How to Choose A Graphics Card: 10 Things to Consider – The Ultimate Guide

Performing well in games is integral to the gaming experience so picking a graphics card can be an important decision. 

I spent a whole day searching for the best info and methods, to help you make the right choice.

I’ve compiled this list of 11 things to consider when looking for a graphics card. Keep reading and we’ll go through each point in detail! 

1. What is your budget?
2. What Graphics Card Do You Need to Play Games?
3. What is your monitor?
4. Power RequirementsChecking the Power Draw
Powered vs Ungrounded Connectors
GPU Slot Type
Do you have enough room in your computer’s case?
5. Don’t be tempted by high clock speeds
6. SLI or Crossfire?
7. The best value is an expensive one
8. Will you be overclocking?
9. NVIDIA or AMD
NVIDIA vs AMD: Technology
NVIDIA vs AMD: Price and performance
NVIDIA vs AMD: Other factors to consider
Which Reseller Makes the Best Graphics Cards?
10. Which specs matter?
Thermal Design Power (TDP)
Clock speed
CUDA cores and stream processors
Memory speed and bandwidth
What to do next?

1. What is your budget? 

There are many different models of cards from both manufacturers that vary in price starting as low as a few hundred dollars and going up from there! You will have to balance what you want to spend with how good of a card you need. For example, if all you do is browse the web using Chrome and check Facebook every so often, buying a high-end graphics card might be a waste of money.

On the other hand, if you’re a hardcore gamer who wants to experience the best gaming graphics, you’ll need to spend more for a better card.

2. What Graphics Card Do You Need to Play Games?

This is probably the most important question of them all. If you are playing older games or more casual games, chances are you’ll be fine with an RX 580 or GTX 1060. However, if you’re trying to play Witcher 3 with that same GPU then your frame rate is going to be in the single digits (if even playable)  and you’ll have a terrible time. Therefore, the best way to find out what graphics card you need is to play some of your current games and if it’s not quite right, then go down a notch or two until it is enjoyable.

3. What is your monitor?

  The monitor is one of the most important components of a gaming PC. It’s what displays the actual gameplay after all. More importantly, a low-end monitor can cause a bottleneck to occur with even the best GPU on the market. Therefore, if you have something like an old Dell from 2008 running 1600×900 resolution, chances are buying an RTX 2080 Ti isn’t going to make much of a difference at all to your games.

If you’re planning on upgrading your monitor or purchasing a new one, then do that first. Otherwise, you might be wasting money buying the best GPU to drive an old piece of equipment. To get more details about what to look for in a gaming monitor read our article.

4. Power Requirements

The next thing to consider when choosing a new graphics card is how much power it requires.

If you are purchasing a new PSU for your computer anyway, this shouldn’t cause too many problems, but if you only have an existing 500-watt PSU and are looking to upgrade to something with more oomph, then you should consider the power draw that will be required by your new graphics card.

Checking the Power Draw

If you are looking at a GPU on its spec sheet and it states that it requires an additional 6-pin PCIe power connector, then it is going to require 150 watts.  If this is going to put you over the limit of your existing PSU (which won’t allow any more than about 300 watts) then either a new one or a larger capacity unit is needed.

Note: a lot of newer graphic cards don’t need any extra power from outside sources – they can get all their juice from the PCIe slot itself.

Powered vs Ungrounded Connectors

It’s important to note whether or not the graphics card you are considering has a powered or an ungrounded connector.

A powered connector is one that gets its power from the PSU, whereas an ungrounded connector gets its power from the motherboard.

If your case doesn’t have any extra PCIe power connectors to spare, then you’ll need to make sure that the graphics card you are considering has an ungrounded connector.  Otherwise, you’ll need to find a case that does have some extra connectors or purchase a PSU with more than one PCIe power connector.

