Video cards for PCs - also known as Graphics Cards - are the driving force behind your computer's video and gaming capabilities. If you want to improve your computer's gaming performance, the best place to start is with an upgrade to your graphics adapter. By doing so you'll harness the power of a separate card handling all the intensive video processing, rendering, and multimedia tasks while freeing up your CPU to handle other tasks. This delivers an overall faster and smoother PC experience - especially while playing today's graphics-intensive games. Modern graphics cards use the PCI Express interface to connect to your computer, which means you will need a PCIe x16 slot on your motherboard to use them. Older models can connect via the AGP or PCI slots, so be sure to check the specifications of your motherboard before you complete your purchase today.
Who manufactures most of the GPUS in the market today?
Two companies manufacture most of the graphics processors (GPUS) on the market today, Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Nvidia builds the GeForce and GTX lines of cards, while AMD builds the Radeon series.
Why do I need a Video Card?
Video cards create the graphics you see when you use your computer. If you're reading this text right now, it's thanks to the graphics card in your system. At minimum, upgrading this part of your PC can give improve your computer's performance in day-to-day tasks by making applications load faster and render smoother. If you choose a higher-performing model, graphics cards can help you run the latest games at high resolution or across multiple displays. Because video cards specialize in rendering graphics, they are able to generate virtual images with generally higher performance than CPUs. This gives your system the extra processing power it needs to play games, run 3D design applications, or to just give you a smoother day-to-day user experience.
What are the different options for Video Cards?
Options for video cards vary widely, so it all depends on what you want to do with your computer. For users who use their computers mainly for internet access and email, there are lower level video cards that help the graphical interface of applications render faster, and perform other behind-the-scenes functions to allow for an overall improved user experience. Mid-range cards are designed for users that like to play some games, watch HD movies, or do some lighter graphics work such as photo editing. Then there are performance-level video cards which are aimed at users who play graphically-intense games, create 3D models and animations, edit and render video, or overclock their system to improve performance.
Users who compete in games where the difference between winning and losing can be decided by a single shot use the latest NVIDIA GeForce and AMD Radeon cards. Their blindingly fast clock speeds, multiple processors, and large memory capacity make them a must-have for any gamer who wants to increase their K/D ratio to a fearsome level.
Professional designers, architects and 3D artists might be more in the market for NVIDIA GeForce GTX and AMD FirePro GPUs, which provide robust, reliable performance without the heavy price tag of their more powerful peers. There are also TV tuner cards that can allow you to view and record regularly broadcast programming right on your desktop computer to watch at your convenience. Depending on the applications and general use of your system, the options for video cards can be very broad.
What technologies are supported by the video card in question? Multiple Radeon video cards can be connected together through AMD's proprietary CrossFire technology to speed up the rendering of 3D graphics, but only if the cards in question have the capability to do so.
Examples of these technologies include AMD CrossFire, NVIDIA SLI, OpenGL, and DirectX, etc.
Where will I plug the video card into the motherboard?
There are 3 ports that are used to connect graphics cards to the motherboard: AGP, PCI, and PCI Express. These ports are not interchangeable, so make sure to research the connectors available on your motherboard before you purchase your new card.
The type and capacity of video memory (i.e. DDR3, GDDR5 clock rate specs, etc; 512MB, 2GB etc.) included on the graphics card is also an important factor in selecting the right card for your system.
Entry-level users are often on a budget or not too interested in video processing performance. Entry-level video cards are geared toward users who may occasionally play a game or two on their computer, but are usually running at low settings. Oftentimes this class of video cards is more suited to those that use their computers for non-gaming related activities such as web browsing or watching Youtube videos. The graphics cards that are considered entry level are usually very energy efficient and low in cost, but are only suitable for simple home theater PC, multimedia, or office tasks.
Performance or midrange users require a step up in terms of performance and gameplay. The graphics cards in this class offer a lot of value and features for the money. They can power more demanding PC games, but they generally cannot achieve high frame rates on the latest ones at their maximum video settings. These cards are the most popular video cards on the market because they fit the needs of the widest segment of users.
High end users and gamers are the ones that want the latest and greatest performance possible, without compromise. The highest- grade graphics cards run every game at max or near max settings, including games that require multi-screen outputs, high end 3d rendering, or 4K resolution displays. These cards require high-end power and cooling components supporting them; there's no point in building a budget PC and throwing in a high-end card. Every part of your system needs to be top-quality to get the performance desired, which often means high-output power supplies, upgraded fans, or even water cooling. These cards are definitely on the more expensive side of the spectrum, but if you are looking to have the highest performing PC available, this is the way to go.
PCIe vs PCI?
This question is an easy one to answer with respect to video cards. Because a PCI-E adapter has many times greater bandwidth and speed capabilities, always choose a PCIe card over a PCI one if all factors are similar. The main thing to remember here is that your computer has to have an open PCI-E slot. If you don't, you can always get a PCI based video card to do the job. Most PCI cards are generally out of production and you won't find one good enough to play any modern games so this is more of a way to get support for additional screens than a means to upgrade your graphics capabilities.