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How to Choose a Graphics Card for Your PC

A good graphics card is needed if you love playing video games on your computer or work with large video files and graphics. In this article, we will explain to you how to choose a graphics card for your pc and which parameters should be taken into account when doing so.






How to Select a Video Card for Your Computer

A graphics card (or video card) is small hardware designed for graphic applications. When choosing this item, you should consider your specific needs as well as its cost:

  • For office applications, a built-in chip or a basic video card is sufficient.
  • For multimedia applications you need a video card that can play video in the desired format.
  • For 3D video games, a more powerful graphics card is required.
  • Professional 3D applications require a professional graphics card.

Video Card Structure

Graphics Processor (GPU)

The graphics processor is an important component of the graphics card, it will determine the performance. The modern graphics processor is based on different computing devices:

  • Stream Processor (SP) - makes most calculations by pixels and vertices, which make up elementary triangles when rendering images;
  • Texture blocks (TMU), responsible for the processing of textures that will be applied to each pixel;
  • Raster Operations Pipeline (ROP) blocks responsible for the last pixel operations, such as smoothing but also mixing and Z-buffer.


The most important are thread processors: the more thread processors there are, the more powerful the GPU (for a given architecture) will be.

Memory

The video card memory stores intermediate data, which is then displayed on the monitor. Modern games use the GDDR5 memory standard.

  • 3 GB is the minimum recommended memory at this time;
  • 8 GB is the standard for the medium level,
  • 10 GB and above is the standard for high-end,


Tests conducted by Hardware Magazine in late 2013 with high detail Full HD and AA included show that while some "light" games use 1-3 GB of memory (Batman Origins, Grid 2, Dirt Showdown, Metro Last Night, Bioshock), most modern video games require 3 to 8 GB.

The memory type has evolved over time: G-DDR2, G-DDR3, G-DDR4, G-DDR5: the higher the number, the faster the memory. Besides the memory capacity, the memory frequency is also very important: the higher the number, the better the card.

Memory Bus

The memory bus connects the GPU and memory to exchange data between them. The bit rate of this bus is important: it can be 64, 128, 256, 384 and 512 bits. As a rule, the larger the bus, the faster the exchange between the GPU and memory. A 256-bit bus is more efficient than a 128-bit bus for the same GPU and the same memory.

Graphic Bus

The graphic bus provides the connection between the graphical card and the rest of the PC.

Video Card Performance

For reading different video formats, full format decoding with a video card looks like this:

  • MPEG-2: all ATI Series X 1000 and above, all GeForce 7000 and above.
  • MPEG4 / h.264: all ATI HD 2000 series cards (except for HD 2900) and above, all GeForce 8000 series (except for the old 8800) and above.
  • VC-1: all ATI HD 3000 series and all GeForce 9000 series (except 9600 GT).

MPEG-2 for "standard" DVD, MPEG-4 / h.264 and VC-1 from Microsoft for HD DVD and Blue Ray.

Tips Before Buying a Graphics Card

If you have a new PC (or a PC with an upgrade), please note the following: the graphics cards recommended later are mainly for new PCs. If you want to replace the graphics card with a PC, there are compatibility restrictions.

Different Memory Types:

  • Size (capacity): Contrary to popular belief, memory capacity is not critical for the performance that the GPU determines. For example, the GTX 460 768Mo is more powerful than the GTS 450 1Go, even in 1920 x 1200. Low-power GPU graphics cards with 4GB of memory like the GT 630 4GB are completely useless, except for very specific CAD applications.
  • Type: sometimes different types of memory are offered for the same GPU: G-DDR2, G-DDR3 and sometimes G-DDR5. For example, for the HD 7750 some have G-DDR5 at 1100 MHz (recommended), but others have G-DDR3 at 800 MHz, much less efficient.


Be careful not to buy a graphics card that is too powerful for your PC. If the graphics card parameters exceed the CPU performance or screen characteristics of your computer, it will be a waste of money. For example, if you want to install an HD 7970 card, it is better to have a computer with a Core i5 2400 than a Phenom II X4, which even when overclocking, limits the video card.

Hardware Selection For Use in Desktop PCs

A few years ago, the most interesting in terms of performance/price were the following graphics cards:

- Basic level cards (~ $100/200): 1st place - we recommend RX 460 based on Polaris architecture on AMD or Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti based on Pascal architecture, all 2 without 6-pin PCI-E connector;

- Average level (~ $200/300): on AMD, RX 480 (based on Polaris) or Nvidia GTX 1060 (based on Pascal).

