The graphics processing unit (GPU), after the central processor unit (CPU), has the greatest impact on the performance of a gaming PC. The GPU is a separate processor that receives data from the CPU and converts it into pictures that may be displayed on your screen. In other words, the GPU does most of the heavy lifting when you’re playing a game.
The more powerful the GPU (also known as a graphics card), the more information can be calculated and shown in less time, resulting in a better overall gaming experience.
The CPU was responsible for converting data into visuals in the early days of PCs. The information was kept in specific memory areas known as “frame buffers” before being sent to the display. Because many general-purpose CPUs struggled with these tasks, “graphics accelerators” were developed to take care of some of the specialized work that the CPU was doing. As graphical user interfaces (GUIs), which are present in more recent operating systems such as Windows, became more popular, this became increasingly crucial.
Today’s GPUs are extremely fast at processing massive volumes of picture data and executing parallel operations, making them ideal for not only displaying text and graphics in windowed GUIs but also for processing the complex 3D visuals necessary in modern games.
Why does your graphics card matter?
Gaming is, for many individuals, the most hardware-intensive chore they will ask their PC to undertake. It’s no wonder that avid gamers spend countless hours researching the latest GPU technologies and frequently upgrade their GPUs. Games are built to take advantage of the increased performance as GPUs become faster, which encourages manufacturers to create even faster GPUs, perpetuating the cycle.
If gaming isn’t a top priority for you, you might not be as concerned about your GPU’s capabilities. Professional applications, on the other hand, frequently make use of a GPU’s specific processing capabilities, albeit in various ways. Video editing, for example, can benefit from the usage of a GPU to speed up processes like video encoding and 3D rendering, as well as CAD/CAM software like AutoCAD. All of these programs benefit from the extra processing power provided by a GPU, however, those created expressly for these purposes benefit the most.
As a result, choosing a GPU is a vital component of creating, buying, or updating a PC. The first thing to ask yourself when selecting a graphics card, like with any other PC component, is: how will you use it?
The gaming industry has played a key role in the advancement of GPU technology. Today’s PC games are more realistic and intricate than ever before, thanks in part to the improved performance of newer GPUs, as well as a response to gamers’ demands for better-looking and more complex games.
Simply said, if you’re designing a PC to play games, the GPU is the most critical component to consider. Other components, such as the CPU, storage, and RAM, might affect performance, but the GPU has the most direct connection to what you see on the screen when playing.
However, there are numerous types of games, and not all of them necessitate the most powerful GPU available. To ensure that you receive a compatible GPU, read the game’s necessary, recommended, and ideal specs.
Investing in the greatest GPU you can afford is a good strategy to future-proof your system and keep it ready to play upcoming games. However, if you know exactly what kind of games you want to play, conducting some research on the best GPU for that game is a terrific place to start your purchasing.
Video and professional applications
Faster GPUs are also beneficial to those who utilize their PCs for complicated tasks such as 3D rendering, game development, and video editing. GPUs can be used to speed up processing in high-end apps like AutoCAD and Adobe Premiere Pro, resulting in faster and more efficient workflows.
That’s why there’s a separate category of GPUs dedicated to experts. These workstation GPUs have been optimized for these tasks, and their drivers have been confirmed to be stable and dependable when performing these tasks. Professional graphics cards can be quite powerful, and they’re often more expensive than even high-end gaming GPUs, but they’re probably not the best choice for a gaming PC because they weren’t developed expressly for gaming workloads. As a result, the most costly GPU isn’t always “better,” and it’s important to remember that.
In this guide, we’ll concentrate on graphics cards that are more mainstream and geared toward gaming. If you require a GPU to run professional applications, you’ll probably have to search beyond the typical consumer GPU market for the finest possibilities. The Quadro series from Nvidia and AMD’s Radeon Pro line from AMD are excellent places to start.
Many of the core concepts still apply to professional-grade GPUs, despite the fact that they are developed for a different purpose.
You may not need to spend as much money on your graphics card if you aren’t gaming or running demanding professional apps that can benefit from a GPU. If you’re mostly using productivity apps, reading the web, handling email, and other low-resource tasks, choosing the correct RAM, CPU, and storage should take precedence.
You probably don’t need a separate GPU because the graphics capabilities included in your system’s CPU are probably sufficient.
Integrated vs. discrete GPUs
Most current CPUs include integrated graphics, which are GPUs that are either incorporated into the CPU or are tightly linked to it. These integrated graphics cards are often lower-performance solutions, with enough capacity to operate the operating system as well as web browsers, email clients, productivity programs, and other common software, but not enough to run anything more than casual (or older) games. As CPUs get more powerful, this is rapidly changing, but for the time being, if you want to play games, a separate (or discrete) GPU is likely the best option.
Standalone GPUs range in price from low-cost entry-level models to extremely powerful models that can cost well over $1,000 on their own.
Mobile vs. desktop
It’s not simply crucial to pick a GPU while building or purchasing a new desktop PC. Discrete GPUs are also employed in many gaming laptop computers. If gaming on the move is important to you, make sure your laptop has a GPU capable of playing the games you want, and that you’re not relying solely on your CPU’s low-power integrated graphics.
