Choosing The Right Parts For Your Build (Part 3) - Picking the right video card

5/18/2012 5:22:09 PM

Picking the right video card

Description: Radeon 5450

Radeon 5450

One of the biggest mistakes people make when specifying a new system is choosing the wrong kind of video card. Before leaping in and buying the most expensive product you can afford, you need to decide what kind of usage you’re planning for your system. Broadly, customers can be separated into four discrete categories for their graphical requirements:

1.    Basic 2D users

2.    Multimedia users (photo and video editing or playback)

3.    Gamers

4.    Professional 3D content creation

Each of these categories has different product lines aimed at them, and while there is some overlap, there’s no point whatsoever in buying a powerful gaming video card if you just plan on using it for Excel and Word. For those needing only general 2D use, and by that we mean a system for office use, web browsing, watching web-based videos and playing simple Java games, there’s simply no need for anything beyond integrated graphics, or if that isn’t an option on your chosen spec, an entry-level card costing $40 or less.

The serious multimedia aficionado  is likely going to want a little more flexibility from their video setup, and while modern integrated video will handle the needs of most users, a lower-mid-ranged card is still required if you want to unlock the full array of hardware assisted deinterlacing and video enhancements that NVidia and AMD have to offer. These features require a fair a mount of graphical horsepower, so you will need to set your sights a little higher than the entry-level Radeon 5450 or GeForce GT220. Something like a Radeon 6670 or GeForce GTS 440, on the other hand, are ideal, and both of these excellent GPUs are available in passively cooled silent editions – ideal for a low-noise media PC. Zotac makes several special edition video cards that have Zalman cooling. These are excellent choices for media PCs.

Description: Radeon HD 6850

Radeon HD 6850

classify yourself as a gamer, you have a huge array of video cards to choose from, with options from either AMD or NVidia to suit almost any budget. If you’re serious about your games we would say that you need to set a budget of at least $135 to $150 as an entry level. Spend any less than this and you simply won’t have the graphical horsepower available to enjoy modern games at respectable levels of detail. Just under $150 will buy you a GeForce GTX Ti, or if you’re a Radeon fan, an HD 6850. Both of these are excellent products that will allow you to enjoy graphical quality in excess of what you might be used to on an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3. Spend more money and you will be able to nudge those detail sliders ever closer to maximum.

You should buy a gaming video card that’s in line with the resolution capabilities of your monitor. There’s no point in spending $4500 on a video card, for example, if you’re only going to be using it on a screen that outputs at a resolution of 1680x1050 or less. Most modern screens use a resolution of 1920x1080, commonly referred to as ‘full HD’. NVidia’s GTX 560 Ti and AMD’s Radeon 6950 series cards are the perfect weapons for outputting at this very popular resolution. Even when taxed with the most challenging titles, either of these cards should allow you to enjoy maximum detail at a playable frame rate. Either of these options cost around the $255 mark, and they represent a good return on investment compared to lower powered offerings.

Description: Ndivia quadro

Ndivia Quadro

If you’re using a larger screen than the popular 22-24” models and still want to play at maximum detail, you’ll have to spend more money on your card. Resolutions of 2560x1440 are common on 27” screens, while 30” displays go all the way up to 2560x1600. Multi-monitor gaming is also becoming a lot more popular, with AMD’s Eyefinity and NVidia’s surround technologies allowing you to span your games across multiple screens. These configurations are where the flagship gaming cards come in. NVidia’s high-end offerings are well established, with the GTX 570 and GTX 580 cards offering stellar frame-rates for around $360 and $525 respectively. AMD’s Radeon HD 7900 series, on the other hand, have only just been released, and are now the fastest single-GPU video cards available. The 7950 provides better performance than the GTX 580 for around the same price, while the 7970 is in the territory out on its own, and is priced accordingly at over $675.

For 3D content creation both AMD and NVidia offer their professional series cards, the FireGL and Quadro series respectively. These cards offer acceleration for various hardware processes that gaming cards simply aren’t designed for, and offer performance in their intended professional applications like Maya, Sketchup and 3D Studio Max many times faster than even the quickest gaming GPU. This is a fairly niche market with typically low volume sales, however, and the cards are priced accordingly. Flagship professional cards can easily cost as much as $4,500 each, but if you need them (and your name is Steven Spielberg), you’ll already have factored them into your budget.

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