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My PC could really use a video card that's better than the on-motherboard Intel graphics adapter it shipped with, but whenever I go on Newegg to start shopping around, I get overwhelmed with options.

I'm not quite sure what to ask, and I'm trying hard to avoid turning this into a shopping recommendation question; let me try and come up with a couple of specific questions:

  • Besides the basic "more is better," any advice for understanding the relative importance of the various specifications that Newegg throws at me (GPU clock, shader clock, stream processing units, etc.)? (It also looks like ATI and nVidia report their specifications a bit differently, making it harder to directly compare the two?)
  • How do I compare video cards with each other? Comparing two brand new cards on Newegg is easy, but how do I decide if, for example, a bare bones budget card is better or worse than my on-board Intel graphics? If a game (Mass Effect 2, for a random example), says it requires a GeForce 6800 or better, how can I tell whether a card on Newegg is better or worse? (It's my understanding from Wikipedia that a GeForce 6800 would be a high-performance card from several generations back; how would that compare to a newer midline or budget card?)
  • Any advice for estimating power requirements? Some cards are listed with explicit requirements; some are listed with "recommended"; some give no guidelines at all. In an ideal world, I could get a card that doesn't require upgrading my 350 watt power supply, but from looking at Newegg, that seems unlikely. (I obviously don't expect to get a high end gaming card for 350 watts.)
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For starters, you should read CNET's Graphic Card Buying Guide. The article doesn't mention specific video cards but instead what to keep in mind when buying one. The best thing someone can do is compare benchmark tests between graphics-cards of the time. Couple good sources of reviews includes Guru of 3D and Tom's Hardware.

Once someone thinks he has found the video card he wants, he should do research on it. To explain, google the graphic-card and search forums for problems with it. A googling tip, include in the search the video card make and model along with specifics of the computer which it is intended to be installed in; specifics such the as motherboard and/or memory make and model if custom built or make and model of the whole computer if OEM built (Dell, Gateway, ACER, etc). Also, keep in mind that most people only take the time to post about a product they bought when there is a problem. This will result in more negative than positive posts and comments found when researching.


When looking at the benchmark test keep the following in mind... (Source: Guru of 3D's)

So if a graphics card barely manages less than 30 FPS, then the game is not very playable, we want to avoid that at all cost.

With 30 FPS up-to roughly 40 FPS you'll be very able to play the game with perhaps a tiny stutter at certain graphically intensive parts. Overall a very enjoyable experience. Match the best possible resolution to this result and you'll have the best possible rendering quality versus resolution, hey you want both of them to be as high as possible.

When a graphics card is doing 60 FPS on average or higher then you can rest assured that the game will likely play extremely smoothly at every point in the game, turn on every possible in-game IQ setting.

Over 100 FPS? You have either a MONSTER of graphics card or a very old game.

Note: Sence buying recommendations are not allow per FAQ, I will not suggest any one card to buy.

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What you probably want is to look for benchmarks (tomshardware.com has a good list) to compare the different video cards and there are many (including on newegg) wattage calculators, though once you settle on a video card I would read through the comments and find what people have to say about which do and don't work. I've been bitten by not having the right combination of plugs or enough +5v/+12v rails. If someone comments that a power supply works for them and that power supply is of sufficient quality/gets good reviews, I would try for that one instead of taking the chance on a cheaper power supply that might not work.

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For not brand-new cards, it's useful to look up build-your-own-budget-computer guides. These will often compare older high-end cards to current low end cards in terms of price and performance. It's been a while since I build my desktop, so I can't give specific links to recent articles, but this was how I learned what I need in unraveling that question when I ran into it.

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