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Tips for choosing the right graphics card for your custom-built computer

Are you building your first custom-built computer and looking for a graphics card? Or you may want to upgrade the graphics card in your current system. In this article, we'll provide some tips for choosing the right graphics card for your computer.

Tips for choosing the right graphics card for your custom-built computer

When it comes to choosing the right graphics card for your computer, the abundance of options available can be overwhelming. A graphics card is vital to any modern computer as it processes images and videos.

Now, graphics processing on a computer is done with GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit). GPUs can be built into a CPU or be part of separate graphics cards. If the GPU is built into the CPU, it is called Integrated graphics. If the GPU is on a separate graphics card, it is called Discrete graphics. Let's take a quick look at these two types of graphics that you can use with your custom-built computer.

Integrated or discrete graphics

  • Integrated graphics: Some CPUs have a built-in GPU, commonly called on-board graphics. To use the GPU feature in a CPU, your motherboard has to support on-board graphics and include a connection or two for display connection(s). Integrated graphics are excellent for text-based applications like word processors and spreadsheets.
  • Discrete graphics: A separate graphics card with a GPU, memory (VRAM), cooling system, and dedicated power regulators. The types of display connections will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and multiple displays can be connected simultaneously.

Determine your needs

Before jumping into the vast sea of graphic cards, you need to determine what you need it for. Different tasks require different levels of graphical horsepower. Here are three (3) of the most common scenarios:

  • General user: Everyday tasks like checking email and surfing the web. Integrated graphics work fine. But if you want smoother video playback and better multitasking, consider a low to mid-range GPU
  • Content creator: Video editing, 3D modeling, and rendering require graphic cards with GPUs optimized for creative workloads. Look for CUDA cores (for NVIDIA GPUs), stream processors (for AMD GPUs), or Xe-cores (for Intel)
  • Gaming: If you're a gamer, prioritize graphic cards that have GPUs with high clock speeds, ample VRAM (Video RAM), and support for the latest gaming technologies (like ray tracing and DLSS)

Graphic terminology

Let's take a quick look at the terminology associated with graphic cards. Though understanding GPU specs can be daunting, fear not! Here's a quick rundown:

  • GPU (Graphics Processing Unit): Chip designed to accelerate graphic and image processing
  • Clock Speed: Higher clock speeds mean faster performance
  • VRAM (Video Random Access Memory): More VRAM allows for smoother texture rendering and multitasking
  • CUDA Cores (NVIDIA), Stream Processors (AMD), or Xe-cores (Intel): These parallel processing units affect performance in specific tasks
  • Ray Tracing and DLSS Support: These features enhance visual fidelity in supported games

Check your system requirements

Once you've determined your needs, checking your system requirements is important. Make sure your computer has the necessary power supply and enough space to accommodate the graphics card. You'll also want to check the compatibility of the graphics card with your motherboard and operating system.

Also, consider the weight of the graphics card. As graphics cards become more and more complex, the weight of them can also get excessive. If the graphics card you are considering purchasing is relatively large, you may also want to look at getting a graphic card brace.

Consider the brand

There are several brands of GPUs on the market, including NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel. Each brand offers different features and performance levels. NVIDIA is known for its high-end GPUs that are ideal for gaming and video editing. AMD offers a range of GPUs that are more affordable and suitable for casual gamers. Intel is known for its integrated graphics that are built into the CPU, but it has recently ventured into the desktop market.

Look at the performance

When it comes to selecting a graphics card, performance is a key consideration. The performance of a graphics card is influenced by a number of factors, including its clock speed, memory size, and memory bandwidth. Clock speed determines how quickly the graphics card can process data, while memory size and bandwidth determine the amount of data that can be processed at any given moment.

Consider your budget

When selecting a graphics card, it's important to remember your budget. Graphics cards come in a wide price range, from less than $100 to over $1,000. To get the most out of your money, you should decide on a budget and search for a graphics card that provides the best performance within that budget.

Read reviews

Before making a final decision, it is essential to read reviews from other users. Look for reviews on reputable websites such as Amazon or Newegg, as they can provide valuable insights into the performance and reliability of a graphics card.

