Upgrading your computer is an exciting prospect. But it's also a complicated one.
With graphics cards suffering a price hike from crypto-currency mining, things are even more complex right now. Knowing how to shop for a new card is an art in itself.
If you're determined to ditch your old graphics card, here's everything you'll need to know about upgrading.
When to Upgrade
It's not only a matter of "what" but also "when".
You might find yourself tempted to splash out on a new graphics card the moment your performance starts to dip. But before you forge ahead, there are a few things to consider.
First, make sure you know what you're running in there. A computer is the sum of its parts. Upgrading your card won't achieve much if the rest of your machine holds you back.
You might also want to consider ringing some additional life out of your current card. Many people are reluctant to overclock a card for fear of reducing its lifespan. But if your card is already on the way out, why not overlock to enjoy some increased performance for a few extra months?
What Do You Need?
You wouldn't buy a sports car for your daily commute, so think about whether you need to do the equivalent with your graphics card.
All kinds of people use a computer, from digital artists to musicians to gamers. And each user will have their own performance needs.
These needs can vary even in a particular niche. Take gamers, for example. A gamer who wants to play the latest AAA titles needs a beefier GPU than someone who prefers quirky indie games.
And if you are a gamer, are you a patient one? If you wait for games to come down in price and release all their DLC, you're probably playing one or two years behind the tech. That's a few hundred dollars you could save on a GPU.
If you're not too concerned with making your machine a graphical powerhouse, then you can make huge savings by aiming for a mid-range card instead of a higher end one.
Unlike CPUs, GPUs don't encounter much in the way of physical incompatibility.
Graphics cards use the standard PCI Express slot, so you're unlikely to need a motherboard upgrade before you can install it. After spending a few hundred dollars on your card alone, that's a mercy.
The main caveat to this is that your GPU won't achieve much if the rest of your components are lacking. You'll need to do a full analysis of your PC before you buy anything. Find out whether you're likely to encounter any bottlenecks.
It might also be time for a new power supply if your current one can't take the strain.
Hardware compatibility aside, you will have to consider the physical space you have available. In a large case this is rarely a problem, but if your case is small you could end up with a card that won't physically fit. Always pay attention to the card's dimensions.
You'll also need to think about your card's heat management. It might seem like a tactical victory to fit a large card in a small case, but you're likely to face heat issues if you do. In borderline situations, consider tweaking the layout of your case fans for maximum effect.
One of the biggest limiting factors for anyone buying a new graphics card is the price.
This has become even more apparent in a post-cryptocurrency world. GPUs are the tool of choice for crypto miners as they mine more efficiently than a CPU. But the added market demand has blown up the prices even on the second-hand market.
There's also a huge difference between top-end GPUs and those in the middle of the range. That's why we recommend buying for the tasks you'll be doing, rather than going all-in on an upper tier card for the sake of it.
If you want cutting-edge technology that will last you many years, you'll have to go for a higher-end card. However, there is a matter of diminishing returns. At the highest end, you could find yourself laying down a few hundred dollars more for a few drops of extra performance.
Keep a close eye on review sites to find the right balance between cost and features.
Once you've figured out which card to go for, it's time to get that beast in play.
Lucky for you, a GPU is one of the easier components to replace in your computer. But there are a few things you should handle first.
Fire up your machine and clear out your old graphics drivers. This isn't a required step, but a fresh install will reduce any compatibility issues when the new card goes in. That way, you'll get the best possible performance from the start. If any issues do occur, you'll know they're not the fault of your previous install.
When you're ready to install your card, open up your case and swap the cards out. If you've done your research, this step shouldn't be a problem. Now's also a good opportunity to unclog some of your fans and give your computer a general clean.
With that done, you can install your new graphics drivers, along with any accompanying management software.
Run a good stress-test for your system. This will flag up any manufacturing issues, and also tell you if any of your components are letting you down. A sudden shutdown, for instance, could be a sign that your power supply isn't up to the job.
But if everything goes right, you should have a new graphics card that will last for years to come.
Upgrading Your Old Graphics Card
With these tips in mind, you should know the basics you'll need for upgrading your old graphics card. With just a little extra research, you'll find the right upgrade for you.