If you're trying to buy the ultimate gaming PC or even build one yourself, getting the best graphics card is critical. It is even more vital to get the perfect graphics card compared to the CPU.
Alas, figuring out which GPU to buy can be a daunting task.
There's a lot to think about, from the power consumption, to the size of your PC case, to the game settings you'll be utilising.
In this article, we attempt to cover all the main factors that go into buying a graphics card.
Table of contents
What is a graphics card and why do you need one?
A graphics card, which you will also see me refer to as a GPU sometimes in this article, is a component in your PC that is dedicated to solely displaying graphics.
GPUs handle the graphics side of the tasks of a computer so there isn't as much of a workload on the CPU allowing the whole system to run faster and smoother.
Graphics cards can be useful to anyone, ranging from gamers all the way to graphics designers.
The biggest question: AMD or Nvidia?
This is probably the first question that you need to ask yourself when buying a graphics card, do I choose AMD or Nvidia?
Now, these are the 2 biggest manufacturers of graphics cards, so which one should you pick?
Well, that is completely up to you, they are both very capable of handling the applications that you want to run on your PC; but here is a list of the biggest differences between them. Keep in mind that companies such as MSI or Gigabyte use AMD and Nvidia's architecture technology and make their own graphics cards based on that.
At the very top, GPUs from Nvidia are better than their AMD counterparts. Also on average, Nvidia has a better performance across different games. But for most other functions, AMD is just as good as Nvidia.
Now, let's look at the different technologies that both cards provide:
One of the main differences across the 2 companies is the fact that AMD uses a technology called freesync and Nvidia uses a technology called G-sync.
G-sync synchronises its output with a user's monitor, this is especially helpful when the two are out of sync, it provides a higher level output by syncing the refresh rate in real time. It does also stop screen tearing which is when a single frame shows images from different frames.
The main disadvantage of using G-Sync technology is that you need to buy a graphics card and monitor that supports G-Sync technology, and to make full use of it you need to use display port connections.
Meanwhile, freesync does have pretty much the same purpose as Nvidia's G-sync, it's main drawback is an issue called ghosting, which means that an object leaves behind a part of an image, making it look almost like a shadow.
Although it does come with a massive advantage : because it is open source technology (available for free to anyone who wants to use it), more monitors have the ability to support it.
Nvidia does also offer DLSS. DLSS is a rendering technique that is able to increase the FPS displayed by your graphics card without sacrificing too much visual quality that it provides. DLSS uses AI technology that builds a frame in lower resolution and then it is built back up the chosen resolution.
DLSS has 4 performance modes: quality, balanced, performance, and ultra performance. When you go from quality to ultra performance, the amount of fps you get becomes greater, but the quality of images is reduced.
One of the biggest drawbacks of this technology is that it is only available on Nvidia's RTX cards, which are very expensive. Also, not every game has the facility to make use of this technology.
Power consumption is about the same for both types of cards so it is something you don't need to look into too much detail, see TDP section below for recommended power ratings.
In terms of pricing, it is very difficult to say which cards are cheaper and more expensive due to constant changes because of GPU shortages and scalpers inflating prices.
What are the main things to look for in different graphics cards?
Amount of VRAM
The amount of VRAM your graphics has is absolutely crucial, try to aim for at least 8 GB of it and possibly more if you want to play video games or want to work with higher level graphics.
VR gaming requirements
You need specific requirements to run this kind of technology, you need to make sure that your card specifies that it can run VR games. You really get what you pay for in this kind of situation, if you buy a super cheap VR ready graphics card, it won't run as well as a more expensive one.
Different graphics cards come with different connection ports on them. Make sure that both your GPU and your monitor have the ports that you want to use, whether that is HDMI, display ports, DVI or older VGA ports. Keep in mind that you do need a graphics card with display ports if you want to transmit a video signal at 144 Hz or at 4k resolution.
The size of the graphics card on its own doesn't matter but you need to make sure that it can fit within the case that you buy and that it won't cover any important slots on your motherboard, especially with larger graphics cards. Normally the size of a graphics card that can be supported by a case or motherboard will be specified within each of their descriptions, but if not, watching review videos or reading comments on them can also be helpful.