Future-proof your system

When choosing a graphics card, it is crucial to future-proof your system. You should look for a graphics card that comes with the latest technology and features, such as DirectX 12 support or VR compatibility. By doing so, you can ensure that your system can handle the latest games and applications for many years to come.

Choosing the right graphics card for your computer can be a challenging task, but by following these tips, you can make an informed decision. First, determine your needs, then check your system requirements and consider the brand. It is also important to look at the performance, consider your budget, read reviews, and future-proof your system. With the right graphics card, you can elevate your gaming, video editing, or 3D design experience to the next level.

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading computer components

Updated May 14, 2024

When doing computer repair for a living, there is one thing I do pretty often: replacing and upgrading computer components. Whether it be replacing a drive or installing a new graphics card, there is always something you need to consider. So here are a few things you should ask yourself when selecting computer components.

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading computer components

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your motherboard

Form factor

  • What form factor size does your existing case support?
    If the motherboard you are looking at getting is ATX and your present case only has space and stand-offs for a mini-ATX motherboard, you will not be able to install the new motherboard.
  • Do you have any of the extra parts that came with the case, including stand-offs for the motherboard?
    If you are replacing a mini-ATX motherboard with an ATX motherboard and your case is large enough for it, do you have the stand-offs and screws for the extra mounting points that the new ATX motherboard will require?
  • Do you have the installation media for the operating system and all your programs?
    When you change out a motherboard, unless it is from the same manufacturer and same model line, odds are you will need to perform a clean installation of the operating system and your apps. If you try to use the existing operating system currently installed with a new motherboard, you are more than likely to get all sorts of errors. Be prepared to reinstall the OS and apps.

CPU socket

  • What is the socket type of your existing CPU?
    You cannot use an LGA1150 processor in an LGA1151 socket.
  • Will the new motherboard you're thinking about getting support your existing processor?
    You will need to do your research on the motherboard you are thinking about getting. If you cannot find the information online, give the manufacturer a call. There is nothing worse than getting a motherboard that you cannot use.

Memory slot(s)

  • Does the motherboard you're considering getting support your existing memory modules?
    Again, do your research. You have to make sure that everything will go smoothly when you do the upgrade.
  • Or are you going to need to get new memory modules?
    If you find out that you will need new memory modules, buy them in pairs (twin-pack, quad-pack). Try to avoid mixing different memory modules if you can. You will also find buying them in twin or quad-packs cheaper than single modules.

Expansion slots (PCI-e)

  • What do you currently have for expansion cards?
    These include graphic card(s), RAID controller card(s), M.2 adapter card(s), Wi-Fi/ethernet card(s), etc..
  • And what type of expansion slot(s) do they use (PCI-e x16, PCI-e x4, PCI-e x1)?
    Make a note about all of the different PCI-e slots that are used on your existing motherboard, and reference it when you are looking at a new motherboard.

M.2 Slot(s)

  • If your existing mother has M.2 slot(s) and you use them, what form factor, key notches, and interface do they utilize?
    M.2 2242, M.2 2260, M.2 2280? B key, M key, or both? SATA 3, PCI-e 3, or NVMe?

Internal USB connections

  • What type of USB headers does your current motherboard have?
    USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1 or USB 3.1 Gen 2.

Internal drive connectors

  • What type of internal drive connectors does your current motherboard have?
    SATA, SATA Express or U.2?

Power connector

  • What type of power connector(s) and how many does the motherboard you are thinking about getting have (4-pin or 8-pin ATX 12V)?
    Does your existing power supply have the correct amount of connector(s)?

Related articles
Tips for choosing the right motherboard for your custom-built computer

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your processor / CPU

Socket type

  • What socket type does your current motherboard have (LGA 1151, LGA 2011, AMD AM5, etc.)?
    Remember that you cannot use an LGA1150 processor in an LGA1151 socket.

Motherboard compatibility

  • What processors does your current motherboard support?
    You will need to do your research on your existing motherboard. If you cannot find the information online, give the manufacturer a call. You may need to update the BIOS on your current motherboard to run the new processor you are considering getting.

