Choosing the best graphics card for upgrading your PC can be difficult. Too much power and the graphics-processing unit (GPU) sits idle in a game, waiting for the CPU to finish whatever it’s doing. Too little power and the CPU waits for the GPU to wrap up its tasks. In either case your game won’t look or play as you want it to.
In the past few months ATI and nVidia have both rolled out second-gen DirectX 11.0-compliant graphics cards. These revised GPUs offer improved performance and more robust feature sets. The mid-range cards are also able to outperform the high-end versions of only a few years ago.
To illustrate just how much graphics technology has improved, we’re upgrading a less-than-cutting-edge Windows 7 PC running an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 CPU. Since Intel released its second-gen Core processors, this CPU is average at best. A good mid-range graphics card (£200 or less) is the appropriate fit for it.
Our PC’s system case is a concern. Some graphics cards, such as ATI’s Radeon HD 6900 line-up, can be rather long, and may not fit in certain cases. Our desktop’s chassis lacks internal depth, so a mid-range card becomes a matter of necessity.
You’ll also need to consider the power supply. If you’re already running a powerful 900W-rated unit, you can upgrade to just about any graphics card you desire. But if you’re running a less formidable 500W or 600W supply, for example, your options will be more limited. Some high-end graphics cards consume significant amounts of current at startup as well as under load, which can overstress a modest unit.
However, even within such constraints, your graphics card choices are numerous. We tend to opt for newer mid-range cards, which can offer impressive performance on single monitors running at a 1920x1080-pixel resolution. At prices closer to £150, an ATI Radeon HD 6870 would be a good choice. Above £200, an nVidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti would suit.
We’re upgrading from a GTX 260 to a GTX 560 Ti DirectCU II. This card costs around £200, but is stronger and should substantially improve performance.
Fit a new graphics card
Step 1. Before you buy a graphics card, make sure that your machine’s power supply unit (PSU) is up to the task. Our sample PC has a robust 750W Corsair PSU, which should be sufficient. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for minimum power requirements before you take the plunge.
Step 2. Ensure that the system case has enough room for the new card. Graphics cards have become longer over the years, and the space in older cases may be a little tight.