If you’ve ever wanted to play games on your PC, but found that it struggled with the demands of animating large battlefields or the rapid 3D rendering of driving games, there’s a solution that’s cheaper than buying a dedicated rig or one of the next- generation consoles.
With much of the processing that games require now being handled by the graphics card, fitting one to your PC can have a potent effect on its gaming potential. Here we explain to upgrade your graphics card for less than £150.
Just be sure to first check that your motherboard has an available PCI Express slot, the case has enough room to fit a card, and your power supply that can handle the extra strain.
Warning: Even if a graphics card will physically fit and your power supply has enough power (and the right connectors), it may not work. Certain PC vendors including Dell, HP and Acer use custom-designed motherboards. A little like mobile operators do with smartphones, they lock them down so you can't fit different components such as a graphics card (or a SIM from another provider in the case of a phone). So, be sure to ask your PC manufacturer whether your intended graphics card is supported. Some readers have found that a locked-down BIOS means that even though the fans will spin up on a new graphics card, nothing will appear on the screen.
How to fit a graphics card
1. Before you order anything, look inside your case to check whether your current PSU is capable of running a new graphics card. Remove the side panel and look at the ‘Total continuous power’ figure. It should be at least 400W, but preferably 500W. If you're going for a top-end card, you may even need 650- or 700W. Check the requirements of your chosen card before spending any money.
2. PC cases come in many different sizes, so it’s important to measure how much space you have inside. Also check that you have a free PCI Express slot. Graphics cards can be quite tall, so you might need two empty bays to accommodate one.
3. You can now head to your retailer of choice and look for a suitable graphics card. Remember that if you want a more powerful card than your power supply allows you can always replace the PSU with a beefier unit.
4. Once your card has arrived, uninstall the existing drivers on your PC to avoid any conflicts. Head to Control Panel, ‘Uninstall a program’, then find and uninstall your drivers. You can also ‘uninstall’ the Display adapters hardware in Device Manager.
5. Before you begin the installation you should ground yourself to discharge any static electricity. To do this you simply touch a nearby radiator or a metal part of the case while it’s still plugged in. Next, turn off the PC and unplug it from the mains.
6. If your PC has an existing graphics card you’ll need to remove it now. Many modern machines use integrated graphics, which can’t be removed. If there is a card installed, remove the screw(s) and check for any plastic clips that hold it in place.
7. Ensure the area around the empty slot is clear, then install the new card. Position it gently, first checking that nothing is blocking its path, then press down firmly on the top of the card to completely seat the connector in its slot.
8. Connect the power supply to the card via the relevant slots. If your PSU doesn’t have the correct connector (usually a black, six-pin block marked PCI-E), check in the box for an adaptor that will hopefully have been supplied.
9. Reconnect the PSU and re-fit the case’s side panel. Power on your PC. Head to the graphics card manufacturer’s website to download and install the latest drivers (those supplied on disc may be out of date). Reboot the PC if prompted. Now the fun can begin!
10. Quickly visit Control Panel, Device Manager, Display adapters and check that the graphics card appears with no warning signs that might indicate a problem. Then fire up your favourite game, ramp up the detail in the Settings menu, and enjoy.
11. If you experience any stuttering you may need to lower the quality settings. Typically, lowering the anti-aliasing and shadow detail levels will improve framerates. Ideally, you should use your monitor’s native resolution for the best quality.
Thanks to eBuyer for supplying the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 650 Ti graphics card for this guide.