How to Choose A GPU- The Perfect Guide For Desktop and Laptop Users

Last Updated on 22 January, 2023 by Sourav Roy

Do you want to know how to choose a GPU without going through way too many technical details? Well, I’ve got you covered. This article has comprehensive information on choosing GPUs. Here, I’ve taken every factor into account and streamlined everything for your convenience.

How to Choose A GPU

Though picking a GPU doesn’t have the same impact on performance as choosing a CPU does, having the right one can make a night and day difference. GPUs are excellent quality of life additions- not only for gamers, designers or video editors. Even the average user is going to get a lot of use out of them. So, let’s get started.


Does A GPU Increase Performance?

It does, but only in certain cases. A computer without a GPU can still run fast, as long as you choose a decent CPU. The overall performance will stay consistent, if you add in a good amount of RAM and an SSD.

Starting with the obvious, a GPU is most useful for gaming- it can provide huge boosts that no other components of a computer can provide. The CPU doesn’t do as much- it helps maintain stability and provides data, but the GPU handles the visuals themselves. The stronger the GPU is, the better since data is calculated and converted into visuals quickly.

Hence, I’d highly advise putting some thought into getting a proper graphics card, even if you’re going to buy a pre-built desktop PC or a laptop. Doing so is even more important for the latter, as you have to consider battery life alongside the overall performance and pricing. The GPU unit will drain a significant amount of battery, based on how powerful it is.

You’re not going to regret having one, though, as that means you can also potentially use professional apps like video editors or high-end design and drafting applications like AutoCAD.

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Available GPU Options: AMD And NVIDIA

For the most part, the only discrete GPU manufacturers in the market are AMD and NVIDIA. There used to be other brands, but they’ve fallen off by now, occupying around a mere 2% of the market.

You have many models to choose from the two brands, though. There are options across every price range. However, both brands go toe-to-toe in terms of performance, so picking the right option can take some effort. I’ll do my best to make things easier for you.

Unlike the Intel CPU vs AMD CPU debate, there’s a clear winner in the GPU sector. NVIDIA GPUs are steps ahead of their AMD counterparts, and they have similar pricing too. If you’re going to need heavy graphical power, go for NVIDIA without a second thought.

However, things change at a lower price level. AMD’s cards are much better options at low-medium budgets. For example, the Radeon RX 5500 XT can provide you with the performance and specifications of a GTX 1650 at a lower price. The gap between pricing isn’t huge, but still significant. If you’re on a tighter budget and want good gaming capacity, AMD GPUs will offer you just that.


Things To Look For In Terms Of Compatibility [Desktop Only]

If you’re building a PC yourself, you’ll have to consider this once you finish picking a budget and brand. There are plenty of things you need to look at to make sure that the GPU actually runs.

Do note, though; you won’t need to bother with compatibility for laptops. They come pre-built. You won’t get to pick individual combos of CPUs, GPUs and Motherboards.

Now, let’s talk about all the things you need to check for compatibility.


1. PCIe x16 slot

This is the most basic requirement when getting a GPU. The slot is located on the motherboard. You can check the specifications of the motherboard that comes with your PC. Most motherboard manufacturers tend to mention whether PCIe x16 is supported or not.

If it’s not supported, you have to go for a different motherboard. Things will be even harder if you don’t have the support when upgrading a PC you already own. In that case, you’ll have to change all the important hardware- the RAM, the motherboard, the CPU and possibly even the power supply.


2. Case Space

Now, this one is rarer, but it does happen. Sometimes, even the presence of a PCIe x16 slot isn’t enough. If your CPU case is too small or if the other hardware components take up too much space, you won’t be able to install the GPU. New cases are expensive, and it isn’t easy to swap out parts either. As such, pick a graphics card based on the measurements of the primary PCIe slot.

While doing so, I’d also suggest keeping PEG connectors in mind. Look up the GPU you want and make sure the connectors aren’t in a place where you might have trouble setting up the power cables for the GPU if they’re needed.


3. PSU

Speaking of connectors, you need to ensure that your PSU has the appropriate connectors for the card you get. In general, a PSU with a 6-pin and an 8-pin can provide you support for a relatively powerful card, like a Radeon RX 5700 XT. Most good GPUs also need a significant amount of power to run. The PSU needs to have enough wattage to supply that power.

Although, if you’d rather not bother with that, then you can try low-power graphics cards. These don’t need an extra power supply from the PSU, being able to take the needed amount from the PCIe slot itself. For instance, NVIDIA’s GT 1030 only takes 30 W of power, so it doesn’t need an extra connection. A GPU like the Radeon RX 5700 XT needs much more power. You need at least a 500W PSU to run it, while the 1030 can run with only a 350 W PSU.


