A graphics card is essential for anyone planning on playing games or editing videos on their PC.
This buying guide will help you determine which graphics card to buy based on your budget and specific needs.
5 Things to Consider When Buying a Graphics Card
It’s vital to ensure you have a balanced gaming PC or video editing device. A dedicated graphics card can’t compensate for a poor monitor, slow SSD, or other hardware.
The five key areas you need to think about before buying a graphics card are:
- Laptop vs. Desktop
How Much Should a Graphics Card Cost?
Like with many gaming PC components, the price of a graphics card can vary a lot. The less you pay, the more compromises you need to make. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth buying a budget graphics card in some cases.
Due to ongoing supply chain issues, pricing for graphics cards continues to rise because it’s hard to get hold of crucial components. Some graphics cards sell above their manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRPs).
In some cases, buying a graphics card as part of a prebuilt system is cheaper than individually.
However, that’s not always practical for someone with a gaming setup that only lacks a more powerful graphics card.
It’s possible to spend around $200 on a budget graphics card, $300-500 on a mid-range option, and $1,000-plus on the latest and greatest.
The chart below breaks down what to expect.
Price Range What You Can Expect
$200-$300 Can handle games that don’t involve high-end graphics and older games. Best for users who don’t need to play games at high resolution and those looking to edit small or short videos.
$300-$500 Able to play the latest games, but you may need to adjust resolutions and detail levels to ensure no risk of stuttering—best for gamers happy to play at 1080p. Video editing is also best suited at 1080p quality.
$1000+ Able to play the latest games at a high resolution, including 4K gaming. Also, future-proofed, so future games will play well using such a card—ideal for 4K video editing.
Most players and editors will be happy with a $300-$500 graphics card.
What Processor and Memory Does a Graphics Card Need?
Graphics cards come from two brands: AMD Radeon and Nvidia GeForce. Currently, Nvidia provides the best graphics cards with the RTX 30 graphics cards.
The GeForce RTX 3090 Ti is the best if money is no object. However, the 3060 or 3070 is often far more affordable, with the 3050 even easier to attain.
For someone looking to play games at 4K resolutions or edit 4K videos, the RTX 30-series is the best option due to its powerful processor.
However, the AMD Radeon RX 6000 range is also worth considering if you have a slimmer budget. These cards can play games at 1080p resolution with lower graphic detail levels and handle editing 1080p videos.
In both cases, the higher the number, the better the card. For instance, the GeForce 20-series GPU/processor is worth considering, but it’s older yet cheaper than the 30-series range.
In a similar vein, the more memory, the better. Graphics cards use GPU RAM, or VRAM (video random access memory), with cheaper cards offering 4GB or 8GB while the best provide 12GB.
Unlike regular RAM, it works solely with the graphics card to ensure better detail levels and quality.
Are You Using a Laptop or Desktop?
If you own a desktop PC, you have more options for upgrading your graphics card, but checking that your PC is compatible is essential. For example, ensure your PC’s power supply offers enough power and the correct connector type. Also, be aware of the card’s form factor to make sure the card will fit into your existing computer.
Powerful graphics cards often have large heatsinks and fans, which can take up a lot of room.
Graphics cards connect via PCI Express sockets on your PC’s motherboard, but be sure to check your motherboard is up to date and has the relevant speed of PCIe to ensure the graphics card runs to the best of its ability.
To be clear: There’s a good chance a graphics card is physically compatible with your PC’s motherboard, but the motherboard can’t move the data generated by the graphics card quickly enough. So you don’t see any gains in performance (just an emptier wallet).
It’s also helpful to check what displays the card supports, such as HDMI or DisplayPort. Different cards offer different numbers of ports.
Laptop users can’t upgrade the graphics card internally, but buying an external one is possible. These tend to be much more expensive, so purchasing a new laptop for gaming or video editing is a better value for many users.
What Features Are There With Graphics Cards?
Check the features a graphics card has before buying it. For instance, you want it to match the rest of your PC’s specs and monitor.