You need to make sure your monitor can match the refresh rate that your graphics card provides, so the frames that are in a game are equivalent to the refresh rate of a monitor. The same applies to resolution, both your graphics card and monitor need to have the same resolution level, for example if you want to play games in 4K, then both need to be able to handle that.
Bottlenecking means that a component in your computer is significantly weaker than another causing a reduction in overall performance. You need to make sure that your CPU is strong enough to match your GPU, for example older CPUs will not run a 3080 that easily, causing bottlenecks to happen. Balance is key to stop bottlenecks from happening. The best way to find out if your CPU and GPU combination doesn't reduce performance is by simply searching it up, so if I wanted to check if a ryzen 7 3800x and an RTX 3060 graphics card would cause a bottleneck to each other I would simply look up “ ryzen 7 3800x and an RTX 3060 bottleneck” and read any articles that show up.
Resolution vs quality settings for different games and gpus
If you are planning on using your graphics card for gaming, we have created a table that shows you what kind of GPUs you need for different types of games depending on their quality and resolution, here are descriptions and metrics we have used for different games:
MMO, these are games like Final Fantasy, EVE, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, etc. Normally these types of games need 60 FPS to run smoothly, here are the specifications required to run MMO games at 60 FPS, with different game settings qualities and different resolutions.
Esports are games like Call of Duty, Dota 2, Fortnite, League of Legend, etc. Normally these types of games need 144 FPS to run smoothly, here are the specifications required to run Esports games at 144 FPS, with different game settings qualities and different resolutions.
Single Player games like Assassin's Creed, Witcher 3, God of War, etc. Normally these types of games need 60 FPS to run smoothly, here are the specifications required to run Single player games at 60 FPS, with different game settings qualities and different resolutions.
NOTE: We haven't included Ti, XT or SUPER models of these graphics cards for simplicity, any of these would just give you extra performance
But do I really need to get a dedicated graphics card or can I just get away with a CPU with integrated graphics?
Any sensible person will tell you to buy a dedicated graphics card, but let me explain to you as to why.
In theory, achieving graphics for a PC can be done in a couple of ways, for example you can get a CPU which comes with integrated graphics within it.
Integrated graphics essentially means that your CPU will handle both: normal processes such as using applications, and also displaying graphics.
Whilst, a dedicated graphics card solely focuses on graphics related tasks.
Even though this might seem appealing because it is a cheap alternative, it isn't a good idea because it will not be able to handle the load of a computer when playing games or doing anything that requires mid to high level graphics.
Not only that, but the performance of your CPU for normal tasks will be seriously affected because it has to use half of its processing power to display graphics.
With a dedicated graphics card you will not only have the benefit of using higher quality graphics, but your CPU will also work better as it can use all of its power to focus on normal tasks.
Now, there is a case where it can be useful to have a CPU with integrated graphics, this is when you only want a PC build that you want to use for basic tasks, it is pointless to have a dedicated graphics card for such a scenario, it is a waste of money.
What about TDP?
First of all, TDP or thermal design power is the measure of how much wattage your graphics card needs and how much heat it generates when it is being used.
This helps you decide what cooling solutions to use for your graphics card.
Most of the time this is built into your graphics card and you do not need to change it.
But you can sometimes get aftermarket GPU coolers if you are planning on doing heavy overclocking on your GPU, but keep in mind that GPU coolers are very hard to install.
To help you figure out how much power your chosen graphics card needs, we have designed a table:
NOTE:A couple of things: firstly this table applies to different versions of the same graphics cards as well, such as Ti, SUPER and XT models, they have similar power consumptions.
Second, this is just an average, every card manufactured by different companies will have different power requirements, make sure to check on the manufacturer's website for clarity.
GDDR5 vs GDDR6 graphics cards. Which one do I get?
Firstly, GDDR memory is specially designed RAM built for GPUs.
Most GPUs use a GDDR5 or GDDR6 technology, both of these are very similar but GDDR6 is slightly better.
