How to Upgrade a Graphics Card


 How to Upgrade a Graphics Card

The process of upgrading your graphics card is really the endpoint of a larger question, and that question is the real story of a typical card upgrade. The actual physical swap-out is an anti-climax. Anyone comfortable with a screwdriver can do it in a few minutes.

After all, all you have to do is uninstall your old card's driver and unplug your old card (assuming you have one installed at all), plug in a new one, wire up any power connectors, install that card's driver, connect your monitor, and enjoy. PCI Express slots have been standardized for ages. The only real wrinkle might be the power supply and cabling, which we'll get into below, and the actual card fitment, which you can plan for in advance. Generally, it's trivial stuff.

The Whys of a Video Card Upgrade
If you have ever upgraded a video card, though, you know that concentrating on the nuts-and-bolts part of the process alone misses the point. It's what leads up to the upgrade that's the thornier bit. It all really begins with a much earlier question: Do I need a new graphics card? Answering this can be tricky, and it depends more on your software than your hardware.

Consider why you feel you need an upgrade. Let's say your full-screen Netflix playback is prone to being pixelated or commonly skips frames, delivering a jittery viewing experience. Both symptoms might sound like the fault of slow video and/or graphics processing, and since those tasks are typically handled by the graphics processing unit (GPU), the GPU must be the culprit, right?


Wrong. The fault more likely lies with a lack of internet and/or local-network bandwidth, with your system not getting enough video data fast enough to generate optimally detailed, full-frame-rate playback. Modern GPUs, even the type built into CPUs (known as integrated graphics processors, or IGPs), have more than enough graphics horsepower to handle Netflix and its streaming ilk.

How could you have tested this? Download some content to your system and play it from your system's internal storage rather than streaming it. If the problem vanishes, you know it's a network-bandwidth issue, not your GPU.

Other common bottlenecks include the CPU, the system memory (RAM), and perhaps the storage, especially if that storage is nearly full or is a platter-based hard drive. The trick lies in making sure your GPU is the primary problem in the first place.

How to Know Your GPU Is the Problem
First, you may want to benchmark-test your GPU to quantify exactly how slow (or not!) it really is.

Gamers are the folks who have the easiest time feeling a slow GPU. Because most 3D games are so GPU-dependent, the resolution you want to play at, as well as the graphical detail settings (usually along a continuum of low, medium, high, and extreme), are a crucial part of the playing experience. To learn more about these graphics functions and how graphics cards support them differently, see our roundup of the best graphics cards.

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