While you may buy a graphics card capable of running games at 4K resolution, if your system’s processor is aging and unable to keep up, you won’t reap the benefits of the graphics card.
Also, if your gaming monitor is older, it may struggle to keep up with the resolutions offered by the card.
It’s also helpful to think about the refresh rate of your monitor. A monitor that can only achieve a refresh rate of 60Hz won’t work as well with the latest graphics card.
GeForce RTX 20-series and Radeon RX 6000 cards and above can use ray tracing, which offers natural lighting and shadows, providing the rest of your system is reasonably robust.
How Readily Available Are the Latest Graphics Cards?
Due to continuing supply chain issues, not all the latest graphics cards are always available. When they are, they can often be priced well above retail prices due to demand.
Don’t set your heart on a high-demand graphics card; you may have to wait for the supply to return. Be flexible with your purchase.
When you see the one best for your needs, buy it as it’s likely to sell fast.
What is a Graphics Card or GPU in a Computer?
A graphics card or GPU creates the images you see on your monitor.
While basic computers offer integrated graphics built into the motherboard, a dedicated graphics card is a separate piece of hardware (often pretty chunky looking) added to the system via a slot on the motherboard.
It’s vital for anyone looking to play games on their PC or edit videos. Running the latest games or editing a video (especially at a high resolution) is one of the most complex tasks a computer can complete.
Who Should Buy a Graphics Card?
Not everyone needs a dedicated graphics card. Here’s who will benefit from one.
Avid gamers: Keen gamers want to enjoy their favorite games at a high resolution and excellent detail level. You need a dedicated graphics card to play the most demanding games like Forza Horizon 5 or Cyberpunk 2077.
Video editors: If you enjoy editing videos for pleasure or business, you need a good quality dedicated graphics card, particularly when editing videos at 4K resolutions.
Streamers: Typically, people watch streaming content from players who can exhibit the games at their best quality. On Twitch, you want to be able to play a game quickly and at a decent quality level. No one will want to watch a streamer struggle to load a game or switch between stages.
What Should I Do After I Buy a Graphics Card?
If you’ve just bought a new graphics card, there are a few things you may wish to do immediately afterward.
Buy a new monitor: If your existing monitor is aging, you won’t get the best out of your graphics card. Upgrade to a new one capable of the graphics card’s resolution and a high refresh rate or low input lag. Those features mean less risk of motion blur or an ugly-looking picture.
Buy new PC components: If you’ve upgraded to a new graphics card and realized your system is still sluggish, buy new components. Buying a new CPU or extra RAM can make a difference in ensuring your game or video editing session runs more smoothly.
Buy a new game: Even if you’ve bought a graphics card to edit video, it’s a great idea to treat yourself to a new game. You can showcase your better performance now with a new graphics card.
More Tips for Buying a Graphics Card
Before you decide to buy a graphics card, there are a few other things you may wish to consider.
Do you need a graphics card? If you don’t play many demanding games or edit videos, your current setup may be sufficient. Don’t buy a new graphics card if your work/play can’t use it. Use your money for other components you are more likely to benefit from (bigger monitor, faster SSD, etc.).
A prebuilt system may be better. Graphics cards often cost a lot, but you can save cash instead of purchasing an individual component by buying a new prebuilt system. Check to see if buying a whole new system is better than one part of it.
Check system requirements. If there are specific games you wish to play, it’s worth checking something like Can You Run It to see which graphics card you require and any other components to help speed up a game’s performance.
How do I update a graphics card?
Upgrading a graphics card is a relatively straightforward process that usually involves just unplugging the old one, removing it, and putting in the new one. You should take precautions like wearing a grounding strap and discharging any static electricity you might be carrying to avoid damaging your components.
What graphics card do I have?
Part of shopping for a graphics card is ensuring you’re getting one with better stats than the one you have. To check your current graphics card in Windows 11, open the Task Manager, and then go to Performance > GPU. In Windows 10, right-click Start > Device Manager > Display Adapters > GPU.