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There are many types of video cards (also known as graphics cards) out there but most people will likely want one for gaming. A gaming video card can offer a smooth and detailed experience in all the latest games. There are many different series and brands available, but the primary thing to look at is your monitor. If you are looking for an entry level experience with at least 60 fps at 1920x1080 resolutiom but with some details turned down, then entry level gaming graphics cards such as the GeForce GTX 950 or the AMD Radeon RX 460 series are perfect.
If you are looking for a constant 60 fps with the details turned up, then the GTX 1060 or RX 470 series will be your best bet. For most enthusiast gamers, the sweet spot will be a 2560x1440 resolution monitor and a GTX 1070 or RX 480 series video card. Finally, if you’re after maintaining a 144 Hz refresh rate, or a 4k (3840x2160) resolution experience, then you will need a flagship card such as the GeForce GTX 1080 or Radeon Pro Duo.
Multiple video cards can help you achieve higher levels of performance that you cannot get with a single graphics card. However, an additional video card brings along many additional requirements such as a compatible motherboard, a capable power supply, and a case with good airflow. Most midrange cards and above will support multiple graphics cards, but we generally recommend you stick with the single most powerful card for your system instead of two lower end models. The only times we recommend an SLI or Crossfire set up is when you’ve maxed out the performance of a single card and you’re looking for more, or you have an older video card that you’re looking to supplement with some additional performance.
A question that gets asked very often is: how much VRAM, or video ram, do I need? The answer highly depends on the resolution you intend to game at and the level of detail you would like. In general, the higher the resolution and the graphics settings, the more VRAM you will need. The standard for most gaming cards now is 2GB, which will be plenty for games at 1920x1080 resolution with low to medium settings. For higher settings, consider a card with up to 4GB. For 2560x1440 resolution gaming, look for a card with 6GB of VRAM, while 4K (3840x2160) resolution gamers will need a card with 8GB or more. Keep in mind that if you decide to go with multiple video cards, their VRAM does not add together cumulatively. For example, two video cards with 8GB of VRAM each will still only function like 8GB, not 16GB.
While most video cards have a reference model design, many manufacturers design their own coolers based on different needs. The three most common style of coolers are blowers, direct airflow, and water cooled. Blower style coolers use an impeller fan to pull air across the graphics chip and exhaust out of the case. These are the best choice if you have a small case, or you want to run two cards side by side in an SLI or Crossfire configuration.
The next style is direct airflow, and is the most commonly found. Many popular coolers such as the ASUS Strix, MSI Twin Frozr, EVGA ACX, and Gigabyte Windforce are all based on the same fundamental technology. Heatpipes take the heat from the graphics chip, and transfer them away to fins that are directly cooled by fans. These operate best when they have enough room for the fans to properly ventilate, but you won’t run into any problems even with two directly side by side.
Finally, water cooled designs offer the lowest temperatures and lowest noise. Whether you have a custom water cooled system or an all-in-one solution such as the MSI Sea Hawk X, these designs use water to transfer the heat away to a radiator for dissipation. While this may cost more, you are often getting the highest quality cards with the most overclocking headroom.
Once you have decided on which series of video card you want, the next tough choice is which model to go with. There are many versions available out there; some are factory overclocked, while some operate at reference clock speeds. Our advice is to go with the highest clock speed you can find without having to pay significantly more. Factory overclocked models can offer up to 15% more performance compared to stock speeds without you having to worry about anything. However, if you’re an enthusiast looking to overclock the video card yourself, then you can ignore the overclocked versions and save yourself some money.