This article is part of Newb Computer Build’s “How to: Build a Gaming PC” guides to choosing your PC hardware for your Gaming PC builds. When building a Gaming PC the graphics card is the most important part to ensure you can run the games you play on the highest possible graphics settings possible. From my experience the graphics card can seem like to most confusing piece of computer hardware to purchase since there are so many different brands, names, and numbers on top of the actually graphics cards specifications. And this is all on top of actually deciding which card is best for you and what PC games you play, at what graphics quality, and for what price.
In this article I will start off with what a graphics card actually is, then follow that with the terms of a graphics card you should be familiar with, and then conclude with a few steps you should take when shopping for one.
What is a “Graphics Card”
A graphics card aka. “video card” is used to actually put graphics onto your screen and usually come with a number of different functions. There are allot of processors and motherboards that may have integrated graphics in them, however this often is not enough to support more demanding graphics programs like PC games. As well, allot of the time an integrated graphics chip will have limited ’embedded memory’ and will instead start using the available RAM. This is why (especially for a gaming PC) having a dedciated graphics card helps since it will have its own processor and memory dedicated to only graphics processing. Often graphics cards will have a couple of options for video output such as a VGA connector, S-video, component video, display port, digital visual interface (DVI) etc. and will generally connect to your motherboard via a port like PCIe. Before you purchase a graphics card always check whether it has the connections you have and need on both the monitor you will be using and the motherboard you have or are getting.
Terms you Should Know (For a Gaming Graphics Card):
This list is certainly not a complete list of everything that can possibly be defined on a graphics card, but it is a list of terms you should know when building your gaming PC. This way you can narrow your thinking and not worry about tons of terms that can be irrelevant.
Interface: This will be what the graphics card uses to connect to your motherboard. For example “PCI Express 2.0 x16”. You will want to double check what your graphics cards interface is and check whether your motherboard has that particular input.
Core Clock Speed (MHz): This will be the speed of your graphics cards processor, which is made specifically for accelerating graphics. Essentially the faster this speed is the faster your processor is at processing graphics. This is generally measured in MHz.
Memory Size: This is the memory used by the graphics card processor. It is used for storign data, screen image, Z-Buffer (manages depth coordinates in 3D graphics, textures, vertex buffers, and compiles shader programs).
DirectX: Is a Microsoft collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) that handle the tasks related to multimedia on Microsoft platforms (like games). When you are looking at a new graphics card you may want to check the DirectX version (for example: DirectX 11). However this most likely will not be a huge influence as most cards should be fine.
OpenGL: “Open Graphics Library” is standard specification that defines cross lanaguage, cross platform API for writing applications that produce 2D and 3D computer graphics. This contains a number of functions that are called to draw complex 3D scenes form simple primitives. Again, like the DirectX you could look at the OpenGL version (example: OpenGL 4.1), however most cards should be fine.
Ports: The ports on a graphics card will vary, and a ‘port’ is the output type of connector used to connect your graphics card to a monitor /tv / projector etc. Like I said before these can include ports like VGA connector, S-video, component video, display port, digital visual interface (DVI) etc.
Maximum Resolution: Generally a graphics card will state the maximum resolution it can support. This can be informative depending on what resolution you like to play you games on, or the maximum resolution your monitor can handle. (For example: 2560 x 1600)
“SLI” or “CrossFireX” support: These two terms are actually marketing names forboth the two major graphics cards companies NVIDIA and AMD. The basic meaning of a card that supports SLI (NVIDIA) orCrossFireX (AMD) is that this enables you to link two or more graphics cards together to create a single output. These are applications for having two or more graphics cards that will process graphics in parallel to increase processing power available to graphics. Before you consider using SLI or CrossfireX make sure your motherboard has that number of inputs needed for two or more cards.
How to: Steps to Choosing Your Gaming PC Graphics Card:
Step One: Budget?
Yikes I am using budget as the number one step again for choosing your PC gaming hardware! Yep this is because you can be surprised how fast the may go over budget when piecing together numerous items such as in a computer build. Graphics cards may be able to be easily budgeted as you could potentially choose this last. The only downside to choosing a cheaper (lower quality graphics card) is that you will most likely have to play at lowered graphics quality in PC games, but sometimes if you do your research you can find graphics cards that are the best possibles values for your money. For example: When choosing hardware for Newb Computer Build’s Gaming PC builds I will always choose the “best bang for your buck” graphics card for a specific pricing category.
Step Two: What Games do you Play?
Choose a card based on the games you play. Why? Because why buy a top of the line graphics card when you don’t need to and you probably want to make sure you can actually play the games you want to play on the highest possible settings; even those games you may plan to play in the future (after all you are going through all of this to build a gaming PC!).
How to Choose a Graphics Card Based on the Games you Play:
So how exactly do you choosing a card based on the games you play? Well there are a number of ways:
- The number one thing I recommend is checking the minimum / recommended hardware requirements for a PC Game. Take the minimum graphics card recommendation and compare it to other Graphics Card Benchmarks. Look up the benchmarks for the recommend graphics card, and then compare it to the graphics card you are wanting to purchase (or have). If the benchmarks for the card you are purchasing are higher then you can play the game!
- A slightly less complicated step is to ask! Go to any computer hardware forum (or comment below – I will definitely help you) and ask peoples recommendations or thoughts on a graphics card choice you have for the specific game(s) you want to play.
- Check the Systems Requirements Lab: To use this step you will have to already have a computer setup. The System Requirements Lab will tell you whether your present hardware can run any number of PC Games. This would be perfect if you have most of your hardware already and are shopping for a new graphics card, or if you want to know whether your current hardware is good enough for the game you want to play.
Step Three: What Peripherals will you be Using?
You may have chosen the top of the line graphics card, and are thinking to yourself “kick ass!”. However, what if you have nothing to attach it to? Always make sure you have a compatible monitor for your graphics card. Does it have a DVI port? HDMI? Check both your monitor connections and what the graphics card is able to connect to.
As well, what is that maximum resolution of your monitor? Check that the potential graphics card can support resolutions up to that amount or greater. All of these details should be available when purchasing the graphics card, and if it is not look it up on Google etc.
Hopefully I have provided you with a relatively clear understanding on what you need to do to choose a graphics card for your new gaming pc build. The graphics card in my opinion is the hardest pc hardware part to choose when building a new PC, so do not worry if at first sorting through the numerous cards you are feeling overwhelmed. If you have any more question please do not hesitate to leave a comment and ask any questions you like.
And now finally, if you are interested in in building a Gaming PC please check out Newb Computer Build’s Gaming PC Builds of the Month.
OR if you need help choosing more hardware for your gaming PC build check out How to: Build a Gaming PC