Follow

    PC

    Platform »

    The PC (Personal Computer) is a highly configurable and upgradable gaming platform that, among home systems, sports the widest variety of control methods, largest library of games, and cutting edge graphics and sound capabilities.

    Buying a Video Card: What to Look For

    Avatar image for deactivated-59fb4bc479490
    deactivated-59fb4bc479490

    217

    Forum Posts

    248

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 8

    User Lists: 2

    Buying a Video Card

    I.             Introduction – What is a video chip and where is it at?

    Video processing or the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), comes in two forms.   One is located in the northbridge of a motherboard.   The other is located in a dedicated video card typically plugged into the PCI-Express x16 slot of a motherboard.

    a.        Onboard Chipset

    This form of GPU has historically been very poor at doing anything other than watching videos through a browser, DVD playback, or other light uses where something more powerful is not required.   However, in recent years, these chips have become much more powerful, some can play back blu-ray movies and even games.   This is due to modern GPUs being more powerful then ones in the past, and game engines being older then the GPUs available.

    b.       Dedicated Video Card

    A dedicated video card has much more uses.   In addition to everything an onboard chip can do, dedicated graphics cards can handle much more demanding games, HD streaming video, 3d modeling and drawing, rendering, video creation and editing, and blu-ray playback with all of its features.

    II.             Stream Processors

    Video cards typically contain what is known as stream processors.   They act as the “army” of the video card.   The more “soldiers” you have the more powerful and quicker a video card can do things.   In reality, stream processor act as the processor or CPU of the video card where each of them works together to calculate things and perform specific tasks that you require of them.   This is what is called parallel computing or processing.

    III.             Memory

    Typically video cards have much faster memory then what a normal motherboard contains, and acts in just the same way.   It is a very fast way or storing and reading things that the card’s stream processors use.   What memory mostly effects is textures, those being everything you see on the game.   Each brick, tire, or piece of trash is part of a texture, the more ram you have the more textures you can load into the video cards ram, and the faster that ram is the quicker it can display it on the screen.   In some cases, more memory allows you to display much larger textures resulting in a more detailed image.

    IV.             Limitations

    Video cards can be limited by several factors.   Certain things can limit the performance of a video card while others can drastically helping a card last much longer then intended.  

    a.        Slot Types

    Video cards used to come in 2 older forms, PCI slots and AGP slots.   Both of these have been replaces by PCI-Express Slots which operate at varying speeds, but typically the x16 speeds are reserved for dedicated video cards.

    PCI-Express slots have different versions, those being:

    ·          1.0 – Initial release, contains a transfer speed of 2.5 billion data transfers per second (2.5 GT/s)

    ·           1.1 – Moderate fixes

    ·          2.0 – Double the bandwidth of its 2.0 counterpart (5 GT/s)

    ·          2.1 – Same bandwidth as v2.0 but has the power advantages of 3.0 slots

    ·          3.0 – Bandwidth of 8 GT/s and removal of encoding overhead

    Keep in mind that a 2.0 slot video card will work perfectly fine when used in a v1.0 slot or a v3.0 slot.   All of them are compatible, but most modern motherboards only support v2.0, but older ones that have not been upgraded in a while will be v1.0.   You cannot even buy a v3.0 card until late 2010 or early 2011, and there will not be a motherboard to support it until then.

    Graphics chips come in different versions.   Let’s suppose it is a year from now and you are buying a video card upgrade.   If you buy a v3.0 card for your now v2.0 motherboard,   when you later build a new machine, the old video card in the new slot will operate much better because it is no longer limited by the slot bandwidth.   You may be surprised at how well it performs and get a few months of life to allow for that new release of video cards or price drop.

    b.       Bandwidth

    Memory bandwidth is a 3 tiered system currently, and will eventually have more and more tiers as technology progresses.   Right now the three tiers are 256-bit memory, 128-bit memory, and 64-bit memory.   256-bit has 2x the bandwidth of the 128-bit memory and 128-bit memory has 2x the bandwidth of 64-bit memory.   These bits refer to the size of the data chunk capable of being sent and stored on the GPUs ram.

    A video card developer will release their top tier card, containing all the bells and whistles, the highest amount and quickest memory, highest amount of stream processors, and highest memory bandwidth of that line of graphics cards.   After those cards are released 2 things will happen, they take things out and lower the power requirements of newer video cards by releasing versions with slower and less memory, less stream processors, and lower memory bandwidth to allow those cards to sell for less money.   They will also take chips from the top performing single GPU cards and place two of them on a single board, almost doubling the performance and the price.

    c.        Size

    One thing that limits some users selection is the physical dimensions of a video card, in particular its length.   Video cards come in two forms, single slot and dual slot.   This refers to the mounting bracket required which is used to supply extra room inside the case for the video cards expanded cooling.   Most high performing video cards will be dual slot design.

