5 things to consider when buying a new graphics card


Buying a new graphics card might seem complicated.

It’s easy to be dazzled by talk of stream processors, core frequencies and memory options. But in many ways, you can boil a search for a new graphics card down to five simple considerations.

1. What games do you like to play?
If you tend to play slower-paced strategy games like Civilization and XCOM 2, then a faster graphics card might not make much of a difference. But for rich open world games, fast-paced FPS titles and involving RPGs (like Mass Effect: Andromeda), a poly-flinger with more power is essential. Ditto if you want to play in high resolution or VR. But with one caveat…

2. Your graphics card might not be the problem
Use a tool like CPU-Z to check the speed of your current processor, because adding a new graphics card to an old system might not give you the performance boost you’re looking for. If your PC is more five years old, for example, then you’re better off buying a new PC.

CPU speed isn’t the only limiting factor in older PCs. To play today’s best games, you’ll need at least 8GB of system memory, while 16GB is preferable. Plus, the PSU needs to be able to support the card you want to buy, both in terms of its power rating and its connectors. Lastly, check that the card you choose will actually fit inside your PC case. Size may have an impact on your choice of card.

Fallout 4 High Resolution Texture Pack

If you want to play Fallout 4 with the High Resolution Texture Pack, then you’ll need a top-end GPU.

3. Don’t spend more than you need to
Newsflash: you don’t need a high-end card to play the latest PC games in high resolution. If you’re not going to be playing in 4K, then a budget solution (like the RX 460) or a mid-range card (like the RX 470) will usually suffice. Often, a mid-range card will give you the best balance between price and performance.

Of course, if you have a top-of-the-range processor (like a Core i7), then it deserves to be paired with a top-of-the-range GPU (like the R9 Fury X). The advantage of investing in a powerful card today means that you won’t need to replace it any time soon, even with a next generation of GPUs arriving. You can also take advantage of playing games in higher resolutions, like 1440p and 4K

4. There’s never a good time to buy a new card
So why wait? There’s always a next generation of GPU in the works. Today’s class-leading Radeon 400 series cards, for example, are based on the Polaris architecture and these will be leapfrogged by the arrival of AMD’s Vega technology in 2017. But that doesn’t mean cards based on Polaris (like the RX480 and RX470) are out of date. Quite the opposite. They’ve never been more affordable.

5. Have you tried our Card Selector 2.0?
Whether you’re a budget-minded, occasional F2P gamer or a more demanding player with an eye on VR, our Card Selector 2.0 will point you towards the best graphics cards that suit your needs. All you need to do is decide how much you want to spend. Why not take it for a spin? Discover if what you think you need is what you really need.

Dean Evans
Dean Evans is a long-time gamer and reviewer who built his first PC at the age of eight. He is powered by That Media Thing, a collective of journalists who believe in the power of passionate content.