Upgrading the graphics card in your computer will make by far the biggest impact on the performance of your 3D video games. The most basic computers typically come with an integrated graphics card, making them inadequate for playing anything but the older and least demanding games.
Installing a new graphics card is a quick and easy job and well within the capability of the average computer user. Choosing the right graphics card for your specific needs is not so simple, however. There are literally dozens of different models available to suit a wide variety of budgets. Graphics cards are typically an expensive component, so you should take care to choose the right one. Before purchasing a specific card, it is a good idea to read some reviews as well.
When choosing a graphics card, you should also kind in mind that technology is constantly changing. In fact, graphics cards are even more infamous than processors for becoming obsolete within a year or so after you purchase them. Ideally, you should try to choose something as future-proof as possible.
ATI versus nVidia
There are two major graphics cards manufacturers that dominate the market. These are nVidia and ATI, the latter of which was acquired by AMD in 2006. Both manufacturers provide a wide range of projects to suit different budgets, but it is hard to say which one is better than the other. While some games are better optimized for either one of the two, it rarely makes much difference. The most important things to consider are specifications, frame rates in games and prices.
Many first-time buyers often consider the amount of memory to be the most important statistic when buying a graphics card. Even mid-range graphics cards typically come with one gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM, which is ample for most people.
But the most important thing to consider is the kind of processing chip that is used and not the amount of RAM. For example, the AMD Radeon HD 6850, with just 1GB RAM, will be four to five times faster than the AMD Radeon 6450 with 2GB RAM. Other specifications to consider are the core clock speed, memory speed and number stream processors (also known as processing cores).
This is where reading reviews will be helpful, especially if you aren’t familiar with the various models and their specs.
Today, all modern graphics cards use the PCI-Express 2.0 interface which replaced the older and slower AGP interface several years ago. Almost all newer computers and motherboards provide a PCI-Express slot.
Mid-range graphics cards should be able to play any game currently on the market at medium to high settings with acceptable frame rates. They cost $160-$200.
When buying a new graphics card, the most important requirement to take note of is the power supply requirement. Even the mid-range graphics cards require a great deal of power. Installing a graphics card into a computer which does not have enough power can, in some cases, cause damage. Most new graphics cards will require a high quality 500 watt power supply at the bare minimum. The high-end cards require considerably more. Before buying a graphics card, be sure that your power supply is good enough and that it has two PCI-Express power cables which will need to be connected internally to the card.
With regards to other system requirements, you should also have an adequate CPU and a decent amount of memory. You should be able to find the minimum system requirements along with the product details for the card you want to buy. Installing a graphics card into a computer which has low specifications will create a bottleneck in performance and you won’t be able to get the best out of your new upgrade.