Group Test: What's the best Graphics Card

With growing consumer interest in tablet PCs, smartphones and laptops, the desktop PC is quickly becoming obsolete. There are plenty of portable alternatives for getting work done, watching video, surfing the web and playing music, but the desktop retains one trump card: nothing can beat it for gaming.

An up-to-date gaming PC is more powerful than any portable device or games console. DirectX 11.0 PC games offer more visual detail than their PlayStation, Xbox and Wii counterparts, with these consoles beginning to show their age. And this gap in processing power is set to become more apparent, with intensive games Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 both set to launch by the end of the year.

A powerful graphics card is an essential component in a high-performance gaming PC, and required to handle the complex 3D maths and geometry that go on behind the scenes to add realism to games. ATI (owned by CPU maker AMD) and nVidia release a new generation of their graphics cards every year or so, with refined hardware and more transistors squeezed in.

Group Test: What's the best budget Graphics Card

A graphics card upgrade allows your PC to play games smoothly at higher resolutions, with more special effects.

You’ll also enjoy smooth video playback – high-resolution graphics support is important for HD movies – and faster photo and video editing. HDMI and DVI ports add digital connections to your PC too.

Cards are available that suit all budgets. In our best graphics card group test we include products from £62 to £400. But money isn’t the only limiting factor in which card you choose. If you don’t have a full-HD (1920x1080-pixel) monitor, a card that excels at higher resolutions will be wasted. Instead choose a less expensive card that works well at lower resolutions.

You’ll also need a processor and motherboard that can keep up with your graphics card, and at least 4GB of RAM.

If your PC’s spec is low, consider spending some of the cash you put aside for a graphics upgrade on other components.

Group Test: What's the best Graphics Card