After the huge success of my previous article, Do you make these 6 mistakes when buying a video card?, I’ve decided to share additional tips and to reply to some of the best feedback left in the comments and on the submission on Digg.

What do I mean by huge success?
1-16-2009-1-01-46-pm

In barely 48 hours, since I published the article on Wednesday at 10am EST, to now as I’m writing this, Friday 10am EST, the article received over 61,000 pageviews, the majority (~43,500) from Digg, but it also got picked up on Stumble Upon today, with already over 10,000 pageviews, most of them received in the last 10 hours.

Obviously, many of you left feedback, 33 comments so far here and over 200 at Digg, bad and good. I will now take the best of them, share the feedback and my replies to them with you.

Before that though, many of you also left some excellent tips, in addition of the original Do you make these 6 mistakes when buying a video card? so I will start by sharing them with you here, for your benefit.

Additional tips when buying a video card:

b3ar said:One of the most eye-opening things I have learned about GPU’s, and frame rates specifically, is that the monitor is most likely to bottleneck the system (taking into account what you had to say about CPU’s). Anything over 60fps isn’t getting past the 60Hz of the monitor…and really, anything over 35 or 40 fps isn’t getting past yer eyeball, either.

– Excellent point b3ar. There’s no point trying to get over 60 fps. As for 35-40 fps on your eyes, that actually depend on the type of game you’re playing (action/racing vs RPG/RTS for example).

Joe (6 pack? Just kidding =D) said: Make sure you check your available slots to see if they’re AGP, PCI or PCI-e.

TechWeasel said: Regarding the card’s dedicated graphics memory, some games are more apt to need a certain amount (generally if they render environments out to long distance). Games’ recommended system requirements will generally tell you how much is necessary.

– Indeed, make sure to check recommended system requirements, benchmarks and ask other players with a similar system what their experience has been.

Scott_T said: Dont forget fan noise! The sound of a jet fighter might be cool in a game but not if its coming out of your case all the time.

Arramol on Digg said: Generally speaking, the only reliable way to know a video card’s performance is by the benchmarks. The amount of memory can be misleading, even the name can be misleading.

Take NVIDIA’s 8 and 9 series for example. A 512mb 8800GTS is more powerful than a 640mb 8800GTS since the 512mb model uses a newer GPU. It’s also on par with or ahead of a 9800GT, which is essentially a re-branded 8800GT.

Furthermore, different cards are better for different games since some games are more dependent on different aspects of a video card (number of cores, core speed, amount of VRAM, etc.). If you’re shopping for a video card, always, always, ALWAYS read benchmarks.

– Reading benchmarks should indeed be an essential part into planning which video card to plan. Here are websites that I recommend for video cards and other computer parts benchmarks. Remember tip #6 though, check more than one source!


Feedback from comments here, with my replies:

HardBoot, along with many others said: Here’s where the geek RAEGGGGGGEEEEE comes into play: “make sure to team up your video cards with a blazing fast quad-core CPU. Most games may not benefit from quad-core yet, but the video drivers and the cards themselves will”
You do realize DirectX and OpenGL isn’t multithreaded… 1 core or 8 cores in a 2P will offer the same graphical performance, if you’re already meting the CPU requirements of the rest of the game.

– Mind you, I was reffering to SLI/Crossfire there. In any case, let me follow up on this.

How do you know if you’re meeting the CPU requirements? They vary depending on the game, resolution, settings and quality settings, OS, etc. that you use. What is written on the game box are requirements for “acceptable” gameplay with “normal” settings.

Let me clarify point #4 though. A good dual-core will do the job very well in the majority of cases, under the majority of games, using ONE video card.

Where I recommend getting a fast quad-core cpu is when you play the latest games, using SLI or Crossfire. In those cases, a quad-core will increase the performance, especially if it’s a Core i7. See this outstanding review from Guru3D on the subject, where they test 3-Way SLI and CrossfireX (Two 4870X2 in Crossfire), on an Intel E8400, an Intel Core i7 965 and also compare the results with a Q9770. Link to: Guru3D: Core i7 Multi-GPU SLI Crossfire Game performance review

bruce kay said:“Measure the space available for the video card in your case (Usually from the back of the case to the hard drive cage) and double-check the length of the card, which is usually found under the specs, before buying it. Check reviews and/or contact the store if you’re unsure.”

The length of the card is NOT found anywhere in the specs.I remember looking everywhere, even called places and not getting anywhere when I was trying to breathe life into my old aging AGP system and wanting an x1950 agp. Got it anyway and was wayyy too big.
Good article tho!

– Yeah, the length of the card is hard to find sometime. My suggestion is to read reviews of the card, ask people who own the card on forums and contact the company selling the card.

