For those of you who are venturing into the life of a system builder, you are probably looking into the components you will need in order to build your first computer. There are a lot of different factors to consider when building a gaming-specific computer and there a ton of different components you will need to choose from.
No component, however, is more important to the gaming experience than the video card is. The video card basically is responsible for handling all of the graphics processing. And, since video games are so graphics-oriented these days, you need a high quality video card in order to experience them at their highest video settings.
Essentially, the video card is like a second “mini” computer. However, instead of having to carry out standard computing tasks, the video card is only responsible for dealing with graphics. Video cards help relieve the main processor from having to deal with images and videos and therefore increase your system’s available resource, which ultimately improves your computer’s overall performance.
Not only that, but a high-end video card will completely change the way you think and feel about your favorite games. With improved graphics you’ll be able to see more detail, see further into the distance, and you will get an overall better gaming experience.
Therefore, it’s extremely important that you take your time when choosing a video card for your next gaming computer. In this post I will take you through the information you need to know in order to select a quality video card for your system.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Graphics Card
Video cards come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of performance. Not only should you look for a quality video card, but you should also look for one that will fit inside of your budget.
In order to find a quality video card for your budget range, you will need to spend approximately 25-30% of your budget on your video card.
The following is a general chart of what kind of performance you can expert to receive at each price range:
$100-$150 : Decent Performance — Will play most games on moderate settings.
$151-$200: Pretty Good Performance — Will play most games on mid-to-high settings.
$201-$250: Good Performance — Will play most games on high settings.
$251-$300: Great Performance — Will play all games on high settings.
$300+: Ridiculous Performance — Will play all games maxed out with ridiculously high frame rates.
Obviously, the more you spend on your video card, the more performance you will get out of it. However, you should not overspend on your video card and sacrifice the quality of the other components in your build. If you do that, you could create bottleneck and you won’t get as much performance out of your system as you should.
ATI vs. nVidia
There are two different manufactures of video card processors (or, what are more commonly known as graphics processing units-GPUs): ATI and nVidia. In all honesty, the competition between the two chipsets is relatively even. You really can’t go wrong with either GPU.
- The current high-end chipset for nVidia is the 600 series (i.e. GTX 660, 670, 680, & 690)
- The current high-end chipset for ATI is the 7000 series (i.e. HD 7850, 7870, 7950, 7970)
The only real difference between the two cards right now is that ATI chips generally handle anisotropic filtering better, while nVidia chips generally handle anti-aliasing better.
Either way, the difference between the two chipsets is so small, you probably wouldn’t recognize it in real in-game situations.
VRAM, or video RAM, works basically the same way that your computer’s memory (RAM) works. However, instead of storing different types of data, VRAM only stores image data. And, the VRAM essentially works as a buffer between your processor and your computer’s display.
The quicker your video card is able to store images to memory, the faster and more fluid the graphics of your video game will flow. So, you want to make sure that you choose a video card that has a decent amount of dedicated memory.
Currently, quality video cards have about 2GB of dedicated memory. Also, most modern video cards utilize GDDR5 (Graphics Double Data Rate), which is the latest form of graphics card memory.
Here’s an example of how to see how much VRAM a video card has and what form of memory it uses:
XFX Core Edition FX-785A-CNL4 Radeon HD 7850 2GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card
As you can see by the bold underlined terms in the name, this video card has 2GB of GDDR5 dedicated memory. So, it would be a solid choice.
Another thing to look for when choosing a video card, is the manner in which it connects to your motherboard. Pretty much all modern video cards connect to your motherboard via PCI express ports. However, there have been many different advancements in PCI express technology and you will want to choose a video card that can utilize the latest technology in order to receive the most performance.
Currently, PCIe-3.0 is the latest technology. So, make sure you get a motherboard that has a PCIe-3.0 port and a video card that can utilize it.
How to Choose a Quality Graphics Card
Aside from the factors discussed above, there are a few ways that you can guarantee that you get a quality video card for your gaming computer. They are:
- Read customer reviews of the card you are considering.
- Read expert reviews of the card you are considering.
- Only buy a video card from a reputable manufacturer.
Obviously, if the majority of the customers who have purchased a particular video card love it, then you will likely love it to. If they have had a ton of problems with it, then there is a good chance you will have problems with it as well.
If an expert gives the video card you are considering a great review, then there is probably good reason for it!
And, finally, by choosing a video card from a reputable manufacturer, you will be choosing a video card from a proven winner. Also, even though there is always a small chance that you could end up getting a faulty component from a reputable manufacturer (sometimes it just happens), you will have peace of mind in knowing that they back their products up with a good warranty and excellent support.
So, by using these three methods in unison, you can almost guarantee that you will come away with a good video card.
Top Video Card Manufacturers
Make Sure You Choose a Good Video Card for Your New Gaming Computer
Ultimately, the video card you choose will have an enormous impact on the quality of your gaming computer. The better video card you get, the more enjoyable your gaming experience will be.
Just make sure you spend approximately 25-30% of your overall budget on a well-reviewed video card from a reputable manufacturer and you can’t go wrong.
Brent is a huge PC gamer and he loves putting new computers together. He currently runs Elite Gaming Computers where he helps PC gamers find and build gaming computers that are suitable to their needs.