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Research Before Upgrading Your Graphic Cards

29 November 2016

Upgrading your graphic cards is not difficult, but how do you know if a new graphic card will be compatible with what you’ve already got in your current PC system? Physical fitment is not the only determining factor.

Whether you are going to add more GPUs or completely swapping to a new one, let's walk through some important factors that you need to keep in mind before purchasing the right graphics card.

1. Power supply headroom

If you decide to run multi-GPUs, make sure your current power supply unit (PSU) has enough headroom to support new graphic cards. Saying that, it means you need extra power (above what the existing components are drawing) and extra power cables. It is tricky to tell how much extra watts you need, but usually, it is at least 100-300 watts for normal graphic cards and at least 600W for the high-end ones. Research your card “Thermal Design Power” or “+TDP” to find out what specific wattage you need for your own graphic cards.

We recommend to check out MSI Power Supply Calculator. Based on your added components (including CPU, GPU, storage, memory and PCI-E Cards), they will calculate a recommended figure that you need for your PSU to avoid any issues like system instability, reset and shutdown caused by energy-insufficient power supply. 

2. Power connectors

Ensure you have the necessary PCI Express power connectors that plug into your graphic cards. Normally, there are a 6-pin or an 8-pin PCI-E in almost modern graphic cards. Graphic cards with lower specs may only need one connector, while the high-end cards will probably need at least a pair of 6-pin.

If your PSU does not include these connectors you will not be able to add a new graphics card.

3. Match the second GPU

Ensure your new secondary graphic card supports multi-GPU setups and matches your current one. While the two graphic cards don’t necessarily need to be from the same manufacturer we don’t recommend mixing and matching due to variation in heights and dimensions that may cause issues with linking bandwidth bridges.

4. BIOS locked in pre-built PC

BIOS, standing for “Basic Input/Output System”, is a ROM chip installed in motherboards that get the computer started after you turn it on. It allows you to manage data flow between the operating system and all hardware connected to the motherboard. Check out here to understand more what and how BIOS works.

Regarding graphic cards, BIOS affects critically whether you can get a new card installed or not. Basically, the BIOS tells the motherboard when there is a new component added and ready to use. This can require manual control of the BIOS to make changes. Unfortunately, the sad news is that the BIOS is locked, more often than not, in pre-built PCs by manufacturers like Dell or HP. This means that you need to research carefully to make sure that even if the graphics card will fit, and has enough power in the PSU, that you will be able to control the BIOS or not where necessary to get it recognised.

5. Motherboard

Usually, you will need a PCI Express x 16 slot for your graphic cards on the motherboard. Although there are numerous versions for this PCI Express x16 slot, they are backward compatible. For example, a new PCI Express 3.0 graphic card can also work in a motherboard that has a PCI Express x16 2.0 slot.

Check out the following video to understand how PCI-E graphic cards can fit in the motherboard.

Visit our post "How To Pick A Good Motherboard" in case you want to know more about this component. 

6. Size of the case

Make sure the new graphic card can physically fit in your current PC case, as some powerful graphic cards with large fans are thicker than a single-width card and won’t fit tiny cases.

It is really important to measure the space available in your PC and compare it with the physical dimension of the graphic card that you are going to purchase. A tip to check the correct space is to measure the distance from the back plate or power circuit board of the card to any components that may block the card in front of the case. Pay attention to the position of power socket and have a quick check of the card’s dimension with manufacturers or resellers to avoid any fault of instalment in your rig.

Rule of thumb:

It is all about compatibility!

No matter what you upgrade, either graphic cards or any other components, if the new one does not fit in what you already have got, you may just waste your money or end up paying more than what you should.

The RIGHT components are the ones that are compatible in terms of physical size, system, product lines, model number, power requirements and brands (in some cases).

Research. Research. Research.

It is crucial that you need to do research by yourself to make sure you get the right components for your PC. There is no one-size-fits-all component. Read all the specs, look up the product’s website, use a search engine to find various tech forums, and contact manufacturers if needed before buying anything to make sure it will work in your use case.

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Tags: computer components, graphic card, motherboard, power supply, PC cases

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