The graphics card is the single most important component in any gaming computer. These days, almost every computer game is extremely graphic intensive, particularly if your game of choice is 3D (nearly all of them are) or your game resolution is HD. Unlike lesser components in the system, it is important to understand that there is little room for skimping on the almighty graphics cruncher. The reason for this is the simple fact that graphics cards are extremely powerful. In fact, the modern graphics card is so powerful that its processing power is being used in place of regular processors in supercomputers that need that extra um-pa-pa. The reason for this can be seen in the numbers. As of the writing of this article, a top-of-the-line processor boasts up to eight processing cores. Not bad. A graphics card, however, has 1,792 cores (the Radeon HD 7950 graphics card). It’s difficult comparing apples to oranges as the two technologies render differently, but looking purely at this metric I often wonder why graphics card manufacturers don’t try to take over the processor market. Oh wait, AMD bought out Radeon. But that’s neither here nore there. The real lesson you’re interested in here is simple: pay the extra money for that graphics card. You won’t regret it when you’re fragging the enemy in combat. Or turning your computer into a supercomputer… Or even surfing the web with tabbed browsing…

A general rule of thumb when selecting graphics cards is just about foolproof: the more you spend, the better performance you’re going to get. This is true pretty much across the board. A couple of things to look out for, however. First, make sure that you know whether you want Radeon or Nvidia. I’ll cover that in a second. Secondly, try to maximize the memory capacity of your graphics card. Graphics cards have a nasty habbit of stealing system memory if they feel like it, so don’t let that happen to you. The more memory capacity you have, the better. Third, make sure that your graphics card can handle the latest directx revision, whatever that may be.

Radeon vs. Nvidia

Radeon and Nvidia each offer their own advantages. The debate ranges on as to which is better, so a lot of your purchasing decision will come down to other people’s personal opinions. At the risk of being shunned by the same people who help me earn my bread and butter, I’ll go ahead and spill the beans on my own personal opinion.

Radeon :
In my experience, Radeons (6000 series in particular) fail a lot. Their support is generally lacking, and this is a problem when you have a failing graphics card. I also don’t much care for Catalyst, Radeon’s video control panel. That said, Radeon does bring something special to the table. I am in LOVE with Radeon’s Eyefinity technology, which allows you to hook up just about as many monitors as you like onto one graphics card. I also love supporting the underdog, so provided they improve reliability with the new 7000 series, I don’t see any reason not to go with them.

Nvidia :
Nvidia is, in my experience, the more reliable and more robust of the two brands. It doesn’t have as good of a bang for the buck as Radeon, but what you get is smooth sailing through and through.

SLi / Crossfire :
For those of you who aren’t in the know, SLi and Crossfire are technologies that allow more than one graphics card to be utilized by your computer. When considering whether to add a second graphics card, ALWAYS make sure that your primary graphics card is top-of-the-line. Because you only get about a 20-30% increase in performance in adding a second card, it’s always a better idea to improve the primary graphics card until it is no longer possible to do so. When you do upgrade to a second card, don’t go crazy. I would love to sell you a 3- or even 4-way sli setup, but for the money you’re paying you would be better off purchasing a second machine instead (wink, wink). One important thing to consider when purchasing any computer is upgradability. By going with atleast a 1000W power supply and a robust primary graphics card, you can purchase a second graphics card later as prices of graphics cards come down in a year or two.

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