After speaking, in general, of the things to know before buying a new computer, in this guide we will show you what a video card is, how they differ in general terms and which video card to buy for your computer or for a new PC, so as to choose only the model that best suits our needs, without spending a fortune.READ ALSO: How to change Video Card
Which video card to use on PC
Choosing a video card for a PC is not an easy task: if you buy a video card that is not fast enough for your needs, you will be dissatisfied with the performance of your computer but, if you buy a video card that is too fast, you risk spending more money without adequately exploiting the graphics power obtained (especially if the rest of the PC specs are not up to par). Therefore, it is better to proceed step by step, carefully reading all the chapters in the following guide.
Manufacturers and types of video cards
There are two manufacturers of graphics processors or GPUs (the heart of all dedicated video cards): AMD and NVIDIA, while manufacturers of custom video cards as a whole are different: Gigabyte, Asus, Sapphire, MSI, EVGA, ZOTAC, and many others. This means that you can have video cards from different manufacturers but with the same graphics processor and the only differences will be in the components chosen by the manufacturer (amount of video memory, type of video memory, bus speed, GPU clock frequency, and memory clock, number of video outputs and cooling system).
The video cards produced directly by AMD and NVIDIA (therefore without the customization) are known as Reference, while custom video cards are usually known as Retail. Below we can see one NVIDIA Reference video card based on the RTX 3090 GPU.
In the following image we will show you a very similar card, but which instead boasts different specifications and improvements to the point of being completely different from the one seen a little while ago; we are talking about one Retail video card from MSI of the same GPU, namely the RTX 3090.
The two video cards are profoundly different also in appearance, even having the same GPU: change the cooling systems, the optimizations applied, and the power adjustments to make the custom card go even faster (in this case from MSI). In general, Retail is always the best choice if we have to focus on a video card to play, while the Reference is mostly for collectors or for those who want to try the new GPUs first as soon as they come out on the market. As mentioned above, buying a high-level video card and therefore also very expensive satisfies the need of those who want to see HD video on the computer, those who work with 3D video programs, and those who want to use the PC as if it were console video games.
Characteristics of a video card
If the computer is used to play video games or to work with video animations, then the video card becomes the most important piece of the computer and some characteristics must be considered before choosing one video card over another. Let’s see together the characteristics that a new video card must have:
- Resolution: all the video cards released in recent years are able to withstand the FullHD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) without problems with the possibility of playing even 4K UHD, i.e. at a resolution that reaches double the Full HD with the most powerful and expensive.
- Video memory: The other important parameter for choosing a video card is the amount of built-in video memory. You can imagine the graphics card memory as a dedicated RAM memory (it works in a very similar way but at much higher frequencies and speeds) in which all the video and 3D data generated by the GPU are stored, waiting to be processed and sent. to the video output. As a general rule, the consideration that the higher the resolution of an image, the more memory it consumes; playing at 1080p with a 6GB video memory card we shouldn’t have any particular problems, while with 4K will be necessary to focus on 12GB of video memory or higher. In all this, we must not forget the game: the more “vast” the game is from a graphic point of view, the more space it will occupy in the video memory.
- Performance: the video processor (or GPU) exactly like the main processor (or CPU) works at a certain clock speed; speed determines the performance of the GPU but it is not the only parameter to be taken into consideration. As video card technology changes between models, the GPU also cannot be a unique parameter for determining whether one graphics processor is better or worse than another. Also, consider the number of dedicated processing units (CUDA in the case of NVIDIA and RDNA / RDNA-2 in the case of AMD) integrated within the graphics processor: they can make the difference between two apparently similar GPUs in terms of clock speed.
- Cooling system and consumption: in all this, we must also consider that a powerful video card may require more energy and therefore an adequate power supply and cooling system. Before buying any video card, let’s make sure that the power supply provides enough power for all the components of the system and that the cooling system on the case is adequate to circulate the air inside, so as to avoid overheating.
- Adaptive refresh rate: both GPU manufacturers (NVIDIA and AMD) have released a special technology that allows you to adapt the refresh rate to the frequency of the monitor used: they are called NVIDIA G-Sync is AMD Freesync. When we choose to use these technologies we will have to be careful to check that the monitor in use supports them, otherwise they cannot be used (we will have the static refresh rate decided by the video card based on the game settings or based on V-Sync).
- Advanced technologies: among the advanced technologies that a modern video card must-have, the VR support, which is the support for technologies to play in virtual reality with the appropriate viewers (to be connected directly to the PC or video card). Another important technology to increase the quality of video games is Ray Tracing, a technology that significantly improves the contrasts between light and shadow, the effect of explosions, and ambient atmospheric dust (reproduced in video games). Obviously, we also do not underestimate the support for HDR, which allows you to improve the color rendering on compatible monitors.
- Monitor type: the size of your monitor is crucial in choosing the video card you want to buy. With a 20-inch monitor in Full HD, we will also be able to buy a video card below 500 €, sure that we will have the maximum resolution supported without problems with games. If, on the other hand, we use a huge 30 “4K monitor or want to play the PC using a 4K TV as a screen, we will also have to spend a lot of money to have a graphics card that can handle the high resolution.
Recommended video cards
After having seen together the characteristics that video cards must have, in this chapter, we will show you which cards to buy for NVIDIA and AMD. Instead of making you a list of cards to buy we will immediately show you the ones that, in our opinion, are the best for quality/price ratio, so you can buy sure that you have made a good choice without spending a fortune.
If we want an NVIDIA card the most balanced currently is the ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX 2060 OC EVO Edition, available on Amazon for less than 400 €.
This card boasts a factory overclocked RTX 2060 GPU, 6GB of GDDR6 video memory with cooling system and 14000 MHz speed, 0dB technology, DisplayPort, HDMI, Auto-Extreme system, support for NVIDIA G-Sync technology, and compatibility with the system of Aura Sync lights (compatible with other ASUS products).
If instead, we want to bet on an AMD card, we recommend that you take a look at the PowerColor AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT, available on Amazon for less than 500 €.
On this board we find a factory overclocked RX 5700 XT GPU (maximum boost speed of 2010 MHz), 8GB of GDDR6 video memory, triple cooling fan, HDMI port, 3 DisplayPort ports, support for AMD Freesync technology, and automatic clock frequency management. If we are looking for other video card models we suggest you read our guide Best video cards to buy.
If we want one video card that supports high definition movies and videos, it is not necessary to buy an expensive graphics card. High definition videos can be mkv files but most importantly DVD and Blu-ray. All computers, on the software side, can play videos smoothly but, to support HD quality, the important thing to consider is that a good video card will make you see videos more smoothly and without slowing down even at high resolutions.
To know the performance of the GPU on your computer you can use the program GPU-Z, available for download from the link on the official website; in this way, we will be able to obtain a lot of useful information on the video card already present on the PC or on the video card just purchased.
If we have not understood the difference between the dedicated video card and an integrated video card, we can read our in-depth analysis Difference between the integrated video card and a dedicated video card.
If, on the other hand, we want to compare various hardware components of our PC, you should immediately take a look at our guide Compare processors, video cards, and SSDs.