Choosing a graphics card is one of the most important things when building and upgrading any gaming computer. This is also the most popular PC component which consumers frequently upgrade and spend their money on. For many people, choosing the right graphics card for playing games can be a difficult task since there are many different models available on the market, and most of them share similar specifications. Even for those who have a good understanding of technology, following the latest trends can be a daunting task, as each year new graphics cards are released to the market.
Every gaming computer is different, the type of card that suits it best will naturally differ, depending on the games it will be used for. A compact computer to play Minecraft in 1080p resolution will need a different graphics card than the computer on which you want to play the latest titles, or with best image quality and in 4K resolution.
In the continuation of this article, which will be divided into multiple parts due to its extensiveness, we will say something more about which graphics card should you choose to play different games. Depending on whether you want to be an occasional player, who plays Minecraft or a similar games, or whether you want to be a “hardcore” player, who wants to play competitive games like Call of Duty: Warzone or Apex Legends, you will need a different graphics cards.
Graphics Cards Prices and Tiers
Although the CPU was once the most important part of a computer, the rapid development of graphics technology made the graphics card the most important factor for playing almost all games. As a general rule, it is recommended that between 30% and 50% of the total PC build budget should go for buying a graphics card. As long as the processor is reasonably good in quality and speed, you won’t have to pay too much attention to it, which means most of the attention should just go to purchasing a graphics card.
Ultra high-end graphics cards like the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 can cost more than $3,000, while mid-range and low-end GPUs can range from $400 to $1,000. There are even entry-level cards which can be purchased for less than $100. In September 2020, NVIDIA surprised many by when it launched its new RTX 3080 and RTX 3070 graphics cards which were able to combine high-end performance with fairly low price. Offering great value for money, the new RTX 30 series graphics card enabled NVIDIA to significantly stir up the competition, which leads us to the next big question: should you choose AMD’s or NVIDIA’s graphics card?
AMD vs. NVIDIA
Among many tech enthusiast, AMD and NVIDIA have been also known as the “Red” and “Green” teams. These companies did not get these nicknames without reason, as both of these companies design graphics cards in different ways, thus attracting different types of gamers. Each group of players swears by the quality of one of these two types of graphics cards. However, for some of them all this pomp doesn’t matter at all, while the third group gladly switches from Team Red to Team Green and vice versa, wanting to use the best of both worlds.
In essence, the difference between the quality of hardware of AMD’s and NVIDIA’s graphics cards is quite small, because cards with equivalent specifications from both manufacturers will be able to run the same games with almost identical settings without any problems, which means that the differences are usually only visible in the details.
Certain game titles have been developed to be more compatible with a particular type or series of graphics cards, which means that these titles will work a little better on those cards (for example, when you start a game and see it says “Works best with AMD”), while other titles are designed to take advantage of certain features offered by one particular manufacturer. For example, NVIDIA’s RTX graphics cards are maximally focused on “Ray Tracing” technology, which serves to display glare and lighting in the best possible way, which is especially important if players want to play the latest games in maximum detail and if they want the game to show everything it can.
In addition, NVIDIA’s RTX 30 cards feature DLSS upscaling technology, which is used to speed up and improve performance at higher resolutions. Players who aren’t sure which way to go are usually better off focusing on finding the graphics card that will best suit their needs for least money possible. Whether “Ray Tracing” is important to you or not, it can largely determine whether you are ready to spend $150 or $800 on a graphics card.
What About Graphics Card Model Numbers?
For many users, it is a big problem to understand what exactly all these numbers next to the name of the graphics card mean. Although understanding numbers is not as complicated as it seems, it will take you a while to get into it. By the end of 2020, both manufacturers, meaning both AMD and NVIDIA, have launched brand new series of graphics cards: NVIDIA launched its GeForce RTX 3000 series, while AMD will launched its RX 6000 series.
In both cases, the first number refers to the generation of technology used on the card. NVIDIA’s Series 10 was launched in 2016 and was based on Pascal’s architecture, the Series 20 was launched in 2018 and was based on the Turing architecture, while the Series 30 was partially launched in September 2020 (other cards from the series on the are expected to be launched by the end of the year) and its design was based on Ampere architecture.
AMD has been known to change names and numbers more often, however, it seems that the Red Team is certainly moving to a consistent way of naming with the 5000 series, which were launched in 2019, and were succeeded by the 6000 series in 2021. What is extremely important to note is that each succeeding generation brings an improvement in performance and technology by 40 to 50% over the previous generation. Plus, the newer generation of graphics cards, especially if it’s the “entry” level of cards, will get much more driver updates for a longer period of time.
A Little More About Graphics Card Model Numbers
The next number variation refers to the card model. The higher the number, the better, more powerful, but also more expensive the graphics card is. NVIDIA uses model numbers 60, 70 and 80 for the current 20 series, which means that graphics cards are “called” for 2060, 2070 and 2080, while the 30 series also has the NVIDIA GeForce 3090 model, which is the most powerful and best in series. AMD used 500, 600, and 700-style numbers for the 5000 and 6000 series, resulting in graphics cards that had a full number of 5500, 5600, 5700, and even 6800, and 6900. AMD is expected to use the same numbering method for its next 7000 series cards.
