The Best HTPC Graphics Cards of 2016
An HTPC is Still the Best Portable Media Device
In 2016 there's a plethora of ways you can watch your favorite media on all of your favorite devices. In my own house I have a Chromecast, a laptop to stream video to my TV, a Roku 4 and Roku streaming stick, and many other options.
That being said there's really only one device that I end up using for all of my favorite programming and that's my home theater PC. It's big enough to store all of my favorite series, movies, pictures, and capable of playing all of my favorite video games.
If I want to play a console game, I just plug in a USB compatible remote. Something like an old 360 remote works perfectly. If I want to play with a mouse and keyboard, I have all the options in the world to choose from.
Not only are these games playable all from one device, they're also generally cheaper on PC. What's more is that I can use free services like Steam and Origin and avoid fees from memberships like Playstation Plus and Xbox Live.
For internet, there's a direct connection which takes out some of the buffering and staggering issues I have with some of my other devices.
If you're like me and ready to consolidate most of your entertainment to a box like this one, here's a look at some of the graphics cards that will do a great job.
Do You Need a Dedicated Graphics Card?
A few years ago the answer to this would have been a resounding, yes. That being said today's modern CPUs are more than capable of playing movies in 1080p. If that's all you're looking for, and you're not using an older CPU, then most likely you're good to go. In fact, Skylake's CPUs even support 4k video playback.
Older cheap graphics cards should mostly be avoided at this point in time as many of them don't even exceed the GPU capability of modern CPUs integrated graphics or simply don't add enough to make them worth it.
If you're wanting to play AAA titles or are using an older CPU, then a graphics card is a good way to go.
While you could put a top-of-the-line GTX 1080 in your HTPC, you should consider a GPU that has a low TDP. The lower the TDP, the less heat you'll get. In general, the lower the TDP, the less power it takes to run as well.
If you're like me and planning to run your HTPC a lot of the time, that power adds up. So, keep that consideration in mind before getting started.
10 Good Graphics Cards for Your Home Theater PC (2016 Version)
I've updated this article throughout the years and gone from a large number of recommendations to now only a few.
While you can certainly add any modern graphics card to your home theater PC, these are the ones that really stand out to me in terms of price, performance, and power.
A Good and Quiet HTPC GPU Under or Around $100
Zotac 750 Ti
The GTX 750 Ti is a fantastic card and very capable of playing modern games in 1080p. While some of the more graphically intense games will have to be tuned down a bit in the settings most games will run without a thought.
It even did a good job on a somewhat graphically intense game in Star Wars Battlefront that I play on this GPU from time to time.
For TDP, the stock card uses around 60 watts. In comparison, the slightly less performing R7 360 from AMD has a TDP of 100 watts. Another great part about this is that the non overclocked versions of the 750 Ti don't even need a 6-pin connector. Be sure to check your particular card before you buy. I don't mind hooking in the 6-pin, but it's good to know you have this option if you want it.
While there are 900 and 1000 series GPUs out there this one still hasn't been replaced by NVIDIA as it's still fairly new and still very capable.
This Zotac card is not only inexpensive, it also doesn't use a 6-pin connector. It stays cool and I can't even hear it when it's running.
Low Profile HTPC Card Under $150 to $200
In this price range, I like the GTX 950 a lot. It released in August of 2015 and is a lot like a chopped down version of the 960 with a lot of performance for $50 less.
The low profile is nice in an HTPC and the peak power draw is around 90W. What's more is that GeForce claims the 950 is 26% cooler, 36% quieter, and has 250% lower fan power. Not bad at all and it gives you a bit more headroom than you'd get with the 750 Ti.
Under or Around $300
The GTX 970 is a real winner in a book. It costs around $300, often comes with a $60 game, and uses a reasonable TDP of around 165. While the 1070 definitely replaces this in terms of performance, the 970 should be available for cheaper prices at around $250 to $300.
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