Buying a graphics card? Here’s what you need to know.

Upgrading your graphics card is a fast and affordable route to making huge improvements in your PC’s gaming performance, but if you’re not a tech-head the vast range of options and dizzying lexicon of jargon can be confusing. Before we take a look at specific […]
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Electronic Theatre ImageUpgrading your graphics card is a fast and affordable route to making huge improvements in your PC’s gaming performance, but if you’re not a tech-head the vast range of options and dizzying lexicon of jargon can be confusing. Before we take a look at specific examples, here’s a couple of common graphics cards terms and what they mean:

*GPU* – The Graphics Processing Unit is the powerhouse of the card, and is usually denoted by a serial number at the end of the its name (EVGA GTX 680 or Sapphire HD 7950, forElectronic Theatre Image example). In general, and without getting too technical, the higher the serial number, the newer and more powerful the GPU. More power = better performance.

*Memory* – Graphics cards have inbuilt memory that stores texture files and so on, helping to relieve the strain on your poor computer when the going gets tough. The current standard for a mid-range card is about 2GB, which isn’t bad at all, but higher is better if you can afford it. More memory = better performance.

These are the two most important specs you need to know about, and if you’re not interested in fine-tuning, you can make a good buying decision based on these alone. If you want to get a bit more technical and find out about terms like clock speeds, memory interface and shaders, there’s a comprehensive glossary available here.
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It’s also important to ensure your computer can support the graphics card in question. Most PCs produced in the last few years have PCI Express slots, which is the current standard – older PCs might have plain PCI or AGP slots, so make sure theElectronic Theatre Image card is compatible with these before buying. If your new card is a significant step up from your last, you may also need to upgrade your PC’s power supply (if the computer won’t turn on after you’ve installed the card, this is probably why!).

Now – AMD (formerly ATI) or NVIDIA? These are the two major brands of GPU, and if you’re buying, you’re more than likely buying one of these. Which is best is the subject of many a heated internet argument, but let us save you some time: it doesn’t really matter. The two have their differences, but it’s not like choosing between Apple or Microsoft – more like Coke or Pepsi. Both produce similar products at similar price points, and the smart money goes for the highest specs at the lowest price – not the brand. Take a look at the specs of these AMD-powered cards and these NVIDIA-powered cards and see if they match what you’re looking for.

When it comes to graphics cards, you can more or less let price be your guide. It may be oversimplifying things to say that paying more means you’ll get a better card, but it’s not far off the truth – essentially, you want to get the best you can afford so that you won’t have to upgrade again for another couple of years.

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About the Author: Gavin Johnson is a technology enthusiast and writer. He covers all Technology topics including components, computing and gaming.

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