In short, the NVIDIA GeForce 2080 is better than the NVIDIA GeForce 2060. But the NVIDIA GeForce 1080 Ti is better and faster than the NVIDIA GeForce 2060, despite the fact that 2060 is a newer model which was built and designed on newer architecture.
Although the naming method is slightly different, competing models from the same time periods often match in terms of performance, with AMD’s RX 6700 having performance comparable to NVIDIA’s RTX 3070, while the RX 6600 XT has comparable performance to NVIDIA GeForce 3060. These numbers are complex, however, additional labels denote faster, better, and more advanced versions of the same series of graphics cards. For NVIDIA’s graphics cards, additional names and suffixes such as Ti or SUPER are used. Good example is NVIDIA GeForce 3080 Ti, while AMD’s graphics cards use additional letters XT at the end of their names.
Numbering is further complicated by other cards, which use a different generation number. This rule usually applies to low-end graphics cards. For example, the NVIDIA 16 Series is based on the Turing Series 20 architecture, but is less powerful than the 20 Series card variants. Keep in mind, however, that these cards are still very good for playing games at 1080p resolution, which means that they fall into the category of “budget” or very affordable graphics cards. If you want to play the latest titles in 4K resolution and high detail, it is recommended that you look for upper tier graphics cards such as the NVIDIA’s RTX 3070 or AMD’s equivalent RX 6700 XT.
Choosing a Graphics Card Brand
Today, there is a large number of AIB (add-in board) manufacturers and brands on the market that produce AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards, whose prices vary considerably. Brands like ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte are brands that are known for high quality and reliable products, while brands like Zotac, Galax and ASRock are known for offering good products at lower prices.
As with any kind of technology, more expensive brands will basically offer you better quality and better features, but if you are in doubt, before you buy a graphics card and later regret your purchase, it would be better to be well informed about the graphics card that you are most interested in. Here you should also be careful not to fall for scams related to certain brands, which are known to be sold in certain places at significantly lower prices. Like in many situations, common sense should be used. It is normal that NVIDIA GeForce GTX 3080 Ti cannot be purchased for only $200.
Graphics Data Processing Unit or GPU
Basically, the GPU or graphics processing unit is the “heart” of any graphics card, because that part is used to process a huge amount of data, which enters the graphics card. Although processors consist of several large cores, GPUs contain hundreds or thousands of smaller cores, which help it perform many of the calculations required for gaming performance.
As with a CPU or computer processor, a faster GPU means processing a larger amount of data that each core can then process, and the more cores a graphics card contains, the more calculations it can do at once. For example, the NVIDIA RTX 3090, a high-end or premium graphics card, has 10,496 cores, while AMD’s RX 5500 XT, a mid-range graphics card, contains only 1,408 cores.
Simply put, “overclocking” a graphics card means increasing the clock speed above the limit defined by the manufacturer. Unlike CPUs, most hardware manufacturers offer graphics cards that are already “overclocked” during the production, which eliminates the need for players to spend time and effort on it.
If you “overclock” the graphics card, it will work faster and have a higher clock speed, but it will also generate more heat and generate more noise, so this is something well-worth paying attention to.
Amount of Memory
The same logic applies here – the more, the better. This is especially important when it comes to displaying details on maximum settings at 4K resolution. Newer entry-level cards typically come with at least 4GB of memory, mid-range cards typically have 6-8GB, and premium cards can have up to 12GB, while the high-end NVIDIA RTX 3090 comes with a whopping 24GB. Nowadays, 6 GB of VRAM is the minimum requirement if you want to play games fluidly at 1080p resolution. Also, GDDR6 memory is faster and newer than GDDR5 memory.
Basically, the more powerful a graphics card is, the more power it needs. Some entry-level (or entry-level) graphics cards can only work with power from a PCIe socket on the motherboard, which can provide up to 75 watts, but most will need to have a separate power connection from the power supply unit (PSU). There are two main types of power cords used to connect graphics cards: 6-pin and 8-pin, which can deliver up to 75 or 150 watts of power.
High-end graphics cards with high power needs can use two 6-pin connectors, one 6-pin and one 8-pin, or even two 8-pin connectors. Cables usually come with a PSU, and adapters are easily available for conversion. NVIDIA recently introduced a smaller 12-pin power connector for its RTX 3090 and RTX 3080 cards, which also comes with an adapter for two 8-pin connectors.
Purchasing a right graphics card is an important step in building a good computer that will satisfy your gaming or working needs. Depending on your preferences, there is a variety of graphics cards that you can choose to buy and install into your system. If you only aim for gaming at 1080p resolution, then buying a high-quality mid-range graphics card will be more than enough to achieve smooth gameplay experience. If, however, you are planning to play your games with maximum details and on 4K resolution, then be prepared to spend up to $800. We hope our guide helped you in search of the information you were looking for. If you still feel confused, and need advice about buying, feel free to post comment below. We will try to help you.