For those of you first-time builders who are planning on building a gaming computer, the most important component in your upcoming build will likely be your graphics card. We’ve already covered what to look for in a processor and motherboard and, today, we’ll go over how to choose a graphics card.
In this short guide, we’ll discuss five different things you should look for in a graphics card. If you understand these five factors, you’ll be in a much better position to choose the GPU that is right for your needs.
The first thing you’ll want to know about buying a graphics card is that there are only two main GPU manufacturers: NVIDIA and AMD.
However, while NVIDIA and AMD are the only GPU manufacturers, they license other companies to sell their GPUs. Companies like ASUS, Gigabyte, EVGA, MSI, etc. sell their own graphics cards with AMD or NVIDIA GPUs on them.
These companies typically offer different cooling solutions, clock rates, and software on their video cards. So, while the GPUs may be the same across different resellers’ graphics cards, the cooling and software (and, thus, performance) can vary to a certain degree.
Which Company Makes Better GPUs?
It’s important to note, that if you don’t want to support one company over the other (as some people do) and performance is your only goal, then price-to-performance is going to be the biggest determining factor in what graphics card you can get.
In my opinion, at the time of writing this article, NVIDIA currently has the better value graphics cards across the board.
However, video card prices change frequently, and there are many different tiers of graphics card performance. On some tiers, NVIDIA-based video cards will offer you better price-to-performance. On other tiers, it may be an AMD-based video card that will offer you the best price-to-performance option.
So, there is really no one answer to which GPU manufacturer is the best option. It really depends on what your budget is and what kind of deals/sales are available at the time you go to buy your graphics card.
Which Reseller Makes the Best Graphics Cards?
Along with wondering who is better between AMD and NVIDIA, you might also be wondering which graphics card reseller offers the best video card.
The truth is that most of the popular video card resellers offer worthy options.
So, the answer to what reseller makes the best graphics cards is similar to the answer of who is better between AMD and NVIDIA: it really depends on what the current prices are.
Right now, the consumer graphics card market is in a bit of a disarray. Crypto miners have depleted the stock and prices have risen to all-time highs. However, even before crypto mining hurt the market for video cards, video card prices on specific cards were constantly fluctuating.
On some days, you might find that an EVGA GTX 1060 6GB graphics card costs $299. The next day, that same card may end up shooting up to $329, but Gigabyte’s GTX 1060 6GB graphics card went down to $289.
And, along with that, you may find completely different prices from one retailer to the next—especially if one retailer is holding a sale.
So, it’s a good idea to shop around and check prices.
But, here is a quick list of the most popular video card resellers:
If you’ve chosen the GPU you want and you’re working with a budget, your best bet is to just go with the least expensive option from one of the above-mentioned brands. Yes, the more expensive options may come with a higher clock rate or better cooling. However, the real-world in-game performance difference between a base model graphics card and a model that has a higher clock rate and better cooling isn’t always significant.
So, if you have a bigger budget and you want to get a graphics card with a high-end cooler on it, then, by all means, spend extra. But, if you don’t have an unlimited budget, you can save some money by going with the least expensive option, or you can use the difference in cost on other components in your system.
Another important thing that will determine what kind of graphics card you should get is the types of games you play.
In theory, the concept is if you play games that are graphics-intensive, the more powerful the graphics card you should get.
Games like The Witcher 3, PUBG, Battlefield 1, and VR games are going to require a better GPU than games like League of Legends, Dota 2, Minecraft, etc.
So, if you’re someone who plays less-demanding games, you can save some money by choosing a more affordable entry-level graphics card.
On the other hand, if you are going to be playing those graphics-intensive games, then you’ll want to make sure you get a higher-end video card.
Along with the types of games you play, it is also important to consider what resolution you will be playing your games at.
The higher your monitor’s resolution is the more pixels that will need to be rendered on each frame. And, the more pixels that need to be rendered for each frame, the harder your GPU will have to work.
Or, in other words, games become more demanding at higher resolutions.
If you’re building a gaming computer so that you can play games on a 4K monitor, you will want to make sure that you get a high-end graphics card.
On the flip side, if your plan is to only play games on a 1080P monitor, you can save some money by selecting a less-expensive graphics card that can still handle games on a 1080p monitor with ease.
The thing to note here, though, is that if you are planning on upgrading to a higher resolution monitor in the future, and you have the money to spend on a higher-end graphics card now, that is probably the best route to go. That way, when you do get your higher-end monitor, you won’t have to upgrade your graphics card in order to accommodate it.
Speaking of monitor resolution, if you’re in the market for a new GPU, you’ll also want to consider what the refresh rate of your monitor (or the one you are planning on buying) is.
Just as having to render more pixels per frame is more taxing on a GPU, so, too, is forcing your GPU to render more frames per second.
High refresh rate monitors can certainly deliver a much smoother gameplay. However, they will also force your graphics card to work harder.
So, if you are looking to build a high-end computer for competitive gaming and you need a high refresh rate monitor in order to gain an advantage over your opponents, you’ll likely want to get a higher-end graphics card that can accommodate a higher refresh rate.
Just like you need to make sure that your processor and motherboard and your motherboard and case will work together, you also need to make sure that your graphics card will work with your other components.
