Saturday, December 24, 2011

How to Find a Good Video Card

It's insane how fast computers have become at doing 3D graphics! With things constantly changing, how to you know what the best graphics card is? In this post, we'll explain what a graphics card is and how to choose one that best suits your needs.

First of all, a video card doesn't just for video games. It's there to help with just about anything you see on your screen. It's also referred to as a graphics card because it's responsible for all the graphical interface. This makes it very important for a computer to function smoothly. Video cards can be either embedded into your motherboard or CPU or you may need to buy one separately. Buying a video card separately usually gives the best performance. It can easily be inserted into a PCI Express x16 slot. This slot is standard in modern motherboards.

The two main competitors for making video cards are Nvidia and AMD (Previously know as ATI until AMD bought it out). Both of these companies make quality cards that I would recommend. Nvidia is known for it's Gforce series while AMD is know for its Radeon series.

There's no set way to measure how well a card performs except by doing benchmarks. Benchmarks can be biased toward one brand over another so it's important to do a lot of them. Thankfully, web sites like Tom's Hardware have done most of the work for us. They'll test a large amounts of cards doing popular games at various settings. This will help you get a well rounded idea as to where a card's strengths or weaknesses are. Tom's Hardware does a great job at keeping up with the latest technology.

So what's the right price point when buying a video card? With any series the cards will cost about $20 to $30 on the low end and about $500+ on the high end. I like spending around $200 for my cards. This range can normally do any game on max or almost max settings. There's no point to buying a card from last year's series. The newer cards will be built with smaller process that cost less money. This means that you will get something that performs better and has the most current technology for the same amount of money.

With each new series, the cards usually improve their Direct X technology. This greatly effects how nice games look. A lot of games for PC that were released around the XBox 360/Wii/PS3 generation will use DX9. This introduced major improvements with visuals and lighting. DX10 only offered minor performance increases for the most part. DX11 is the most current version. It's biggest feature is tessellation. Tessellation uses advanced algorithms to duplicate polygons. This opens up possibilities for super detailed environments. For example, it can make every shingle become fully three dimensional instead of just a texture. Keep in mind that your video card will stay at whatever Direct X level it is currently at. The only way to upgrade it is to buy a new video card.

On top of improving their Direct X levels, video cards have also been improving their data transfer rates. Over the years, new versions of pci express x16 have become available. The most recent version is PCI express 3.0 which allows up to 8 gigatransfers per second whereas its predecessor, PCI express 2.0, was only capable of 5 gigatransfers. Each version of PCI express is compatible with previous video cards. Try to keep the versions of PCI express at the same level between your video card and motherboard to get the best performance.

You also want to be sure that your power supply is capable of handling your video card. If you have smaller card, your motherboard will be able to supply enough power to it. Higher end cards need a little more juice. These cards will have one or two power cords running directly from the power supply to the video card. The video card will say how big of a power supply it will need.

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