Do you want to improve your computer’s video card? While the actual shifting out is straightforward, the decision-making process leading up to it can be time-consuming. Everything you need to know about installing a new GPU is right here.
The process of updating your graphics card is really the culmination of a broader question, and the underlying tale of a normal card upgrade is that inquiry. The physical swap-out itself is a letdown. It takes only a few minutes for anyone who is familiar with a screwdriver.
After all, all you have to do is delete your old card’s driver and unplug it (assuming you even have one), put in a new one, connect any power cables, install that card’s driver, connect your display, and enjoy. For a long time, PCI Express slots have been standardized. The only big snags are the power supply and wiring, which we’ll discuss further down, and the card installation, which you may prepare for ahead of time. In most cases, it’s nonsense.
Why Should You Upgrade Your Video Card?
If you’ve ever upgraded a video card, you know that focusing just on the technical aspects of the process misses the objective. The part leading up to the upgrading is the most difficult. It all starts with a simple question: Do I require a new graphics card? Answering this question is difficult, as it is more dependent on your software than on your hardware.
Consider why you believe you require a change. Let’s say your Netflix full-screen playback is pixelated or frequently misses frames, resulting in a choppy watching experience. Both symptoms may appear to be caused by slow video and/or graphics processing, and as both duties are normally performed by the graphics processing unit (GPU), the GPU must be to blame, right?
Wrong. Your system isn’t obtaining enough video data fast enough to provide optimally detailed, full-frame-rate playback, which is most likely due to a shortage of internet and/or local-network capacity. Modern GPUs, even those incorporated into CPUs (known as integrated graphics processors, or IGPs), are more than capable of handling Netflix and similar streaming services.
What method could you have used to test this? Rather than streaming video, you can download it and play it from your system’s internal storage. If the issue goes away, you know it’s a network bandwidth issue rather than a GPU one.
The CPU, system memory (RAM), and maybe the storage, especially if the storage is nearly full or is a platter-based hard drive, are all common bottlenecks. The key is to ensure that your GPU is the source of the problem in the first place.
How to Tell If Your GPU Is the Issue
To begin, you may wish to benchmark your GPU to determine how slow (or not!) it truly is.
Gamers are the people who are most affected by a slow GPU. Because most 3D games are GPU-intensive, the resolution you want to play at, as well as the graphical detail levels (which usually fall on a scale of low, medium, high, and extreme), are all important aspects of the game. See our roundup of the top graphics cards for more information on these graphics features and how different graphics cards handle them.
Frame rates or custom scores created by benchmarking software will be your quantitative gauge, aside from something “feeling odd” in a game. But before you start testing, take a look at some of the basics, starting with the specs for the games you’ll be playing.
A simple look at a game’s system requirements should reveal minimum (and possibly recommended) graphics needs. For example, current best-seller Dragon Age: Inquisition is a light game, requiring only 512MB of graphics memory on an AMD Radeon HD 4870 or Nvidia GeForce 8800 or better, but recommending 2GB on AMD’s Radeon HD 7870 or Radeon R9 270 or Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 660 or above. All of those video cards are obsolete, and any recent video card should be able to beat this game.
In a more contemporary AAA title, such as the latest Call of Duty, a modern card (maybe even one higher up the ladder than the card you own) may be the minimum or recommended card to use. The tradeoffs will be murkier there. Lowering the resolution or detail level may improve the experience, but where should the line be drawn? And how do you compare the performance of what you’re considering purchasing to what you already own? This is when objective benchmarking enters the picture.
How to Test Your Graphics Card: The Basics
Benchmarking refers to the process of performing a set of software processes to see how long it takes a specific hardware configuration to finish them or what kind of outcomes it can provide in a given amount of time. Benchmark results can be found in a wide variety of hardware component reviews, and PC enthusiasts, in particular, use them to compare devices. Some users, especially when it comes to overclocking, like benchmarking their system for bragging rights.
Do You Have Enough Juice in Your Power Supply?
While integrated graphics draw power from the CPU, many discrete PCI Express graphics cards can drain your PC’s power supply to the point that it can no longer support their operation. You can measure how much energy your PC uses before you run into that difficulty.
A typical desktop PC can use anywhere from 60 to 600 watts of power, but actual power usage is mostly determined by hardware design and program load. A modern demanding game pushing frames at 4K resolution, for example, will consume far more energy than a PC idle at a Microsoft Word page.
Replace the power supply
For safety’s sake, we’d recommend at least a 500-watt power supply for a 380-watt consumption. It’s not rocket science to install a new power supply, but it is a time-consuming change, and you’ll want to make sure you pick one with the same physical fitment.
It’s Time to Say Goodbye to the Old Graphics Card…
We’ll assume your power source is up to the task. It’s time to uninstall your old graphics drivers once you’ve figured out your power situation and have your new card ready to go. If you’re not sure which graphics adapter your system uses, seek it up in the Device Manager in Control Panel under “Display adapters.”
…and out with the old, and in with the new
Finally, the simple part. We’ll be using the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, the most powerful consumer graphics card currently available.
Place your new card firmly in the PCI Express slot that is accessible. If the card is broader than the original, you may need to first access an additional expansion bracket on the backplane of the PC case.