A video card is one of the most important components of a computer.
A good video card is the centerpiece of any high-performance computer, so choosing the right one may be the single most important decision you make when building a new system for gaming or 3D software. Unfortunately, there are now more video card models than there are models of any other single computer component type except memory. From budget cards costing less than $100 to extreme performance cards costing more than $1000 there is a vast number of choices available, making it hard to select just the right one.
1. Compare each card’s memory bandwidth in gigabytes per second (GB/s). To do this, you must first calculate it by multiplying the memory speed in megahertz (MHz) by the bitrate of the memory interface, then dividing the result by 8000. For example, a video card with 4500MHz memory and a 128-bit memory interface has 72GB/s of memory bandwidth. Memory bandwidth is what allows the processor to communicate with the memory, so more is always better.
2. Compare the amount of memory each card has. Video memory (VRAM) stores the data used to draw images to the screen as well as the images themselves, so in theory it’s always better to have more of it–otherwise the processor might have to redo the work it’s already done. However, an analysis by YouGamers.com of the amount of VRAM used in even the most graphics-intensive environments suggests that cards in the $150 to $200 price range routinely have more memory than they’ll ever actually use.
3. Compare each card’s processor (GPU) speed. VRAM is important for storing data, but the GPU does all the heavy lifting. A faster GPU will draw frames to the screen more quickly, resulting in a smoother visual experience.
4. Compare each card’s performance by visiting review sites like Tomshardware.com and Anandtech.com. These sites strenuously test cards under a variety of conditions and then post the results in thorough reviews. Because of the tradeoffs of things like memory bandwidth and GPU speed, card A may outperform card B in some cases but not others.
5. Compare each card’s price. With prices running anywhere from below $100 to over $1000, the real question when choosing a video card is what performance you can get for the price you want to pay. The “mid-range” cards between $150 and $200 are widely considered to be in the “sweet spot” because they can handle all the current games, although not necessarily at the highest settings and resolutions.