And, really, when we talk about graphics card compatibility, there are two main things you need to check in order to ensure that your graphics card will work with your part list:
- Your Power Supply
- Your Case
There are a couple of other potential compatibility issues that can arise with graphics cards, but they are small and a bit rarer. But, your power supply and your case are the main components to check and make sure that your graphics card is compatible with.
Your graphics card is going to be the most power-hungry component in your system. So, you need to make sure that you choose a power supply that can handle your graphics card.
There are a couple of ways to do this…
The Not Quite As Good Way
- Check the graphics card’s minimum recommended wattage (can be found on the graphics card’s spec sheet.)
- Buy a power supply that has more than the minimum recommended wattage.
The Better Way
- Check what the minimum +12v rail rating the graphics card requires (you can use this post to do so.)
- Buy a power supply that has a higher rating on its +12v rail (can be found on the PSU’s spec sheet.)
Your graphics card will draw its power from your power supply’s +12v rail and so, the +12v rail is a better indication of whether or not a power supply can handle your graphics card.
Also, the +12v rail is one easy way to avoid buying cheap knock-off power supplies. A lot of really bad power supply manufacturers claim higher wattage ratings than the power supply is actually capable of delivering. Typically, these cheap power supplies’ +12v rails will be a bigger indicator of their low quality than their wattage rating will.
Of course, the +12v rail isn’t the end-all of power supply quality indicators. Check our Power Supply Buyer’s Guide for the top options in each price range.
Another thing you’ll want to check on the graphics card and power supply you are considering getting is what kind of PCIe connector the power supply has and what kind of PCIe connector port the graphics card has.
Most graphics cards need to be connected directly to your power supply. You use a PCIe power connector to connect the power supply to the graphics card.
However, PCIe power connector ports on graphics cards aren’t all the same. Typically, the more powerful the graphics card, the more pins on the PCIe connector the graphics card requires. Common PCIe connectors or connection requirements will be referred to as…
- 6+2 pin
- 2 x 8-pin
A mid-range graphics card like a GTX 1060 requires a 6-pin connection.
A high-end graphics card like a GTX 1080 Ti could require two 8-pin PCIe connectors.
So, before you purchase your graphics card and power supply, you need to ensure that the power supply you are getting has the appropriate PCIe connector(s) to accommodate your graphics card. All of this information can be found on both the power supply’s and graphics card’s spec sheet.
The other thing you’ll want to check to ensure your graphics card is compatible with your system is whether or not it can fit inside of the computer case you have chosen.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to check and see if the graphics card you are considering will fit inside of the case you are considering (or already have):
- Check the length of the graphics card you are considering (it will be listed on the graphics card’s spec sheet)
- Check the maximum graphics card clearance on the case you are considering (it will be listed on the case’s spec sheet)
- Make sure the graphics card you are considering is shorter than the graphics card clearance on the case you are considering
One common PC building mistake I see first-time builders make is that they over- or under-spend on their graphics card in relation to the rest of their components.
For instance, paying $300 or more for a processor and then ~$100 for a graphics card. Or, paying $400 for a graphics card and ~$100 for a processor.
In these cases, there is the potential to create a bottleneck in your system. What this means is that in most scenarios—especially gaming—a $400 graphics card can’t achieve its full potential when paired with a $100 processor.
Now, there are certain scenarios where it’s okay to over- or under-spend on your graphics card (namely, when you’re preparing for an upgrade in the not-so-distant future.)
And, the term ‘bottlenecking’ is probably overused a bit when it comes to building your own computer.
However, if you don’t have specific reasons for over- or under-spending on your graphics card, it’s best to try and achieve some sort of balance with your part list so that you don’t create any bottlenecks in your system.
This may mean, instead of spending $400 on your graphics card and $100 on your processor, you spend $300 on your graphics card and $200 on your processor.
It could also mean spending less on your graphics card to ensure that you get a quality power supply that can accommodate it. Some first-time builders will choose a low-quality power supply because it’s cheap and they think they can put the money they have saved into getting a higher-end graphics card.
And, really, this idea of ‘achieving balance’ in your system applies to all of your components.
Yes, your processor, graphics card, and RAM (and, to an extent, your storage if you get an SSD) are going to have the biggest influence on your system’s performance. But, if you sacrifice on your power supply, motherboard, and case, you might run into secondary problems that will end up affecting your performance.
If you want an idea of what a balanced part list looks like, check out our pre-made part lists below, or you can email us for advice:
Dealing With Insane Graphics Card Prices
Finally, before we wrap this post up, one last thing you’ll want to consider is the current pricing trends in the graphics card market. We touched on it a little bit above, but at the time of writing this article, the graphics card market is suffering right now from not having enough cards in stock.
And, while the graphics card market can fluctuate on a daily basis in normal times, right now prices for the various tiers of graphics cards are at all-time highs. So, just be aware that if you are looking to build a new computer, or upgrade your existing one, the amount you’ll spend on a graphics card at the moment will bring you less price-to-performance than you would have gotten in the past.
For some of you, if you absolutely need to upgrade, or you can’t wait to build a new system, the current market might just be something you have to deal with. For others, especially those who still have a decent graphics card but who were considering an upgrade, you might want to wait until the market settles down.
Ultimately, though, if you want to know how to choose a graphics card for your computer, the five factors laid out above will help you find the right option for your needs.