- High segment (~ $300/500): Nvidia GTX 1070 is suitable for playing in 3D at very high resolution, or AMD Saphire R9 Fury X;

In March 2016, the new version of the GTX 950 seemed very attractive to upgrade a branded PC with weak power supply: the GTX 950 75W! It does not require a 6-pin power connector.

The AMD R7 / R9 200/300 series is not really new, some cards are actually CG versions that existed before:

Radeon R9 280X / 280 ~ HD 7970/7950
Radeon R9 270X / 270 ~ HD 7870
Radeon R7 260X ~ HD 7790
Radeon R7 250 ~ HD 8670 OEM, slightly less powerful than the HD 7750.

In the 300 series:

R7 360 2GB ~ R7 260
R7 370 4GB ~ HD 7850
R9 380 4GB ~ R9 285
R9 390 8 GB ~ R9 290
R9 390X 8GB ~ R9 290X

This choice does not mean that you should not use other video cards. The main thing is to take note of the advice often contained in advertisements of equipment manufacturers! And do not forget about such parameters as memory frequency.

Package Selection for Laptops

A laptop video card is not usually a separate card, as in a pc, but an integral part of the motherboard. Only a few lucky people will be able to change their video cards - mainly owners of high-end notebooks.

There is another possibility to improve the graphics performance on a notebook: by using an external graphics card or eGFX (external graphics). So far this solution has limited the speed of PC-CG connection, but after the appearance of Thunderbolt 3 ports in USB-C with a speed of 40 GB / s in early 2016 (which corresponds to PCI-E x 4 V3), the use of external graphics cards became more convenient.

As you can see, there are many settings and details, and the right choice is not easy to make. It is important to consider the following main points:

1) First, you should know that the video cards for laptops do not correspond to their desktop versions.

Comparative tests conducted by specialized magazines show that the performance of a graphics card for laptops clearly lags behind that of a video card for desktop PCs:

In nVidia, the GTX 960M is close to the GTX 750 desktop, so we can assume it's the bare minimum required for gaming.

The GTX 970M is close to the GTX 960 desktop and is the recommended graphics card for comfortable playback on a notebook.

2) It is important that the graphics card has a minimum of 3 GB of memory.

Fortunately, web resource Notebookcheck regularly tests the majority of graphic cards for laptops in thirty games to avoid unpleasant surprises. The same website also offers a ranking of all video cards for laptops.

Therefore, we recommend:

- For use in the office or for multimedia: a HD 4000/5000 type chip (part of Intel mobile processors) which allows you to play a little.

- For gaming: Nvidia has a minimum GT 950M / 960M - laptops with these graphics cards cost between $600 and $800; if your budget allows, it is better to choose the GTX 970M.

Note: modern average notebooks ($800/1500) often come with a powerful processor, but they don't have a very powerful graphics card: they are good for complex calculations, but not for 3D games.

For example, at the same price of about $1000 Asus N56VZ, equipped with i7 3630QM + GT 650M, will easily cope with complex calculations, but will not be able to cope with heavy games, unlike, for example, MSI GX60, equipped with a processor A10 - 4600M + HD 7970M. The video card of the latter is 2 times higher than the GT 650M.

Latest Graphics Cards for Video Games on PC

As an example of a not so expensive variant of graphics cards for gamers we can take AMD Radeon cards. The model RX 580 (about $200) with 8 GB of GDDR5 memory, 1257 MHz CPU base frequency and up to 1340 MHz overclocking frequency, or Radeon RX 5500 XT card ($300), which has a processor with 1685 MHz (1845 MHz, in Boost mode), 14000 MHz memory frequency and GDDR6 memory with 4 or 8 GB, providing data transfer up to 224 Gbps. This means that with this card, you can play heavy games with a resolution of 1080p.



Another major graphics card manufacturer, Nvidia, presented a series of the latest GEFORCE cards with impressive features: they are based on Ampere architecture, have an 8-nanometer processor and support data transfer from an SSD.

The cheapest model ($600 rubles), RTX 3070 ($600 rubles), has 8 GB GDDR6X memory. The next model in the lineup, RTX 3080, has already received 10 gigabytes of GDDR6X memory and a clock speed of 19 GHz / bandwidth of 760 gigabytes per second. This model seems to be the most interesting if you consider the price-quality ratio - it is twice as fast as the previous analog RTX 2080.

Finally, RTX3090 ($2200) has 24 GB GDDR6X memory with 15.5 GHz. With this card, you can get an image at 8K and 60 fps.



Depending on your tasks (applications, games or CAD / CAD), select the appropriate types of video cards.

Photo: Jared Brashier - Unsplash.com
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This document, titled « How to Choose a Graphics Card for Your PC », is available under the Creative Commons license. Any copy, reuse, or modification of the content should be sufficiently credited to CCM (ccm.net).

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