GPU Slot Type

The final thing you need to check before purchasing a new graphics card is what type of GPU slot your motherboard has.  There are three types of GPU slots (from most desired to least desired):

PCIe x16 (this is the best slot as it supplies the graphics card with all 16 lanes.  This is what you want to look for if you are considering SLI/Crossfire)

PCIe x8

AGP 8X

Now, this doesn’t mean that a PCIe x8 slot won’t provide your new graphics card with enough power—it just means that a graphics card plugged into a PCIe x8 slot will have one less lane than a graphics card plugged into a PCIe x16 slot.  The advantage that the PCIe x8 has over AGP 8x is that it uses less power and provides more bandwidth.

AGP 8x is slowly being phased out, so you probably won’t find too many new graphics cards that come with this type of connector.

Do you have enough room in your computer’s case?

Graphics cards are big. Not as big as the processors, but they’re still sizable enough that you need to make sure there’s room for them in your computer’s case. Fortunately, most of the time, if the card is too big it will be pretty obvious. The length of the card is usually given in inches, and you can usually find this information on the manufacturer’s website or on the product page at retailers like Amazon. Most cases have slots that are long enough to accommodate even the longest graphics cards, but if you’re not sure, you can always measure it yourself.

Once you’ve determined how much space you have, it’s time to start looking at specific video cards. Unfortunately, we can’t tell you how much space you need for each specific card, but if the card is too big to fit your case you’ll know. Generally speaking, most midrange GPUs are about nine inches long, and top-end cards are usually between 10 and 11 inches long. Some smaller “mini” cards will be as short as seven or eight inches long, while bigger ones can go up to 14 or 15 inches. If a card is very thick it may end up sticking out of your computer’s case a bit, so keep that in mind when looking at pictures of different graphics cards online. Most cases have room for at least two slots worth of height clearance on the motherboard, but some mini-ITX cases only have room for one slot.

If there’s one thing to keep in mind when choosing a case, it’s that you should always buy a card that’s longer and narrower than the space in your case. That gives you some room to breathe and makes installation a lot less complicated. For more details on choosing a pc case see our article on how to choose a PC Case.

 5. Don’t be tempted by high clock speeds 

This was a mistake I made when I first bought a GPU and it took me some time to realize why my games were running poorly. A lot of the time, certain brands will use higher clock speeds as a gimmick to get gamers to buy their product over another one. That being said, AMD GPUs tend to have slightly lower clock speeds than their NVIDIA counterparts so they do come out ahead in this regard. Another thing you have to look at with clock speed is the Boost Clock which must meet or exceed the advertised base clock rate.

6. SLI or Crossfire? 

Do you really need that 2nd card? When running a single card, SLI and Crossfire actually have a negative impact on performance so if you want to be able to play your games at their highest settings then I wouldn’t recommend going for a second GPU. However, once you start playing with multiple GPUs the benefits are definitely worth it as long as your motherboard supports it.

7. The best value is an expensive one

 This might seem counterintuitive but the more money that goes into a graphics card, generally speaking, the better value it will be. You can see this by looking at the price/performance ratios of cards releasing in 2019 where they’re actually quite similar no matter which brand you pick. So if $500 isn’t too much then consider getting something like the RTX 2080.

8. Will you be overclocking?

Overclocking is an art form in itself and vastly changes how effective certain pieces of hardware perform toward others. For example, if you overclock your CPU but keep your memory at stock speeds (stock being an MHZ), then chances are your CPU won’t go above 4GHZ no matter what you do. So if you’re planning on overclocking, then consider getting an aftermarket cooler such as an H100i V2 or Predator 280 so that your CPU can handle the heat better and consequently run faster.

9. NVIDIA or AMD

NVIDIA and AMD, two major players in the graphics card market. Each of them has its pros and cons and both company’s cards have fans. But it looks like NVIDIA is dominating the market with a significant advantage. Is there any specific reason for this? Well, let’s check out some of the main differences between these companies:

NVIDIA vs AMD: Technology

AMD was always faster when it comes to memory bandwidth but we can say that they finally did something about it and now their technology is more advanced than ever before – HBM (High-Bandwidth Memory) will be available on Fury X while NVIDIA’s top model still uses GDDR5. Also, current Radeon video cards

support DirectX 12 which means upcoming games should use this API more efficiently (for NVIDIA cards, DX12 support is scheduled for next year).