Richard H said: Great post, slightly disagree on part of point 1 though, “you won’t need the extra memory unless you play at very high resolutions, such as 1920×1080 and/or with AA/AF quality filtering.”

I’ve got an NVidea 8600XT with 256Mb RAM, I ticked all the above boxes and got the later version with the faster memory rather than the 512Mb version with the slower memory.

BUT – one game in particular screws you in this aspect – GTA4 requires truckloads of memory for good graphics settings. I’m running 800×600 with graphics quality set to very low, as with only 256Mb of RAM it severely limits the graphic detail you can put on. It disregards the fact I’ve got a dual core Athlon 5000+ with 2 gigs of RAM.

– Actually, running at 800×600, you’re most likely limited by your CPU in this case. As a general rule of thumb, the lower the resolution, the more likely you are limited by the CPU. The higher the resolution, the more limited you are by the GPU. Most people play at 1280×1024 or higher though, so in the majority of cases, the GPU is the limiting factor. Try upgrading your cpu, or overclocking it.

Bojan said: Buying a newer mid range card is certainly better then an older top range one…ALWAYS. A lot of games won’t run on older cards at all (they might require a newer pixel shader for example). It Won’t support features newer cards do, and despite the actual power might not preform that well in newer games. A newer card will allow you to play new games as they come out longer then an older one would (what I pointed out earlier).

– In my experience, games will run perfectly well on older hardware. Sure, it may not support newer pixel shader, but it won’t stop you from playing in the majority of cases. Also, video cards nearly always come out with new features such as new shader version support, new Direct X version support, etc. months, if not over a year before games that make use of such features come out. By the time that happens, the card is usually outdated anyway. That’s my 2 cents though, I’d like to hear everyone’s opinion on this.

Extra power connectors are not a problem. A LOT of cards actually come with a Y splitter of some sort and if they don’t buying one is very cheap. Power supply wattage – good advice but pretty obvious to, check what the card needs vs. what’s in the box. Stronger power supplies are not that expensive these days anyways. Card length is a no brainer.

– Good point regarding y splitter connectors.

A stronger card is always a good thing no matter what the CPU speed. Sure a slow CPU will be the bottleneck of the system, but the benefits you get from a top range card will still be obvious and the speed difference compared to a slower card will be very noticeable. Plus if you eventually buy a better CPU you will have a card to go with it (which you will have to do sooner or later if you have an outdated and slow CPU)

– It’s a waste of cash if you buy a stronger card if your cpu is the bottleneck. A slower card would offer the same, or similar performance. Of course, this depends on resolution, game quality settings and many other factors.

My point is, why buy a stronger (read: more expensive) video card if your cpu is the bottleneck? Sure, you may upgrade the cpu in the future, but in that future, newer video cards will be available and the card that you bought will be cheaper then.

Aaon said:

“If you play is Counter-Strike 1.6, WoW or the majority of games that are 2 years or older, you probably don’t need the lastest and fastest video card.”

While I completely agree with this general statement, I have to take specific issue with WoW as an example. The most recent World of Warcraft expansion increased the hardware requirements quite a bit due to greatly increased draw distances, much denser ground clutter, increased texture detail, and nifty new shaders. In some circumstances the revamped engine can bog down my 4850 to ~15fps (1440×900, max detail settings, no AA).

Indeed, I didn’t consider the new expansion and the higher requirements. I was simply using WoW as a general example, but you score a good point. I’ve heard that the game was also very CPU bound, is that true according to you?

And I would be more specific than “If you play on a 17″ or 19″ screen, you probably don’t need the lastest and fastest video card.” Monitor size is a poor proxy for native resolution, and it’s the resolution that can decide where in a GPU family your dollar is best spent.

I understand what you mean, I used size screen, as according to me it is a fairly reliable way to know and more people know their screen size vs their resolution. You do have a point though, I will use resolutions as a reference too in the future.

Another point:

Some of you mentioned that some of those tips were obvious to anyone with some tech knowledge. That is true, but please understand that not everyone reading this blog is a pro and I write to help anyone, including the beginners, often called noobs by others.

We all started as a beginner at one point right? Some give them a chance and let me help them out as well.

In conclusion

Well, first of all, thank you everyone for your feedback! It’s when there are discussions and arguments going on that we all learn. By sharing our knowledge, we all get wiser.

That’s one of the point of this blog. Get you wiser regarding computer hardware, so you can make better purchases and get more for your money. I’m sure you know how important this is in this time of economic recession!

Did you enjoy this article? If yes, I invite you to subscribe for free to receive updates directly in your inbox, via the form at the top right or with our RSS feed.