Upgrade Guide: Choosing a graphics card

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  1. Author: robvdl
    User type: Administrator
    Posts: 122
    Date: Aug. 13, 2006, 3:55 p.m.

    I thought I'd just write down a few helpful hints to allow gamers to choose the right graphics card for their needs when upgrading. I have had a few people approach me wanting to get a new graphics card, and a lot of people seem to only take the video card RAM size into consideration, however there are many other aspects to take in consideration as well when choosing a graphics card, or you may end up getting a card that runs games at an undesirable frame rate. This post aims to point some of these out.

    BUS type:

    This is the first thing you should be looking at, you will need to check if your motherboard has either an AGP slot or PCI-Express slot. PCI-Express is the better one, but it's only available on modern motherboards. If your system is a few years old, chances are you may need to go for an AGP card. If you don't have either of these slots, and only have PCI slots available, you can still get a PCI graphics card for your system, however the choice is somewhat limited.


    You can choose either NVidia (GeForce) or ATI (Radeon). There are some other minor players available too, but in general these don't really perform or support the latest games. In general, there isn't much difference in speed between the cards, although some reviews tend to say so, in reality the difference is very little. Some games simply run better on ATI cards, while some games run better on NVidia cards, but the difference isn't all that great. It's really a personal preference I believe.


    The vintage of the card is quite important, a current model graphics card is both faster, and has more features for running this years games, then last years model graphics card, or even the year before that. Buying a graphics cad is like getting a new car, except that the difference in speed between this years and last years model is much more dramatic. I have noticed quite a few places are selling 3-4 year old model video cards. A current model low end graphics card is often faster than last years model mid range graphics card and around the same price, so in my opinion it's not really worth it investing in older model cards.

    Graphics card models (NVidia GeForce):

    This year:

    Low end: GeForce 7300
    Mid range: GeForce 7600
    High end: GeForce 7800/7900/7950

    Last year:

    Low end: GeForce 6200
    Mid range: GeForce 6600
    High end: GeForce 6800

    Year before last:

    Low end: GeForce FX 5200
    Mid range: GeForce FX 5500/5600/5700
    High end: GeForce FX 5800/5900/5950

    Graphics card models (ATI Radeon):

    This year:

    Low end: Radeon X1300
    Mid range: Radeon X1600
    High end: Radeon X1900

    Last year:

    Low end: Radeon X300
    Mid range: Radeon X600/X700
    High end: Radeon X800/X850

    Year before last:

    Low end: Radeon 9100/9200
    Mid range: Radeon 9500/9550/9600
    High end: Radeon 9800

    Note that some of the later model cards are only available in PCI-Express, not AGP anymore.

    Low end/mid range/high end?

    It really depends on what you can afford and the type of games you want to be able to play and at what detail settings. Don't expect to be able to play the latest games at high frame rates with detail set to full on low end cards, even if it is a current model card. With graphics cards, you kind of get what you pay for, you can play most of last years games on these cards without problems, and this years games by simply turning graphics quality down a little.

    However, a mid range card can make a huge difference, the games will run considerably faster, as these cards often have higher clock speeds, more pipelines and faster RAM (I will explain these below).

    High end cards tend to be a bit of a waste of money in my point of view, especially if you intend to replace your card every say 2 years (which is about average for most gamers). You are much better off with a supercharged version of a midrange card (for example the "GT" models for GeForce cards, such as the 6600GT), which are often almost as fast as a high end card, for half the price.

    RAM size:

    Most people seem to already be aware of the amount of RAM on graphics cards. Currently you can choose between 128Mb, 256Mb or 512Mb models. However 512Mb is still a little over the top for current games. Even a 128Mb model will play all current games without problems. In my opinion, the RAM size isn't as important anymore as it used to be, now that we have reached 128Mb size cards. Things that are much more important to take in consideration are clock speed, vintage, and the amount of pipelines. I will mention some of these next.

    Clock speed:

    This is how fast the chip is running in Mhz, however clock speed is not the only thing that affects the speed of the card, the amount of pipelines is just as important. A card with only 16 pipelines running at 250Mhz may be faster than a card with 8 pipelines running at 350Mhz.


    This affects how many operations the card can do at once. It can kind of be compared to a super highway in a way. Graphics cards currently come with either 8, 12, 16, or 24 pipelines. The more pipelines (lanes on the super highway), the more the card can do at once, the faster the game will run. Pipelines should be looked at together with clock speed, you shouldn't only look at only one or the other when comparing cards.

    RAM type:

    Some cards come with DDR ram, some come with DDR2, while some even come with DDR3. This basically affects how fast the RAM is able run. DDR3 and DDR2 can run at much faster speeds than DDR can run.

    RAM speed:

    RAM speed on graphics card can range anywhere from 400Mhz up to 1200Mhz on high end models and can greatly affect the speed of games. The 1200Mhz models usually run on DDR3 spec RAM (see above).

    RAM bandwidth:

    This one is often overlooked the most, but only really affects low end models anyway. Some low end models (say the GeForce 6200) may come with a 64-bit RAM bus, while another manufacturer might produce the exact same card (also GeForce 6200), with a 128-bit RAM bus. The number of lanes on the highway between the video card chip and video card RAM is therefore twice as wide, making the model with the 128-bit RAM faster.

    (virtual) RAM vs real graphics RAM

    Some of the newer low end graphics cards, come with 64Mb of real onboard RAM, and will use an additional same amount of system RAM from the PC itself, to "simulate" graphics RAM, doubling the total RAM available to the graphics card. Using system RAM instead of graphics RAM is considerably slower, however luckily the manufacturer still equips the graphics card with half the RAM still being real graphics RAM. The idea is nice enough, save a bit of money because graphics RAM is more expensive, while doubling the amount of available RAM to the graphics card. The only not so good thing about it, is that some cards are being mis-advertised to contain 128Mb of RAM, while they really only contain 64Mb and the other half is "borrowed" from system RAM.

    NVidia refer to this as "TurboCache", while ATI call theirs "HyperMemory".


    Note that this is only just a guide, there may be things I have missed out, but mainly to try to keep the guide short, If you have any more queries regarding graphics cards, just ask and I will see if I can help.

    And off course we are able to supply and install any of the cards mentioned above. We purposely don't stock items, so we can give customers only the latest product available at the time of order at the best possible prices. It usually takes 3 working days to get one of these cards in, but it's definitely worth it, as opposed to buying one in the shop, which may have been on the shelf for a number of months or even years, you just don't know. The other thing off course we are local, right here in Wainuiomata.


  2. Author: Soap Merchant
    User type: Standard User
    Posts: 80
    Date: Nov. 1, 2007, 2:24 a.m.

    needs updateing dude.

    Just edit, you should be able to being admin.

    Btw sorry for not haveing much of a presence around here recently.

    i really should be a more active member.

    Lest the ynui forums die.

    All it needs is a few people posting interesting threads every so often to spur interest again.

    I will do my best to find the random and mental lol.

    Damn you bebo, damn you hehe.


  3. Author: robvdl
    User type: Administrator
    Posts: 122
    Date: Nov. 5, 2007, 2:12 a.m.

    Yeah I know, post is a little old, but the thing is, general rules still apply from that post.

    The year of the card, whether it's a mid range, high end, or budget graphics card, the amount of shaders/pipelines, amount of RAM, type of RAM (DDR2 or DDR3), and RAM bandwitdh, still counts. We just have a different range of cards now.

    NVidia have the GeForce 8600 GT, 8800 GT/GTS/GTX, etc cards, and ATI currently have their "HD" series of cards. HD 2600, HD 2900, etc.