4. Appropriate CPU

For a GPU to work at its maximum potential, the CPU needs to be powerful so that it can provide data in a fast enough timeframe. Otherwise, a GPU will run worse than it’s supposed to. That’s called a bottleneck. Weak CPUs paired with good GPUs will result in stutters and lags.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t get a CPU that’s far more powerful than your GPU needs it to be. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting extra power. Unless you’ve got an extremely high budget, it’s recommended that you simply stick to a more balanced combo.

There’s a bright side in this case, when it comes to laptops. You don’t have to worry about that since all the components are selected to balance each other out. When you buy a gaming laptop, you can rest assured that it runs at peak performance, without any bottlenecking.


For Laptop Users: Mobile GPUs

Most laptops on the market usually come with Mobile GPUs. These are lighter iterations of Desktop GPUs, designed to use much less power and with a smaller size. Because of that, they also have a slightly lower performance.

To ensure that you get the performance you expect, I advise looking up benchmark comparisons of the GPU you’re getting. You can do that by specifically searching for benchmarks of the GPU’s laptop version on YouTube. There are plenty of benchmark score sites that you can look at, too. These will clearly show if a GPU is a mobile variant or not. Here’s an example with NVIDIA’s GTX 1080.

Another thing worth noting about Laptop GPUs is that they can’t be changed later on. The chips are soldered on the motherboard. So, if you want the best portable gaming experience, I’d say get a fairly beefy GPU so that it can support upcoming games or certain software.

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Overclocking can significantly increase the performance of a graphics card, getting rid of any stutters or lag. You can find two types of GPUs in the market; GPUs with stock clock speeds and GPUs that come overclocked for additional performance.

Although, if you get one of the stock versions, you can still overclock them. Manually finding the right clock speed to overclock to can be a hassle, though. No GPUs can have the same overclock- it all depends on the amount of cooling the card has, the build quality and several other factors. That’s why getting cards that are OC’ed from the box is a good idea. You’ll get some extra power at a cheaper price without going for a different GPU, and you don’t have to risk your PC’s health by fumbling with the clock settings.

Still want to clock the card yourself manually? It’s a pretty easy process. Overclocking a GPU isn’t the same as overclocking a CPU- you don’t need the motherboard to support the feature exclusively; every GPU can be overclocked to some level. You can do that by downloading MSI Afterburner. After you get that, you can increase your GPU’s Core Clock and Memory Clock by small amounts until you notice a significant performance improvement. You don’t need to worry about problems as long as you don’t go for a ridiculous increase. You can recognise unstable levels of overclocking when your video drivers start crashing.

However, with laptops, you can only overclock a GPU slightly due to reduced cooling capacity. So, you might want to simply get a superior GPU instead, even if it means a significantly higher price tag.

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Alternate Pick: Integrated Graphics

GPUs can be expensive, with their prices randomly going up and down. They cost quite a bit right now, but there’s always another option you could try. There are Integrated GPUs, which come installed within a system’s CPU. Such a combo is called an APU. A decent APU can offer relatively smooth performance for light and medium graphics tasks.

You can’t overclock these, though. Like laptop GPUs, you have to make sure you get a powerful model from the start. However, keep in mind that whatever you get isn’t even going to be a relatively close match to recent dedicated GPUs.


Picking The Right GPU Based On Usage

Getting a generally strong GPU is a good idea, as it’ll future-proof your system and make it suitable for all sorts of tasks. However, if you’d rather not invest that much money and just get the use you need, I’ll provide a base guideline of cards you can look into. Here are some of my top recommendations.

  • Budget GPUs For Work Or Basic Use: EVGA NVIDIA GT 710, AMD Radeon R5 235
  • Mid Range GPUs For Design Or Gaming Purposes: ZOTAC GeForce GT 1030, AMD Radeon RX 550
  • Mid-Higher Range GPUs Specifically For Gaming: NVIDIA GTX 1050, AMD RX 560
  • Highest-end GPUs For Gaming And Content Creators: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080, AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
  • GPUs For Esports: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 (And Variants), AMD RX 5500 XT 8GB
  • Top-tier Integrated GPUs: Radeon RX Vega 11, Intel Iris Plus

Do note; the cheaper GPUs amongst my recommendations are older models. You can’t find any good recent GPUs at an entry-level budget, so you’ll have to suffice with these. As long as you pair them with decent CPUs that won’t do any bottlenecking, you can expect good performance. I’ve tested the GPUs myself to see how reliable they are.

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Wrapping Up

Picking a GPU is a pretty arduous task. Considering the price of said GPUs, they’re a far bigger investment. You’ll likely have to switch out your GPU before you do the same with your CPU. I’ve gathered all the information for laptop and desktop users alike and put it all into a neat and easy to read package. You know more than enough about how to choose a GPU.

Now, all that’s left for you is to start your search and easily pick out the right option for your needs. I wish you good luck with that.

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