Is a gaming card really necessary for your computer when you already have onboard graphics? Absolutely, if you have the slightest interest in gaming.
Now a days, having a separate graphics card is necessary with the ever increasing demand for real life visual effects. Apart from gaming, GPUs are used in high end computing applications as coprocessors and their high speed makes them useful for a variety of applications. Today one cannot afford to overlook the importance of a Graphics Processor in the system. The only way to enjoy modern games and their future releases is a GPU that can support the game.
Choosing a graphics card can be a herculean task with a large number of vendors present in the market. Besides, the confusing names of cards can also be misleading at times.
Let's look at a few things to look for while buying your dream gaming card.
DirectX 10 Compatibility
Using the correct version of DirectX is very important. DirectX is graphics library provided by Microsoft to get the most out of GPU. Some of the earlier versions of DirectX may not give you the desired output, so it is better to use the latest version. DirectX 10 comes with a Shader Model 4 support. This model is basically a set of software instructions which is used by the GPU to perform rendering effects. Due to this sharing of rendering processes, the load on the CPU also reduces. Cards that support DirectX 10 are available in budget range and they provide a good experience. So it is better to opt for a card that supports DirectX 10.
Importance of RAM
Graphics cards come with a variable amount of onboard memory. But the choice depends on the software you want to run on. If you run a software that only requires 128 MB on a card with 512 MB RAM , then the display won't improve but vice-versa is not true. Memory bandwidth is more important than the amount of memory on the card. 3D performance is defined by the speed at which information can get to the GPU and the memory bandwidth determines how quickly the graphics processor can get data to and from the memory built onto the graphics card. Greater the bandwidth, the better. You may notice on graphics card specifications that there are a couple of different memory types used on boards at the moment; GDDR3, GDDR4 and GDDR5. GDDR is a category of RAM chips that are specifically designed to handle graphics processing. GDDR is faster than DDR. Another feature is the clock speed which acts as a performance booster but is not the sole criteria to determine performance. At times, you will see more than one clock speed being mentioned, core speed and memory clock speed. The core speed refers to the GPU itself; the memory clock speed is the rate at which data shifts between the card's RAM and the card's graphics processor.
Multiple card on same mobs
It would be interesting to know that you can put two or more cards into the machine. But the key thing to remember here is technology the board supports. The two technologies supported by different boards are “CrossFire” and “SLI (scalable link interface)”from ATI and Nvidia respectively. When using two graphics cards, the performance may go up by 70 percent.
Some of the differences between two technologies are as follows:
In CrossFire, a user can use different AMD/ATI graphics cards, as long as all the GPUs belong to the same family. In SLI, you have to use the same GPUs for all the graphics card.
AMD/ATI has opened the CrossFireX architecture to Intel, allowing CrossFire to be enabled on certain Intel chipsets which boast two 16x PCI-E slots. SLI, however, requires a motherboard which is SLI certified (usually based on nForce chipset, such as the nForce 590 SLI and nForce 680i SLI).
The CrossFireX, with Spider platform allows users to use multiple displays and maintain CrossFire functionality while SLI are limited to one display only regardless of the number of graphics cards used.
Adequate cooling solution
As the processing increases, the amount of heat generated also increases. For this, GPU comes with a dedicated fan attached and copper pipes running through the board. All this is done to keep the card cool. Thin aluminium plates known as “Heat Sinks” are also mounted as a cooling measure. The important thing to notice is the space required to fit the card on the board. If the motherboard contains two slots for GPU, then the space requirement of one card should not conflict with the space requirement of the other.
Is over-clocking required?
Over clocking is done to enhance the performance capabilities of the card. Over clocking of the GPU increases the stress on it and generates more heat. Therefore, one should be careful of the cooling requirements as inadequate cooling can damage the card. Apart from this, the digital circuits slow down at higher temperatures and wire resistance also increases. Some of the vendors provide factory over-clocked cards. If you are an amateur gamer, then you can avoid the option of overclocking.
