Laptops are convenient and pleasant enough, but there’s something about a full-sized desktop PC that feels so purposeful and powerful.
Whether that purpose is work or play, a dedicated graphics card can seriously improve your experience. You may be thinking, “Oh, but what graphics card do I have anyway? How to install graphics cards in the first place?”
We’ll walk you through the process of how to upgrade a graphics card, from identification to installation. Let’s get to it.
Frequently Asked Questions About Graphics Cards
Though they may seem straightforward — the graphics card controls a computer’s ability to render images — there’s more to your GPU than meets the eye.
What Is My GPU? What Does GPU Stand For?
- A graphics processing unit technically refers to a single component of a graphics card or the little chip that actually handles image rendering. The rest of the card is packed with internal memory, general processors, and cooling elements.
- Since you can’t buy a GPU by itself, so in casual use, the term GPU always references graphics cards in general. They may also be called video cards. No matter the terminology, it’s all the same piece of internal hardware that slots into the motherboard.
What Is My Graphics Card Capable Of And Why Would I Upgrade?
- The power and performance of a graphics card depend on the specific model. Cheaper GPUs help keep down the total price of a computer, but they have reduced capabilities. That’s why you’d want an upgrade!
- Many of the most affordable PCs come with standard integrated graphics, just a basic GPU that’s built into the CPU (central processing unit) or motherboard. It’s necessary to generate any graphics but contributes to slowdowns when the computer handles a demanding, resource-intensive task. That’s because all the memory and processing power is being shared simultaneously.
- With a dedicated graphics card installed, your computer both has additional memory and processing power to work with and doesn’t need to split those resources at critical times. Upgrading to a more sophisticated card, should your computer already run discrete graphics, simply improves what you’re working with.
- Your machine will be quicker and more capable than before. It might even run less hot if it was often overtaxed. Though anyone can potentially benefit, it’s especially important for people with bigger graphical/computational loads, like intensive multitasking, editing photos and videos, processing data, or looking to play current blockbuster video games as crisply and smoothly as possible.
How to Find Out What Graphics Card I Have?
- Interest piqued? Learning how to install a new graphics card starts with asking, What GPU do I have? This basic information can give you plenty of clues for selecting your next card. Luckily, finding out “what’s my graphics card” doesn’t require any rooting around under the hood. You can easily check from within most versions of Windows.
- On Windows 10, open the Task Manager and navigate to the Performance tab. If you can’t see tabs at the upper left, hit the “more details” button to open up a full Task Manager. Under “Performance,” select “GPU 0,” and you’ll find your graphical info with the manufacturer and card model.
- On Windows 7, 8, and older, how to see what graphics card you have takes a couple more steps but isn’t difficult. Open the DirectX Diagnostic Tool, using the command Windows Key+R to get a Run Command box, then type in “dxdiag” and hit OK. Navigate to the Display tab, and on the left-hand side under Device, the card manufacturer and model will be indicated.
How to Find a Graphics Card That’s Right for You
There are a few serious points to consider before plopping down any amount of money on a video card upgrade.
The two major manufacturers in the GPU category are NVIDIA with GeForce chips and AMD with Radeon. Other manufacturers — like MSI and ASUS — make cards around these respective chip types. You can sometimes score graphics card deals by going for lesser-known brands (but still reputable, if possible!) that make a card with your desired chip.
But when choosing a card, you’ll have to reflect on more than price. Take note of its:
- Physical size, and how many PCI-e connector slots it needs (there must be enough room in your actual PC case)
- Cooling abilities (dedicated cards produce additional heat, and if you’re jamming it into a compact space, you’ll want better heatsinks and fans in particular to prevent a hot potato PC)
- Power requirements (you may need to spring for a low wattage card if you don’t want to upgrade your power supply unit, depending on its specs)
If you misjudge these considerations, you can end up with a card that’s unusable in your PC, so make sure to put in the research beyond pricing and performance. But of course, that’s how you should narrow your search, to begin with. Here’s what to know:
- Lower priced cards generally correlate to less performance, in terms of processing power, memory bandwidth, and speed of execution.
- If you just want to boost your PC’s everyday effectiveness, an entry-level card will be good. If you want to game at the highest resolutions or render complex 3D models, be willing to spend more for a good experience.
- But the parts of a graphics card work in concert, meaning price and overall performance aren’t standalone metrics you can perfectly gauge. Insufficient cooling around a powerhouse GPU could effectively cripple it. A cheaper card might perform on par with an expensive alternative in real-world use — but it’s in the bargain bin because it’s last year’s hardware with benchmarks that don’t break any records.
So figure out your use cases (what is my video card mostly for?). Check the recommended specifications for that use (what requirements do people suggest to get this program/game/ludicrous amount of windows/applications running well?). Compare those against the options in your price range (cards run from under $100 to near or over $1000). And finally, ensure the other details of the card are compatible with your individual PC.
How to Install a Graphics Card in 5 Steps
1. Uninstall previous AMD or NVIDIA drivers if your machine already had a discrete card installed. This shouldn’t be necessary for integrated graphics. In either case, then go download the appropriate new drivers from AMD or NVIDIA so that they’re already available after you drop in the new card (don’t install them yet). Power down the computer and unplug it from everything.
2. Take off the PC case side panel, which may involve unscrewing it or carefully popping it loose. Lay the computer on its side. Get ready to either remove a preexisting card or just install a new one. Step #3 is pertinent for both, so don’t skip it!
3. How do I find what graphics card I have in there already? Spotting a pre-installed video card should happen quickly, as it will be a pretty large component secured into the motherboard, closer to the top of the board than the bottom. Unplug any power connections, unscrew the card from the back of the case, then feel around for a little plastic tab or clip at one end of the PCI-e slot and unlatch it. Gently pull that sucker right out of there.
4. Reverse the process of #3 to install a new card into place, but if you’re going in fresh, you’ll need first to identify the correctly sized PCI-e slot. Once again, it’s closer to the top of the motherboard than the bottom. Don’t be afraid to hover your new card nearby to check slot sizing.
Remove or unscrew any dust-blocking blanks, then align the card with the slot and firmly push it into place. The plastic clip should snap closed (push it into place if not), and you can gently pull on the card to ensure it’s locked in. Screw the card into the backplate of the case, and finally, connect any necessary power cables.
5. Double-check your work, crossing all “T’s” and dotting all “I”s. If everything checks out, put back the case side panel, reposition your PC into its place, and plug everything back in. Boot up your computer; it should start normally, but if it doesn’t, recheck your cables to confirm that everything is powered on, and as a last resort, head back into the PC and recheck that connections are correct and complete in there.
After a normal startup, go ahead and install those new drivers before doing anything else. You don’t need to “know” how to update graphics card drivers — Windows 10 will automatically run through the process for you once you provide the downloaded manufacturer files. Troubleshoot any snags (which aren’t totally uncommon, so don’t panic), but otherwise, congratulations! You’re the proud user of a new discrete graphics card.
Although this can be a difficult task without any guidance or instruction, the separate parts of installing a graphics card aren’t too bad.
“How to tell what graphics card I have?” So easy. “How to install graphics cards?” Fairly simple. “How to pick a graphics card for my computer?” Probably the hardest part of the whole ordeal.
Hopefully, however, you now feel well equipped to tackle each part of the process. From identification to installation, get out there and give it your best. Your PC will thank you — and you’ll benefit from the perks of a new graphics card, too.