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A dis­crete graph­ics card is a nec­es­sary com­po­nent of a mod­ern, pow­er­ful desk­top com­put­er. There­fore, any­one who wants to upgrade or build a com­put­er comes to the con­clu­sion that you need to choose a video card. How­ev­er, at the price they are now far supe­ri­or to oth­er com­po­nents. We will tell you how to choose the best mod­el and not be left with an emp­ty wal­let.

A mod­ern video card is insert­ed into the PCI‑E slot on the moth­er­board, and the video card con­nec­tors are locat­ed at the back of the sys­tem unit. You can con­nect a mon­i­tor, TV, pro­jec­tor, video cap­ture card to the video card con­nec­tors. Image source: newegg.com

Choos­ing a video card for its intend­ed pur­pose
Nvidia vs AMD
Video card man­u­fac­tur­ers
Graph­ics proces­sors of video cards
The amount and type of mem­o­ry of the video card
Video card sizes
Video card cool­ing
Pow­er con­sump­tion of video cards
Exam­ples of video cards of dif­fer­ent price seg­ments
Cheap video cards
Ini­tial gam­ing graph­ics cards
Medi­um gam­ing graph­ics cards
Good video cards
Top video cards
A bit of the­o­ry: choos­ing a video card for games and mon­i­tor char­ac­ter­is­tics
Con­clu­sion

Choosing a video card for its intended purpose

The first thing you should ask your­self when choos­ing a video card — how to use it.

If you are buy­ing video card for games, it will be the most expen­sive and impor­tant com­po­nent of the sys­tem unit. The more pow­er­ful the video card, the faster the pro­cess­ing of three-dimen­sion­al graph­ics, the out­put of infor­ma­tion and the bet­ter the qual­i­ty of the pic­ture on the mon­i­tor. If the video card is not pow­er­ful enough, you will be dis­ap­point­ed in your com­put­er. Games will run slow­ly, or even not start at all.

The pic­ture in mod­ern com­put­er games is strik­ing in its atten­tion to detail. Some­times it becomes dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish between a screen­shot and a real pho­to. Game: Tom Clan­cy’s The Divi­sion. Image source: vgtimes.ru

How­ev­er, dif­fer­ent games may require dif­fer­ent graph­ics card pow­er. 2D or old­er games can run and run great on low end graph­ics cards.

Indie games and retro games can be so sim­ple in terms of graph­ics that they don’t require a pow­er­ful graph­ics card. Game: Stardew Val­ley. Image source: www.playground.ru

For work you may also need a pow­er­ful graph­ics card. For exam­ple, video pro­cess­ing and ren­der­ingdesign appli­ca­tions, as well as some types of engi­neer­ing pro­grams such as Auto­CAD, can work with a video card. For such tasks, there are spe­cial pro­fes­sion­al mod­els. Nvidi­a’s pro­fes­sion­al graph­ics cards are rep­re­sent­ed by the RTX A line, AMD’s is the Radeon Pro.

Pro­fes­sion­al video cards are dis­tin­guished by a spe­cial, strict appear­ance. Radeon Pro W5500 graph­ics card. Image source: i2hard.ru

Nvidia vs AMD

His­tor­i­cal­ly, the main com­peti­tors are video cards from two devel­op­ers: Nvidia and AMD.

Nvidia is more pop­u­lar, but AMD is not far behind in terms of tech­nolo­gies used, and com­pe­ti­tion is only for the ben­e­fit of the mar­ket. Image source: mediasat.info

Nvidia graph­ics cards use ray trac­ing tech­nol­o­gy, in Eng­lish Ray trac­ing. Its essence is that in games, light rays work like in the real world, which improves the effects of light­ing, shad­ows and reflec­tions. This makes 3D graph­ics more real­is­tic.

Nvidia and AMD are the design­ers of graph­ics cards, they are respon­si­ble for the design of the GPU and the basic design of the graph­ics card. Video cards released by Nvidia and AMD are called ref­er­ence and serve as a ser­i­al work­ing sam­ple of the device.

Video card manufacturers

Var­i­ous com­pa­nies such as ASUS, Giga­byte, Palit, Zotac and oth­ers are respon­si­ble for the mass pro­duc­tion of video cards. Each of these man­u­fac­tur­ers does not copy the ref­er­ence design, but releas­es sev­er­al of its own mod­els that dif­fer in board lay­out, cool­ing sys­tem, GPU and mem­o­ry fre­quen­cies.

