How to choose a video card for a PC
Updated November 6, 2016
Separate video card or integrated graphics?
The first question is whether to use a separate video card or to use the graphics integrated into the CPU. Integrated graphics are a substantially cheaper option, given the additional cost of a separate video card. For most users whose graphics needs include playing casual video games, watching DVDs and streaming videos good integrated graphics will be fine and save you money. If serious 3D gaming is your thing you really don't have a choice, you need the graphics power of a separate video card.
Integrated graphics for most
The graphics processors integrated with Intel Celeron, Pentium and Core 6th generation CPUs are breakthroughs in integrated graphics performance. These will do an excellent graphics job for the majority of PC users who are not serious 3D gamers.
Low end video cards
Intense competition exists between the two video card designers, AMD and NVIDIA, at most performance levels of video cards. We don't recommend either of their low end cards. It's better to save with integrated graphics which have now become really good if you're not a serious gamer or better to get a higher class of video card if you are.
Recommendations - mainstream video cards
A video card with the powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 GPU with 2 GB video memory, is a video card we would recommend for the majority of gamers who use 20 inch to 24 inch LCD monitors, gaming at 1920 x 1080p resolution.
Recommendations - high performance video cards
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6 GB video memory or even the same GPU with 3 GB video memory is a great choice for a high performance video card. The AMD Radeon RX 480 GPU with 4 GB video memory is a cheaper option here.
Recommendations - high end video cards
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8 GB video memory is a great choice for a high end video card.
Recommendations - ultra video cards
In this category we would recommend the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 GPU with 8 GB video memory.
SLI and Crossfire configurations
You can also get increased graphics performance by combining two video cards in the same PC. NVIDIA calls it SLI and AMD calls it Crossfire. This requires a motherboard that supports dual video card configurations increasing the motherboard cost, in addition to the extra cost of two video cards. These days you can get very powerful single video cards so these dual video card configurations are overkill and over expensive for most, but hey it can be fun to do!
It's not a bad idea though for extreme gamers, and we recommend it, to plan ahead for a dual video card Crossfire or SLI configuration when they design their PC starting with selecting a motherboard that supports at least two video cards at PCI Express Gen 3.0 at x8 x8 speeds and better still at x16 x16 speeds. That way when the price of the single video card you originally installed drops by a significant amount in the future, you can add a second one.
For a dual video card ultra gaming PC we recommend an SLI configration with either two NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 GPU video cards or two NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 GPU video cards. As you can see the two cards in SLI have to have the same GPU.