When looking to upgrade your PC or building a new desktop, graphics processing unit (GPU), or popularly known as graphics card, is one of the most important components to look out for. This will determine how good the graphics in your games or creative work look, and whether there is enough graphics juice to support it.
With so many choices out there, it is understandable that the process of finding the right GPU can be quite intimidating, even to me at times. We want to make sure we get our money’s worth without unnecessarily overkilling or underpowering our PC. So, what should you look out for when it comes to picking the right graphics card? Let us help you by answering the following questions:
How Many GPU Manufacturers Are Available & Which One Suits You?
There are probably plenty of brands and companies that manufacture GPUs, but two companies worth noting are NVIDIA and AMD. These two game-changers often breed new innovative GPUs that take graphics to another level, although, there could be a third noteworthy company of GPU coming up - Intel’s Xe Graphics but, that’s for next time.
So which GPU manufacturers suit you? Well, if you are looking for the fastest, top of the line graphics cards then NVIDIA is the way to go! For more ‘upper to mid-range’ and budget GPUs, you can count on AMD’s.
Another way to figure out which brand suits you best is by looking at your monitor’s Adaptive-Sync Technology (if there is one). Does it support AMD FreeSync or NVIDIA G-Sync? This feature helps to synchronise the refresh rate between your monitor and graphics card to eliminate screen-tearing so you have to match them. This is becoming a bit more complicated with NVIDIA producing more FreeSync monitors.
And if your monitor does not support either technology, then either GPU brands will do.
What Do GPU Names And Numbers Mean?
Let’s take a look at NVIDIA’s GPUs. The alphabets, ‘GTX’ and ‘RTX’ represent the generation of the product. The first two digits, ‘10’, 16’, ‘20’ and ‘30’ are like the model number - the higher is it, the better. Then we reach the last two digits where it signifies the level of the product; 50s are Low-End; 60s are Mid-Range and 70s are High-End. As for the 80s and beyond? They are the best of the best.
Moving on to the additional alphabets tailing at the back, Ti and SUPER. Both essentially mean better variants of the GPUs - Ti means they are the more upgraded advanced version whereas SUPER means even more upgrade with higher boost clocks and speed.
So to simply break it down to you, here’s how to read them:
For the RTX2000 series, they do not offer cards under 50 because they come with Ray Tracing (new tech that makes your game look realistic). Hence, it also explains why they are ‘RTX’.
This also applies similarly to the new RTX3000 series that was recently released by NVIDIA.
With more upgrades, this means that the 2080 Ti is much faster than 2080. It is also worth noting that the Ti is faster than SUPER however, there is a price to pay. So it is up to you to decide if the higher frames are worth the extra bucks forked out.
These parallels are somewhat similar to AMD’s graphics cards naming as well. The only difference would be the alphabets at the front signifies the series. For instance, the Radeon RX series is a more high-end series compared to R6. Following the series name, the first number indicates the generation number and the remaining numbers represent the model.
So looking at AMD RX5700 for example, we got the generation number ‘5’, the model number ‘700’ and upgraded variants of ‘X’ and ‘XT’. Similarly to NVIDIA - the higher the number, the better it is.
These are the general rules of thumb when it comes to reading the meaning of GPUs’ names. Some graphics cards’ names and numbers could be exceptions to these rules so when in doubt, reading reviews and comparing benchmarks with readily available websites is the way to go. You can also refer here for a complete list of GPUs hierarchy to help you in your decision making easier.
What Kind Of Games Do You Play & What Do They Need?
Knowing your preferred games and their requirements is a great way to look for the best GPUs. Mainly because the reason you are upgrading your graphics card or customising your PC is to improve your gaming experience. And graphics cards that are good for gaming, typically do equally well in complex GPU computational workloads.
Simply put, if 4k gaming is what you’re after, then a high-end card is necessary.
Taking cues from our previous video’s analogy about sports cars in a bumpy, traffic jammy, speed limit imposed roads - what good is all the phenomenal cosmic power of an RTX3080 when your monitor is a potato. It will only cap your gaming experience to 1080p and 60Hz when it can be so much more.
It is arguable that better gaming experience comes with realistic lighting effects that are produced by ray tracing rendering technique. But if most of your games are not very demanding e.g. Minecraft or Dota, an RTX card would be an overkill. Unless, well, if you think that lighting effects worth your bucks - go for it.
Is Your Central Processing Unit (CPU) Up For The Power?
GPUs are the most power-hungry component in the computer system so it’s important to ensure your CPU is on par. If not, you will be experiencing some serious drop in performance and low-quality graphics despite the top-notch GPU. This, my friend, is what we call a bottleneck.
Do You Have The Required Connections; Ports?
This is a crucial point, though, often overlooked until we realised that we are not getting the frame rates we paid for. Some gaming monitors require a DisplayPort port instead of an HDMI port to fully push for 120Hz or 144Hz refresh rate. So make sure your graphics card has those connectors otherwise, you would be stuck with 75Hz at max with just an HDMI.
Is Your Power Supply Sufficient For The GPU?
Another factor to consider is making sure your computer’s power supply (PSU) has enough juice to support your graphics card’s Thermal Design Power (to measure the max amount of heat it generates under an intense workload). That is because the more higher-performing GPU you have, the more power your computer is going to need.
You will also need to get the right type of power connectors but not to worry. Power supplies these days tend to be modular, so you can easily attach the corresponding power pins to suit your needs.
Does Your Desktop Case Have Space?
I know we are spoilt for choices when it comes to choosing the shapes, sizes and designs of a GPU. Be it compact, low-profile, single-slot, dual-slot, or even triple-slot - we have to make sure it fits our desktop case.
Mini-ITX cases can usually fit single-fan GPUs. If you’re lucky, the one you have could even fit dual-fan GPUs. If you are looking for something more general, a Micro-ATX or ATX size PC casing would be a good option. That way, you will have more room for future upgrades. I mean, have you looked at NVIDIA’s RTX 3000 series? Those are some pretty chonky boys.
To sum that up, understanding the naming and numbers of GPUs gives you an upper-hand when choosing the right GPU. It is also important to know the games you play or the kind of high-end creative work you do and their requirements such as resolution, refresh rate needed and even ray tracing (for some). Once you identify that, you can come up with a list of suitable GPUs within your budget and check their compatibility against the equipment you currently have; CPU, monitor, connection ports, PSU and desktop casing space.
Still unsure of where to start? Fret not! Tune in to our All You Need To Know: GPU for detailed explanation on GPUs. Or feel free to check out our favourite list of GPUs:
NVIDIA GeForce RTX3080 - The best of the best!
AMD Radeon RX5600XT - The best, affordable 1080p graphics card.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX1650 SUPER - The best budget graphics card.