Choosing the right graphics card when building or upgrading a PC is an essential step towards ensuring that your computer does what it needs to. Ask which graphics card you need for any given application on a forum, and you’ll get a wide range of opinions, philosophies and competing perspectives on which graphic card is best. But for most users, all you really want to know is whether the graphics card you are considering is good enough. This quick review will discuss which graphics cards will get the job done.
General Purpose Graphics Card
For everyday web browsing, word processing and light multimedia consumption (YouTube, Netflix, etc.), you don’t really need a standalone graphics card. Most modern computers will have integrated graphics integrated into the chipset for handling the bare minimum of 2D tasks. Your main motivation for upgrading a graphics card for general purposes is to ensure that you have the right outputs. For example, you may need D-Sub, DVI or TV out in order to connect your computer to the display of your choosing. For performance and connectivity, you’ll be safe with any ATI Radio or NVIDIA GeForce graphics card.
3D Gaming Graphics Cards
3D gaming is one of the most demanding uses of a graphics processor. Most games will specify their minimum and recommended system requirements, but a good starting point is an ATI Radio X1000 series or above or a NVIDIA GeForce 6 series or above. Go for a 128 MB or above memory size with a 128 bit or above memory interface. You’ll also want DirectX 9.0 or DirectX 10.0 support.
Multimedia/HTPC Graphics Cards
For a home theater PC that receives cable, over the air or other TV signals and plays back Blu-ray and streaming online content, you’ll need a fairly high end GPU. ATI Radio X1000 series or the NVIDIA GeForce 6 series and above will serve you well—and be sure you have DirectX 9.0 support. You’ll also need a full range of Video In/Video Out (VIVO) ports, including HDMI and possibly composite video ports. You may also want to consider a TV tuner card.
Note: Because TV signals are already digital, it doesn't take much work to record live TV with your HTPC. The real muscle comes in handy for playback. For sending a 1080p HD signal to a monitor or TV, you’ll need a fast GPU and a decent CPU.
Professional 3D Graphics Cards
For professionals who work with video editing, 3D graphic rendering and animation and other high end graphics applications, an ATI FireGL series or NVIDIA Quadro FX series will suit you. Get a memory size of 128MB or above.
These recommendations are only rules of thumb. If you’ll be using your computer for a more unique purpose, then you may want to consult with the software designer or hardware manufacturer for more advice.