How To Choose The Perfect Graphic Card The Complete Guide
GPU stands for Graphics Processing Unit. It essentially does the same job as your computer’s processor (CPU), but a GPU is dedicated entirely to graphics.
Your GPU takes the difficult job of generating complicated graphics away from your CPU and lets the CPU just do the standard processing work required of a PC.
As a result, your CPU doesn’t have to struggle, and your GPU can create those graphics easily itself. You brilliant for gaming, and other graphically demanding tasks such as photo and video editing.
I just want to say that in this article I will be using the terms ‘GPU’ and ‘Graphics Card’ interchangeably. Technically they aren’t the same thing, and I’m sure I’m going to get abused in the comments, but the difference isn’t important for what we’re talking about here.
So when I say GPU and then Graphics Card I mean the same thing, don’t worry about the difference.
Who Needs One?
Anyone who likes to play demanding, or reasonably demanding games on the PC.
Because this is a gaming site, I’m going to assume that most of you reading this are dedicated PC gamers and so will be needing a GPU. But, there might be some of you who have just stumbled across this article and are wondering whether you need to get a GPU or not.
The answer is that for regular PC use, say working with spreadsheets, writing word articles or browsing the internet, you don’t need to buy a separate GPU.
So save your money.
If you don’t game or use graphically demanding software like Photoshop or Illustrator, then do not bother buying one.
This is important because GPUs are expensive. They’re essential if you’re a gamer, but if not they’re an unnecessary investment, and you’re best off saving your cash.
With that out of the way, I’m now going to talk about who should get a GPU.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because your computer can’t play a game you’ve got. Or maybe you’re thinking about getting one, but you think your PC might not be able to handle it.
Before you buy anything, you need to figure out if it’s your GPU that’s not powerful enough, or whether it’s some other part of your computer.
Like I said, GPUs are expensive. You’ll be seriously annoyed if you spend a load of money on a new GPU, only to discover that the problem was a lack of RAM instead.
Equally, high-end GPUs require a reasonably up-to-date system overall. There’s no point shelling out for a top-spec GPU if the rest of your PC is from the Windows 95. It just won’t work.
So you need to work out where your bottlenecks are. What’s causing the lack of performance on your PC?
The best way to check is to have a look at the GPU your computers got (or if it hasn’t got one the graphics capabilities instead) and compared that to what your games need to play at a good FPS.
If your games are demanding more than your PCs got, then you need an upgrade.
Also check the specs of the rest of your computer compared to what the game needs, if you’re lower than the recommended minimum of a couple of specs then you don’t just need a new GPU, you need a new PC.
Things to Consider
So you’ve checked your specs now, and you’ve worked out that the rest of your computer is fine. It’s the GPU that’s lacking.
Now you’re probably thinking about what you need to look for in a GPU, and how to pick a good one for you.
Well, the kind of GPU you’ll like will depend on your situation, in this section, we’ll go through a variety of things that you need to think about when picking one.
Recognize that a top-end GPU will cost a serious amount of money. Even the low-to-mid tier models aren’t exactly cheap. You can pay over $1000 for a GPU no problem. This isn’t like buying yourself a stick of RAM.
Therefore, it’s more important than ever to check that you do need a GPU.
After you’ve done that you need to check what spec of the model you need. There is a law of diminishing returns with graphics cards. Up until about $500 you’ll get a pretty even return in terms of performance with each dollar spent.
Get past $500, and every dollar you spend will get you less and less return relatively. This means that you only need an expensive one if you’re planning on playing really demanding games on high specs. If not then you’d be better off getting an inexpensive one that will suit your needs fine.
Getting a pricey one when there’s no need will just mean you end up paying a ton more for no real benefit.
For some products, the make just isn’t necessary. I’m sure you don’t care about your brand of toothbrush. As long as it works who cares who made it?
This isn’t the case with computer equipment and particularly isn’t with GPUs.
Certainly, brands are more reliable than others, the last thing you want to do is to spend a lot of money on a graphics card only to have it stop working after a couple of months. Also, some manufacturers exaggerate the power of their units, leaving consumers disappointed when they don’t meet expectations.
You’ll notice that when we make our recommendations we stick to a relatively small number of brands, these manufacturers have reputations for quality and honesty about their products and that’s why we only recommend them.
You might be tempted to save money by purchasing a cheaper brand with the same stats, but I would caution against this. You’ll more than likely end up with a sub-standard product with reliability issues. Spend a little more money and get a higher quality product.
What type of screen do you use? Or what type do you plan on using? If your PCs got an old-school 1280×1024 pixel monitor, then you don’t need a super advanced GPU.
So get yourself a cheaper option instead.
No need to pay the big bucks if you’re playing on this.
The reason is that lower pixel screens have lower graphical demands. Top end GPUs are designed for demands of Virtual Reality (VR) Gaming, or for gaming in 4K. There’s no point spending all that money just to game on a low-resolution screen.
