How to Buy a Video Card
The graphics card of a PC is its heart. Without it, a PC is useless. In a sense, it makes it visible. But graphics cards are always on the move. A few months passing before a new model or series comes along. And if today’s top video card is wanted by many, in two years it will be a mid-level card, offering satisfying performance for those who don’t play demanding games or render graphics. And because it’s a market on the continuous move, there is always need for a new one.
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Video Card Buying Guide
But buying a new Graphics Card (or Video Card) can prove to be a daunting task. If you ever searched the market, then you know what it is I’m talking about: alphanumeric names that don’t make sense to anyone except the techno savvy and the enthusiasts. Specs that blow you away and keep on going page after page.
In this tutorial I’ll try to give all this gibberish some sense, and give you a helping hand when buying a video card. To choose the best one that suits your needs without burning a hole in your pocket (and we all know how expensive these babies can get). First of all, you must understand that those numbers don’t fully reflect the potential of a video card, so don’t get impressed by the fancy names you might see.
Video Memory Doesn’t Mean Performance
A very important aspect that you need to know is that memory is not everything! Video card manufacturers expect consumers to buy the video cards that have the biggest memory, so you will see some video cards that go up to 4 GB RAM. However, it is important not to have too little memory, but everything in the range of 1GB of GDDR5 memory is more than enough.
Be careful also to the type of memory: GDDR2, GDDR3 or GDDR5. GDDR5 is the best out there, so look for a video card that has this type of memory. The GPU (graphics processing unit) is probably the most important part of the video card. So when buying a new video card look towards a new processor, something from the latest technology. This will ensure you that your card will work great for at least two years.
DirectX Version – Cartoons or Realism?
The DirectX driver is another important aspect, look for cards that offer support for the latest DX version (now it’s DirectX 11), anything lower than that will render your graphics at lower quality and realism. Bandwidth is again an important aspect. Measured in Gb/s, look for something that has as much as possible. So the bigger the bandwidth, the better. Also, tightly bound with this is the pixel fill ratio and texture fill rate.
These values also have to be as big as possible. Keep an eye out for compatibility, so look at your motherboard and see what PCI Express slot you have and get your video card accordingly. There are PCI Express 2.0, 2.1 or 3.0 nowadays. Older AGP slots are rarely found and the technology has been abandoned.
Integrated or Dedicated Video?
Some might argue that processors such as the new Intel Ivy Bridge, the Sandy Bridge or the AMD Fusion now have integrated graphics and therefore, there is no need for aftermarket video cards. But these integrated chips do not offer the performance that dedicated video cards, not by a long shot.These are not developed for gaming purposes or for rendering, and so, they are not a substitute for a proper video card.
What Video Card Do I Need?
After understanding all the things you will see when browsing for a video card, the next step is to figure out the purpose of your video card. If you are looking for something that will give you performance in gaming, then there are lots of cards with excellent specs. These are not cheap, for that extra performance you will have to pay a few $$. A decent card will start at the $200 mark and it can go up to $1000+ for those who are really enthusiasts. Also, multiple card setups are good. B
oth ATI and nVidia offer these solutions: ATI calls it CrossfireX and nVidia calls it SLI. These technologies allow you to pair up two or more identical video cards for a boost in performance. But keep in mind that they have to be identical for it to work. For rendering big amounts of graphics you might need more than these cards can offer. nVidia has the Quadro series dedicated to rendering, so look for those if you are into rendering. For other purposes, like internet browsing and multimedia, lower end cards or even newer models of integrated chips will get the job done.
Budget for a Graphics Card
But remember to keep an eye out for budget. Try to find the perfect balance between how much performance you need and how far are you willing to go for that performance. After you figure these out, you will be in front of the task of choosing the model. There are hundreds if not thousands of video card models out there, so choose wisely.
To help you make the best choice, refer to your best friend: the Internet. Search for benchmark results on different games or dedicated softwares such as 3DMark or Heaven Benchmark and see which are the best video cards. When you find a few models that suit your needs, then go and read reviews on them. Look at tests on YouTube. These tests and reviews will help you choose the best video card for you.
Same Performance, Different Brand!
If you are wondering what manufacturer to go with, know this: the different names you see in the shop (Asus, Gainward, Gigabyte etc) all offer basically the same product. There are minor changes from card to card, except cooling system, OC or different values for frequencies. But, in fact, under the hood, there is a stock ATI (AMD) or nVidia chip. The choice between nVidia and ATI is yours.
Today’s video cards offer almost the same performance. Do not get me wrong, they are not the same, but the level of performance is just about the same. I, myself am an nVidia fan, but there are ATI cards that offer the same performance, and when gaming, the difference between two equal cards, one from ATI and one from nVidia is hardly (if at all) noticeable. So forget about phrases like: “nVidia is the best video card manufacturer!”. It’s simply not true, they both offer great products, almost equally good.