Graphics Card Buying Guide

Graphics cards are an integral part of every personal computer. They are the third most necessary piece of hardware after your motherboard and computer processing unit (CPU). A graphics card is responsible for everything you see on your monitor, including the text you're reading right now! Without one there wouldn't be a way for a computer to load any image onto a monitor; you would only see a blank screen. Finding the right graphics card for you can be overwhelming and confusing if you're new to the hardware scene, but with this guide you'll be able to walk away with confidence in knowing exactly what graphics card will best suit your digital lifestyle.

Types of Graphics Cards

Integrated

Integrated graphics cards are the ones that come standard with consumer computers. They are called integrated graphics cards because they come attached to the computer's motherboard. Chances are the computer you're using right now has an integrated card if you did not build or upgrade it yourself. These types of graphics cards can be updated, but require an intermediate understanding of how computers work in order to disable the old one and have your computer recognize the new one as the correct card. An integrated graphics card is best suited for computers that are used for basic functions. They're great for watching videos, general web browsing, or playing older video games, but they are considered the weakest of the four types of graphics cards. In order to render high end graphics you'll need something with a little more meat.

PCI

PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) graphics cards are cards that use the PCI slots on older versions of motherboards. They are more powerful than the integrated cards, yet are still considered outdated by modern computing standards. PCI graphics cards are a great choice for consumers who are looking for higher video quality on their older PCs, but they are not powerful enough to run high intense graphics.

AGP

Just like PCI graphics cards, AGP cards are also named for the slots they use on a motherboard. AGP graphics cards are the best choice for users looking for a higher graphics experience but have motherboards that are only capable of slower speeds. AGP graphics cards are capable of running with 8x or slower speeds, which makes them perfect for users who cannot upgrade their motherboards or are upgrading their computers part by part. It's worth noting that some newer motherboards do not come with AGP slots so it's important you know if your motherboard is compatible with an AGP graphics card before purchasing one.

PCI-E

The highest quality graphics are achievable by use of PCI-E (peripheral component interconnect-express) graphics cards. These cards are the cream of the crop for users looking to bump their graphics up to ???better than real life??? rendering. These types of cards are the most expensive of the four, but offer users the highest quality and fastest speeds. The downside of PCI-E graphics cards is that they often need other upgraded hardware to handle their power. They will not run properly with an outdated motherboard and run the risk of making your computer unbootable if your PSU (power supply unit) does not have the proper wattage output. That being said, PCI-E is the absolute best choice for users looking to run the latest video games, work with 3D model rendering, and run full HD or 4K video.

Pay attention to

Tower space

Graphics cards come in different sizes, so it's important to know how much real estate you have in your computer tower before purchasing. Otherwise you may find that your new card doesn't fit.

Usage

Know what you are using your computer for and what you hope to achieve with a new graphics card.

Budget

Upgrading your computer can get very expensive very quickly. It's important to keep in mind which parts may need upgrading to ensure your new card is working properly.

Compatibility

Knowing what type of motherboard you have and your PSU wattage with save a lot of time and headaches in the long run. These two pieces are hardware are essential to knowing which graphics card your system is capable of housing and handling.

Memory

This goes hand in hand with your usage. In order to run more intense graphics, your card will require more memory. For more basic usage, you can afford less.

Cooling

Graphics cards are capable of generating a lot of heat as you get into higher end cards. Without maintaining a proper temperature, it's possible to fry your GPU. Some high end cards have their own fans, but for cards that do not it is worth considering if your computer's main fan is enough to keep the temperature inside of your tower optimized.

Top Brands and Product Lines

GeForce

GeForce's product line is considered the best for high end consumer graphics.

AMD FirePro

The FirePro line from AMD was designed for professional multimedia content creation programs and mechanical engineering design software.

Radeon

This line features a wide selection of graphics cards designed specifically for laptops.