Buying a new video card for your computer can be a daunting task if you are unfamiliar with graphics card technology, but having the right card can make a world of difference. Graphics standards have increased exponentially over the years, and chances are the video card you bought a decade ago is no longer sufficient. Check out the evolution of graphics, and the differences in next-gen consoles, in this article on the Verge. If you are trying to pick a new video card, here’s what you need to know to get started in your search.
The first thing you need to know when looking for a video card is to find out what kind of input your motherboard supports. The three types of input slots motherboards support include PCI, AGP and PCIe. PCI is an outdated form of video card and few manufacturers still make them. AGP cards are equally behind the curve. PCIe cards, or PCI Express cards, support much higher bandwidths that other standards. PCIe is the standard for modern cards. PCI and AGP cards are only really used in bargain computer systems.
At their core, video cards are powered by their GPU — the graphics processing unit — responsible for every single graphical algorithm executed by your computer. Whether visualizing particle effects or eliminating pixelization from streaming videos, the GPU is the powerhouse. GPU strength and clock speed are measured in megahertz, and the two types of GPUs most commonly used are the NVIDIA GeForce and the ATI Radeon.
Video cards, like motherboards, have memory that handles reading, writing and storing graphical data. The more memory a card has, the better its overall performance. Memory comes in several different types. The fastest is GDDR5, and the slowest is DDR, and memory clock speeds range from the low-end 100MHz to the lightning-fast 6GHz. Many games have required or suggested memory specifications — for example, the new “Dragon Age: Inquisition” requires at least 512MB of graphics memory, but it is suggested that you have at least 2GB of graphics memory. It is important to have enough CPU RAM to keep up with your graphic card’s power, so that processing doesn’t bottleneck at the CPU level. Throwing a fortune at a video card won’t matter if your CPU is too weak to keep up.
What To Look For
When looking for a new graphics card, it is important to note that the newest available cards aren’t always much more powerful than recent mid-range cards, but do carry a much higher price tag. Before purchasing a new card, compare technical benchmarks with other mid-range cards on a site like Tom’s Hardware. In doing so, you can make and educated decision about whether a little bit more power is worth the chunk of change it will cost you. If there is a specific game or piece of rendering software that you want to use, it is helpful to compare cards with similar benchmarks. Customer reviews are often a great source of insight into cards that are similar in power, so don’t ignore them. By being informed and researching video cards before you buy them, you can find a card that is perfect for your needs without spending a fortune.