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A Beginner's Guide to Understanding GPUs in Gaming PCs

Article Image Craig Hume - MD @ Utopia

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Introduction to GPUs for Gaming PCs

When selecting a graphics card for a gaming PC, first think about the games you are going to play and the monitor that you will be connecting it to. There’s no point in going all out on a top-of-the-range card if you are not playing demanding games or you’re connecting to an entry-level monitor. High-end options from Nvidia or AMD, such as the Nvidia GeForce RTX40 series or the AMD Radeon RX 7000 series, are ideal for AAA games at high settings. Continue reading to discover how to choose the best graphics card for your budget.

 

MSI Twin Frozr graphics card with black and red fan shrouds placed on a desk
The graphics card is one of the most important components of a modern PC.

When considering purchasing a gaming PC, navigating all the technical terms can be overwhelming. Fortunately, we are here to help with a series of guides designed to educate beginners and familiarise them with the lingo so they can make informed decisions when building their perfect PC. Today, we will explore the Graphics Card, also referred to as the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). So, what exactly is a GPU, and why is it essential to choose the right one for your gaming PC build? Let's dive in!

What does your GPU do?

An RTX Founders Edition card in a gaming PC. Gigabtye Aorus logo visible on motherboard

 An Nvidia RTX Founders Edition card is shown installed in a custom PC.

 

The GPU is the heart of your gaming PC build. It handles your system's visuals, such as rendering images and videos, displaying 3D animations, and more. The GPU receives instructions from the CPU (check out our blog on how to pick the best CPU here), which acts as the main control centre for the PC. The CPU decides what to display on your monitor and directs the GPU accordingly. This collaboration between the CPU and GPU brings your games and applications to life. Balancing your GPU choice with the right CPU is critical to maximise performance and make your budget go as far as possible.

When building your gaming PC, start by considering what you will use it for. You'll need a high-performance GPU to play the latest and most demanding games on a 4K monitor.

On the other hand, a budget-friendly GPU will suffice if you're playing less demanding games, like Minecraft and Fortnite, on an entry-level monitor.

Further down this blog, we’ve dropped a table illustrating the best graphics cards, their ideal CPU and the games we’d expect them to be good at playing.

 

Do you need a Graphics Card to play games?

A twin fan ASUS GPU sitting on a worktop.
 Twin fan coolers like the one shown are popular and efficient.

When it comes to gaming, dedicated graphics cards are often considered a necessity, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy gaming without one. Integrated graphics, also known as onboard graphics, can be used for gaming. However, playing games with onboard graphics has limitations, unlike using a high-end graphics card. If your PC has a modern CPU with new-generation integrated graphics, you can play some of the latest games with enjoyable frame rates.

The key is to select games that do not require too much graphics processing and adjust the settings to maintain playable frame rates.

 

What brand of GPU is best?

While there are a lot of choices when it comes to graphics cards, when you break them down, things start to become more manageable. First, you want to choose from one of the three key chipset makers. The choice is between Nvidia, AMD and Intel. Nvidia and AMD have long been seen as the king of the hill, but as shown in the chart below, Nvidia is overwhelmingly leading the way with GPU sales. 

At Utopia, we do love Nvidia GPUs. We have found them reliable and stable with solid drivers (the software that tells your GPU how to function by communicating with the PC's operating system). You may also find that when asking on forums or friends and family, long-term PC enthusiasts tend to have strong feelings about what brand is best, with some choosing AMD over Nvidia every time, sometimes because they like the underdog and sometimes because they just have a gut feeling that it is a better option. It is worth checking pricing when considering which brand to go for, as occasionally, AMD offers better value for money than its competitors.

 

GPU Market Share Pie Chart. Data from Fool.com shoing Nvidia, AMD and Intel Market Share Q4 2022
Nvidia leads the way by market share.

 

Table showing common GPUs and their use cases from Nvidia, AMD and Intel
 This table shows each model from Nvidia, AMD and Intel and the typical use case.

So what GPU should I choose?

The choice of setup for your gaming rig largely depends on the specifications of the components you plan to include. The performance of a gaming system primarily depends on the processing capabilities of the CPU and GPU. Still, the rest of the components should complement the overall power of the build. For instance, if you opt for an i5 13600K and a 3060Ti, we suggest pairing them with either 16GB or 32GB of RAM and ensuring adequate cooling to maintain optimal performance. As well as thinking about items like storage, case choice etc... We have prepared a table below that offers recommendations for different gaming configurations based on the CPU and GPU. These are our recommendations, and the best GPU for your build may vary depending on the other components you have chosen. We have also added about our line of Desktops, as we know some of our customers like this kind of written help when choosing what PC would be best for them.

 

Table showing CPU and GPU parings as well as typical games and resolutions

As the table above shows, for gaming at 1080p High Settings, a mid-range or budget GPU is a good choice. However, if you're a video editor or dealing with intensive rendering work, a higher-end GPU like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 40 series or the AMD Radeon RX 7000 series would be a better fit.

 

Ports, connections and monitors

 Another critical point to consider when choosing your GPU is the ports or connections at the rear of the card allowing you to connect to your monitor or in some cases, multiple monitors. The most common types of monitor connections are HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is the most common option, as it supports high-definition video and audio in a single cable. You will normally find at least one HDMI port on most modern GPUs.

DisplayPort is another popular option, especially for high-end gaming monitors. It supports higher refresh rates and resolutions than HDMI and is often used in conjunction with G-Sync or FreeSync technologies (this helps keep your frame rates in sync with your GPU).

DVI (Digital Visual Interface) and VGA (Video Graphics Array) are older options that are still used in older computers and monitors. VGA is an analogue connection, while DVI is digital, but, in some cases, can also carry analogue signals.

When choosing a GPU, ensure it has a compatible port that supports your monitors. Want to learn more about monitors? Check out this blog that takes a deep dive into everything you need to know about gaming monitors.

 

Utopia's Nvidia Top Picks for your next Gaming PC

 

Nvidia GTX 1660

Nvidia RTX 3060Ti

Nvidia RTX 4080

If you're a gamer who loves playing the latest games at high quality with all the detail settings turned up, then the GeForce GTX 1660 Super is an awesome graphics card that won't disappoint! Plus, if you're a photo or video editor who needs a powerful and quiet graphics card for your workstation, this card is definitely worth considering. Looking for a powerful graphics card that can handle 1440P gaming with ease? Then the RTX 3060 Ti is a fantastic option to consider! And if you're into less-demanding titles at 4K, it can handle those pretty well too. Overall, if you want to power up your system with a solid mid-range graphics card, the RTX 3060 Ti is definitely worth checking out. Looking for a top-notch graphics card that delivers great performance? Look no further than the RTX 4080! It outperforms the next step down in Nvidia's Lovelace stack of graphics cards, the RTX 4070 Ti, by around 20%, which is no small feat. And when it comes to gaming, this GPU delivers excellent performance at both 4K and 1440p, as we found in our testing across a range of titles.

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