Choosing the Best Graphics Card
Before you can go about choosing the best graphics card / best gaming video card for your PC lets talk a little about whats on offer.
Now here’s an area in the PC world that is constantly changing with the main players battling it out for the top spot.
Who Are The Main Players Today?
ATI and Nvidia dominate the scene. Neither Nvidia nor ATI sell graphics cards themselves. Other companies license the technology and sell their own designs based upon their chipsets.
The PCI Express 16x interface graphics card is now the standard going forward.
Your computer graphic card provides the output to provide a display on your monitor. This is a very fast changing competitive market with many manufactures vying for the top position, governed pretty much by the gaming fraternity.
Choosing a Graphics Card
What do you propose as the main use for your PC? This will have a big impact on your choice of best graphics card for you. As with processors, there is no point in spending a fortune on a top end card if you are only surfing the web, writing letters and emailing.
If you’re only doing simple tasks like word processing etc then you may be able to save yourself some money by using a motherboard that has on-board integrated graphics capability as this will be plenty powerful enough for your needs.
For word processing, spreadsheet and general web work use a low-end graphics card with 128Mbit to 256Mbit in AGP or PCI-E format, dependant upon your motherboard.
If its video and games you’re after then you will be looking for the best frame rates and resolutions. A PCI-E card with at least 512Mb and DDR3 memory and 1600MHz memory clock is what you should be looking at.
PCI-E offers the fastest performance with high bandwidth graphics and support for Direct X10, which is the latest graphics technology, used in Windows Vista for much more realistic and detailed gaming world environments. The best graphics cards will be using the PCI-E bus.
SLi, Crossfire, TV Out
Other considerations will be to do with outputs such as DVI and TV out together with the ability to cross couple two or more computer graphic card arrays for ultimate games performance. This is called Sli (Nvidia chipset) or Crossfire (ATI chipset) whereby, dependent upon the use of a suitable motherboard, you can fit two or more identical graphics cards with Sli or Crossfire capability and connect them together for enhanced graphics bandwidth performance.
Both Crossfire and SLi enable you to use up to four graphics cards to work together in a multi card configuration.
Typically this multi card setup will split the workload between each card but use a common display monitor.
Price versus Performance
The best graphics card for out and out performance will set you back hundreds of dollars but the dedicated gamer will happily hand over his cash to get the ultimate in performance!
For the savvy amongst us who would like great performance but at a more realistic price, i.e. the best graphics card for you personally, and can handle a slight performance drop then, for a large drop in price, you will be rewarded handsomely by choosing last seasons must haves.
ATI versus Nvidia
As we said earlier, these two are the main suppliers of chipsets for graphics card manufacturers.
There is no hard and fast rule here when choosing between the two; a lot comes down to brand loyalty with many gamers sticking to their present favourite.
Nvidia has been the King for performance for a while now but ATI has brought out some killer cards recently which has helped to level out the playing field somewhat.
The best gaming video card is a somewhat fluid choice and you will need to visit some of the forums etc to get the latest on who reigns supreme at the moment.
Graphics Card Specifications
In order to be able to choose the best graphics card for your PC you will need to know a little bit about some of the terms that you come across in the advertising and marketing for this important part of your system.
GPU or Graphical Processing Unit
Just like your motherboard CPU, the computer graphic card GPU processor handles all of the workload required to construct an image to display on your monitor screen.
As would be expected, the faster the GPU clock speed, the faster the card will update your display.
Core Clock Speed
This is the clock speed of the GPU and as always the faster the better thereby handling the data supplied faster so increasing the rate of graphic update and faster rendering etc.
The bus is the means by which your computer devices transfer data to each other. Your modern graphics card uses the PCI-Express bus; previously older motherboards used the AGP bus which you may still be using if you have an older motherboard which you are upgrading your graphics card on. You will need to check this when considering a graphics card upgrade.
This determines the amount of data that can be transferred simultaneously at each clock cycle. The wider the bus width the better as more data will be transferred for the same period of time.
Digital Visual Interface – This is the latest high quality video data output used for DVI compatible monitor displays such as LCD flat panel displays which can accept digital data direct from the graphics card.
Previously, CRT monitors required an analogue VGA or RGB output although some CRTs had DVI inputs but this data would need to be converted to analogue internally or with a converter and then to a VGA input to be able to display correctly.
Video Graphic Array – This is the standard which has lately been superseded by the higher quality DVI output but it is still in use today and on lower end monitors may be the only available interface.
High Definition – The ability to display a higher resolution output of 720i (interlaced) or 720p (progressive) or the highest current standard of 1080p.
High Definition Television – This tells you that the card is capable of outputing high definition content to your high definition television.
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