Anyone building a PC is spoiled for choice when it comes to the components that make up their rig. While there are only half a dozen critical components to any PC, the plethora of options available is often overwhelming. This is particularly true regarding purchasing a graphics card, or GPU, as it is often abbreviated, with dozens of versions on the market.
Where car lovers dream of owning a Porsche or Ferrari, PC builders want the fastest, most-powerful graphics card possible; and they do come in extremely powerful guises if you have the budget for them. The problem is that the fastest is not always the best for your needs. All your computer’s components work in tandem so having a super-powerful graphics card paired with a mid-range processor is a bad idea. It would be akin to having a Lamborghini but putting a standard Ford Focus engine in it!
Before scouring the internet looking for a new graphics card, ask yourself what you plan to use your PC for. Do you want to play the latest AAA titles on the highest settings and resolutions, or do you use your rig for basic office tasks and finding the best sportsbooks offers online. The former requires a high-spec graphics card while the latter does not. Indeed, if you do not plan to ever play games on your PC, you could get away without purchasing a graphics card at all if your processor has integrated graphics.
The processor in your PC determines what the best graphics card is for you. Pairing a slower processor with the fastest graphics cards and vice versa is a pointless exercise. Doing this creates a bottleneck in the data because one component is far stronger than the other. For example, a powerful processor will send tons of data to the slower graphics card, which struggles to render the images on your monitor as quickly.
Your monitor also plays a significant role in which graphics card you should purchase. Most modern monitors have a 1080p resolution, but there are many 1440p and 4K units out there. There is no point in running games at 4K resolution when your screen only displays 1080p. In addition, check the refresh rate of your monitor. Cheaper monitors refresh at 60hz, so 60 frames per second. The very best refresh at 360Hz, but they will set you back the cost of a small country’s GDP to get hold of. Your graphics card may be churning out 200 Frames Per Second (FPS), but you will only see 60fps on a 60Hz monitor.
There are two major players in the graphics card world: Nvidia and AMD. These companies create the hardware, and other manufacturers use their designs and technology. Nvidia’s graphics card codes start with a GTX or, more recently, RTX prefixes, while AMD cards’ model numbers begin with an RX prefix. So an Nvidia RTX 3070 is the same as an MSI RTX 3070 for all intents and purposes, except you are buying from MSI, not Nvidia.
Every graphics card has a generation and a model number. For example, the latest Nvidia RTX 3000 series has a 3050, 3060, 3060ti, 3070, 3070ti, 3080, 3080 ti, and a 3090. The higher the number, the more powerful the graphics card is. AMD’s cards follow a similar pattern.
Nvidia currently produces the best mid-range, high-end, and extreme graphics cards. Thor RTX 3000 series is the best on the market and by some distance. An RTX 3060ti should be a great graphics card for most PC users because it copes exceptionally well up to 1440p resolution. Those who want to dip their toes into the 4K waters should look at the 3070 models. The 3080 is an immense card, but the 3090 is overkill all but for a fraction of a percentage of users.
Be aware that graphics cards are scarce at the moment – think almost non-existent – and prices are through the roof as a result. However, with a bit of patience and a little luck, you can bag yourself a top GPU and take your PC to the next level.