Due to space constraints and heat concerns, laptop GPUs used to be much less powerful than their full-sized desktop counterparts. They are now closer to parity than they have ever been. Many recent gaming laptops feature discrete GPUs that are quite similar in performance to their desktop counterparts or are tailored to squeeze a large amount of power into a small and light package.
Ray-tracing: the latest advancement in realistic graphics
GPU technology, like most other aspects of PC hardware, is rapidly evolving. “Real-time ray tracing” is a recent example of advancing graphics technology. Ray tracing technology enables more realistic lighting effects that more closely resemble how light and reflections interact in the actual world.
“Ray tracing determines the colour of pixels by tracing the route that light would take if it travelled from the viewer’s eye through the virtual 3D environment. Light may reflect from one thing to another (producing reflections), be blocked by objects (creating shadows), or pass through transparent or semi-transparent objects as it moves across the scene (causing refractions). All of these interactions are added together to create the final colour of a pixel, which is subsequently displayed on the screen.”
Nvidia vs. AMD
Now, let’s speak about Nvidia and AMD, the two main participants in the gaming GPU sector (at least for now).
When looking for a GPU, you’re deciding between graphics cards that come with all of the components needed to render an image to your monitor. Cooling solutions, essential connections, and, most crucially, the graphics processor itself are all included on these cards. This processor is a highly complicated microprocessor that has been built over many years of research and testing. Because the cost of making these processors is so high, every GPU you buy will almost certainly originate from one of two companies: Nvidia or AMD.
These two businesses have historically competed for market supremacy in the GPU market, forcing each other to develop for the benefit of consumers. Both have advantages and are viable choices. Whatever path you take, you’ll be able to discover a card that meets your gaming requirements.
When searching for a graphics card, you’ll most likely be considering models from ASUS, GIGABYTE, and MSI, rather than Nvidia and AMD. These businesses take AMD or Nvidia chips and use them to manufacture their own graphics cards.
AMD also has a variety of strong gaming GPUs, including the flagship Radeon RX 5000 series, which is the successor to the AMD RX Vega series and uses the RDNA architecture. AMD also provides the 500 series, which, despite being a little older, still offers a good value for 1920×1080 gaming.
AMD also offers GPUs in a variety of price ranges, with more on the way. AMD will release a new set of GPUs dubbed “Big Navi” in late 2020, based on the upcoming RDNA 2 architecture. These Radeon RX 6000 series graphics cards should be a big step forward for AMD’s GPU lineup.
As you can see from the graphs above, there are a few features to consider when shopping for a GPU. The data in the charts indicate each GPU’s design requirements, and graphics card manufacturers (including ASUS, EVGA, and ZOTAC) have adjusted the basic designs to come up with their own performance criteria.
That’s why it’s critical to do your homework, which should include looking at benchmarks on sites like PassMark Software’s video card benchmarks collection. These benchmark comparisons will show you how different versions of the same GPU compare to one another as well as to other versions.
Discrete GPUs store data in a particular type of memory that is later used to show information on a screen. You should think about how much RAM a graphics card has as well as how much bandwidth it provides when looking at discrete GPUs.
For high-performance games that require enormous amounts of data to produce complex graphics on screen, the quantity of video random access memory (VRAM) in your GPU is critical. When using several monitors, this is also a consideration, especially if they have a greater resolution or refresh rate.
In general, if you buy faster graphics cards, you’ll receive more graphics RAM, so as long as you get a GPU that’s fast enough for your chosen games, you should have enough VRAM.
Another key parameter to consider is RAM bandwidth. The GPU can access information and display it on-screen faster if the RAM is faster. The type of RAM in a graphics card is usually determined by the GPU model, so if you buy the proper GPU for your needs, you’ll almost certainly get the right RAM to go with it.
More than one GPU
Some graphics cards can be connected to run in parallel with other graphics cards, resulting in significant performance gains for demanding games. For Nvidia, this is known as Scalable Link Interface (SLI), and for AMD, it is known as Crossfire. If you wish to use several graphics cards on your PC, you’ll need to get the correct graphics cards as well as a motherboard that supports this technology.
This setup isn’t as popular as it once was. Because fewer games support multiple GPUs, Nvidia’s popular 3070 and 3080-series cards don’t have SLI support. You’ll want to stick with older GPUs if you want to use SLI or Crossfire. You’ll miss out on newer technology like ray tracing if you do this.
Buy the GPU that’s right for you
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what to look for in a graphics card. Now that you’ve learned the basics, head over to Newegg’s GPU section for further information. You may use Newegg’s comparison tool to see how different graphics cards compare side by side, which can help you choose the best one for your system.
The games and programs you want to run are other resources to assist you to choose a GPU and graphics card. Most will give required, recommended, and optimal specifications, which will usually include the CPU, GPU, RAM, and storage recommendations.
Examine the games and programs that are most important to you, and make sure that the graphics card you choose meets at least the minimum requirements.