Finding The Best Graphics Card For You
If you’re sitting there asking yourself, ”What graphics card should I get?” and aren’t familiar with the specs and technical terms we’re tossing around, don’t worry: we have you covered.
While the last section covered the best video cards, in this section, we’ll go over key GPU specs and technical terms used throughout our reviews to make sure that you understand what’s going on when buying a new graphics card. For instance, you’ll want to be aware of GPU bottlenecking when buying a GPU and its partner CPU.
Yes. Its literal size. For most situations, this shouldn’t be a huge concern. However, certain cases and/or motherboards may cause problems.
For instance, some cases are smaller (like, smaller form factor cases, obviously) or just accommodate parts in such a manner that one might get in the way of another. More common than this is your motherboard having pieces mount in such a way that your large graphics card might get in the way of something else.
Of course, this problem is usually magnified by cards that are literally large, like the RTX 2080 we choose that has 3 fans.
If you are shopping on a budget then you need to consider the best bang for your buck. We’ve got a few articles on the best graphics cards on a budget right here:
We hope this helps you find the right graphics card for your gaming rig.
GPU architecture is, simply speaking, the baseline upon which a GPU is built. Typically, the first version of a GPU architecture debuts in a high-end card– like the RTX 2080 Ti with Turing– and what you see afterward are cut-down versions of that same architecture. This means reductions in clock speed, VRAM, cores, etc. in order to manufacture cheaper versions of the basic architecture and target more price ranges.
We’re going to go ahead and list the common architectures below:
- Nvidia Turing – Used by the RTX 20- series and the GTX 16- series. Outside of the GTX cards, enables features like real-time ray-tracing and DLSS.
- Nvidia Pascal – Nvidia’s previous generation architecture, used by the GTX 10- series. If you can find these cheap, they’re still worth a buy.
- AMD Polaris – Used by AMD’s RX 500 series.
- AMD Vega – Used by AMD’s Vega-branded graphics cards and the Radeon VII.
- AMD Navi – AMD’s next-gen architecture, coming Soon™.
Like with an Intel or AMD CPU, clock speed is really only useful as a measure of performance between GPUs with the same architecture. Sometimes, it’s only useful as a measure of performance between different versions of the same graphics card. Your exact clock speed usually won’t matter all that much, but factory overclocked versions of GPUs are quite common nowadays, and this will serve to enhance out-of-box performance.
Don’t expect graphics card overclocks to push, say, an RX 570 to the level of an RX 580. Expect roughly 10% performance gains in the absolute best of scenarios. With that said, overclocking isn’t really going to give you outstanding gains, just a tad more frames.
VRAM is used by the GPU to handle streaming textures, post-processing effects, and high resolutions; you know, those things that video games are constantly doing. The higher your VRAM, the better it should be able to handle resolutions like 1440p and 4K. You’ll generally want a minimum of at least 4GB VRAM available in a graphics card if you plan on playing VR games, for instance.
Where VRAM comes most into consideration is when comparing multiple models of the same GPU. The RX 570 and 580 both come in 4 and 8GB variants. Where possible, always opt for the 8GB version of these cards, unless you’re only playing in 1080p.
Framerate and Resolution
Framerate (FPS) and resolution refer to how your game is rendered. In simple terms, framerate is how smooth your gaming experience is, and resolution is how clear your experience is. Low framerates will have increased input latency and look choppier, while low resolutions will look blurrier and less defined.
Below, we’re going to list common framerate and resolution targets, which will better contextualize how we refer to each card’s performance.
Note: Your gaming monitor’s refresh rate corresponds directly to the maximum framerate it can display.
- 30 FPS – The minimum acceptable framerate. The least smooth of the bunch. Most console games are around this range.
- 60 FPS – The baseline for a smooth gaming experience. Most monitors cap out at displaying 60FPS or 60 frames due to a 60 Hz refresh rate.
- 80 FPS – A common target for FPS on a G-Sync/FreeSync monitor, ideal for completely preventing screen tearing during performance drops.
- 100 FPS – A target for 120 Hz+ refresh rate monitors, where a benefit over 60 can be seen without completely sacrificing visuals.
- 120 FPS – Ideal for 120 Hz+ refresh rate monitors. Hyper-smooth.
- 144+ FPS – Ideal for 144 Hz+ refresh rate monitors. As smooth as it gets.
Note: “Native” resolution is the maximum resolution of a display in solution. A “native” image will always look sharper and clearer than an “upscaled” one.
- 720p (HD) – Considered low resolution by today’s standards. Can still look decent on smaller monitors or longer viewing distances, though.
- 1080p (Full HD) – Target resolution for most budget PC builds and gaming consoles. Matches with the native resolution of most HD TVs.
- 1440p (Quad HD) – Target resolution for higher-end PC monitors. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X also upscale from this resolution to achieve 4K visuals.
- 1800p (Quad HD+) – A common resolution used by gamers on 4K monitors who can’t push native resolution. Xbox One X and (more rarely) PS4 Pro also upscale from this resolution to 4K.
- 2160p (4K Ultra HD) – Native resolution of high-end monitors and 4K TVs. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X generally can’t achieve this without upscaling; PC gamers will need great graphics cards to do this without compromising settings.
Other Tech and Terms
Occasionally, you may see mentions of other GPU technologies in reviews and product pages. We’ll explain these here.
- AA (anti-aliasing) – An intensive post-processing technique that removes jagged edges, or “jaggies”, from an image. This can also provide the illusion of a higher resolution.
- Real-time ray-tracing – Highly-advanced lighting, reflections, and shading. Currently exclusive to Nvidia RTXGPUs, but an AMD equivalent may emerge eventually. Only supported by a few games so far.
- DLSS – An AA technique supplemented by AI deep learning, currently exclusive to RTX cards. Only supported by a few games.
- V-Sync – Prevents screen-tearing at the cost of higher latency and performance costs.
- G-Sync and FreeSync – Supported by Nvidia and AMD graphics cards, respectively. Identical technologies that replace V-Sync except with no input lag or performance loss. Only works alongside a monitor that’s equipped with either G-Sync or FreeSync.
- SLI/NVLink – Nvidia technology for multi-GPU setups. NVLink is superior, but multi-GPU setups have fallen out of fashion.
- CrossFire – AMD technology for multi-GPU setups. Has also fallen out of fashion.