Figuring out what the best graphics card is for your budget is no small task, but unfortunately, that’s only the beginning. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at an AMD or Nvidia GPU, once you’ve settled on a specific GPU—choosing between an RTX 2060 and GTX 1070, for example—you’ll be presented with a massive selection of varying card models from at least half a dozen manufacturers. These cards will vary in price, features, clock speed, warranties, and more, so how do you determine which one is actually the best? How to Choose Graphics Card.
There’s no one solution on how to Choose Graphics Card that will work for every individual, as many items come down to personal preference. Going with the least expensive card for example is a perfectly viable option… most of the time. Here are the major things you should look for when looking for your next graphics card. I’ve sorted them roughly in order of importance, though again personal preference will play a role.
Size matters and connectivity to Choose Graphics Card
Some people might say that bigger is better, but that’s not always true. While larger cards will often cool better and run quieter than smaller cards, there are plenty of PC cases that simply won’t be able to accommodate the largest graphics cards. Zotac’s Amp Extreme line of GPUs for example are absolutely massive, with triple 90mm fans and a thick heatsink. They take up three expansion slots—one for the actual PCIe connection, and the next two adjacent slots are blocked by the cooler. If you’re only running a single card and you have a larger ATX case, a bigger card probably isn’t an issue, but for a micro-ATX or mini-ITX build, you’ll need to Choose Graphics Card.
Large cards aren’t just about the size, though—weight is another factor to consider. All other items being equal (though they rarely are), a heavier cooler will often work better. That’s because the materials will often conduct heat better, allowing for better heat dissipation—copper heatsinks are better than aluminum for example, but copper weighs more. The thing is, a heavy card will often put additional strain on the PCIe slot, and in extreme cases, it could even cause the metal on your case’s expansion slot to sag and bend. This is especially a concern if you move your PC around a lot. Consider buying a graphics card
if your GPU weighs more than a couple pounds, or alternatively get a case where the graphics cards ‘hang’ vertically.
On a similar note, check the video outputs on any card you’re considering, especially if you run a dual-monitor setup. Nearly every graphics card will have at least one DisplayPort and one HDMI connector, but everything else is up to the manufacturer. Do you have an older monitor that requires a DVI-D connection? Make sure any card you’re looking at supports this! If you need dual DisplayPort or HDMI outputs, again, make careful note of what the card provides, as well as what revision of the spec is supported.
Related to this is the subject of power requirements. If you’re looking at a graphics card that requires two 8-pin PEG connectors to function and your PSU only has one, you’ll need a new PSU. This usually isn’t a problem as even modest 500W PSUs typically have two 8-pin connectors these days, which should suffice for just about any modern GPU, but it could be a limiting factor if you’re upgrading an older PC and your PSU only has 6-pin connectors. I strongly recommend avoiding Molex to 6-pin adapters, and I’d avoid the dual 6-pin to single 8-pin cable adapters as well. I’ve also had issues with older PCs that simply didn’t handle a higher power card without adding some intake fans to cool things down.
Frugally minded to Choose Graphics Card
It’s easy to get hung up on all the fancy features and extras that I’ll cover below, but for most people, price is going to be an overriding factor in deciding which card to buy. That’s because most graphics cards with the same GPU perform similarly, within a small range, so your ultra-overclocked extreme model might only be 10 percent faster than a card with reference clocks. If it’s only a small increase in price, that’s fine, but spending $100 or more extra often means you could have just made the move to the next GPU tier. I’ll get into this more in a second, but clock speeds aren’t the only factor. For enthusiasts, if you’re willing to tweak and tune your card, the gap between the fastest and slowest card models for a specific GPU is often only a few percent.
Clock speeds, cooling, and noise
A lot of people probably put far more emphasis on clock speed than I think it warrants. “OMG, you got a card with a massive factory overclock!” That’s fine, but if the added cost could have been better used to upgrade to a faster GPU, you can easily overspend. For example, there are overclocked GTX 1660 Ti cards that cost basically as much as an RTX 2060. The problem is that 2060, even at the reference clock, is almost universally faster than even the highest overclock you’ll get from a 1660 Ti. That’s because it has 25 percent more cores and 17 percent more memory bandwidth, and most overclocks won’t make up that deficit.
The thing is, higher factory overclocked cards often include better cooling, so it’s still something to think about. As far as cooling goes, there are also liquid cooled cards with an external radiator. These often keep temperatures down compared to more traditional solutions, and the weight is less of a factor since the radiator and fan end up being mounted directly on your PC case. They do require more room, however, and costs can go way up for such designs—like $150 or more compared to otherwise similar cards. I’d only recommend a hybrid cooling design if you’re getting a top-tier card like an RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti.
How to Choose Graphics Card to depend on Clock speeds and cooling factor into noise levels as well. This is why a lot of people like the triple-fan coolers: they’re large and can have three quiet fans as opposed to one or two louder fans. Blowers are often the loudest cards on the market, but they also vent heat out of your case, so they’re almost required for cramped ITX builds.
Hopefully, this article will help you on how to choose graphics cards. These were the main paradigms while choosing a graphics card.