NVIDIA vs AMD: Price and performance

Currently, you will get more power with NVIDIA than with AMD cards and that’s simply because they have higher core and memory clocks. Also, there is a good deal on GeForce GTX 970 and GTX 980 right now so if you don’t want to pay through your nose for the latest technology then I would recommend waiting for price drops (but note that the Radeon R9 390X has greater bandwidth than GTX 970). So should you buy NVIDIA or AMD? It’s up to you to decide but in terms of price/performance we can say that it depends on the specific model – in most cases, Radeon will give better results at a lower price.

Also, keep in mind that NVIDIA cards are usually better for overclocking because they have more TDP headroom.

NVIDIA vs AMD: Other factors to consider

AMD has better crossfire support, higher maximum displays, and newer APIs but this comes at a cost of lower single precision performance (which is great if you are doing calculations with double precision). Also, AMD does not support SLI – all their cards are Crossfire compatible which may be a good or bad thing depending on your outlook. On the other hand, NVIDIA now has support for the next-generation display standard called DisplayPort 1.3/1.4 which provides up to 32 GB/s bandwidth compared to 2560×1600 at 60 Hz by using two lanes of DP 1.2a. One last thing – if you want to be future-proof then NVIDIA is your choice since they always use the latest technologies in their newer cards (AMD also has a great roadmap).

Which Reseller Makes the Best Graphics Cards?

There are many resellers of graphics cards, but two of the most popular are NVIDIA and AMD. Each company has its own lineup of graphics cards with different features, prices, and performance. So, which one is the best?

When it comes to technology, AMD has been catching up to NVIDIA in recent years. Their latest cards, such as the Fury X, use High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM) while NVIDIA’s top card still uses GDDR5. This gives AMD an edge in terms of memory bandwidth. Additionally, Radeon video cards support DirectX 12 while GeForce cards do not (yet). However, when it comes to price and performance, NVIDIA still has the advantage.

Current GeForce cards have higher core and memory clocks, and the GTX 970 is currently available at a good price. In terms of performance, Radeon cards tend to be better than GeForce cards when it comes to lower prices.

So, which one should you buy? It depends on your needs. If you want the best performance and don’t mind spending more money, then NVIDIA is the better choice. However, if you are on a budget or only need basic performance, then AMD is a better option. Additionally, keep in mind that AMD cards are generally better for Crossfire while NVIDIA cards are better for SLI. And finally, if you want to be future-proof, NVIDIA is the way to go because they always use the latest technologies in their cards.

10. Which specs matter?

When it comes to graphics cards, there are many different specifications that you need to take into account when making a purchase decision. Some of these specs are more important than others, and understanding which ones matter the most can help you choose the right card for your needs.

Thermal Design Power (TDP)

One of the most important specs is Thermal Design Power (TDP). This measures how much heat the card will generate while in use, and it’s important to make sure that your system has enough cooling capacity to handle it. If your system doesn’t have a lot of cooling power, you may need to choose a card with a lower TDP.

Clock speed

Clock speed is also important. The higher the clock speed, the faster the card will be able to perform its tasks. This is especially important for gamers, who will want a card that can run games at the highest possible settings.

CUDA cores and stream processors

CUDA cores and stream processors are other important specs to look at. These measure the card’s computing power, and the more of them there are, the more powerful the card will be. For gamers, it’s important to choose a card with as many CUDA cores and stream processors as possible.

Memory speed and bandwidth

Finally, you’ll also want to pay attention to memory speed and bandwidth. The faster the memory speed, the faster the card will be able to access data. And the higher the bandwidth, the more data the card will be able to move at once. This is important for gaming and other graphics-intensive tasks.

In general, it’s a good idea to pay attention to all of these specs when making a purchase decision. But some are more important than others, so you’ll want to focus on the ones that matter most for your particular needs.

What to do next?

Choosing a CPU cooler is not an easy task. There are many factors to consider, and it can be difficult to find one that fits your needs perfectly. Hopefully, this article has helped you better understand the various types of coolers available so that you can finally choose what’s right for your system! Stay tuned for our next blog post on what to look for in a CPU!