Gaming Video Card Buying Guide


Choosing the right gaming video card for your gaming computer can be very confusing especially if you're not a tech geek. There are so many different graphics cards out there, all with different specs, fancy features, and model names - it's hard to know where the hell to spend your hard-earned cash so you can hurry up and start dominating your games already.

This article will aim to simplify the decision process for you and it will cover the various factors you should keep in mind when choosing your gaming card.

A better graphics card makes for a better gaming experience, and it's the single most important component in a gaming build and has the biggest direct influence on your overall gaming performance. So what card should you get? The best you can afford, because like most computer parts, you usually get what you pay for. Also, the better the card you buy, the longer it will last you without having to worry about making an upgrade.


AMD vs NVIDIA

Very much like the CPU market, there are two companies that dominate the world of gaming video cards, AMD (formerly ATI, but AMD bought them out) and nVidia. They make the best video card chips in the world and are the only two companies you need to concern yourself with in the video card game. AMD is responsible for the Radeon series, while nVidia is behind the GeForce line of cards.

Although AMD and nVidia make the graphics card technology you see in all the latest cards, they don’t always 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.

So which is better? There's no concrete answer and the video card market is constantly changing. Both are great companies and produce excellent cards, so it's a matter of comparing their individual cards side by side and by price to consider which is best.

At the moment though, at the time of writing, I'm confident in saying that NVIDIA has the slight upper hand at most price points, as you can probably see from our recommend custom build examples where we typically recommend NVIDIA over AMD. But that change soon, so it's important to do your homework and stay on your toes.


Features to Consider

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 2GB of video RAM as the minimum for gaming these days, and 4GB or more if you want to play your games flawlessly on the absolute highest visual settings or on huge resolutions.
  • Latest DirectX Support: You'll definitely want to make sure your gaming video card supports the latest DirectX technology to be able to render all the nice and fancy features that game developers use. Most good cards on the market today will, but be sure to check just in case.
  • SLI and CrossFire: Although not necessary, 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. So if this is something you may wish to do in the future with your machine, ensure your card and your motherboard will support this.
  • 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.
  • Power Usage: The more powerful a card is, the more power it will require so you should keep this in mind and make sure your gaming computer's power supply will be good enough to handle your card.
  • Size: The size of your video card may also be an issue, especially if it's a large monstrous card. Make sure your case will fit your new beast.


Our Recommended Cards

If you're after specific recommendations on the very best bang for your buck video cards for your new custom build, take a look at the video cards included in our PC Build Examples. In each of the builds the cards chosen are the current best value cards on the market in different price ranges so it's a good start to get an idea of what's a good buy right now.


Related Articles

NVIDIA SLI Quick-Guide
ATI CrossFire Quick-Guide
Installing A Graphics Card