AMD 6000. RTX 3060 Ti. Radeon RX 6800. If you’re unable to differentiate between these GPUs, you’re not alone. For those just starting out in the custom build scene, choosing the right graphics card can be more confusing and intimidating than the process of actually fitting one.
PC gamers, video editors, and 3D designers can all agree on one thing: having the right graphics card to suit your needs is one of the most important elements of any custom PC build.
With that said, here’s a quick buyer’s guide to let you know the most important things to look out for when buying a graphics card.
How Much Memory Does My Graphics Card Need?
This all depends on how much you’re willing to spend and how big you want to go. Many games will run on lower settings with a minimum of 2GB, but anything above this will obviously deliver a better performance.
If you’re planning on gaming with high-resolution textures turned on, this will require a lot of memory, so ideally you’ll need to get a card with at least 6GB to enjoy your games at 1080p.
However, if your budget allows it, try to get a card with 8GB or above, as this will ensure a smooth performance up to 4K, as well as future-proofing your setup for at least a few years to come.
Get a Card that Matches your Monitor’s Resolution and Refresh Rate
Most commercially available monitors typically have a 60Hz, 120Hz, or 240Hz refresh rate. The majority of gaming PC graphics cards currently available on the market are ideal for playing in 1080p resolution and can typically output between 30fps and 60fps. However, to output a stable 4K resolution, you’ll need to take a look at higher-end cards.
For example, if your PC can run Crysis 3 at over 150fps but is connected to a 60Hz monitor, you are wasting your GPU’s power with a minimal return on your investment.
Conversely, to showcase the full potential of a monitor with a refresh rate in the hundreds, you’ll need a powerful graphics card to appreciate the full effect.
Make Sure the Graphics Card Fits your Case
It goes without saying that you need to have enough room in your case to fit your graphics card. These come in a few sizes: half-height (aka slim); single-slot; dual-slot; triple-slot; and inevitably, even more slots in the future as cards become even more powerful and resource-hungry.
Double check the length, height, and thickness of the slot that you plan on putting your card into. Take a look at the GPU manufacturer’s page for the length of the card, then check the case manufacturer’s page for the GPU support. If the length of the slot in the case is bigger than the length of the GPU, it will fit.
Alternatively, you can utilise PCPartPicker, an excellent online resource to check if your GPU (along with many other components) is compatible with the rest of your parts. Whilst you’re there, you’ll also want to make sure that your power supply has enough watts to keep the card running without any issues.
Choosing a Card that Supports VR?
With virtual reality gaming becoming even more realistic as the technology surrounding it improves, the requirements to run it will inevitably increase over the coming years. For the meantime, you’ll need a mid-range card, but you can probably expect the tech required for optimal VR performance in the future to be much higher.
‘Half-Life: Alyx’ has become universally accepted as being the definitive VR experience. The graphics in this game are some of the best currently on offer within virtual reality, and thus demand a minimum requirement of a GTX 1060 or RX 580 card with at least 6GB of VRAM (Video RAM).
To get the optimal VR experience for most games, Oculus recommends a “NVIDIA GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 graphics card or greater”.
However, they also mention that the “NVIDIA GTX 960 (4 GB), NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 (4 GB), NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti, NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti (laptop), NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M and AMD Radeon RX 470” will all meet the current minimum requirements for VR. If you’re looking to future-proof your setup, invest the money in a high-end GPU.
Looking for a Graphics Card with Ray Tracing?
Previously reserved for pre-rendered footage such as animated movies, one of the biggest technological developments in the video game industry has come with the implementation of ray tracing, a huge improvement to real-time graphics, albeit a taxing one. NVIDIA provides the following description of the technology:
“Ray tracing calculates the color of pixels by tracing the path that light would take if it were to travel from the eye of the viewer through the virtual 3D scene. As it traverses the scene, the light may reflect from one object to another (causing reflections), be blocked by objects (causing shadows), or pass through transparent or semi-transparent objects (causing refractions). All of these interactions are combined to produce the final color of a pixel that is then displayed on the screen.”
Game studios such as Remedy Entertainment, creators of Control, have begun implementing this new technology into their games as GPUs become more powerful, but for the time being, you’ll be paying a pretty penny for the privilege.
In conclusion, the best GPU for your setup will depend on your budget and what you intend to do with your PC once it’s built. Building a gaming PC can be a pricey affair, so our recommendation is just to go for the best card your budget allows.
It’s worth remembering that technology is constantly improving and no matter what graphics card you buy, it will be outdated within five years. Fortunately, unlike standard games consoles which become outdated every eight or so years, you can upgrade your PC’s hardware at any time while keeping your library of games!
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.