Choosing the right graphics card has always been a difficult task. There are hundreds to choose from and many brands, model numbers and specifications to confuse the everyday computer user.
Whether you are building your own PC, upgrading your existing system the challenge to get it right first time is a difficult one.
The First Step
When reading about all the different specifications and products available it is easy to get bogged down and make a decision based solely on marketing or sales hype.
The first step to choosing your graphics card is to decide exactly what you will be using it for. Are your demands for your PC graphics intensive? Are you a keen gamer and find your graphics card isn’t coping with the newer games you want to play. Your main usage may lie in graphics work such as graphic design or photography.
To begin with make a list of games you like to play or the graphics applications you use or want to use on your PC. A visit to the site of these games or software sites can lead to the basic information we need to get the ball rolling. Or if you have already purchased a game or software package you should be able to find these settings on the box or in the product information be it a manual or CD. These sites or product information will tell you the basic requirements and recommended requirements for playing or using the software. As a rule, always ignore the minimum requirements and take note of the recommended requirements. These are more important as these are the requirements for running all components of a game or software suit. For example, if purchasing Adobe CS5 suite certain components for video or 3d work cannot be installed if the graphics card does not have all the required features. Certain games cannot be run at full capability i.e. certain graphics setting will need to be turned off or specifications lowered if the graphics card is not capable or fast enough to run these features.
Getting it Right?
What does your motherboard support? This is important for starting your research. Graphics cards are installed into your PC via slot on the motherboard. If your computer is over 5 years old then your motherboard may have an older AGP slot. Although AGP cards are still available they have been replaced by PCI-E slots. If your motherboard still contains the AGP slot then you probably should be considering a new PC or motherboard upgrade and all that will incorporate which is beyond the scope of this article.
PCI-E is the industry standard now and there are two versions of this form factor, PCI-E and PCI-E 2 it is important that you find out which one your motherboard supports. PCI-E 2 is backwards compatible and will work in a PCI-E 1 capable motherboard but the gains made by PCI-E 2 format will not be available on a PCI-E 1 motherboard.
Making that Decision
The final decision should be made now that you have all the required information to make a purchase. So what should you buy? You probably have a budget for your purchase so this may limit what you can buy. Take a look at some of the hardware testing and review sites to see what they are saying about the latest graphics cards. These sites test and recommend graphics cards based on the results of their tests. Toms Hardware, MaximumPC and AnandTech have regular features and reviews for the latest technologies and graphics cards to help you compare your required specifications and make that final decision on which graphics card you need to improve your computers graphics performance.