Choosing a Graphics Card – What To Look For?

Graphics cards are arguably the most important component in any gaming PC. However, it’s easy to become lost amongst all the jargon and different specifications that come with the buying process.

In order to make it easier for you to make a decision, we’ll talk you through some of the most common terms what to look out for.

Graphics Processing Unit or ‘GPU’

At the heart of every graphics card is the GPU. Many PC enthusiasts refer to the entire graphics card as the GPU, however, the GPU is simply the chip itself. The two main GPU manufacturers are NVIDIA and AMD.

nvidia-amd

Stock Cards & Card Partners

As we’ve already mentioned, AMD and NVIDIA are the two main manufacturers in the graphics card market and are the force behind the majority of the graphics cards you see on the market today.

What you will notice is that neither AMD or NVIDIA manufacturer their own graphics card, instead, they leave this up to ‘card partners’ such as Asus, MSI, Gigabyte & MSI (amongst others). These partners will take either the AMD or NVIDIA GPU and package them up to their own specifications.

For example, MSI might overclock the GPU before it reaches the hands of the consumers, whereas, Asus might focus on the cooling aspect and attach two fans to the graphics cards.

MSI 980Ti

We’d advise you to figure out which GPU is powerful enough to reach your criteria (980 Ti or 980?) and then decide which card partner you should go with.

Frames Per Second or FPS

Frames per second is a measurement that basically tells you how fast your graphics card can render discrete frames onto your screen.

The higher the framerate the smoother the gameplay will look on screen, for example, most gamers will look for a card that can perform at around 30 FPS minimum. That being said, if you’re going to be playing fast moving games then we’d recommend opting for a card that can perform to at least 60 FPS at your desired resolution.

Clock Speed

Within a card family, such as the 980 Ti, you’ll notice that clock speeds vary between manufacturer or ‘card partner’.

The clock speed is a good indicator of how a card will perform. You’ll see this number advertised in MHz. Many of the manufacturers will highlight a ‘base clock’ and a ‘boost clock’, the base clock being the number at which the graphics card will usually operate and the boost clock being the number that the GPU might perform at under certain conditions.

It is possible to overclock a GPU yourself, much like a CPU. Be wary though as it’s possible to damage the card in doing this. If you’re looking to overclock then we’d advise you to buy a graphics card that’s overclocked out of the box.

Memory

You’ll notice that graphics cards come with on-board memory or ‘frame buffer’ as it’s sometimes referred to. The graphics memory isn’t just a ‘frame buffer’, it’s also used to load textures, 3D depth coordinates and to ensure that other data needed to render a frame of gameplay.

It’s important to have a decent amount of memory, however, unless you’re gaming at 4K then 2GB will usually be more than enough.

Crossfire & SLI

If you’ve been doing a bit of research on AMD and NVIDIA, chances are you’ll have come across the terms ‘Crossfire’ & ‘SLI’. In simple terms they are both re-branded multi-GPU solutions, one of which is from AMD and the other from NVIDIA.

Crossfire is AMD’s solution and allows a user to connect up to 4 graphics cards in order to speed up the rendering of 3D graphics.

AMD allows you to use different graphics cards so long as they are Crossfire compatible.

SLI is NVIDIA’s multi-GPU solution and allows you to connect up to 3 graphics cards. SLI requires all of the graphics cards to be identical which can sometimes prove to be more costly than AMD’s solution as it means that if you’re using the 980Ti, you’ll have to fork out on an equally good graphics card rather than just adding a slightly less powerful graphics card like you can with Crossfire.

Resolution

Chances are you’ve heard of resolution, the measurement of how many pixels are displayed on your monitor or screen. Typical resolutions you’ll come across these days are 720p, 1080p and now 4K or UHD as it’s sometimes referred to.

4k diagram

Typically, a monitors ‘native resolution’ is the resolution by which it’s designed to look its best in. The screen will often support lower resolutions but not higher.

With graphics cards it’s a slightly different story as most modern day graphics cards will ‘support’ 4K resolutions, whether they play 3D games at 4K is a slightly different story.

1080p or ‘High Definition’ as it’s also known still rules the mainstream monitor market although 1440p monitors are becoming more common (2,560×1,440 pixels). 4K monitors are also coming down in price and running games at this resolution does make them look dramatically better.

Please note, if you’re going to be playing games at 4K then be sure to buy a higher end graphics card as 4K is a serious strain on performance levels and can result in a massive drop in frame rate if not using a powerful enough graphics card.

FirePro & Quadro – Workstation Graphics Cards

Workstation graphics cards do tend to cost more than gaming graphics cards. However, if you’re looking to use your PC for tasks such as development, 3D rendering, content creation and CAD then you’re most likely going to want one of these. They will often come with more memory than their PC gaming counterparts plus if you’re still going to use the PC for gaming then these graphics cards are still more than capable.

You’ll need to look out for the FirePro and Quadro product lines from AMD/ Nvidia which are both available on BT Shop. You can sometimes find mobile versions of these graphics cards within certain laptops although they do tend to come in desktop form the majority of the time.

AMD FirePro

Please note that it only really makes sense to opt for one of these graphics cards if you know that the software you’ll be using takes full advantage of their specific capabilities.

feature4-quadro-k5000-professional-applications

Integrated Graphics

Some of the high-end CPUs have integrated GPUs that can sometimes be as powerful as some of the low to lower mid-range graphics cards. In general though, integrated graphics are a lot less powerful than dedicated graphics cards.

If you’re looking to build a compact PC then integrated graphics seem very appealing as they eliminate the need for a bulky graphics card. Keep in mind though that if you’re hoping to play demanding games at high resolution then integrated graphics might not be for you.

If you are hoping to take advantage of the integrated graphics then be sure to install the fastest RAM supported by the processor as this will translate to a noticeable improvement (higher frame rates).

Take a look at all the latest graphics cards on BT Shop here.

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