    V.             Multiple GPUs – SLI / Crossfire

    There are two ways to accomplish having multiple GPUs, the first is to buy a single card with two GPUs on one PCB or board and the second is to purchase multiples of the same card, typically same vendor, and connect them on the motherboard through SLI cables (nvidia) or Crossfire cables (AMD/ATI).   In either case you will not get the same performance, but there are differences and advantages to each.  

    a.        One Board Scenario

    The main difference between one board and multiple boards is that the two GPUs are not limited to a connector speed.   The two GPUs can talk to each other on the same board without bandwidth limitations.   This results in slightly better performance when compared to two cards setup in SLI/Crossfire, but also has its own drawbacks.   Heat is a much bigger issue when you have two high powered GPUs right next to each other as opposed to with dedicated coolers on each.   This reduces or limits overclocking ability and may result in liquid cooling being necessary in some instances.


    b.       Multiple Card Scenario

    In the second case, you have distance between each card, typically not very much, but each card still has its own heatsink and fan.   The main advantage of SLI/Crossfire is that the limit to the number of GPUs you can use is double that of the single board method.   You can go crazier by mixing the two methods and having two boards with multiple GPUs in SLI/Crossfire.   Unfortunately there is a catch.   Typically with most motherboard, when you use more than one card the bandwidth of the PCI-Express slots is limited.   Typically a x16 single card scenario will become two x8 slots sharing the available bandwidth between each other.   However, in high end motherboard, sever x16 slots are used and the full speed of a card can be utilized.


    c.     Mixed

    Although not very common, it is possible to take several cards containing multiple GPUs on one board, and set them up in a multiple card scenario.   This produces a lot of heat, and liquid cooling is the best option to keep components cool enough to operate.

      VI.             Power

    Most middle and high end cards require a connector from the power supply to be directly connected to the video card.   There are three varieties, but only two are now used, 6-pins and 8-pins.  

    When buying a power supply you will need to make sure you have these, and when buying a video card you will need to check what the power requirements of a particular graphics card is and compare it with your current systems power output and availability.   If you do not have these connectors it does not mean you can use higher end graphics cards, simply that you will need to buy a 4-pin Molex to 8-pin/6-pin adapter.  

    Simply having available connectors does not mean that you can run any graphics card.   You need to have the wattage as well.   Going by modern PSUs, you typically need 650 watts or better to be able to have SLI/Crossfire capable setup.   I have even found in some instances, 650 watt PSUs or better are the only ones that have enough of these connectors to allow for SLI/Crossfire.

    Avatar image for eliast
    EliasT

    691

    Forum Posts

    0

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 1

    #2  Edited By EliasT

    I can guarantee that this was copied and pasted.

    Avatar image for codeacious
    Codeacious

    957

    Forum Posts

    1876

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 1

    User Lists: 0

    #3  Edited By Codeacious
    @EliasT said:
    " I can guarantee that this was copied and pasted. "
    Avatar image for sodiumcyclops
    sodiumCyclops

    2778

    Forum Posts

    0

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 1

    #4  Edited By sodiumCyclops

    you could have saved copying ant pasting by just giving people the link on your blog.

    Avatar image for warxsnake
    warxsnake

    2720

    Forum Posts

    33

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 3

    #5  Edited By warxsnake

    holy mother of textwalls 
     
    and the answer for now is 5870 btw

    Avatar image for hitmanagent47
    HitmanAgent47

    8553

    Forum Posts

    25

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 2

    #6  Edited By HitmanAgent47

    Umm, i've gone cross eyed, what is the thread about? recommending you a videocard? Umm... read videocard benchmarks then.

    Avatar image for deactivated-59fb4bc479490
    deactivated-59fb4bc479490

    217

    Forum Posts

    248

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 8

    User Lists: 2

    This is how to tell the difference between any two cards, find out why one is better.  And I spent two days writing it, so NO it wasn't copied and pasted.

