively superseding prebuilts using the Ryzen 3 PRO 4350G.
The biggest caveat to the Ryzen 3 5300G’s budget potential, though, is that is only available through OEM systems. So you have to pick very, very carefully the rest of its components, or else its primary price-to-performance ratio advantage may be completely lost.
2. Economical and Focused: Intel Core i3-10105F
Those who have secured a nice mid-tier to entry-level GPU for the current crisis may instead opt to forego any iGPU options and go straight to the alternative Intel option. For its cost, not only are we considering the price reduction for an F-type SKU, but it also includes the lower demand for Core i3 CPUs in general, leading to both reductions in retail price and increase in supply.
As for what this particular Comet Lake refresh CPU can do, it can go blow-per-blow with a Ryzen 3 3300X. Pair it up with an RX 6600 or RTX 3060, and you’re all set for “relatively low budget” high-refresh-rate 1080p gaming. Even better, find a nice B560 motherboard with a robust-enough VRM heatsink, and you can easily swap this CPU for a future Rocket Lake Core i5 or i7 CPU (which would presumably plummet in demand, thus price, once Alder Lake system costs become low enough or more widely available).
3. Discrete Holdover King: AMD Ryzen 5 5600G
How about if your GPU is still not available, but is only months ahead from being secured? In that case, you might want to just jump an entire tier, and invest in a Ryzen 5 5600G “holdover” APU system.
Much like the 5300G, it uses the real-deal Zen 3 architecture, and thus provides a very significant jump from its technical predecessor, the Ryzen 5 PRO 4650G, when it comes to CPU-related workloads. Its Vega iGPU gets a tiny bump in specs, but when maxed out should still provide more or less the same level of performance, barring CPU-intensive titles, of course. Well, it does get beaten up by the 5600X when paired with a discrete GPU due to its significantly lower L3 cache, but the numbers should be too different for most games.
In fact, the (actual retail) prices for this specific APU have since then dropped quite a bit compared to the 5600X. As such, our previous tip of “just save a bit more for the 5600X and a discrete GPU by default” is no longer really valid.
4. An i5 is Still Good Enough: Intel Core i5-11400F
Similar to the Core i3-10105F, the main philosophy of getting the 11400F is that you shave off the investment that you probably wouldn’t even need in the first place. Don’t mind not having the tiny incremental improvements of modern overclocking? Already have a discrete GPU to pair with it anyway? Still need native memory overclocking capability of Rocket Lake without using a Z-series motherboard? Then the 11400F is the next logical choice.
It easily crushes the Ryzen 5 3600 as the all-around basic mid-tier system solution, while being priced aggressively, is available in relative abundance, and has a few more tweaks that make it technologically better than the also cheaply available 10400F. Oh and best of all, this particular Rocket Lake CPU doesn’t nearly suffer the same level of power drain and heat generation as some the other (more notorious) Rocket Lake SKUs.
1. Cheap OEM Professional-ish Encoding: Intel Xe DG1
First of all, no. This GPU doesn’t even come close to being a gaming card recommendation. In terms of raw performance, it just about edges the dirt cheap discrete champion the GT 1030. Heck, the Vega iGPU of the aforementioned Ryzen 5 5600G can absolutely kick its ass when benchmarked in a few titles using similar low-end settings.
Its strength mainly comes with its encoding capabilities. For example, its architecture allows for better encoding efficiency. It can handle Handbrake slightly better, for example, or the suite of apps on the Adobe Creative Cloud, compared to other GPUs within its hardware specification tier. It is aggressively entry-level in cost, while still fairly good to use for various visual editing applications such as photo upscaling or standard HD video editing.
So yeah, the Xe DG1 lives up to its OEM-only, Intel-exclusive design… which still includes occasional gaming, of course.
2. Supposedly Affordable GPU Tech: Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060
Even in a world without the GPU crisis, the RTX 3060 hardly holds on to its value as a next-generation GPU by merely scaling up its performance a bit to the tiny reduction to its MSRP compared to the RTX 2060. But, it is technically released in 2021, and it’s the only “budget” offering of Team Green so it’s still included in this list.
While the RTX 2060 is often seen only as a “beefed up 1660 Ti” with enabled raytracing and DLSS features, the RTX 3060 thankfully moved up a few tiers (from superb 1080p to basic 1440p). It is essentially equivalent to the RTX 2070 and 2070 Super, and as such, most of its RTX technologies can now be used with relatively more efficiency.
Moreover, it doubled its VRAM from 6GB to a whopping 12GB (the RTX 3070 only has 8GB), which makes it an absolute steal for cryptominers can last you a long long time in terms of incremental graphics development progression.
3. MSRP Mind Games, Part 01: AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT
The RX 6600 XT is somewhat of a mixed bag of sorts, when it comes to its viability as a mid-GPU-crisis GPU, and as a product that has an oddly high official price. That’s because, at the time of its release, AMD wasn’t even trying to sympathize with enthusiasts anymore. This supposedly “high-refresh-rate 1080p” GPU was slapped with a $380 MSRP.
Yup, it was both a deliberate move to push mid-tier GPU costs away from $200, and to capitalize on the bloated costs associated with the GPU crisis. The biggest irony to all of this? On the first wave of supplies upon its release, it was actually available at or near MSRP!
And what about its performance? The RX 6600 XT was intended to compete with the 3060 Ti, though on average it falls between the 3060 Ti and the 3060. Its moniker as the “5700 XT version 2.0” should give you an additional clue on what it can do as well (hint: 1440p isn’t out of the picture).
4. MSRP Mind Games, Part 02: AMD Radeon RX 6600
As if to make things even more complicated, AMD threw yet another supposedly “entry-level” GPU to the mix of never-really-near-MSRP products of 2021. Now, to be fair, the RX 6600 was also introduced during its first supply wave at reasonably near MSRP. But as of today, both SKUs are priced very near each other through different tiered models that for the most part, you’re just better off pushing your investment a bit to get a 6600 XT.
And if the lack of “XT” isn’t obvious enough, yes, this is basically a lower-tier version. Instead of competing with the 3060 Ti, it is intended to perform side-by-side with an RTX 3060, a job that it does perform quite well for the most part.
At least… if we don’t consider its raytracing capabilities.