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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32 comments
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  • "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build"
    Thank you!!

    Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF:
    https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa
    3
  • Great piece for a lot of first-time builders. This should have a sticky somewhere on the site so it doesn't get buried :-)
    5
  • Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build" Thank you!! Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF: https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa


    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.
    -2
  • Also... I am digging the age of some of these images.
    4
  • Quote:
    Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build" Thank you!! Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF: https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa
    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.


    unless i'm thinking wrong, isn't that within the power limits of a 750? im even assuming that each gpu is 300 watts and i know they shouldn't hit that even with the most aggressive of ocs

    granted there is a distinction between a good psu and a bad one, but im just assuming its a good one.
    3
  • Motherboard slots haven't evolved much. Wished every slot was like a USB slot
    0
  • 612443 said:
    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.


    Your point being... ?
    3
  • Steps 1 and 3 should be combined, and step 2 comes after 1 and 3. You better worry about the CPU and motherboard combo compatibility before you worry about a graphics card.
    -1
  • Sorry, meant steps 2 and 4 before 3.
    0
  • I love when you see a $1500.00 build with top quality components and then they have a $40.00 PSU listed with it.
    5
  • IMO the very first component selection for a gaming build should always be the .... MONITOR.
    Decisions on where and how to spend the rest of the budget can only be made once you know the resolution , and whether its 60 Hz, 144 Hz or whatever else is available
    1
  • Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items.

    Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    2
  • Thank you for explaining ESD correctly. I have been annoyed with articles over exaggerating about ESD a lot. So just touching something metal can help? Well, next time I think I'll set a PC on my wooden desk instead of the carpet.
    0
  • Quote:
    I love when you see a $1500.00 build with top quality components and then they have a $40.00 PSU listed with it.


    The XFX TS Bronze 550 comes down to $43 ish from time to time and that's a mighty fine PSU to power a single graphics card build.
    0
  • Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build" Thank you!!

    While not unimportant, it gets far too much attention on the forum's here. PSU's are only relatively rarely the cause of issues, and I'll go out on a limb and say that virtually ANY modern 650W PSU (even ultra-cheap China garbage) will reliably power a single GPU and CPU, regardless of model or how much OCing you do to them.
    -3
  • 269694 said:
    Quote:
    I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.
    unless i'm thinking wrong, isn't that within the power limits of a 750? im even assuming that each gpu is 300 watts and i know they shouldn't hit that even with the most aggressive of ocs granted there is a distinction between a good psu and a bad one, but im just assuming its a good one.
    You're exactly right. We've been using high-quality power supplies in most of our System Builder Marathon machines, and dual 970s was in one of the builds. The super-high recommendations you see from other sites are a response to most builders using mediocre-quality units.
    1
  • 416912 said:
    Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items. Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    Exactly wrong. The first thing people do is say "I want a LAN box" or "I want a media player" or "I want a big gorgeous office PC". They're picking a case SIZE when they make those FIRST statements, so size comes first in the discussion.
    1
  • Quote:
    416912 said:
    Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items. Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    Exactly wrong. The first thing people do is say "I want a LAN box" or "I want a media player" or "I want a big gorgeous office PC". They're picking a case SIZE when they make those FIRST statements, so size comes first in the discussion.


    I have to agree with you on this Crashman. Whenever I go to build a new system for friends or relatives I always ask what they're going for in terms of use. I like to go with the Form follows function principle which is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.
    0