Rationalizing Your Prospective Video Card Purchase


Most components that make up a PC are generally easy to justify. Besides being the fact that they are integral (can’t really do without it), for as long as you are not buying “professional” or “enthusiast gamer” gear (or specialized industrial or military grade PCs and parts) the prices are credible and quite affordable.

Nowadays, most motherboards (or even processors) come with their own built-in graphics processing solution. Granted, these aren’t exactly performance leaders by any standard, they are sufficient when it comes to most regular computer activity and they can handle the casual Flash-based browser games well enough.

This makes discrete video card solutions a little hard to justify from the financial standpoint. This is an issue when the money comes out from your own pocket; it becomes a bigger issue when someone else (parent, girl/boyfriend, patron, etc.) is going to spring for your system.

For those who are not as immersed in the technical workings of the personal computer, yet are still eager to plunk down in front of their computer to play the hottest video games, here’s a short checklist of things you should subject your future video card purchase to before deciding to buy. With the economy the way that it is, this is more important than you think, so hold off getting some fast cash from a title loan and look over this list:

[   ] Can Your Present Rig Actually Accommodate it?
This is a multi-aspect question, actually. First, you have to know the dimensions of the video card you are drooling over, then you have to open up your PC chassis and find out if you have the proper slot (newer motherboards come with either one or two PCI Express 2.1 or 3.0 16x slots).

Secondly, you have to find out if your power supply can handle the additional power load. Be warned that gaming-grade video cards are perhaps the most demanding components when it comes to power. Find out the maximum power draw of the card you desire (Google is your friend), and use power calculator apps to find out whether your present power supply won’t burst into flames when you plug in your shiny new video card.

Even better, use a digital multimeter to measure how much juice the card will be pulling out of your system. Given that you are a budding computer gaming hardware enthusiast, learning some fundamental bits of knowledge in electronics can come in handy.

[   ] Will Your Favorite or Desired Games Work Better On It?
Up until now, certain games will tend to look or perform better under one hardware platform. Granted, there are only two major players in the discrete video card market, nVidia and ATI/AMD, but each do have their own separate lineups, each card competing at a certain price point (we can’t all afford $500++ video cards on a whim, after all).

Visit PC hardware and games sites (like Tom’s Hardware, HardOCP, AnandTech, etc.) to see how your dream card fares for the games you want to play, and how it matches up against other video cards at the same price point.

[   ] Can a Cheaper Video Card Do the Job Relatively Just as Well?
Yes, again with the penny-pinching. Looking over the same charts, benchmarks, and graphs from the sites you visited, find lower-cost alternatives that perform within the same range as the card you originally want.

Remember, a 1 - 5 FPS (frames per second) difference won’t matter much, unless the value goes below 30 FPS (60 FPS if you’re one of those special snowflakes that can actually see the difference).

If you haven’t seen the trend to this checklist, then you’re probably too enamored with your soon-to-be-in-your-rig video card. You really have to consider the cost, considering video cards belong at the capstone of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Again, look at your system. There are other aspects of that that need upgrading, and 3D graphics and resolution aren’t the only things you should be considering. Does your audio system rock your world? Is your screen large and crisp enough to display visual goodness? Don’t you need more mobile gadgets such as iPads, smartphones, and the dongles and accessories that you need for them? You can improve your computing experience in other ways, albeit a little more affordably, too.

Also, do note that you can use the money for some other hobby or interest of yours, or you could even do something worthwhile with it (charity), or make it grow (entrepreneurial pursuits). If you think that I’m starting to sound like your mother, that’s totally on purpose.

There, I did my best to put your resolve to the test. If you still want to and buy your precious gaming video card, then by all means, go for it! I certainly hope you are happy, either way. Game on!

About the Author
Stacey Thompson is a professional writer, marketer, entrepreneur, and a lover of weird little animals. She is based in San Diego, California, and is currently trying to make sense out of creating her blog with some friends, Word Baristas.
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