Graphic Card Buyers’ Guide – How To Scope Out A Great Card For Your System

One of the most important components in any home computer system is the graphics card, yet most pre-built systems on the market are equipped with the shittiest graphic capabilities money can buy; that’s how manufacturers keep their costs down. Someone buys a PC that is hyped with the latest dual core processor best motherboard for i7 9700f and a couple of gigs of ram, yet it can barely play the new games or even the latest HD video formats, all thanks to the el cheapo graphics card, or worse…an integrated graphics chip.

My graphic card stinks, help!

If you bought a system with a lousy graphics card, fear not, you can upgrade that component. The hard part is figuring out which graphic card(s) provides you with the most bang for your buck. Fortunately, there are a lot of hardware review sites that benchmark specific graphic cards, and there are also forums where people constantly discuss these things day in and day out, so it’s not hard to catch wind of which cards are good and which are not.

Some good review sites you can try are:

Tomshardware

AnandTech

In addition to those sites and forums there are some common sense guidelines you should follow when looking for a new graphics card.

1. Unless you are oozing money do not buy the most expensive graphics card you can find. Try to stay under $300, it is simply not worth buying anything more expensive. The reason is that newer versions of a graphics card chip are constantly being released, so in a few, maybe four months time someone could buy a card for half the price that performs better than your ultra expensive card.

2. Make sure your system is compatible e.g. If your computer only has AGP graphic support do not run out and buy a PCI-E capable graphics card. The graphic card interface type is usually specified in the name of the graphics card, so just make sure your motherboard can support it.

3. Don’t be duped into believing that the higher a number is on a graphics card the more powerful it is. There are many instances where a graphics card with a lower model number completely obliterates the one with the higher model number in regards to performance.

e.g. Nvidia Geforce 9600GT PCI-E vs. Nvidia Geforce 8800 GT PCI-E

The 8800GT wins hands down.

What to look for in a graphics card

Performance aside, you should look to see if the graphic card has on-board video decoders, especially for HD formats like h.264. By having a built in decoder, your CPU will not have to work as hard which results in a more responsive system and smoother video playback.

Price is another major factor in choosing a graphic card, you don’t want to cheap out and buy something that is mediocre or you’ll be upgrading again very shortly. On the other hand you don’t want to run out and buy something that will cost you an arm and a leg. In my opinion the sweet spot for graphic cards is in the midrange to upper-midrange ($150-220). Most of the cards in this range provide 80% of the performance of the ultra expensive cards, yet cost a fraction as much. A good midrange card should also last you around two years or longer if you can live without running games on ultra high settings and extreme resolutions.

To get you on the right track here are some examples of great performing graphic chips as of 2008. Any card using a chip from below will provide great performance.

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