Graph­ics card buyer’s guide

Con­fused by all the GPU op­tions cur­rently on the mar­ket? The APC team makes choos­ing the right one sim­ple with this comprehensive and (mostly) jar­gon-free guide.

APC Australia - - Super Guide » Gaming Gpus -

With both AMD and Nvidia both re­ly­ing on GPU de­signs launched over a year ago at this point, we’re about due for a re­fresh at the top end. That doesn’t mean now’s not a good time to buy a new GPU, how­ever — es­pe­cially if you’re aim­ing for the com­pet­i­tive bud­get or mid-range space. High launch prices have well and truly sub­sided, so there are some gen­uine midrange bar­gains to be had in par­tic­u­lar.

There are more for­mats and res­o­lu­tions than ever be­fore for PC gam­ing — the pro­lif­er­a­tion of ul­tra-widescreen dis­plays means it’s no longer just 1080p, 1440p and 4K. You’ve now got new­fan­gled ul­tra­w­ide 21:9 as­pect-ra­tio mod­els (which are com­monly ei­ther 2,560 x 1,080 pix­els or 3,440 x 1,440 pix­els) that de­mand more GPU grunt, not to men­tion the bur­geon­ing VR mar­ket.

HOW FAST IS FAST ENOUGH?

With any graph­ics card pur­chase, your ul­ti­mate goal should be to main­tain an av­er­age fram­er­ate above 60fps in main­stream games, and you re­ally don’t want that num­ber drop­ping be­low 30fps at any time — do­ing so means you’ll re­ally start to feel the slow­down in the game­play and it makes for a frankly crappy gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

With the bulk of PC mon­i­tors still 1080p mod­els — or 1,920 x 1,080 pix­els — for most of us, a high-end graph­ics card like the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is overkill. You can get much bet­ter bang-for-buck at the $300–$400 mark, but you don’t even need to spend that much to get solid speeds at 1080p. On the other hand, when paired with a high re­fresh-rate mon­i­tor, higher fram­er­ates can ar­guably im­prove the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence, mak­ing games feel faster and more re­spon­sive — and you mightn’t need to spend a for­tune to get on board this revo­lu­tion, with HFR mon­i­tors start­ing at $200.

WHEN TO UP­GRADE

To keep on top of mod­ern graph­ics up­grades, most PC gamers will want to up­grade their GPU ev­ery two to three years. Driver up­grades tend to eke more per­for­mance out of cards over time, but these can only go so far.

When ex­actly you should up­grade is go­ing to vary sig­nif­i­cantly from per­son to per­son, but the gen­eral rule is that, if your cur­rent setup can no longer main­tain 60 fps at Medium de­tail set­tings, it’s worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cur­rent GPU scene.

IS OVERCLOCKED WORTH IT?

This is re­ally a ques­tion of how much you’re be­ing asked to pay. While higher clocks does in­deed gen­er­ally mean more FPS, out of the fac­tory, most overclocked cards only of­fer a mod­est speed in­crease in the range of 2–5%. What you’re re­ally pay­ing for is the chance of achiev­ing higher speeds man­u­ally thanks to bet­ter cool­ing hard­ware and higher-qual­ity power com­po­nents.

That said, you’ll be lucky to eke more than about 10–15% of an in­crease from most GPUs and their ac­com­pa­ny­ing mem­ory — re­mem­ber that both need to be bumped up to see a con­sis­tent in­crease in fram­er­ates. Gen­er­ally, then, you shouldn’t pay more than 15% more for an overclocked card.

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