Choosing
the right graphics card doesn’t have to be a nightmare, but for many the
experience fills them with dread. The buyer either risks overspending on a
monstrous card featuring ten times as much power as they’ll ever want or
need (or that their PC can handle), or they’ll spend good money on a card that
lets them down when they decide to push it a little.

Either
scenario is far from ideal.

Let’s
take a look at a few typical scenarios and choose a few graphics cards that
would be ideal for those users.

Basic
home user

There’s
so much power available in even the most basic of GPUs that the
basic home user who surfs the web, plays a DVD, or does a little casual
gaming along the lines of FarmVille or Happy Aquarium doesn’t need anything
beyond the basics. In fact, if your PC has any graphics card made in the past
couple of years then chances are that it’s good enough.

That’s
not to say that a basic home user might not want to invest in an upgrade. Video,
especially HD, places quite a hefty demand on the PC in general, and a better
graphics card might take some of the load off the processor and help things move
along a little smoother.

At
this end of the spectrum the user can get away with a very cheap graphics card –
something along the lines of a GeForce 8400 GS or aRadeon HD 4350,
both of which retail now for around $40. These cards will certainly both
outperform any GPU built onto the motherboard of a basic PC, and offer greater
flexibility (for example, be used to fit two monitors onto a single PC – a
massive productivity booster).

The
Blu-ray buff

High-Definition
video places a hefty demand on PCs, so the more of the workload that you can
offset onto the GPU, the better.

For
someone who likes to watch HD Blu-ray they need a graphics card that can handle
the workload with ease, but not something that’s likely to run too hot or be
overly noisy. These users also typically want an HDMI output to be able to hook
up the PC to a flatscreen TV.

One
of my favorite cards for Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) is Radeon HD 5450. This
card retails for around $50 and does everything you’ll need it to do – decent
performance (even for gaming, although I’d rule it out as a DirectX 11 card,
even though it does support it on paper), HDMI support, passively cooled (no
fan, so it’s quiet), and it even features audio bitstreaming.

The
frugal gamer

Not
all gamers can throw down $500 for the latest and best GPU. In fact, thanks to
the triple-whammy effect of the global slowdown, jaded gamers and gaming
consoles, the market for high-end cards has collapsed spectacularly over the
past few years.

Enter
the frugal gamer. This is someone who wants to be able to play the latest games
on his or her PC but doesn’t want to have to be a bank robber to do it. They
will have a middle or the road PC, aren’t concerned with frames per second or
having all the detail in the game turned up to 11. They just want to play
games.

When
the game Crysis was releases, there was a
feeling in the gaming community that things had gone too far. Here was a game (a
good game I might add) that pushed the envelope of technology way too far, so
far in fact that at the time that the game was released there wasn’t a graphics
card yet in existence that did the game justice. I know people who spent a lot
of money on hardware to get this game running decently.

But
since Crysis things have calmed down a bit. Not only have game developers
realized that in order to make money from games, people would like them to run
on existing hardware (modest hardware if possible), but GPUs have come along a
lot too.

The
frugal gamer can equip their PC with a $100 graphics card and should be able to
throw any game at the card and get an acceptable result. Good cards to choose
might be from the Radeon
HD 5670
 range or GeForce GT 240.

Professional
HD video editors

I’m
talking here about the guys and gals that do high-end work using software such
as Adobe Premiere Pro and so on (not Premiere Elements).

Professional
video editors need a lot of power, and ideally good OpenGL support since pro
video editing software usually make use of this standard. While you can get away
with a high-end gaming card, but gaming cards are aimed at gamers. If you’ve
invested in a video editing rig (quad-core CPU, large hard drives, bags of RAM,
a 64-bit OS, and the right software), then spending money on the wrong graphics
card is going to be a let down.

I
suggest that all pro video editors look at the entry level and mid-range NVIDIA
Quadro lines. An entry level Quadro FX 380 will cost under $150, while a
mid-range Quadro FX
1800
 retails for around
$450.

High-end
gaming

This
is for all you high-end gamers out there. Here are some cards for you to drool
over:

  • SAPPHIRE
    100280-4GBB Radeon HD 5970 4GB
     – $1,000

  • XFX
    HD-597A-CNB9 Radeon HD 5970 Black Edition 2GB
     – $720

  • GIGABYTE
    GV-R597D5-2GD-B Radeon HD 5970 2GB
     – $700

  • EVGA
    015-P3-1485-AR GeForce GTX 480 SuperClocked+ 1536MB
     – $550

  • PNY
    XLR8 VCGGTX480XPB GeForce GTX 480 1536MB
     – $500

Note:
Prices are approximate at date of writing. As always, shop around for the best
deals.

__________ Information from ESET Smart Security, version of virus signature database 5393 (20100824) __________

The message was checked by ESET Smart Security.

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