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I have always wanted to build my own PC, but I stare at graphics cards as if they were fireworks. They all look the same and the specs (Other than memory) mean nothing to me. I would just end up buying the most expensive for some major over kill. Like the guy who buys a 20 minute firework for his 6x6 meter garden :)

Can you help me here?

asked Feb 23 '11 at 12:27

Grant%20Russell's gravatar image

Grant Russell

I quite agree!

(Feb 23 '11 at 13:34) edge82364 edge82364's gravatar image

The Beginners Graphics Card Guide

Ok I'll give you the bare basics. As someone already posted another link (below) to give you the most simple average score, in short, higher is better. Most benchmark sites will completely overwhelm the average user so that's a good one for beginners.

If you're getting a card for gaming: basically, 60 Frames Per Second is what you want to be getting, either that or over. (Keep in mind that most monitors today cannot display more than 60 FPS because the 60HZ refresh rate limits their output) This will enable you to have a smooth gaming experience. Below this will usually lead to choppy visuals and sometimes make it really hard to play/enjoy. A remedy to get around this for bad cards is to turn down the settings to tax the GPU less, thereby gaining higher FPS.

Keep in mind, while some games will do well, some won't. For example, I have a very high end GPU. (GTX 580) On a game such as Call of Duty MW2, I can get 100+ frames on average on the highest settings without it ever dropping, while on a game like Crysis Warhead, my GPU gets around 60ish frames a second but the frames will occasionally drop to below 40 which you can notice visually. But that is Crysis Warhead and it's got such good graphics for (right now anyway) that most people use it as a benchmark rather than a game :p Keep in mind if you are getting low frame rates on an online FPS in particular, you will have an extremely hard time keeping up with other players and won't be able to play to your full potential.

Lastly, resolutions. If you're playing at a high resolution, you're gonna need a high end graphics card. Unfortunately playing at a lower resolution (other than your monitors native one, namely the one your screen uses as it's regular desktop one, or the highest that it can go) isn't really a workaround like turning down the graphics, because it looks like absolute CRAP, fuzzy, blurry, you just don't want to go there.

Some thing's to keep in mind: the more $$ the card costs, the better. USUALLY! This principle is completely true with GPUs. That doesn't mean that you can't look around for deals. As you may have noticed, there are two big GPU companies, AMD and Nvidia. They are the ones who make the technology. The people who make the physical cards themselves are companies like Diamond, XFX, PNY, Zotac, MSI and so on, there are a million of them. So when you see XFX Radeon 5870 and a Powercolor Radeon 5870, they are both the same card. They may be different prices however, because each company will utilize different warranties and different cooling and accessories. Also as a rule of thumb, Nvidia GPUs are almost always more expensive then their equivalent AMD GPUs, but do tend to edge them out the slightest bit performance wise, at least in this current iteration.

Just make sure that your power supply can handle the card, any modern powersupply above 650 watts should be able to run most high end cards on the market but read around to make sure (the spec you should pay most attention to is how many "Amps" are on the 12 Volt Rail). Also, your motherboard needs to have a PCI Express port for 99 percent of modern cards (almost all MoBo's do nowadays) and it should be an x16 slot.

That's the ABSOLUTE basics of the topic. If you're interested, look up such topics as Nvidia 3D Vision, AMD Eyefinity, SLI, Crossfire, Overclocking, PhysX, CUDA and the list goes on. I'd be happy to answer any more questions if you've got them, hope I didn't overwhelm you!

Some additional info:

VSYNC: Caps the games FPS at 60, reducing a graphical artifact known as "tearing" which looks really bad. This will lead to a frame drop however, so unless you are getting steady or well above 60 FPS, I would leave it alone.

Anti Aliasing: Makes textures appear with less jagged edges, not necessary at higher resolutions. It's a huge FPS hit, most users with lower end cards should keep it off.

FRAPS: A program that lets you see how many FPS you are getting, Google it if you are interested in testing out your PC with certain games.


Video Card length: Some of the latest video cards come in quite well endowed at a whopping 11.5 inches! If you don't have a full tower case, you probably aren't going to be able to fit it in.

Fans: High end cards come self enclosed with their own fans, so you don't really need to add any case fans to accommodate for a new component. However, some of these cards are as loud as a jet engine! This usually isn't a problem when gaming because you have the sound of he game up, but it's something to keep in mind. Passive coolers (cards with heatsinks, no fans) are silent, however you won't find any high end cards with this type of cooling.

Temperature: Don't be alarmed if your GPU shoots up into the 70 or 80 Celsius range (during intensive gaming only). The cards drivers should kick in and speed up the fan. If it seems excessively hot, do a google search on your particular cards acceptable temps. Keep in mind that prolonged exposure to high temperatures can damage the lifetime of a component.

On a closing note, while a Graphics card is arguably the most vital part of the graphics and video gaming experience, putting a high end graphics card in a low end system isn't going to do much for you. It's all about balancing and finding that sweet spot.

* Please let me know if I've made any mistakes and I'll correct them, thanks!

answered Feb 23 '11 at 16:20

Zlpha's gravatar image


edited Feb 28 '11 at 01:19


Thanks - lots of info, I understand a lot more now :)

(Feb 23 '11 at 18:59) Grant Russell Grant%20Russell's gravatar image

any time :)

(Feb 23 '11 at 19:44) Zlpha Zlpha's gravatar image

This is an impressive overview of graphics card tech. I might take issue with the citation that Nvidia has more horsepower than the comparable ATI cards, but that rides the tide of the market, accurate one day and somewhat faulty the next.

(Feb 23 '11 at 22:56) KnightZero KnightZero's gravatar image

I am Enlightened.

(Feb 25 '11 at 03:11) Yogi Yogi's gravatar image

Great answer Zepplinne.

Grant, I have used this page to compare video cards when making buying decisions:


Don't go for the card with the most memory. Mfr's are taking advantage of a cheap memory cycle to boost the video memory to 1 or 2 gigabytes on cards that can't use it due to a bottleneck in some other component. This sells more cards, but the extra memory is useless if the other components of the card can't keep up. More important are video memory speed (I'll loosely call it vram for the sake of brevity) and vram bus bandwidth. Consider these first, then compare other features. Go with at least DDR3 vram and at least 256-bit bandwidth to keep up with current graphically intensive games.

If you want to future-proof <cough..cough>, then go with low CAS latency (the first digit in the x-x-x-x notation) DDR5 and at least 256-bit vram bus bandwidth. I would have said 448-bit, but I'm not a fanboy and don't want to seem to give preference to a certain card, when there are some 256-bit competitors out there that can absolutely keep up. Even with these cards, it's debatable whether it's worth getting more than a gig of vram, even on the higher-end cards unless you can get the extra vram for only a few dollars more, and then only after having settled on a certain product line (e.g same specs but 2G vram, instead of 1G for $20 more). In other words, don't use it in your buying decision until the end.

Google away, and you will learn about video cards in no time at all.

Good luck!

answered Feb 25 '11 at 02:54

GemXer's gravatar image


http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/ is defiantly in my top 6 sites I look to for good detailed breakdowns for video cards.

For some more in depth video card reviews and benchmarks, my other 5 bookmarked sites in my top 6 are:


I hope these sites fire up greater interest in the graphics capabilities of PC gaming cards.

answered Feb 24 '11 at 00:05

Greg%20De%20Santis's gravatar image

Greg De Santis

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Asked: Feb 23 '11 at 12:27

Seen: 19,279 times

Last updated: Feb 28 '11 at 01:19