How to choose the right graphic card: Don’t be fooled

It may seem easy, but the truth is that choosing the right graphics card is much more complicated than we think. Yes, I know what you are going to tell me, that it is enough to fine tune budget, range and resolution at which we want to play, but this approach is a mistake, since you are forgetting to put in the  “equation” very important things that will ultimately affect the actual performance of your new graphics card.

The wide variety of graphics solutions that we can find nowadays, especially if we take into account the second-hand market, and the tricks that some sellers, both individuals and professionals, use to try to sell their products does not make things any easier either. In addition to all of the above, there are some myths that can end up pushing us to make a bad decision if we are not especially careful.

Many of these myths are of recent creation, and have been molded from fanaticisms of users that care more about the brand they adore than about themselves. This is something that can reach absurd heights, so you should be very careful in this regard. To make the right choice of a graphic card, it is essential to have a totally unbiased approach, otherwise we will be having a “contaminated” purchase intention that will make us forgive shortcomings just for the love of a brand.

A long time ago I shared with you a guide dedicated to collect a series of keys that, in general, were very useful to choose a good graphic card, and today it is time to renew it and adapt it to the current scenario. This guide was one of the biggest successes of all the contents we have published in MCso I think it deserves this renewal. As always, I hope you like it and you like it, and I invite you to leave in the comments any questions you may have.

Keys to choosing a good graphic card

1.-Think about the computer where you are going to use it

Keys to choosing the right graphics card

And do it in a broad sense, since using a high-end graphics card with a low-end processor makes no senseand the same would be true when using a high-end processor with a high-end graphics card. If you have doubts about this topic, don’t miss this guide.

Balance is key to choosing the right graphics card, so make sure your computer can deliver the performance your graphics card needs to reach its full potential. Otherwise, you will have a bottleneck.

Key:Â from a processor Core i5-10400F or a Ryzen 5 3600 you can use virtually any graphics card without having to assume a serious bottleneck.

2.-Evaluate your graphics card’s intended use

Keys to choosing the right graphics card (3)

You won’t need the same graphics card for 1080p gaming and 4K gaming, and you won’t need the same model if you plan to enable ray tracing. If you’re just going to watch multimedia content and play simple games, a low-end budget graphics card will suffice.

Be clear about your needs, is fundamental to choose the right graphics card, otherwise you may end up buying a model that is inferior to what you need.

Key:Â with an inexpensive graphic card such as the GeForce GT 1030 or the Radeon RX 550 you will not be able to play current games in 1080p with any guarantees. You will need at least a 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 or 8GB Radeon RX 580.

3.-Forget the fanaticism, but don’t lose your common sense

Keys to choosing a good graphic card

It is not true that NVIDIA is better because it is NVIDIA, or that AMD is better because it is AMD. Both companies offer competitive and interesting products within the graphics industry, but we must be aware that each one has different values, and that some perform better in certain games as a simple matter of optimization.

The Radeon RX 6000 offers very good raster performancethey have more graphics memory and are improving in advanced technologies thanks to the upcoming arrival of FSR 2.0. The GeForce RTX 30 is also very powerful, perform better in ray tracing and play to the advantage of DLSS.

Key:Â if ray tracing is very important to you, you would be better off choosing a GeForce RTX 30, as they perform better. If you don’t mind such technology, the Radeon RX 6000 is an excellent alternative.

4.-Don’t get lost with the ranges and series

Keys to make the right choice of a graphics card

Knowing how to correctly identify each model, series and range is the key to choosing the right graphics card. To do this, we must know the nomenclature of a graphics card, something that is fortunately not complicated, as both NVIDIA and AMD use some similar patterns.

NVIDIA difference between GTX and RTXthe former do not accelerate ray tracing and do not support DLSS, and the latter do. The first number indicates the generation, the rest the range in which they are placed, and the  “TI” and  “Super” labels refer to a higher model, in the first case, and to a more powerful variant of the original. In the case of AMD, the  “XT” tag is used to refer to superior models. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • GTX 1060: does not accelerate ray tracing or support DLSS (it is GTX), it is in the 10 series, and in the mid-range (60).
  • RTX 2080: accelerates ray tracing and DLSS (it is RTX), fits in the 20 series, and in the high end (80). RTX 2080 Super is a more powerful version of the original, and RTX 2080 Ti is a higher-end model.
  • Radeon RX 5600 XT: falls into the 5000 series, so it does not accelerate ray tracing, and in the mid-range (600). It is a high-performance model (XT) in its range.
  • Radeon RX 6600: falls into the 6000 series, so it accelerates ray tracing, and in the mid-range (600). It does not come with the XT badge.
  • Radeon RX 6600 XT: is a higher model than the previous one because of the XT badge.

Key:Â if the number indicating the range, which always comes after the first number indicating the generation, is less than 5, you are looking at a graphics card that is not recommended for gaming.

5.-Careful with the finishes: It is not always worth paying more

Keys to choosing the right graphics card

The price difference between a graphics card with a simple design and one with a premium finish can end up being enormous, but this does not mean that the latter will always compensate for the higher investment it represents. You must be very careful with this issue, as some graphics cards with a premium finish can cost you almost the same as a higher-end card with a basic finish.

