What is a graphics card?

The graphics card is the component of the computer that transmits images and video from the computer to the screen. In 2021, some Intel or AMD CPUs integrate a graphics solution (an IGPU or Integrated Graphics Processing Unit) which eliminates the need for a dedicated graphics card if you don’t use your computer for playing 3D video games. A dedicated graphics card will be necessary if you wish to play recent video games in high resolution because the rendering of images in real time requires complex calculations.

Nvidia RTX 3080

Main characteristics of a graphics card:

  • The main element of the graphics card is the GPU (Graphical Processing Unit). These GPUs have a massively parallel architecture that can include several thousand of specialized cores to perform the calculations necessary for 3D rendering. This massively parallel architecture can also be used to perform scientific calculations, such as deep learning in artificial intelligence. The two main manufacturers of GPUs are currently AMD and Nvidia
  • Another characteristic is the memory it embeds. This memory is generally faster and has more bandwidth than the memory used by the CPU. As of 2021, low-end graphics cards have 1 or 2 GB of GDDR5 memory while high-end cards have up to 16 or 24 GB of very fast GDDR6 or GDDR6X memory.
  • Another characteristic is the electrical power in watts (W): it increases with the number of cores of the GPU. High-end graphics cards often need one or two additional power connectors because their electrical power can reach up to 300 to 350 W. This should be taken into account when choosing the power supply of a computer.
  • Video outputs: they are used o connect the graphics card to one or more screens. There are different connectors, VGA, DVI, HDML, DisplayPort which correspond to those used by the screens.
  • Connection to the motherboard: current graphics cards are connected to the motherboard using a PCI Express slot. Most graphics cards use version 3.0 of the PCI Express standard, but the most recent ones support version 4.0 of this standard which provides more bandwidth. But tests show that there is currently only a very small performance gain with this extra bandwidth. This new version of the PCI Express standard is currently only supported by the most recent motherboards for AMD and Intel CPUs. You shouldn’t have to worry too much about the version of the PCI Express standard used anyway as both versions use the same connector and are fully compatibles.

Price and choice of a graphics card

The cheapest graphics cards cost only a few tens of US dollars while the most powerful ones can cost more than a thousand US dollars which often makes them the most expensive component of the computer. As for any other components, before choosing a graphics card, you should ask yourself what will be the main use of your computer. If you are not going to use it for playing recent video games in high resolutions but mostly for browsing Internet or using Office applications, it is likely that the solution integrated into the CPU or IGPU (if it has one) or a basic graphics card will be sufficient. If the main use of your computer is playing recent video games in high resolutions, you will have to opt for a more powerful graphics card, a mid-range card will often do the trick. If you are more fortunate and want to enjoy your video games in the best conditions, a high-end solution is recommended.

Graphics card manufacturers:

Even though there are many graphics card manufacturers in 2021 (Asus, EVGA, Gigabyte, MSI, PNY, ZOTAC to name a few) they all use GPUs from Nvidia or AMD. The models of these different manufacturers differ in size, cooling solution, memory and GPU frequencies, video outputs or the possibility of slightly increasing the maximum GPU frequency (overclocking in English). GPU manufacturers (Nvidia and AMD) have both introduced a new generation of GPUs in 2020, the GEFORCE RTX 30 series and AMD Radeon RX 6000 series respectively.

The post What is a graphics card? appeared first on EatYourBytes