Today's market of performance in graphics cards is not what it was 10 years ago. With preferences like SLI(Scalable Link Interface) falling out of favor, an increase in GPU die architecture makes the latest cards the most performant at the cost of increased power consumption.
Searching for an entry, mid, or high-end GPU does most of the hard work when looking at the designations. GPU performance and cost are stated at an MSRP, but can move around in price depending on the current state of the market. Using Nvidia as an example, an entry-level card would be an older GTX1650 or 1660 super; Mid-tier follows with an RTX 3060 or the current generation RTX 4070ti for significantly more cost to performance, with the highest end being the RTX 4080, RTX 4090s or last generations RTX 3080 and RTX 3090.
This article covers more on what graphics card you need in the current market and what naming schemes include certain features over others.
What Kind of Games Do You Want to Play?
Understanding if a game is GPU-bound, CPU-bound, or RAM-dependent will save a lot of headaches if your system does not perform as expected. Games across different genres have different expectations for hardware requirements and sometimes manufacturer preferences. We already made a list for CPU-intensive genres, so here is our list for GPU-intensive games.
- FPS Games
- Open World
While not a complete list of every game, this genre of games requires cards like the RX 570 and GTX 1060 are the minimum requirements to run these types of games on 1080p systems. You can always review the developer's minimum system requirements for the specific GPU needed.
What is Your Monitor’s Resolution & Refresh Rate?
The driving force behind a monitor is a good GPU for the size and resolution of the monitor. Different card variants are better or worse for specific resolutions at different refresh rates.
Typically entry-level GPUs should be paired with 1080p monitors for the best performance or 1440p monitors with cards like the RTX 3060/3060ti or RX 6600 XT. Bigger resolutions like 4K rely on mid to high-end GPUs to display refresh rates that make the monitor worth it.
Before purchasing a monitor, it's best to confirm the GPU's ability to display at the refresh rate and resolution. A good test is to investigate the types of games and or workload applications you'll be using and purchasing to accommodate your needs. You can find your monitor's resolution and refresh rate in those links.
What Kind of Power Supply Do You Have?
In recent years, GPUs have become a more significant portion of determining the amount of power needed from the PSU. Through the 2010s, manufacturers would cap GPUs at 250W of power draw at the highest designation. The RTX 40 series power draw is upwards of 450W with up to 600W due to power spikes milliseconds at a time. These spikes or transient loads trip power supplies to trigger the overcurrent protection system shutting off the system.
Our article on how PSUs work during gaming has extensive coverage over power efficiencies, transient loads, and what to look for in a PSU going into a system for gaming.
Do You Want VR Support?
Depending on your GPU, certain connection types can be considered when plugging in monitors and VR headsets. Due to the bandwidth requirements, VR headsets typically use DisplayPort or Type C connections to power the display inside.
While most graphics cards post-2014 come with a DisplayPort, depending on your GPU available display connection. Entry-level GPUs like the GTX 1650 are likely to come with three connections HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI. If you want a 2-monitor setup and VR, you will need an adaptor for DVI to HDMI or an older monitor that supports the connection.
Do You Want Ray Tracing / AI Support?
Depending on your GPU variant, it may or may not support ray tracing/AI deep learning technology. Starting with the RTX 20 series in 2018, Nvidia began to bring ray tracing/AI integration into consumer PCs. This is the cornerstone of the “RTX off/RTX on” marketing that has been prominent in video games (and memes) ever since.
While the RTX series of hardware is slightly more expensive than GTX software, the performance advantages and declining GPU prices of the RTX 30 series invest in an entry-level 3050. If you want to spend the extra $200, the 3060 Ti is also a good entry into the last generation of GPUs.
What is your Budget?
Before deciding to go up or down on specific components. It's nice to consider where you should dedicate your budget. For most gaming applications, the importance goes like so; GPU, CPU, and RAM.
With that in mind, you'd at least look at a GTX 1650 for a playable experience. Those can go for $150 on the used market or come default on most of our entry-level mainline PCs. For a mid-tier system, you should consider getting an RTX 3070 for under $600; that would be worth the current performance for 1080p and 1440p monitors.
Arguably the best deal on the market right now is the RTX 4070Ti, which showing to have 15% more performance than the RTX 3090 of the last generation. On average, it's $300 cheaper for being in the current generation of Nvidia GPUs. The only drawback is the required adapter for non ATX 4.0 power supplies and the bulk of the cooler.
Summary of Choosing a Graphics Card
Choosing a graphics card for your system doesn’t have to be all that difficult when it comes down to it. The distinct tiering of GPUs by performance and price makes sense the more generation you go back. However, this most recent series of GPUs by AMD, Nvidia, and Intel leaves the market a saturated place to become competitive in pricing.
At Apex Gaming PCs, we understand the need for a combatable GPU for the games released today or years from now to make a system worthwhile. We have affordable systems with GPUs like 1660 supers and entry-level RTX 3060 to our powerhouse RTX 4080s and RTX 4090s. No matter your GPU needs, we hope to be of service at Apex!
Written By William Wilson
Photos by Pavan Bhakta