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Graphics cards: which should you choose?

How to choose graphics cards


Graphics Cards

Let's get down to a realistic level, you're on this page because you want to know which graphics card would give you the best bang for your buck. Luckily that's exactly what you'll find out here along with a general rule of thumb and explanation of the way we graphics cards are labeled and such. You'll definitely be leaving this page with more knowledge and confidence in options than you did when you enter. With that said, let's begin with naming scheme!




Naming Scheme

For conveniences sake I'll be naming the current BASIC named reference cards from each of the two manufacturers AMD and nVidia. The cards themselves will be the current relevant cards to this date.

AMD Radeon:


  1. HD 5750,5770,5850,5870,5970
  2. HD 6850, 6970, 6990
  3. HD 7950, 7970, 7990




 
nVidia:
  1.  GTX 460, 470, 480
  2.  GTX 560, 570, 580
  3.  GTX 660, 670, 680
  4.  GTX 760*, 770, 780
(*Subject to change)





As you can see, nVidia has one more series of cards then AMD Giving them the upper edge as newer technology is obviously better due to higher transistor count, processing speeds, RAM Capacity etc. However we won't know what AMD has to release until they do indeed release a new series.

A general rule of thumb for purchasing a graphics card is however much money you spend on your processor is how much you should spend on your graphics card. Nope, wrong, don't do it, it's a trap, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Let me give you a better rule of thumb: THE GRAPHICS CARD THAT SUITS YOUR NEEDS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD PURCHASE. Albeit there are deviations from these cards, let me give you a few examples from above; HD 7970 GHZ edition, GTX 560Ti, GTX 660Ti, EVGA 780 w/ACX Cooler, HD 7950 w/Boost, etc. These deviations are designed to hit middle consumers who have a little extra money they want to spend to get in return a little extra power.


The Light User

The light gamer is someone who plays games that are decently demanding graphics wise and warrant the purchase of one of the versions/deviations of the graphics cards listed above. The cards aimed at this user for the GTX series is the 560, 660, and 760. Anything that ends with 60 is the lowest of the high performing cards. As for Radeon the targeted cards for this user would be HD 5850, 6860, 7950. Make no mistake, although these cards are the weakest they also pump out some serious power. Here are some benchmarks for some of these cards





These cards deviations are extremely competitive with high end cards. If you can afford it, spend the extra $10-30 dollars on a card with an after name like "Ti Boost", "Boost", "Ghz Edition", and so on. If you're a light user, and you want to save money, there's nothing wrong with buying a standard card with nothing special on it. If you're into overclocking you can add some of the effects of deviation cards yourself.


The Moderate User

The moderate user is someone who casually plays video games and is into graphics but is mostly in it for smooth gameplay frame rates instead of insanely pretty, over-the-top graphics settings. Obviously the middle graphics cards (such as the 570, 670, 770, HD7970) are prime choices here but there are some more quite noticeable choices if the moderate user wants to save money. If you're a moderate "baller on a budget" then you might want to go with the top end light user cards such as the HD7850 or the GTX 650Ti boost. If you're out looking to spend some moderate cash, the best bet here would be the 7950 or any deviation of it. On the nVidia side of things, the GTX 670 would definitely be a solid choice, it does run about $20 more expensive then the Radeon series of cards but nVidia is very well known for solid drivers as well as greatly built cards. Allow me to give you a sense of how these cards compare with benchmarks.



When it comes down to it, the pricing is pretty straight forward. Do you want to save more and overclock a lower tier card? or pay the premium for top of the line silicon and overclock that even further.



Extreme User

This user is absolutely, balls-to-the-walls bonkers. This user wants the highest graphics settings to be playable at 60 fps solid with no bounces or spikes. This user is the definition of PC gaming. This user also has a lot of cash to spend on technology for himself/herself. This tier of user essentially only wants the 580, 680, or 780 series cards from nVidia and the HD 7970, 7990 series of cards from Radeon. the only difference between this user and the user above him/her is SLI and Crossfire (I'll get into those later). If you want to join this tier expect to drop around $500-1000 dollars average on one graphics card. The performance you get out of these cards is unique as they are powerful enough to run up to three monitors at once.


Oh yeah, that's the stuff of $500-$1000.
Here are the benchmarks to boot!




The plus side of buying one of these cards (And I know you're thinking it, "There better be some massive plus sides of dropping a crap ton for these things") is that you'll be able to have more stable frames at higher resolution. The higher the resolution, the more pixels your card has to put up and account for, and that equals a lot more stress.


Power Supply

Please please please, make sure your power supply can handle the load of your graphics card. The amp and watt draw should be on the manufacturer website. you want at least 20 Amps if the 12V rail is split and at least 65 amps if the 12V rail isn't split for a GTX x80 card.

SLI/Crossfire

If you're wondering "Can't I just buy cheap cards and put them together" the answer is yes. But, (you have to love the buts) you get more micro-stutter, and compatibility issues. Anyone in the tech world will almost beg you to stick to single card solutions mainly for the simplicity and setups. Once you start getting used to your graphics card and learning how to overclock then you can try an SLI setup to see how it tickles your fancy. But if you want something beefy the single card solution will be your best bet almost all the time.