Video Cards

Video Cards: The Backbone of Any Gaming PC

With the console gaming world in a frenzy over the impending release of the "next generation" of gaming, PC gamers everywhere are chuckling to themselves: they've been playing next-gen games for a while now using their powerful computer video cards.

History has shown repeatedly that video cards are far and away a better investment than even the most powerful video game consoles. Games who are looking to play the latest triple-A game releases at the highest resolutions know that there's simply no substitute for a dedicated graphics card in a homemade gaming computer. If you've been considering building a gaming rig of your own, let's take a look at the essentials, including what to look for in a computer video card.

Video Cards: The Basics

When you're looking for a new graphics card, it's worth keeping in mind that, generally speaking, you're going to get what you pay for. Higher-priced cards will certainly provide better performance, but you'll have to decide for yourself whether you need all that power. The good news is that there are graphics cards out there for every budget. Whether you want to spend $100 or $600, there's a card out there for you.

Something else to note is that you're going to have a choice between two major video card manufacturers: NVIDIA and AMD. They both have offerings that will appeal to the novice PC gamer as well as the enthusiasts out there. What you'll have to keep in mind that certain other components of your homemade computer are more compatible with one graphics card manufacturer than the other. In addition, some video game developers design their games with either AMD or NVIDIA in mind, resulting in performance that favors one or the other. Serious problems are rare, though, and any minor hiccups that happen along the way are typically dealt quickly via minor graphics driver updates.

Compatibility with Other PC Components

If you're building your gaming PC from scratch, you're going to have to do just a bit of research before you place all those orders for parts. For example, you're going to want to be sure that the power supply you choose is capable of powering your new card. For most gamers, a 600-watt supply will be sufficient, though some gamers like to play it safe and go with something around 750 watts or higher.

If you're going all-out, you may want to think about upgrading your computer monitor as well. The higher-end monitors measure in at a resolution of 1920x1080, meaning you'll be able to play the latest high-definition video games at the resolution they were intended by their creators. If you're not going to spring for a brand-new monitor, just be sure the one you have supports the most common output interfaces such as HDMI.

Motherboard compatibility is another issue to keep in mind. Some of the smaller-profile motherboards on the market aren't compatible with full-sized discrete graphics cards. So again, do all of the research before you click the Buy button.

Last but not least, it's worth keeping your eyes on the horizon when it comes to PC hardware. If you're buying a motherboard, think about getting one that supports multi-card scaling. What this means is that, down the road when your graphics card drops in price, you can install a second one to improve your PC's performance even further. NVIDIA calls this practice "SLI," while AMD refers to it as "Crossfire."

This all might seem like a lot to remember, but you'll find it easier as you gain experience.