Video cards from dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers can be com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from each oth­er, even if they are based on the same GPU mod­el. Image source: pics.computerbase.de

Graphics processors of video cards

The most impor­tant thing to look for when choos­ing a graph­ics card is the GPU mod­el. For exam­ple, its name looks like this: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Ti. It is he who deter­mines the per­for­mance by more than 90 per­cent.

With Nvidia, in the name of the GPU, the first two dig­its indi­cate the gen­er­a­tion, or fam­i­ly, to which it belongs, and the next two indi­cate the spe­cif­ic proces­sor with­in the same gen­er­a­tion. For exam­ple, in the name RTX 3090 at the begin­ning of 30, this means that the proces­sor of the RTX 30XX gen­er­a­tion, 90 is the most pro­duc­tive mod­el. The pre­fix Ti denotes a mod­el of a high­er class. For exam­ple, the RTX 3060 Ti is faster than the RTX 3060 but slow­er than the RTX 3070. Old­er graph­ics cards used a dif­fer­ent clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

For AMD, the first num­ber is the gen­er­a­tion, the remain­ing three are the mod­el. The pre­fix XT is used, sim­i­lar in mean­ing to the Ti pre­fix from Nvidia.

By choos­ing a GPU mod­el, we can choose a graph­ics card mod­el from a spe­cif­ic man­u­fac­tur­er that suits us in terms of price, size, pow­er and cool­ing type.

The amount and type of video memory

Dis­crete graph­ics cards use their own mem­o­ry called video mem­o­ry. Its vol­ume is cur­rent­ly most con­ve­nient­ly mea­sured in giga­bytes.

It is need­ed to store tex­tures and oth­er data that the video card uses at a giv­en time.

When choos­ing a video card, you should look at the amount of mem­o­ry as a sec­ondary char­ac­ter­is­tic. Much more impor­tant is the GPU mod­el.

Video card sizes

A graph­ics card can be called a com­put­er with­in a com­put­er, as it has its own mem­o­ry, its own graph­ics proces­sor, and its own con­trollers. All these com­po­nents are placed on the video card board, which has cer­tain dimen­sions. Depend­ing on the design of the cool­ing sys­tem, a video card can occu­py from one to three slots in the sys­tem unit case. When choos­ing, you need to take into account the phys­i­cal dimen­sions of the card. A graph­ics card that is too large may sim­ply not fit into your com­put­er.

The length of the video card often makes it dif­fi­cult to put it in one or anoth­er case of the sys­tem unit. Image Source: assets.rockpapershotgun.com

Video card cooling

The GPU and video card mem­o­ry gen­er­ate quite a lot of heat, espe­cial­ly under load. A heatsink is used to dis­si­pate heat. The heatsink on pow­er­ful graph­ics cards includes heat pipes that improve heat dis­si­pa­tion. One or more fans are used to blow the radi­a­tor.

Video card cool­ing sys­tem. The con­tact pad, heat pipes and radi­a­tor are vis­i­ble. Image Source: techpowerup.com


If there are no fans, then the cool­ing is called pas­sive. The main advan­tage of this solu­tion is the com­plete absence of noise. Pas­sive cool­ing is imple­ment­ed only on video cards of the low­er price seg­ment.

Power consumption of video cards

When choos­ing a video card, do not for­get about the source of ener­gy for it — the pow­er sup­ply.

The min­i­mum rec­om­mend­ed pow­er sup­ply pow­er is indi­cat­ed on the graph­ics card man­u­fac­tur­er’s web­site and is mea­sured in watts.

Examples of video cards of different price segments

Cheap video cards

Video cards of the low­er price seg­ment are designed for the sim­plest tasks, such as watch­ing videos or office work. Games with two-dimen­sion­al graph­ics, brows­er games, retro games can work here. But games with fan­cy graph­ics will shame­less­ly slow down.

ASUS GeForce GT 730 2GB. The video card has pas­sive cool­ing. Image source: en.gecid.com

Initial gaming graphics cards

They allow you to play mod­ern three-dimen­sion­al games, but at min­i­mum-medi­um graph­ics qual­i­ty set­tings and at Full­HD 1920x1080 res­o­lu­tion. Many pop­u­lar online games like World of Tanks will also go to them with­out prob­lems.

