Choosing and Installing a Good Graphics Card

Well, you’ve finally decided to buy a graphics card. Excellent decision. A graphics card takes some of the load off of the CPU by rendering the graphics on its own. If you are a gamer or a media-heavy user, this will speed things up for you, and make the whole computing experience more pleasant. But enough on that, you have questions, such as:

What brand should I buy/ What kind should I get?

How much is too much to spend?

What do I look for in an ATi/AMD graphics card?

What do I look for in an Nvidia graphics card?

And you may have other questions as well. The first step is to decide what you have. Even if you have $1000 expendable income, do you want to spend all of it? Besides money, what do you have in the way of hardware? This how-to focuses on fairly new cards, released in the last 3 or so years. As such, you should determine if your motherboard has a PCI Express 2.0/2.1 x16 slot. It would look like this (color may vary):

So, do you have one?
Good, now what processor do you have? AMD or Intel? If you don’t know, you can go to My Computer, and look for System, or go through a similar process on Windows Vista or 7. If you are using Linux, you probably don’t need this guide. ATi cards, or the new AMD  6xxx series cards work best with AMD processors. And Nvidia cards usually work best with Intel processors.

At this point, the tutorial with split into two parts, one for ATi/AMD graphics cards, and the other for Nvidia
There will be at-a-glance recommendations, followed at the end of the section with an explanation.

If you have: 2,4, or 6 core processor
Then one of these would be best: ATi Radeon HD 46xx, 47xx, 48xx, 56xx, 57xx, 58xx, 68xx, 69xx

If you have a single core, keep reading.
Note! you must have a power supply able to give the system the power it needs. Use the program at Power Supplies/ Which power supply do I need? to find out if you have enough power, by substituting the graphics card you are considering. If your power supply has at least as much power as the calculator indicates, there is one further step, and then you can purchase! Make sure you have a connector on your power supply that is the same as the card requires. Some cards, such as my HD 4670, use so little power, they need no power connector.
Lastly, if the price was no indication, the first number in the cards name denotes its generation, the second denotes its market, for example, a HD5970 is the most powerful card of its generation. This logic only applies when it is a single card, having dual cards can change this, as can the card itself being two cards, as the suffix X2 would indicate. The third number does the same thing, except within that card type. A 5830 is a high performance card, as indicated by the 8, but it is less powerful than a 5850 or a 5870.  If you want to know further about the card, its architecture, and other such things, this website and others have a robust selection of such articles.

Follow a similar procedure for Nvidia cards, with some exceptions:

Nvidia used to number their cards similarly to ATi, such as 8800. They added suffixes such as GTS, GTX, GX2, Ultra, etc. For most modern applications, something 9xxx or newer would be best.
However, Nvidia changed their naming system recently, and now the cards are named like this GTX/GTS 2xx, 4xx, 5xx. The numbers work like the ATi cards, less the zero, so a GTX 580 is the newest, most powerful Nvidia graphics card. GTS works the same way, and usually denotes an entry-level card.

Final notes: Whenever making a purchase, especially with computers, research is important, even for experienced users. Though this guide is thorough enough to make a good purchase, it is always helpful to look into things such as case size, as some cards are so big, they won’t fit into smaller cases, Stream Processors, Bit Width, because a card with 128bit width is slower, and other such things. Going to a variety of sites such as Newegg, this website, and other websites ensures you have an accurate and unbiased opinion. Have fun with your new graphics card!