How To Build A PC

Step 3: Select A Graphics Card

Workloads like gaming, watching high-definition content, video editing, and professional 3D modeling all require the use of a separate graphics processor in order to run properly and efficiently. The type of graphics processor required varies, however. If your needs are relatively simple and involve things like web browsing, streaming videos, minimal photo editing, and even light gaming, then the integrated graphics system included in your CPU is usually enough.

If your needs are more complex, you’re going to have to upgrade to a discrete GPU. Things like playing the latest blockbuster games with maxed out detail settings, intense photo and video editing workloads, or even mining crypto currencies all require the use of a separate graphics card.

Graphics cards come in one of two flavors: gaming-oriented cards, and workstation-oriented cards. Gaming cards are optimized to deliver the best frame rates from games at the most realistic detail settings, and the highest resolutions. Meanwhile, workstation cards are designed for maximum stability and precision, and are specifically optimized for 3D rendering workloads.

Typically, mainstream gaming cards today are capable of driving most games at a resolution of 1920x1080 with close to the highest detail settings, and a frame rate of around 60 frames-per-second (fps). For maximum detail at a higher resolution like 2560x1440, or higher frame rates like 120fps, you’ll have to invest in a high-end card. Finally, if you’re interested in triple monitor gaming, or gaming with just one monitor at 3840x2160, you’ll probably want at least two high-end graphics cards, which is where SLI / Crossfire comes into play.

Nvidia SLI and AMD Crossfire are two similar technologies that allow users to pair two to four graphics cards together in one system, in order to achieve higher graphics performance than what’s possible with just a single card. However, the technology has its limitations and doubling the number of graphics cards in your system won’t necessarily lead to double the performance. SLI and Crossfire also have their own specific set of requirements and need a little bit of planning in order to work properly; they also do require support at the application or game level. If you’d like more information, our community has a great guide on the subject, which can be found here.

If you want specific guidance on which gaming card is best suited to your needs, our list of the best graphics cards for the money is the best place to go. You can also check out our Graphics Card Benchmark Charts for more information, which includes GPU-specific performance data for various games and other workloads, as well as data on power consumption and noise levels. Finally, our graphics reviews also provide data on performance differences between specific card models.

Unlike their gaming counterparts, workstation graphics cards are heavily optimized for accuracy over speed, and for better performance in OpenGL based workloads. OpenGL is a widely used, multiplatform application programming interface that’s used to render 3D graphics in many professional applications such as Solidworks and Siemens NX software. These optimizations make workstation cards unsuitable for non-workstation workloads such as gaming, with low-end gaming cards often outperforming high-end workstation cards. Consequently, the lack of those same optimizations also make gaming cards unsuitable for use in many professional applications, as seen in our benchmarks. Finally, independent software vendors extensively test and certify workstation cards and the drivers to ensure maximum compatibility with their software.

MORE: Best Graphics Cards
MORE: All Graphics Content

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  • James_39
    Selecting the case is a bizarre thing to have in Step 1.Surely that would be best placed once all other components, including accessories, have been factored in? Otherwise you end up selecting components purely on the basis they fit in your case, not forgetting that some (most) cases don't support water cooling kits/pipes etc mentioned in Step 8.