Graphics Card Buying Guide

How to Choose a Graphics Card: Your GPU Buying Guide

A low-performance graphics card can impact performance in gaming and will give a very poor visual experience for photo editing, video editing, and other visual tasks.

If you don’t know where to start, this graphics card buying guide will help you make the best decisions when it comes to selecting a GPU.

But before making the decision you should first know

What Is a Graphics Card and Why It’s Important?

For gamers, streamers, and content creators, a graphics card is one of the most important parts of your PC.

The graphics card, also called a “GPU”, is responsible for generating the information and images that you see on your computer’s display.

The more powerful the GPU, the faster that information can be displayed, and the better your visual experience will be overall.

How Will You Be Using The GPU?

As with every PC component, the first question to ask yourself when choosing a graphics card is: how will you be using it?

If you’re building a PC to play games, then the GPU will be your most important purchase.

Other components can affect performance, like the CPU and RAM, but getting a GPU that’s too weak for your chosen games is guaranteed to result in disappointment, some games won’t even run.

There are different kinds of games, though, and not all of them demand the most powerful GPU on the market.

That’s why it’s important to read a game’s required, recommended, and optimal specifications to make sure that you get a suitable GPU.

Future Proofing Your Build

Buying the best GPU you can afford is a good way to future-proof your build, and can keep it ready to play popular games that have yet to be released.

Productive Work GPUs

GPUs For Productive Work
Credit: Newegg

If you’re not a PC gamer, there are still many reasons you might need a powerful graphics card.

Some examples include video editing and computer-aided design and manufacturing applications like AutoCAD, which can use the GPU for significantly better performance.

In fact, there’s a class of GPUs aimed specifically at these professional users, these workstation GPUs are optimized for these applications, and their drivers are certified to be stable and reliable.

They’re not always the best at powering games, because they’re designed with those workstation applications in mind.

Nvidia vs. AMD: Which Is Better For Gaming?

Nvidia vs. AMD: Which Is Better For Gaming?
Credit: Newegg

When you’re shopping for a GPU, you’ll be choosing between two manufacturers: Nvidia and AMD.

Historically, these two companies have battled for leadership in the GPU market, and Nvidia was strongly in the lead until the last few years.

Nvidia still holds a strong position in the market, but AMD’s newest graphics cards have made the landscape more competitive.

One of the phrases you’ll hear a lot these days when GPU shopping is “real-time ray-tracing,” which is a visual technology that enables more realistic lighting, shadows, and reflection effects.

There’s some debate about how necessary this tech is to advance game visuals, but as of right now it’s only something you’ll get on the Nvidia side of the GPU world.

If you want to play games that support RTX features, that’s a strong argument for picking up an Nvidia 20-series or Super card.

Most Popular Graphics Card

 Steam Hardware and Software Survey in November 2021

According to the Steam Hardware and Software Survey in November 2021, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 is still the most popular graphics card around, by a lot.

But the new GPUs that AMD launched in 2019, the RX 5700 and the RX 5700 XT, are starting to gain some traction.

It will be a while before AMD catches Nvidia in their most prominent demographic, PC gamers, but the gap has been consistently narrowing for the past couple of years.

We live in a pretty exciting point in GPU history, rather than just one GPU manufacturer putting
out a superior product, both AMD and Nvidia offer unique benefits for anyone looking to buy a GPU.

Conclusion

There isn’t one best answer for everyone now, you can pick a graphics card that fits your
needs, your budget, and your future goals.

Always keep your favorite games in mind when choosing a card, too, typically, games created on an AMD architecture, like Borderlands 3 or Apex Legends, will run a little more smoothly on an AMD card.

On the other hand, Nvidia games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Metro Exodus might run smoother on an RTX card.

If you only plan on playing a handful of games, it’s worth checking out what GPU family they are optimized for.

When shopping for a graphics card, you’ll most often be choosing from models made by companies like ASUS, Gigabyte, EVGA, and MSI, which put their own special spins on the core hardware developed by NVIDIA and AMD.

Of all the various specifications you’ll come across when learning about GPUs, the GPU model itself is the most important.

This is what tells you where the GPU falls in terms of overall performance.

Those specific graphics cards within a GPU model can vary in performance depending on a variety of factors.

So reading reviews and comparing benchmarks can be helpful when you’re looking to determine the best bang for your buck.

It’s also important to know what kind of power connections a graphics card requires.

Usually, this is a mix of six-pin and eight-pin connectors, which the power supply will need to provide in sufficient quantity.

Graphics cards have their own memory where they store the data needed to display information on the screen.

The amount of RAM in your GPU is important for high-performance games that use large amounts of data to represent on-screen images.

Also, if you’re running multiple 4K displays, then you’ll want more graphics RAM.

However, generally speaking, you’ll get more graphics RAM as you buy faster graphics cards, and so as long as you buy a GPU that’s fast enough for your desired games, then you should have enough RAM to go with it, built-in.

Today, all discrete GPUs plug into PCIe slots, GPUs vary, though, in how many slot widths
they take up, including single, double, and triple slots.

You’ll need to be sure that your PC’s motherboard and case has enough room for your chosen GPU along with the other components you might want to install.

And if you’re using a particularly large or heavy card, like NVIDIA’s 2080 Super or Ti models, then it’s a good idea to get a motherboard with reinforced PCIe slots, too, to cut down on GPU sag.

Of course, a GPU by itself isn’t worth much, It needs to connect to a display to be useful.

HDMI and DisplayPort are the most common connections these days, and can be found on most graphics cards – usually at least one of each.

When buying a GPU, you need to make sure it has enough ports, of the right types, to support the monitors and VR headsets you plan to connect.

It’s possible to buy adaptors for some ports, but you’ll have a much easier time if you can avoid that.

By now you should have some idea of how to select the right graphics card for your needs.

The next step is to narrow your choice down, based on functionality, performance, and price.

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