These include the Nvidia RTX 3050, GTX 1660 and AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT mod­els.

Giga­byte Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 video card. Image source: techspot.com

Medium gaming graphics cards

Mod­ern games are already run­ning at set­tings close to the max­i­mum, but with a decrease in anti-alias­ing, at a mod­er­ate res­o­lu­tion. Mul­ti­play­er mul­ti­play­er projects are like­ly to run at max­i­mum set­tings.

Typ­i­cal exam­ples are Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti or AMD Radeon RX 6600.

Video card MSI Radeon RX 6600 XT. Image Source: techspot.com

Good video cards

These graph­ics cards han­dle the most demand­ing games at high graph­ics set­tings, but do not allow you to use high res­o­lu­tions, such as 4K 3840x2160.

For exam­ple, this is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 or AMD Radeon RX 6800.

Sap­phire Nitro+ Radeon RX 6750 XT graph­ics card. Image Source: techspot.com

Top video cards

On them you can afford to play in high def­i­n­i­tion at max­i­mum qual­i­ty set­tings in any game. As a rule, the cost of such video cards is great­ly over­es­ti­mat­ed com­pared to their per­for­mance.

These include Nvidia RTX 3090, Nvidia RTX 3090 Ti and AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT

ASUS Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 Ti graph­ics card. Image Source: techspot.com

A bit of theory: choosing a video card for games and monitor characteristics

As already men­tioned, the more pow­er­ful the video card, the more graph­ic infor­ma­tion it can process per unit of time. There are three ways to use this pow­er:

  • Improved graph­ic set­tings. This, for exam­ple, is the detail­ing of mod­els in the game, the num­ber of objects, the qual­i­ty of shad­ows. The high­er the detail set­tings, the more real­is­tic the graph­ics become, the more small nuances appear.
  • Per­mis­sion increase. Res­o­lu­tion is the num­ber of dots, or pix­els, hor­i­zon­tal­ly and ver­ti­cal­ly that make up an image. The high­er the res­o­lu­tion, the smoother the image, the small­er the pix­el “lad­der” on objects and the larg­er the mon­i­tor size can be.

Thus, if we bought a mon­i­tor with a high res­o­lu­tion, for exam­ple 4K, then the video card, ide­al­ly, should also be more pow­er­ful, since it will have to out­put the same thing, but with more pix­els.

3. Increase the frame rate. Frame rate, or FPS, is, as the name implies, how many frames per sec­ond are dis­played on the screen. The high­er the frame rate, the smoother any move­ment looks.

A com­put­er mon­i­tor always has a cer­tain refresh rate. The stan­dard min­i­mum is a refresh rate of 60Hz, which is suf­fi­cient for most tasks, but mon­i­tors with high­er refresh rates are avail­able for gam­ing, such as 144Hz and 240Hz.

For exam­ple, if you have a mon­i­tor with a refresh rate of 144Hz and a game has a sim­i­lar FPS, then motion will appear smoother. Although for many peo­ple it is invis­i­ble.

So, if you have a mon­i­tor with a high­er res­o­lu­tion and/or high­er refresh rate, then you need a more pow­er­ful graph­ics card to unlock its capa­bil­i­ties.

Conclusion

A dis­crete graph­ics card is a com­plex and expen­sive device. But do not think that its choice and instal­la­tion is a mat­ter of the elite. Basi­cal­ly, it all depends on what kind of load it will go to.

When choos­ing, you need to look at the fol­low­ing points:

  • GPU mod­el;
  • reviews and reli­a­bil­i­ty of the man­u­fac­tur­er;
  • the abil­i­ty to install it in your com­put­er (size and required pow­er sup­ply);
  • what you plan to play and in what res­o­lu­tion;
  • whether the video card will be used for work appli­ca­tions.

If you need a graph­ics card at the low­est cost that allows you to play mod­ern games, then you should look at the Nvidia RTX 3050, GTX 1660 and AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT.

Due to the short­age of semi­con­duc­tors, the price range for video cards is now huge. There­fore, when buy­ing, you need to track prof­itable offers and buy com­po­nents at an afford­able price.

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