Gaming Video Card Buying Guide
Choosing the right gaming video card for your gaming computer can be confusing for some people.
There are so many different graphics cards out there, all with different specs and features, it's hard to know what to spend your hard earned cash on.
This article will discuss the various factors you should consider when buying a video card and also give some examples of the best value and performance video cards on the market now.
Your gaming video card will be responsible for producing the dazzling 3D graphics and effects seen in the latest PC games. A better graphics card makes for a better 3D gaming experience, so in general I would recommend gamers to choose the best video card they can afford. Also, the better the card you buy, the longer it will last you without having to upgrade.
Selecting your video card comes down to your own needs and budget. Just like most other PC components, you usually get what you pay for so I would recommend gamers to purchase the best video card that they can afford. You definitely don't want to skimp on the video card if high-end gaming is your aim, as it is widely regarded as the single most important component in your gaming system.
ATI Vs NVIDIA?
Very much like the CPU market, there are two companies that dominate the world of gaming video cards, ATI and nVidia. They make the best video card chips in the world. ATI is responsible for the Radeon series, while nVidia is behind the GeForce line of cards.
Although ATI and nVidia make the graphics card technology you see in all the latest cards, they don’t usually sell them themselves. They license their best video card chips to companies such as EVGA, Sapphire, and ASUS (just to name a few popular ones) who then sell their own variants on the original technology.
The speed and efficiency of your video card isn’t the only thing that counts. The latest 3D games and software make use of advanced 3D rendering effects such as anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, bump-mapping, pixel shaders and much more.
If you run a game that was written with such features in mind, and your graphics card doesn’t support them, you will experience a significant performance loss, or at worst the game won’t run at all. The best gaming video cards on the market try to keep up with all the latest 3D rendering techniques in the software world.
Screenshot from Battlefield 4
Choosing The Right Video Card
Video cards contain a host of different features, options, connections, etc. Here I will outline the main factors you need to consider when choosing your video card for gaming:
- Video Memory: The video RAM is the amount of memory your video card holds on-board for processing 3D images, and in general the more the better. The amount of video RAM you need depends on what video settings you want to play your games at, the resolution you will be playing at, and also whether you have AA (Anti Aliasing) enabled. I would recommend a video card with 512MB of video RAM as the minimum for gaming these days, and 1GB or more if you want to play your games on the highest settings.
- DirectX 11 Support: If you want to be playing the latest games now and into the future, you will definitely want to make sure your gaming video card supports the latest DirectX 11 technology to be able to render all the nice and fancy features that game developers use. Most video cards on the market today will support DirectX 11, but be sure to check just incase.
- SLI and CrossFire: Although not neccessary, NVIDIA's SLI and ATI's CrossFire technologies allow you to pair up either two ATI cards, or two NVIDIA cards to essentially have two GPUs working for your system. These features are aimed for those who have a little more to spend on their gaming system and want the very best graphics performance possible.
- DVI: This is a higher-definition output used with newer monitors and some high-end TVs. Connecting to your monitor via DVI offers better image quality than the standard VGA connection. If you want to take advantage of DVI, buy a graphics card and monitor that supports it.
- HDMI Connection: HDMI is the default connection on new HDTVs, Blu-ray players, Apple TV, many new computers and graphics cards, and a range of other video devices. If you need to connect your video card to a TV via HDMI, then obviously make sure to check that your video card has this feature.
- Dual Monitor Support: If you want to split your video output across two monitors, you will need dual monitor support on your graphics card. This feature is useful for developers, engineers, designers, and multi-taskers who wish to view many different windows on their desktop at once. Sometimes, one output will be VGA and the other DVI. Learn more about dual monitor video card setups here.
Recommended Gaming Video Cards
If you're after specific recommendations on the very best bang for your buck video cards for gaming, take a look at the video cards included in the Gaming Build Examples. In each of the builds the video cards chosen are some of the very best on the market right now in terms of gaming performance for your money.
Screenshot from Blizzard's Starcraft II
NVIDIA SLI Quick-Guide
ATI CrossFire Quick-Guide
Installing A Graphics Card
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