Graphics cards, also known as video cards and display cards, complement the power of computer processors to handle the extreme display performance required by high-end computer games. Under-powered graphics cards ruin the gaming performance of otherwise good PCs. Wading through the mire of graphics card choices is intimidating, but a few pointers will keep your head above water in the silicon swamp.
Not all Manufacturers are Created Equal
While Intel offers integrated graphics processing units (GPUs,), modern computer games need powerful separate GPUs, designed by Nvidia or AMD. The internet is full of endless arguments about which company makes better GPUs, but ignore the fanboys, both Nvidia and AMD make a wide range GPUs that are appropriate for various types of users.
GPU and graphics card are not synonymous terms. Third-party companies take GPUs from Nvidia and AMD and add them to multiple different graphics cards, with the various specs for varied uses and price ranges, resulting in dozens of graphics cards using the same GPU.
Third-party graphics card manufacturers often concentrate on different sections of the market. Some companies, such as Zotac, focus on pumping out discount versions for the budget market, while others, such as Asus, are geared toward the higher end of the market. Be wary of cards that seem over- or underpriced compared to other cards using the same GPU. Underpriced cards might be cutting unacceptable corners, while overpriced cards might be relying on brand-name alone.
Avoid Cheap Cards With Flashy Features
Discount companies often manufacture cards which, at first glance, might seem like a great deal, but turn out to be underpowered. For instance, manufacturers often pair inferior quality GPUs with excessive RAM to make the card look better than it is. RAM is cheap compared to good GPU. If an inexpensive graphics card has an incredible amount of RAM compared to other cards using the same GPU, it’s probably unneeded and inflating the price.
Use Benchmark Comparison Websites
Before diving into graphics card specs, use benchmark comparison websites, such as VideoCardBenchmark and GPUBoss, to sort out what is available in your budget range. Pay attention to GPUs that show up often in value-for-money sections. Usually tried and tested, these platforms still work wonders and have a lot of competition from different manufacturers, which helps keep prices down.
While a just-released graphics card might offer the best performance on the market, prices for new cards far exceed the performance advantage they give. Not only do most games not need the extra power, other computer components, such as the processor, might bottleneck the card’s performance unless they are also new and expensive.
Follow the Transistors
If you want to get down into the nitty-gritty of graphics cards specs, you should start by comparing the number of transistors in GPUs. The more transistors a GPU has, the more calculations it can handle every second. The number of transistors is far more important than whatever new bells and whistles manufacture offer each year. Chrome-covered cars don’t go any faster if the engine is still awful.
Clock speed is the other major factor separating GPUs. Higher clock speeds push more information through the same number of transistors, but also require more power and create more heat. GPUs must be high quality to handle higher speeds, resulting in a higher price. Be careful of cards with extreme clock speeds. They often have problems with overheating, and less expensive cards with more transistors often perform better.
Don’t Wait for the Perfect Card
There’s always something better around the corner with computers. Electronics companies stay in business by constantly improving their products and encouraging people to upgrade. There will always be another new feature or price drop around the corner, and if you want perfection, you’ll be waiting forever.
Take your budget and see what it can make you. The speed of obsolescence in computer components is not what it once was, and a reasonably-priced, mid-range computer should play any game currently on the market at an acceptable framerate.