Game Reviews

What Is A Graphics Card & What Is A Graphics Card Used For In Gaming?

Photograph of the blog post author, Max Burt

Max Burt

21.6.2021

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When it comes to choosing a graphics card, there’s a lot of information thrown at you; from computer science terminology, to the overcomplicated naming conventions of graphics cards themselves. Today, we’ll answer your major graphics card questions. What is a graphics card, and what are good graphics cards for gaming?

Two graphics cards

Whether playing World of Warcraft: Classic on its 2004 requirements, or running Read Dead Redemption 2 on its highest settings, either way you’ll want to know the basics of graphics cards. So let’s get started!

What Is A Graphics Card?

Lots of graphics cards

The graphics card is a component of most modern desktop PCs, and most modern gaming laptops. It is the piece of equipment responsible for rendering images to your monitor, by converting data into a displayable signal. In short, everything you see on your screen is made by the graphics card. 

Well, technically everything you see on screen is made by the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). The terms ‘GPU’ and ‘graphics card’ are often used interchangeably, but in actuality they are different things. The GPU is the brain of the graphics card; as a whole, the graphics card is made up of lots of different parts, including the GPU, RAM, fans, etc.

What Is A Graphics Card Used For?

Graphics cards are needed to render images onto your monitor

We mentioned just now that the GPU is essentially the brain of the graphics card. It acts as a translator, converting data coming from the computer’s CPU (Central Processing Unit) into displayable imagery.

The more complex and sophisticated the imagery being rendered is, the more powerful the GPU must be. Most people who use modern computers are fine using low-end GPUs; not much processing power is required for surfing the internet, watching Netflix, or writing documents. 

Gaming, on the other hand, requires more rendering done quicker. Moreover, with the new gold-standard of video-game graphics being ray tracing (a revolutionary, but processor-heavy method of simulating realistic light in games), the importance of powerful GPUs has been upped even further.   

Types Of Graphics Card

There are two very different types of graphics card, but it can still get confusing. What is an integrated GPU, and what is a dedicated graphics card?

What Is An Integrated GPU?

A motherboard with an integrated graphics card

An integrated GPU is built into the computer’s motherboard – it cannot be modified or replaced. And god help you if you try, because motherboard issues carry a hefty repair/replacement price!

The vast majority of standard modern laptops and inexpensive desktop PCs contain an integrated GPU. They provide modest performance, designed to surf the internet, watch shows/movies and create documents without hassle. Integrated GPUs will usually successfully run old, less demanding games, but don’t expect to consistently use the highest graphical settings at 60fps. At the end of the day though, people were running RuneScape in 2005 on far less processing power than your standard modern integrated GPU.

Depending on your laptop/PC, you might be able to install a more powerful discrete graphics card in addition to your integrated GPU. In your computer’s settings you can select which GPU you would prefer to use. 

What Is A Discrete Graphics Card?

Graphics card in PC

Discrete graphics cards – also known as dedicated graphics cards – are the ones you’ll want to use for gaming. 

As we mentioned earlier, a discrete graphics card is made up of multiple parts with the GPU as its brain. Whereas an integrated GPU is attached to the computer’s motherboard, a discrete graphics card is its own entity. It can be slotted into a computer’s expansion slot, is replaceable, and allows for high-end graphical performance. 

As a gamer, you’ll want to be looking for a decent to high-end discrete graphics card. This is because videogames require the real-time rendering of gargantuan amounts of pixels, extremely quickly. Running demanding games on a lower-power GPU produces low, stuttering FPS (frames-per-second), because the GPU simply cannot render those realistic images fast enough. 

Earlier, we compared the GPU to a translator; it converts data from the CPU to displayable imagery on your monitor. Let’s carry on that metaphor, and say that our videogame is an international conference. A discrete graphics card is like sending a professional translator to the conference – an integrated GPU is like sending a Year 8 fresh out of their French class. They just won’t be able to keep up! 