On average, if we compare a GTX 1650 GDDR5 model to a GDDR6 model there is about a 15% increase in performance.
It is also worth noting that Nvidia's RTX graphics cards and AMD's latest graphics cards come with GDDR6 technology by default.
To answer the question, even though GDDR6 is better, you shouldn't worry too much about which one you buy, both are very capable of performing tasks on your computer well.
Is Ray Tracing worth it?
Before I can answer that question, let me tell you what ray tracing is.
Ray tracing is the ability of your graphics card to emulate real life effects to your graphics to make them seem more realistic, this can include things like lighting, shadows and reflections.
The biggest advantage of buying a graphics card with ray tracing is that it simulates the behaviour of light very well, you can work with very top quality images.
Whilst ray tracing was previously only a technology found on Nvidia cards, it is now offered by both AMD and Nvidia.
However, Nvidia provides a much larger performance boost on their cards, and with DLSS activated, the gap in performance between Nvidia and AMD increases even more.
One of the disadvantages of buying a graphics card with ray tracing is that it is still a relatively new technology so there is a large room for improvement.
Moreover, it does come at a high cost, for the time being it is only supported within Nvidia's RTX cards and AMD's top end cards.
Another issue is that ray tracing isn't supported on many games, so the chances of you being actually able to make use of this technology are slim.
Now, to answer the question, is ray racing worth it? This does very much come down to personal preference, if you are going to play games that support ray tracing and want to make use of realistic graphics, then go ahead, if not, you are not missing out on too much.
Should I overclock my GPU?
You might have heard of overclocking CPUs but you can also overclock GPUs.
Before we dive deeper into this subject, overclocking is the practice of increasing the speed of a computer part by increasing its operating clock speed.
I wasn't too sure whether to recommend this or not to be honest, I have read very mixed opinions from different sources, whether that is articles or reddit communities or etc.
From what I have read, there is a possibility that overclocking will do more harm than good to your entire system, it will reduce the lifespan of your graphics card and it will produce excess amounts of heat, especially when the heat isn't properly dissipated.
Moreover, it doesn't give a very large boost to the performance of the graphics card either, it is somewhere between 5% to 10%.
But at the same time the reduction of the GPU lifespan will take a long time to take effect, by the time that you need to replace it, newer generation GPUs will most likely be available.
Also, overclocking will still give you a boost of performance as long as your power supply supplies sufficient power and there is a sufficient amount of cooling.
Overall, I would recommend overclocking if you are planning on buying a temporary GPU and then replacing it when you get more money or a newer model comes out.
What is a dual graphics card setup and is it worth it?
You might be wondering what a dual graphics card setup is:
A dual graphics card setup is pretty much as it sounds, a PC with two graphics cards instead of just one.
This is another thing that I have read with mixed opinions on.
Dual graphics cards setups have some very specific requirements for them to work. You have to have two of the same graphics cards, you need a motherboard that supports SLI technology, and you need to have a power supply with a high amount of wattage to power both graphics cards.
Dual cards aren't supported by a lot of applications either.
But this type of setup does have some advantages as well, for example it becomes easier to run dual monitor setups. Also, you can get increased performance for certain applications, depending on gaming, streaming and image editing/rendering requirements. This can be especially useful for rendering high level graphics for video and image editors, especially if using applications such as blender.
But realistically, that doesn't apply to most people, so for the average user this is not recommended.
Buying a GPU can be overwhelming for anyone as there are so many different factors that go into it.
The best you can do right now is to start by writing down a list of all the requirements that you want your GPU to have based on the answers to your questions above.
While there are many physical and performance factors that go into deciding what the perfect graphics card for your PC is, at the end of the day it comes to personal preference, you have a lot of things to decide before you are ready to buy one.
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We have a few ideas on what articles we want to write in the coming weeks, we do want to cover more steps that go into PC building and different PC building parts eventually.
But for now, we have settled on an article that explains how to pair CPUs with GPUs to stop bottlenecking from happening on your PC.
Let us know if you have any content suggestions and let us know what you think of this article.