What video card should I buy?
February 3, 2014 2:51 PM   Subscribe

I've never cared about having the latest, most bleeding-edge graphics card, but my ATI Radeon HD 5450 has trouble keeping up with newer games. What should I buy to replace it?

I've gotten into the habit of turning down the graphics quality for most games, and I'm mostly okay with that solution—but games are much more demanding than they used to be.

Since I've never paid much attention to the hardware, I don't really know the first thing about picking out a video card.

My machine is a Dell Studio XPS 8100 running Windows 7 with an Intel Core i7 CPU (2.93 GHz) and 4 GB RAM.

I'm really just looking for something that will run the average modern game smoothly, at medium quality settings. I'd also consider something a little spendier that will last me longer.
posted by escape from the potato planet to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would like to know the answer to this but also with HDMI output! I hope that's cool to add on.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:55 PM on February 3, 2014

Best answer: This guide is probably where you want to start looking. It's a pretty good rundown of the best value at various price points.
posted by strangecargo at 2:56 PM on February 3, 2014

Best answer: I need a macro for this, I recommend it so much: Tom's Hardware's Best Gaming Graphics Card roundup, January 2014 edition.

Tom's Hardware is an outstanding site for reviews of PC components, and they have graphics card reviews down to a hard science, and they also shop for price which allows them to create this monthly feature, a best bang-for-your-buck listing of graphics card, sorted first by budget.

I just dropped about $250 on a GeForce GTX 760 (based on the December list of same) and I'm very happy with it. (Can't mine bitcoin on a GeForce though!) It stretched my budget a little (I usually shoot for $200-220), but it really is okay to shop by your budget-- yesterday's fantastic card is today's budget card, generally speaking, and unless it was shipped new as a budget card, graphics cards are generally future-proof for at least 2 years for 90%+ of games.

Mine and cards like it have 2 DVI-outputs and at least one HDMI.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:57 PM on February 3, 2014

What games are you have performance problems with? I've heard some games like starcraft 2 are CPU limited, while others are graphics card limited.
posted by TheAdamist at 3:08 PM on February 3, 2014

The poster has an i7-870; a couple of generations old, but still pretty fast. In contrast, the 5450 was slow the day it was released.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:26 PM on February 3, 2014

Your cpu is fine - just decide how much you want to spend (a couple hundy will get you something very nice) and find something with a good price/performance ratio. I just got a Radeon R9 270, to replace a GTX 460, and that feels like a good spot right now.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:39 PM on February 3, 2014

But frankly; a GTX 460 would probably meet your needs very nicely. It already ran everything pretty well, I just felt like an upgrade.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:40 PM on February 3, 2014

Some practical stuff you need to worry about:

1) Power Supply rating. The more powerful the video card, the more actual juice it will need. Dell has been known to install PSUs that are rated for very little more than the components installed in it. If you have to replace the power supply, make sure the 8100 case accepts standard ATX sized PSUs. In the past, Dell has been known to use custom sized parts which make it difficult to find replacements from anyone but them. Additionally:

2) Power connectors. The more powerful GPUs often require extra connectors (6pin + 8pin) so make sure the Dell PSU has what you need before you buy the replacement GPU, or, again, you could get a replacement PSU.

3) Slots. Most of the more powerful GPUs are 2 slot solutions, so make sure the motherboard and case have an extra slot if the one you're putting in requires two. Again, Dell makes their own cases, so it's not a given that there's an extra slot.

On to suggestions:

The Logical Increments site is great for choosing your price level of parts. If you pair the previous info with a GPU or GPU+PSU suggestion from here, you should be in a good shape.
posted by bluecore at 4:39 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

My basic rule of thumb when it comes time for a new graphics card is to just check out Tom's latest roundup and get the best card that $150 will buy the week that I'm in the market. Any card priced at $150 today is going to be within a few percentage points of any other card at the same price point, and all of them are going to be significantly more powerful than any card at that price point four years ago. But the difference between any two cards at the same price point at the same time aren't necessarily worth the time you'd spend parsing the differences.
posted by valkyryn at 5:18 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Tom's Hardware roundup that Sunburnt recommends is an excellent resource. The only real wrench in the works in the new Mantle API.

Without getting too deep into the technical aspect, the API (application interface) is what lets a game talk to the hardware. It's needed to let games work on all the different PC configurations. DirectX or OpenGL are the two that most games use, both give up some optimization and performance for compatibility. Consoles don't need an API because every PS4 is identical. This allows those games to be fully optimized for that hardware. Mantle it an attempt to bridge the gap between the two. Games that use Mantle will work on any CPU but must have a video card that uses AMD's GCN architecture (the Radeon HD 7000 series or the new R7 and R9 series).

Games that use Mantle get 20-50% better performance than the same game running on the same hardware running on DirectX.

So, if the games that you want to play support Mantle you might want to pick an AMD based card.

This "low level" API idea has been tried before but didn't catch on. The difference now is that the major consoles (Xbox One and PS4) both use AMD graphics cards so it should make porting consoles games to PC much easier if they use Mantle, developers asked AMD to develop it, and it's open source so Nvidia could make Mantle compatible cards if they wanted.
posted by VTX at 7:12 PM on February 3, 2014

As others have said, the Tom's Hardware Guide is good. However I would also recommend taking a look at the UK version as it'll tell you how well each card performs at a certain resolution.

As a result, you can now determine the screen resolution you'll be playing games at and then look for for the card that gives "great" or "excellent" performance at that resolution. If that's too much for you then look at the next cheapest card and continue working back until you find one you can afford.

For example, I have a 1920x1080 monitor so the best card for that resolution is the Radeon R9 270. If that's too expensive, then I could go for the Radeon HD 7790 instead which is 2/3rds of the price.

Unless you know why you need a more expensive card, then I wouldn't recommend buying a card that can run well at a resolution you'll never achieve.
posted by mr_silver at 6:55 AM on February 4, 2014

My basic rule of thumb when it comes time for a new graphics card is to just check out Tom's latest roundup and get the best card that $150 will buy the week that I'm in the market.

I'm not up to date on my video cards (other than to say I got a Geforce GTX 660 six months ago and it rocks just about everything I can throw at it) but this is solid advice.

I would like to know the answer to this but also with HDMI output! I hope that's cool to add on.

HDMI output is a pretty standard feature on video cards. I'd be really surprised if a given card didn't have it. Sometimes, though, they don't have a dedicated HDMI port and you have to use a proprietary (included) DVI-to-HDMI adapter to get audio on the HDMI stream.
posted by neckro23 at 6:04 PM on February 4, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I'm eagerly anticipating Thief 4, which is one of the big reasons I decided to get a new card, and it does support Mantle. I think I'll go for the Radeon R9 270—it sounds like a good deal for the price. Thanks for the help!
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:04 PM on February 6, 2014

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