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  How To Choose The Right Graphics Card?

The choice of graphics card on the market is huge and choosing the right one for your needs can be a daunting task, so how to go about it?

Here are some simple steps to follow to help you choose your graphics card.

1. Establish your needs.

The first question to ask is 'Do I actually need one?'. If you're only using your PC for sending emails, wordprocessing or surfing the net, then the chances are that the integrated or on-board 'chipset' on your motherboard will cope just fine.

If you're using your PC to play games or for more demanding tasks like resource intensive video editing, then you are going to need a graphics card with it's own dedicated RAM (measured in Mega Bytes [Mb] or Giga bytes [Gb]) and Processor (GPU) to cope with the increased demand on your PC.

The table below shows some typical PC usage and the type of card that might meet those requirements:

 

Example Requirements

Budget 'Entry level' cards

Memory 512 Mb or less

Mainstream Cards

Memory 512 Mb - 1 Gb

Premium 'high end' Cards

Memory 1 Gb +

Basic home user

Email, Internet, basic photo/video/word processing editing programs, music, HD, basic games.

x

x

x

More advanced home user

Intermediate level games

 

x

x

Dual screen support

 

x

x

Graphic design / photo manipulation

 

x

x

Professional and high end home user

Intensive Video Editing

 

x (some)

x

Support 2 or more monitors

 

x

Top end Gaming with 3D high end performance accelerated graphics, Anti-aliasing

 

 

x

3D Design Software

 

 

x


Most cards, even the budget cards, will be able to support Directx 10 and some basic photo or video editing programs.

2. Make sure you look for the right type of card for your motherboard!

If you're upgrading a PC or having one built to a custom specification then you need to make a few basic checks before buying a card to make sure your PC will actually be able to use it. Is the graphics card expansion slot on your motherboard AGP, PCI or PCI Express? If you buy the wrong one, it won't fit!

There are a few ways to find out which you have:

a) If you have the box it came in or access to the user manual, the info you need will be in there.

b) Open the PC up and have a look! Typically, AGP slots are brown, PCI slots are white and PCI Express slots are blue or black.

c) Have a look in the Device Manager - Click here for instructions on how to do that.


Slots that graphics cards go into

3. Check that your PC has enough power to run it.

This won't be a problem if you choose a budget or intermediate card but a high performance card uses a lot of power, make sure that your power supply can cope with it. PCs will typically come with a 300 to 350W power unit but a high end card will most likely need need 400W+.

You may also need to buy 4-pin to 6-pin auxillary power adaptors if your power supply doesn't have the connnectors you need.

4. Check monitor compatibility

Most cards will come with both an VGA (blue) and a DVI (white) connection. DVI transfers information faster than a VGA connection. Make sure that your monitor cables will connect to the card. Adaptors are available.

 

Card showing VGA and DVI ports

VGA-DVI Adaptors

5. Avoid bottlenecks.

Simply put, a bottleneck is where one element of a system is preventing another element from achieving it's full potential. In the context of graphics cards, it may be that you have a super dooper spiffy new x2 card with 2Gb of GDDR5 RAM and all x32 PCI Express lanes but your motherboard runs and old core 2 system with no hyperthreading. Your card is going to spend a lot of it's time waiting for your CPU to catch up.

If you're not sure if your motherboard will run the card you're thinking about, ask an expert, give your local PC shop a call or pop in but make sure you have the specs of your current PC ready so that they can help you.

6. Ignore all the serial numbers and letters in Graphics card names

They don't mean much and can get very confusing. The naming conventions change every few years and there's very little linear progression that can be inferred from the serial numbers. Our Advice? Ignore them and look at what the card can do.

7. Compare cards

Websites like videocardbenchmark.net that have up to date information on the graphics cards can help you compare cards once you've decided what range and type you're going to buy.

8. Finally..

Below is a list of the main elements of a graphics card. Generally speaking, the higher the number for each type of spec, the better the card. For graphics cards, price is usually a good indicator of how good the card is and can be used to help you figure out what options will suit you and what level card you should be aiming for.

Technical stuff

Elements of a Graphics card
Internal Interface - AGP / PCI / PCI Express (or PCIe) (AGP and PCI are being phased out)
Memory - < 1 Gb / 1 - 15. gb / > 1.5 Gb
Core clock speed - < 700 MHz / > 700 MHz
Bus width - < 128 bits / 128 - 255 bits / 256 - 319 bits / 320 bits or more
Video output - HDMI / DVI / Display port / VGA / Composite video / D-Sub
Chipset - Various makes
Cooling - Fan / Passive / Water cooling
Memory type GDDR2 / GDDR3 / GDDR5
Maximum screens 1 / 3 / 6


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Want some advice and some excellent information on all things to do with video editing? Video Editing Cards, Software, Services


 
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