But if you want to play in Virtual Reality, such as using the Oculus Rift or experience the incredible graphics of a modern PC game in 4k resolution, then you’ll need to be paying top dollar.
Different games have different graphical demands. Something like Warcraft 3 or StarCraft 2 isn’t going to be particularly demanding.
Great fun and easy on your GPU.
So if this is your kind of game, then you can get a low-end GPU and play at a high FPS with no problem.
On the other hand, something like the Witcher 3 is going to put some serious demands on your graphics card.
The graphics are incredibly detailed, and even on low settings, you’ll need a decent GPU. If you want to play it on high settings, you’ll need to invest even more.
Just spectacular graphics.
So what you need will depend on the games you’re looking to play. Take a look at any games you know you’ll play and check what spec of GPU you’ll need. I wouldn’t go below the minimum, as this often is the games played on the lowest possible settings.
I’d also recommend having a think about the genres that you like. As certain types of games tend to require more power than others. If turn-based strategies are your thing, then you can consider lower-end GPUs.
These types of games simply tend not to be that demanding and any low-to-mid level GPU you get will likely do the job for years to come.
But if you enjoy playing RPGs, then you will need a more powerful GPU.
These games are simply more demanding and getting the lowest-spec GPU required will probably leave you upset in a few years’ time when a cool new game comes out, and you can’t play it.
This is something that’s easy to overlook. Higher level GPUs require more power to function than lower level ones. Your computer might not be able to power it with its current Power Supply Unit (PSU).
Make sure you check the requirements of any GPU you’re thinking of buying. If your PSU isn’t good enough, then you’ll need to buy one that is.
Luckily, PSUs are pretty easy to replace. But having to buy one is an additional expense, and if you want a magnificent GPU, there’s a chance you’ll have to add this to the cost. Although check your own computer because you might be in luck.
Again, you want to be really careful here and ensure that your PC is compatible with any GPU you’re considering. You PC needs PCIe power connectors, make sure that it has these.
Another thing to think about is physical size.
More powerful GPUs just tend to be bigger, always measure the physical space inside your case before purchase. It would be an absolute disaster to buy an expensive graphics card, only to find that it’s an inch too long when you try to install it.
If your case is too small, then you either need a smaller GPU or possibly think about getting yourself a larger case. Although this will mean a lot more work.
Type of RAM
A common mistake that people make when buying a GPU is to assume that more RAM = better. While it’s understandable why you might think this, it’s not necessarily true.
What’s more important than RAM is the type of RAM, otherwise known as the bandwidth.
There are two types of RAM: GDDR5 and DDR3. All you need to know is that GDDR5 is much newer and better technology.
It’s much faster, and you’ll get much more power out of it as well.
So you’re far better off with GDDR5 than DDR3.
Personally, I’d much prefer having 1GB GDDR5 than 3 of DDR3.
So while the amount of RAM does matter, the type of RAM is far more important.
One of the most important things about PCs is their ability to keep cool. An overheating PC is a serious problem, not only is it disconcerting to touch the bottom of your PC and realize you could cook a steak on it, but it also does no favors for the longevity of your machine.
Not while I’m gaming, thank you.
There are two different types of coolers that come with GPUs: Reference Coolers and Non-Reference Coolers.
Reference coolers are those who are left unmodified by manufacturers. These tend to be relatively noisy, but they blow hot air out of your computer. This stops the rest of the PC heating up from the GPU.
Non-Reference coolers are those who have been modified by manufacturers. These tend to be silent, and also do an excellent job of keeping the GPU cold. However, they also tend to blow the hot air back towards the insides of your PC.
This means that they can cause the rest of your computer to heat up more than it would usually even while the GPU sits at a nice temperature.
So there’s a toss-up here. The issue comes down to how hot does your computer normally get? If it runs at warmer than 55 degrees Celsius when playing games, then you might want a cooler that sends heat out the back. This will stop it overheating and setting your desk on fire.
On the other hand, if it runs cooler than 55 during gameplay then you can choose based on personal preference.
I suspect that if heat isn’t an issue, all other things being equal, you’ll prefer a non-reference cooler which sends heat back to the PC. They’re just far quieter and excessive fan noise can get really annoying when playing.
You just want a cooling system that’ll stop your GPU and PC overheating, if it does a good job of that then great. If not then it’s a problem. We’ll let you know which ones do a decent job, and which ones don’t.
When it comes to building your gaming computer, finding the perfect parts can be complicated, especially because they have to be compatible with your PC to work. Besides finding compatible components, there’s a lot of other things to look for when looking for the right video cards.
This is the goal of our guide, as a gamer when I first started I had a hard time building my first PC, there weren’t many guides online. This is what inspired me to write this small guide, to help other gamers build their first gaming PC.
I hope our guide on how to choose the perfect graphics card has helped you understand what to look for before ordering a video card. If you liked our guide do not forget to leave us a small comment in the section below.