A mid-range graphics card does not need a huge cooling system to perform optimally, and high-end models do not require complex designs or huge radiators either. The difference in many cases will be very small, and overclocking at home will also not make a performance difference that justifies a very large price difference, so beware.

Key:Â compare prices for the same graphics card you are interested in. Never go for the most expensive ones, as they do not compensate in terms of quality-price ratio, and try to avoid designs with turbine-type fans. In the mid-range, budget models with modest heatsinks are not a bad idea, but in the high-end they can be.

6.-Don’t fall for the classic “this card has X gigabytes”

Keys to choosing the right graphics card

Many vendors, and many users, are still stuck in the gigabyte myth. It is true that, in order to make the right choice of graphics card, we must take into account the total integrated graphics memory, since this is an important requirement in many games, but we should not make the mistake of thinking that quantity is the only thing that matters.

A graphics card can have many gigabytes of graphics memory and be worse than another with fewer gigabytes. For example, the GeForce RTX 3060 has 12 GB of graphics memory, while the RTX 3080 has 10 GB of graphics memory, and yet the latter is almost 50% more powerful.

Key:Â before you get carried away by the amount of memory determines the generation and range to which the graphics cards you are looking at belong. The one that falls into the newer generation and higher end of the range will be superior, even if it has less graphics memory.

7.-Do you really need a new graphics card?

Keys to choosing the right graphics card

Do not limit yourself to the first-hand market, i.e. new products. To make the right choice of a graphics card, it is sometimes advisable to also take into consideration the second-hand marketbecause here we can find more powerful graphics solutions for less money.

For example, several years ago I wanted to upgrade my GTX 970, but I didn’t have enough budget to buy a GTX 1070, so I went for a GTX 1070 a GTX 980 Ti that I found on the second hand market for less than 300 euros  It lasted me a long time, and it was one of the graphics cards that gave me the most joy, as I noticed a lot of change compared to the GTX 970.

Key:Â it is important to be careful with many aspects if you buy second hand. You should know the prices well to avoid being ripped off, it is recommended that you avoid graphics cards that have been used for mining, and also that you try to test before you buy.

8.-Upgrade to an optimal level and be careful not to backtrack

Keys to making the right choice of a graphics card

Choosing the right graphics card also forces us to be clear about what level we should look at if we want to upgrade the model we have. This is very important because we could end up buying a graphics card that barely improves the one we have, or even a step backwards.

For example, upgrading from a GTX 970 to a GeForce GT 1050 Ti would be taking a step backwardsand upgrading from that to a 6GB GTX 1060 would be a change we wouldn’t notice too much. Ideally, we would jump, at the very least, to an 8GB GTX 1070 or RTX 2060.

Key:Â the issue we have discussed of ranges and generations is fundamental in this regard. A graphics card of a higher generation does not necessarily have to perform better than a model of a previous generation but of a higher range. To avoid confusion, use this common criterion: always look for a graphics card that is at least one generation higher and at least one generation up. For example, if you have a GTX 1060, the RTX 2070 would be a good upgrade (generation 20 vs. generation 10, and range 60 vs. range 70).

9.-High-end and top-of-the-line: Is it worth paying the difference?

Keys to making the right choice of graphics card

This is another hackneyed topic. We already know why it is so important the issue of the ranges when choosing the right graphics card, but as we go up the range within the same generation we will realize that performance does not go up proportionallywhich causes its price-performance value to be reduced.

This means that a high-end model may be a good choice over a mid-range model, but a top-of-the-line model will not be a good choice over a high-end model. Do you think it is worth paying twice as much for 10% more performance? That�s it, there�s no way around it.

Key: in this case it is not essential to know the performance of all graphics cards, just keep in mind that, as a general rule, the top-of-the-line graphics cards are the most expensive and have the worst cost-per-frame value. So, for example, the GeForce RTX 3080 Ti offers a much better price-performance value than the RTX 3090, and the same is true for the RTX 3080 vs. the RTX 3080 Ti.

10.-Beware of memory bus, and memory type

Keys to making the right choice of graphics cards

Both aspects have always been very important in making the right choice of graphics card. The memory bus and the type of graphics memory determine the bandwidth of a graphics card. The higher the bandwidth, the faster the communications speed between the GPU and the VRAMwhich translates into higher performance.

The larger the bus, and the faster the memory, the better. However, keep in mind that not all models have the same requirements. A mid-range graphics card will be able to offer good performance with a 128-bit or 192-bit bus if accompanied with GDDR6 memory, while a high-end graphics card will need a 256-bit or 320-bit bus and GDDR6 memory or GDDR6X memory to work optimally.

Keys:Â the issue of memory buses and memory type is much less of an issue since the advent of the RTX 20 and RX 5000, but be careful if you decide to buy earlier models. Avoid configurations with busses of less than 128 bits and with non-GDDR5 memory. In the case of AMD, remember that the RX 6000 series uses infinite cache, and that this compensates for the low bus of some models, such as the RX 6500 XT, which has a 64-bit bus.

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