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your CPU cooler

The space inside of case

  • Does your present case have room for an upgraded CPU cooler?
    If you are thinking of air cooling, do you have enough space on top of the CPU for it? If you're thinking about liquid cooling, do you have the correct mounting holes for it? And will you need to replace any of the existing case fan(s) to accommodate a new CPU cooler?
  • Does your motherboard have all the connectors for running a liquid CPU cooler?
    Some liquid coolers require an onboard USB header to function correctly. Also, does your motherboard have any special liquid cooler fan headers?

Related articles
Tips for choosing the right CPU cooler for your custom-built computer

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your graphics card / GPU

Slot version

  • What version of PCI-e slot (3.0, 4.0, 5.0) does your current motherboard have?
    To answer this question, you will need to reference the motherboard manual or specifications online. If you have a problem finding this information, just contact the motherboard manufacturer.
  • What PCI-e version is the graphics card you are looking at getting?
    Again, to answer this question, reference the graphic card manual or specifications online. If you have trouble finding this information, just contact the graphics card manufacturer. If the PCI-e slot on your motherboard is version 3 and the graphics card you are looking at getting is version 4, you will have a problem.

Power connection(s)

  • Does the graphics card you are looking at getting require a separate PCI-e power connector(s)? If so, are they 6 or 8-pin PCI-e or 12+4 PCI-e 5.0 connector(s), and how many does it need?
    You should be able to find this information on the vendor or manufacturer's website. The information should also be on the outside of the box.
  • Does your current power supply have all of the proper PCI-e connector(s) for it?
    Some lower-wattage power supplies have only 6-pin PCI-e connectors. Visually check your existing power supply for the type and quantity of PCI-e power connectors.

Related articles
Tips for choosing the right graphics card for your custom-built computer

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your memory

Slot type and speed

  • What slot type and memory speed does your existing motherboard support (DDR3 2400, DDR4 4200, DDR5 6400, etc.)?
    To answer this question, you will need to reference the motherboard manual or specifications online. If you have a problem finding this information, just contact the motherboard manufacturer.

Existing memory compatibly

  • Are you going to add more memory to your current memory?
    The one thing you want to try and avoid when adding memory is incompatibility with existing memory. If you plan on adding a couple more memory modules, try to use your current memory's exact make and model. Even though memory from different manufacturers may be the same slot and speed type, their clock timings can differ. So, using the same make and model of memory in all slots is always recommended. If you can't, make sure you match the memory timing of your existing memory.

Related articles
How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your drive

Form factor and size

  • What size and form factor drive(s) are you looking at getting?
    If you are replacing an existing drive, you should go with one that is the same form factor (3.5", 2.5", M.2, or U.2) and the same size (GB's, TB's) or larger than your existing drive. If you are upgrading your drive to a different form factor (SSD, HDD, or U.2), you need to make sure your current case has a place to mount the other kind of drive (3.5" or 2.5"). If you are upgrading your drive to a different form factor (M.2, mSATA), you need to make sure your existing motherboard has the correct form factor (M.2 2242, M.2 2260, M.2 2280), key notches (B key, M key or both) and interface (SATA 3, PCI-e 3 or NVMe) as the drive you are looking at getting. If you want an M.2 or mSATA and your motherboard does not have the appropriate slot, you will need to use an expansion card.

Related articles
How to upgrade the drive in your computer

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your case

Motherboard Form Factor (micro-ATX, ATX, ITX, etc.)

  • What is the form factor of your existing case?
    If the case you are looking at getting is designed for a mini-ATX motherboard, you will not get a standard ATX motherboard to fit in it. Check the case manufacturer's website to verify the motherboard form factors that will fit in it.

CPU fan

  • Does the case you are looking at getting have enough space for your existing CPU fan?
    There is nothing worse than getting the motherboard, CPU, and cooler installed in a new case only to find out that you cannot get the side of the case on. Double-check all dimensions.

Peripheral/expansion

  • Does it have enough front panel connectors for the onboard headers of the motherboard?
    It sucks having USB 3.0 header(s) on the motherboard and not having any or enough connectors on the front of the case.
  • If you have a DVD or BD drive, does it have a 5.25" drive bay in front for it?
    Many cases nowadays do not have 5.25" drive bays. If you have a 5.25" drive or drives (CD, DVD, BD), you will need to double-check the case you are looking at getting.

Related articles
Tips for choosing the perfect case for your computer

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