What Is A Good Graphics Card For Gaming?

Now that we’ve covered the essentials, let’s dive into a few examples of good graphics cards for gaming!

1. NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti

A NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti graphics card

Probably the best value-for-money on the market right now, the 3060 Ti provides incredible 1080p performance at a seriously affordable price. 

Ever since the NVIDIA 3000 generation was released, we’ve all been waiting for the Ti series to come. And come it did on June 3rd, introducing a whole new level of affordability to high-end performance. Essentially matching the 3070 in power – and absolutely outclassing the entire 2000 series – the 3060 Ti brings excellent 1080p performance and solid ray-tracing ability for only £369. An absolute go-to for any videogame enthusiast without the necessity for a 3070 Ti or above. 

2. NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti

A NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti graphics card

There’s no question that the 3080 Ti is the best graphics card for gaming right now. 

You might gawk at that statement considering the sheer power of the top-of-the-range 3090. The 3090, however, has an enormous price tag, and has particular use for intensive video and 3D rendering. The regular gamer – even one that cares a great deal about optimal performance – will only need the fantastic 3080 Ti.

Offering 60fps at 4k resolution, plus breathtaking ray-tracing capability, the 3080 Ti is responsible for bringing that kind of astonishing performance into the hands of the people; despite its £1,049 price tag. 

3. AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT

A AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT graphics card

Here comes the Kong to NVIDIA’s Godzilla, AMD. These two brands are the titans of graphics cards, and any decision you make will likely be between them (or other brands who have licensed their technology).

If you’re looking for fantastic 1080p performance at an affordable price, you should absolutely consider the 5600 XT. Typically eating up less power than its counterparts, this card defined its generation’s performance with great fps at high graphical settings. It may not have the ray-tracing capability of the GeForce RTX 3060 Ti, but if you find a 5600 XT you can pick up for cheaper, then it’s truly a solid purchase.

4. AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT

A AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT graphics card

For gamers who don’t want to settle for 1080p, but who can’t quite afford the jump to 4k yet, then 1440p resolution may be the path for you.

If so, then you should seriously consider the 6700 XT. 1440p monitors are gaining popularity, and this graphics card might be the one to start you off. Offering phenomenal 1440p performance at a relatively affordable price (£700-£800) with ray-tracing capability (though a little weak), the 6700 XT is another solid choice from AMD.

5. PNY GeForce GTX 1660 Ti XLR8 Gaming OC

A PNY GeForce GTX 1660 Ti XLR8 Gaming OC graphics card

Currently priced at around £250, this mouthful of a graphics card is the most affordable on our list. Indeed, its low cost makes it all the more surprising when we say that this 1660 Ti model is your best choice for consistent 1080p 60fps eSports gaming!

While not built for beauty, this graphics card is the most efficient on the list. You won’t be running a 4k display or ray tracing on its GPU, but this card made solid 1080p 60fps gaming available to everyone. If you play eSports but find yourself on a tight budget, there’s no question; this card is the one for you. 

Now You Know Everything About Graphics Cards

Three graphics cards

From integrated to dedicated, from NVIDIA to AMD, we hope you feel caught-up with the ins and outs of graphics cards. Researching and discussing computer hardware can be pretty intimidating for the newcomer building their first PC, so we hope that our guide has helped your understanding a bit more!

Safe to say, for gaming purposes, you’ll want a discrete/dedicated graphics card. Modern videogames have hardware requirements that we wouldn’t have been able to dream of a decade ago. While some of the prices we’ve listed are – quite frankly – terrifying, it’s honestly a worthy investment to purchase a powerful graphics card. Years down the line, you’ll still be able to run the most demanding videogames – although perhaps not on the highest settings by 2026. Regardless, it’s better than not being able to run anything at all!

If you liked this article, why not check out another on our blog? To get your started, we recommend How To Become A Video Game Designer, How To Become A Professional Gamer, and A Review Of Unity 3D & Why You Need It.  

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