Features to look for
Features include HDMI support, HDCP support, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. The purpose of these features is to provide an enhanced digital viewing experience. The HDMI output port enables you to connect HDMI capable LCD, thereby enhancing the viewing experience. Many of the cards that do not have an onboard HDMI port can be connected to a HDMI output through a convertible port. We in labs looked for HDMI support directly or through a converter.
Keeping the above factors in mind, we tested 53 most cost-effective Graphics
card in our lab that will meet the needs of consumers, professionals and
enthusiasts alike. To make our results more comprehensive, we divided the cards
majorly into 3 segments; entry level, mid-range and high-end.
Entry-level -Cards that costs upto 4000 were put under this category. These cards are basically for light Computer Aided Design work and occasional gaming.
Budget Range -Cards above 4,000 and less than 10,000 fall under this category. Key criterion for these cards is price and they can support graphically non intensive games meant for amateurs.
Mid-range - Cards ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 are under this category. This section is for those who want an economical solution for good multimedia and gaming performance.
High-end -Professional gamers should look for this section, which ranges from anywhere between 20,000 to less than 30,000. Cards under this section offer very fast encoding and real time visual effects. Performance is considered the most important critereon.
Extreme -end - For this section, price is given the least importance. Cards costing 30,000 and above fall under this category. These cards are designed for graphic intensive games and to give real time visual effects.
The test bed
The system configuration used for testing comprised of a Core 2 Extreme X6800 processor with a clock speed of 2.93 GHz, 2 GB PC2 5300 DDR2 667 MHz RAM from Kingston, 250 GB 7200 rpm HDD from Maxtor, and an ASUS P5Q Deluxe Motherboard based on Intel's P45 chipset, all powered by a Cooler Master 850W extreme power PSU.
The operating system was Windows XP Professional SP3 with all Microsoft updates. ATI cards were tested using ATI CATALYST 8.7 drivers, NVIDIA Forceware 177.79 WHQL was used on all GeForce cards.
3DMark06 is a worldwide standard in 3D game performance benchmarking as well for PC users. It is the fundamental tool used to measure the performance. The new 3DMark06 includes all the new HDR/SM3.0 grahics tests, advanced SM2.0 grahics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests, and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure gaming performance. The default 3DMark06 settings and a default resolution of 1280 X 1024 was used for testing all the GPUs.
Company of Heroes
It is a real time strategy based game developed by Relic Entertainment. The scenario of the game is of World War II wherein a player can either fight as a Allied or Axis forces. It uses an engine which is known as “Essence Engine” which makes use of special graphical effects. It includes dynamic lighting & shadows and advanced shader effects. The visual effects are designed to behave as realistically as possible.
This game is a science fiction game which was developed by a german developer and published by Electronic Arts. This game is one of the most graphically demanding games. For testing, the retail version of the game was used along with an external Crysis DX10 benchmarking tool. FRAPS was also used to help avoid driver enhancements. The resolution was set at 1280 X 1024.
Call of duty 4: Modern Warfare
It is a shooter game that is developed by Infinity Ward. It is a FPS title that runs on a proprietary graphics engine, and features true HDR lighting effects, dynamic shadows and depth-of-field. The game visuals are based on DX9. This game was tested using FRAPS due to lack of any internal benchmarking tool at a resolution of 1280 X 1024. All other settings were set to the maximum.
Unreal Tournament 3
This game is developed by Epic Games and Digital Extremes. The game has amazing graphics and fast-paced action. The visual style in terms of character models and environments resembles EPIC's other masterpiece, gears of war.
To check the performance, we used an external UT3 DX10 benchmarking tool for testing the game, with everything at max and a resolution set at 1280 X 1024. Apart from the above mentioned benchmarks and games, we looked at the specifications of each of the cards.
The specifications included core clock frequency, video memory, type of video memory, SLI/Crossfire readiness, DX10 support, HDCP & HDMI support. The consolidated detailed score sheet for each of the Graphics Card with price, performance and features has been laid in the following pages.