Not every gaming PC user rushes out to replace their GPU with the newest card every other year. Plenty of people save money and effort by sticking with an older card for as long as they possibly can. (You might be surprised at how well some older cards hold up today!)
5 Signs You Need a New Graphics Card
However, when you’ve got an older graphics card in your desktop, it can be hard to tell whether the time has really come. Maybe your card’s not pouring smoke, but its performance has been a little lacking. Perhaps you’ve been muddling along with an older model and are wondering if it’s time to upgrade. Whatever your situation, here are five signs to look for when you’re not sure if you need a new graphics card.
Note: All of these apply equally to laptops and desktops. However, graphics cards are unfortunately not replaceable in most modern laptops, so upgrading usually means purchasing a new laptop.
- Your card no longer meets the requirements for games you want to play, or you can only play on the lowest settings.
The most obvious sign that your graphics card needs an upgrade is a sinking feeling in your stomach when you look at a game’s minimum graphics specs. If your card doesn’t meet the minimums, you’ve got a decision to make: upgrade, or go without. (Not sure whether your card is compatible? Check a specs database like PCGameBenchmark or similar.)
Even if your card does meet the required specs, bare minimum hardware will get you bare minimum performance. Sure, not every gamer cares about visual effects like ray tracing and detailed shadows, but these graphical goodies are an important part of the experience for some people. Moreover, if you have to use rock-bottom settings to get stable performance in a game, it’s a potential sign that your graphics card is near the end of its useful life.
- Your graphics card is experiencing bad frame rates, graphical glitches, high temperatures, or other problems.
These problems can be signs that your GPU is on its way to the great motherboard in the sky. However, before you jump to that conclusion, make sure you’ve ruled out other common causes like:
- Dust and dirt clogging fans and vents
- Fan curves that need adjustment to keep the card cooler
- Drivers that need to be updated
- Overclocking settings that your card can’t handle
- Bottlenecking from other components like your CPU or RAM
- Monitor connected to motherboard’s integrated GPU rather than the graphics card
If none of these apply, your graphics card may have one or more failing components. Unfortunately, relatively few people repair individual components of graphics cards these days. You’re usually better off either buying a new one or (if the card is on the newer side) sending an RMA to the manufacturer for a refund.
- Your GPU can no longer handle professional applications like CAD, video editing, or animation.
Gaming is one thing, but it’s a whole different matter if your graphics card is no longer up to the demands of your professional life. If you’re an independent contractor or small business owner who relies on their GPU for tasks like video rendering, an outdated graphics card could put your income and your professional reputation at risk.
That’s why it’s so important to be on the lookout for signs of a failing card, such as rendering errors, artifacts on screen, or generally slow performance in your most important professional apps. If you start to notice these signs and they can’t be attributed to other causes, there’s a good chance you need to invest in a new card ASAP.
- You’ve had your current graphics card for at least five years.
Before you protest that your old GTX 1080 still works just fine, please realize we don’t mean you should automatically throw out an older card! Realize, however, that four to five years is around the time when most people will start to think about replacing their GPU. If your card was already on the older end when you bought it, it might start to show its age earlier than that.
When your card approaches retirement age, it’s a great time to start researching potential replacements. Identify one or more models that fit your needs, save up if you need to, and wait until you can find a good price on it. Try setting up shopping alerts for your preferred cards to make sure you don’t miss a deal!
- You’re interested in VR gaming and not sure your current card can handle it.
Tethered PC VR gaming has some hefty hardware requirements, especially when it comes to graphics cards. The minimums can seem low — just an NVIDIA GTX 1060 or AMD RX 580 for Half-Life: Alyx — but you really don’t want to settle for minimum settings in VR, especially since frame rates under 90 fps can literally give you motion sickness.
Thus, if you want to invest in a killer VR PC gaming experience, a graphics card will be a key part of that. Choosing a card for VR works basically like choosing any PC graphics card. Look at the recommended specs of the VR games you want and choose a card that’s comfortably in line with the most demanding ones. While you don’t necessarily need a true top-of-the-line card, you should definitely go for the most powerful model within your budget — and keep in mind that the cards that can handle VR well may put you in a higher price bracket than you’re used to.
So, have you talked yourself into a new card yet? Kidding aside, whether you’re upgrading now or later, we’ll all have to upgrade our cards eventually. When that time comes, you can either choose to have a GPU repair service change your card out for you, or do it yourself (it’s not hard at all). Then, go enjoy it. There really is no feeling in the world like a new graphics card!