The Best HTPC Graphics Cards of 2017
The best part about owing a home theater PC is your ability to constantly upgrade it. Whether you need additional capacity or a good HTPC graphics card, it's all available at your fingertips.
I recently built a green mini ITX gaming PC that you can see on the right. I used a low wattage i3 T processor along with a gold rated power supply to make a box that was power efficient, cool, and extremely quiet.
Today, I use it, along with an Xbox 360 controller or gaming mouse, to play Steam Games. I also use it to Stream Plex to my house as well as share media with friends and neighbors. They, in turn, do the same.
3 Good Graphics Cards for Your Home Theater PC (2017 Version)
I've updated this article throughout the years and gone from a large number of recommendations to now only a few. This is mostly because most modern Kaby Lake processors have more than good enough internal graphics for your basic HTPC. So, this list is more for those who are looking to run programs or games.
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 GTX 1050
The GTX 1050 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.
This card even does a reasonably good job with games like Battlefield 1 with over 60 FPS being achieved on the medium preset.
For TDP, the stock card uses around 75 watts. Another great part about this is that the non overclocked versions of the 1050 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.
Low Profile Gaming HTPC Cards Under $150 2017
In this price range, I like the EVGA GTX 1050Ti a lot at around $120 to $130. It released in late 2016 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. In terms of power consumption, it's fantastic with 8 watts while idle and around 70 watts when it's stretched.
If you're trying to play modern titles in 1080p on medium to high settings, this is a great card to consider. The RX 470, which is around $30 more can give you significantly more performance for just a little bit more. However, it runs a bit higher and I'd recommend at least an i5 if you go that direction.
HTPC Gaming GPU Under or Around $250
GTX 1060 3GB or 6GB
If you're wanting to run 1080p games in max settings, the 1060 3GB or 6GB is a great option. The 6GB option is more for the 1440p games out there; however, there are titles where the extra VRAM does make a difference in terms of FPS.
I'd suggest this option over the RX 580 simply because it does better in a wide variety of games while still maintaining lower temps and power consumption.
In my opinion, this is what makes sense the most. The cut down version of it, shown below, is only 6.8 inches long and uses just a single fan. So, it's capable of fitting in a variety of HTPC cases and still gives you the performance you're looking for.
HTPC Graphics Card Poll
What's most important to you in a graphics card for your HTPC?
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 Ti 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.
In addition, you'll want to look for something that has low noise. Having a booming HTPC on top of your media center is a distraction that never really goes away.
An HTPC is Still the Best Portable Media Device
In 2017 there are 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 that I use along with Plex. 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, hopefully one of the graphics cards above works for what you're looking for.