Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Building Compy, Video Cards

Building a new computer can be a daunting task, especially if you've never done it before. Fortunately, it's easier than ever to put together a machine the way you want at a price that fits your budget...

For gaming and visual applications like graphic design and video editing, the video card is arguably one of the most important parts of your computer. They come with a variety of output options, various cooling hardware, sizes and shapes, etc. So, how can you pick the right video card?

Much like when you're planning your new computer, you have to ask yourself some basic questions first. What is your budget? They can get expensive. How much space do you have in your computer? If you're using a small form factor mini itx case you're almost certainly not going to have room for a Gigabyte Windforce Video Card as an example. Power consumption is another consideration, does your power supply have the juice and the connectors to push the thing?

Then there's output, though not typically a concern you can run into trouble if you're running a video card with DVI and HDMI connectors when your monitor only supports VGA, there are adapters to get around that, and a lot of video cards have an adapter included. Most importantly what size/resolution do you intend to run this at? But it's something to consider. Now, you've got that - which card should you buy?

Both ATI and NVIDIA offer some very unique advantages. ATI for example has Eyefinity, which is killer for surround gaming and productivity with multiple (more than 2) monitors. NVIDIA offers some real out of the box features for streaming and DirectX, in addition to 3D support. Both are capable performers for gaming, however the feature set of each supports different use.

If you're interested in creative work like 3d Rendering, Digital Art, Design, Software Development, etc. ATI might be more attractive.

If games are your thing, NVIDIA offers some features that are quite attractive: especially if you're interested in streaming.

Again though, I can't stress enough that both are capable of performing in either environment. And there may at times be price differences or compatibility issues that factor in, depending on your needs. So, this isn't a case of me being able to tell you specifically which card is best for you. Before we get too specific, let's answer the question: "Why not have two at twice the price?"

SLI and Crossfire allows more than one video card to be installed on a single machine. You could for example install two GeForce Titans, having both of those cards in an SLI setup will presumably give you double the video power for say, a large 4K monitor. Of course, if we're talking silly money here you could always go with three or even four video cards on a compatible motherboard for EVEN MORE POWER!


Unfortunately, all of that power comes at a cost. First, and probably most important is the actual monies involved. An EVGA GeForce Titan Z is $1,599 on Newegg as of this writing. So, running this thing in SLI would require anywhere from $3,200 to $6,400 for the video cards alone. Then there's power consumption, according to PC Part Picker our AMD setup from earlier is at 209w without a video card. Add a single Titan and we're at 589w, meaning each card draws 380w on it's own. Adding the second card puts us at 959w, so there's the first problem. If you go to big you have to start upgrading other parts of your machine to accommodate, Power Supply being the first.

This can lead to a domino effect if you invest too heavily in the idea of a multi GPU setup, because you don't want that second card on an 8x PCI slot you'll have to upgrade your motherboard. And while you're at it, may as well grab a new processor and some RAM to take advantage, before you know it you've built a totally different system. And if you're looking to build a machine like that, you don't need my help.

Honestly, the answer I always give to this question is buy the best video card you can afford. If you've got a modest budget of say $150 for a video card, you can easily find a good GTX 750 (remember, last year's tech is still good and generally cheaper). You can even find a deal second hand, though that in itself can be problematic. I prefer buying new when possible, but if you find a sweet card for cheap on Craigslist or eBay, I say go for it.

For our purposes, I'm going to stick with something in the $200 range or lower. This keeps the overall price of our machines around $700 total.

For the NVIDIA side of things, I chose an MSI GTX 960 which at the time of this writing is listed on Newegg at $192.99 after $15 Mail-in rebate, additionally it comes with a free copy of Witcher 3.

For ATI we'll go with the SAPPHIRE Vapor-X 100364VXL Radeon R9 270X, which comes in at $199.99 with similar stats and a free copy of Dirt Rally.

It's interesting that both cards offer a free game, it highlights the biggest difference in terms of gaming with these two architectures, if you're into simulation gaming and racing games, or creation/productivity go with ATI. If you're into other types of games like MMOs and regular RPGs go with NVIDIA. Looking through the offers available on Newegg it's definitely not isolated to these specific cards. Some NVIDIA cards offer the Witcher or the new Batman game, some offer both. But with the ATI cards it's all about Dirt Rally racing sim.

And that wraps it up for me today, but check back for the next installment of this series where we'll be talking about peripherals, until then remember...

Always Be Closing,

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