    Avatar image for hitmanagent47
    HitmanAgent47

    8553

    Forum Posts

    25

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 2

    #8  Edited By HitmanAgent47
    @nabokovfan87: Easy, as i've said, go to a site and view the benchmarks. They will tell you the number of framerates to see which one is better. Go to various sites, it's as simple as that. Just pick a card you want to research, go to google, type that in and write review, or benchmark since it will compare it to similar cards in power.
    Avatar image for deactivated-59fb4bc479490
    deactivated-59fb4bc479490

    217

    Forum Posts

    248

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 8

    User Lists: 2

    I would rather teach you how to find out yourself, educate you instead of telling you to have someone else make up your mind for you.  Benchmarks are tools, but if you understand how hardware works and what makes one thing better then the other AND WHY, then you have an actual understanding of what the benchmarks reads, instead of just seeing at the end of a 10 page post "go buy xxxxx"

    Avatar image for mrgetbonus
    MrGetBonus

    797

    Forum Posts

    0

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 0

    #10  Edited By MrGetBonus

    I always used the simple method of go for which ever one costs an obscene amount of money.

    Avatar image for hitmanagent47
    HitmanAgent47

    8553

    Forum Posts

    25

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 2

    #11  Edited By HitmanAgent47
    @nabokovfan87: You don't have to teach me anything about videocards, I already know about how they work. Alot of stuff is obviously to pc gamers.
     
    Edit: I tried to read through some of it, I suppose you sort of right, however it's obviously stuff to pc gamers. Maybe you could of said the same thing with less words.
    Avatar image for arclyte
    ArcLyte

    945

    Forum Posts

    0

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 0

    #12  Edited By ArcLyte

    tl;dr

    Avatar image for captain_clayman
    captain_clayman

    3349

    Forum Posts

    10

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 2

    #13  Edited By captain_clayman
    @warxsnake said:

    " holy mother of textwalls  and the answer for now is 5870 btw "

    this 
     
    or for the ultimate affordable crossfire setup, dual 5850's on an x8/x8 board!  perfect setup because 5850's dont saturate a full x16 slot!  then you get a core i5/ Phenom II X4/X6 and overclock the SHIIIIIIT out of it.
    Avatar image for deactivated-59fb4bc479490
    deactivated-59fb4bc479490

    217

    Forum Posts

    248

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 8

    User Lists: 2

    Folks,
     
             Listen, it takes time for me to be able to update all of these.  I will be doing so, but it will take a few days or a week or so.  I will have pictures and so forth, revise it so it isn't a giant wall of text, but it takes time and right now I have other things that need to be done as well.  The information is there if you want to read it, that is why right now it is in rough shape.

    Avatar image for sgthalka
    sgthalka

    134

    Forum Posts

    172

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 72

    User Lists: 0

    #15  Edited By sgthalka

    Cripes ... just go to Tom's Hardware and look at their monthly recommended video card article.

    Avatar image for piratechris
    PirateChris

    19

    Forum Posts

    143

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 1

    #16  Edited By PirateChris
    @nabokovfan87 said:

      So does this mean you want to have the fastest and highest amount of memory possible?   Not really.   What memory mostly effects is textures, those being every “thing” you see on the game.   Each brick, tire, or piece of trash is part of a texture, the more ram you have the more textures you can load into the video cards ram, and the faster that ram is the quicker it can display it on the screen.

    "
    I think you might want to edit this part, as it's slightly confusing as is. You say that it's "Not really" important to want the fastest amount of memory, without giving any reason for why it might not be that necessary. In fact in the next two sentences you give good reasons for why memory might be very important. The speed at which "every thing you see" gets displayed on your screen, would seem to be a very important factor to a layperson. Maybe you should add some information about how large amounts of memory only play a factor at large resolutions and AF/AA.
    Avatar image for suxxorz
    Suxxorz

    42

    Forum Posts

    20

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 1

    #17  Edited By Suxxorz

    I just installed an ATI 5850 over my previous GT 9800 and so far I'm really happy with it.

    Avatar image for billyhoush
    billyhoush

    1273

    Forum Posts

    0

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 3

    User Lists: 4

    #18  Edited By billyhoush

    I just got a Diamond Monster 3D. It's got a 3Dfx Voodoo chipset that does Open GL pretty sick. I got GLQuake running and giblets never looked so NICE! 
     
    I have it on a passthru cable to my crappy ATI Rage card for the 2D.

    Avatar image for raakill
    Raakill

    853

    Forum Posts

    3

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 0

    User Lists: 3

    #19  Edited By Raakill

    Just buy the one with the highest numbers on the box.

    Avatar image for deactivated-59fb4bc479490
    deactivated-59fb4bc479490

    217

    Forum Posts

    248

    Wiki Points

    0

    Followers

    Reviews: 8

    User Lists: 2

    Updated to bullet format.

    This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

    Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

    Comment and Save

    Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.