A Guide to Looking at Which Graphics Cards to Purchase for a New or Upgraded Gaming PC

When looking at which graphics cards to purchase for a new or upgraded gaming PC, choices can often get complicated for those who don’t know many of the requirements and design specifications to look for. This guide will try to cover the 4 key areas that relate to what you need to look for when purchasing a new GPU.

The Graphics card itself: The AMD / NVIDIA Option

Your decision on which graphics cards you are looking for begins of course, with the makers and model of said card. The debate constantly rages between which is better, AMD’s Radeon or Nvidia’s GeForce line of cards. From a technical performance standpoint, the line is changing almost weekly with the new introduction of higher powered models tweaked to outperform the previous one, however there are some lines that divide the two elsewhere that are more constant to consider.

When dealing with AMD cards you are likely to see a higher number of Crossfire enabled motherboards, giving you more versatility when it comes to running a dual-card system which can prove beneficial to those who are looking for uncommon architecture with their motherboard choices. Crossfire as a dual-card setup is also more effective for older games whereas SLI sees slightly higher performance with newer games.

On the other hand, Nvidia has some advantages as well. For starters Nvidia has made a lot of inroads with game developers, causing there to be a larger number of games with more finely tuned graphics profiles to work with the GeForce. Second and highly important for some users, Nvidia has been known to have better support when it comes to their Linux drivers.

Your Motherboard and Case

As has been previously briefly mentioned, your motherboard will be a massive factor in what graphics options you have, whether you are limited to a single GPU set up, or have the option between either Crossfire or SLI. The Gigabyte GA-990FXA is a particularly versatile motherboard, supporting both set ups while also having the dual PCI-Express slots you need, however a little close together, so make sure the cards you pick up are thin enough to fit. The Asus M4N98TD on the other hand, supports only SLI but has it’s PCI-E x16 (the GPU slots) spread out enough to fit two of the more massive models of cards.

As for computer case, there is one who dominates all others, Cooler Master. The Cooler Master HAF 922 is the definition of the shell to breathe life into your powerhouse. This particular model is in the mid-range of what this company has to offer, but I recommend this model from personal use as its massive fans and gorgeous red LED lights keep my personal behemoth from ever breaking a sweat.

Can you feel the POWER?

Last but certainly not least is your Power Supply, and this is a critical piece that people new to computer building can easily miss. Each graphics card comes with a required wattage setting, typically the biggest drain on a computer’s power. You MUST have a power supply that can not only meet the demands of your GPU’s drain, but take into account the rest of the hardware running of its juice, such as the CPU. There is really one champion of the power supply, and that is Corsair

The specific model you will need however is going to rely on what the total wattage requirements of your computer are, but there is a small catch with  all power supplies. A PSU is rated by its total power output in watts, however this is not necessarily the amount of wattage it provides to your computer. All power supply units need to spend some of their own power to offset the heat build-up from within, thus all PSUs lose some of that wattage in this process. Depending of the quality of the manufacturer, the percentage this drops can be as high as 30-45% reduction in actual watts served. Corsair is the champion here, because their PSUs are of high enough quality that you can always expect at least 80% of their power output, thus a 800 watt system can depend on a 1,000 watt Corsair like the HX1000W. Just make sure to dust it off once in a while to prevent unnecessary heat build-up.