Installing a new graphics card is relatively easy, but figuring out if it’s compatible can be more difficult. This is all you need to know.
If you want more performance so you can play the latest games with high resolution and maximum quality, you need a decent graphics card. Here we explain how to find out if a graphics card is compatible with your PC and whether it is compatible.
It’s important to do this step correctly, because without it you will be left with a powerful graphics card that doesn’t work well with your PC. In this article, we will show you how to make sure the graphics card is compatible with your device and that it will physically fit in your case.
After it’s sorted, the actual process of installing it is relatively simple by comparison.
PC graphics background
Many PCs rely on so-called ‘integrated’ graphics which are chips on the motherboard or which are integrated into the CPU itself. Other PCs have a ‘special’ graphics card, which is connected to an expansion slot on the motherboard.
You can usually find out which type your PC uses by the location of the port you use to connect your monitor. If it’s on another port, like USB and Ethernet, then it’s integrated graphics. If a port is separate from the others, and there is more than one port, such as a pair of DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort outputs, it might be a special graphics card.
Whatever the type, you need an expansion slot – called PCI Express – and an appropriate slot in the case – with a removable back plate where the connection will be placed to fit a dedicated graphics card.
How to find out if a graphics card is compatible: Find the PCI Express slot
On many PCs, there will be several expansion slots on the motherboard. Usually everything is PCI Express, but for graphics cards you need a PCI Express x16 slot. There are three versions of this slot, but they are compatible with previous versions, so modern PCI Express 3.0 graphics cards will work on motherboards with PCI Express x16 2.0 slots.
This motherboard has two PCI Express x16 slots. Most commonly use the top card for graphics cards, but if you install two cards in the Nvidia SLI or AMD Crossfire settings, you will need both. However, check which standards your motherboard supports before investing in a pair of cards.
How to find out if a graphics card is compatible: long and tall
Stronger graphics cards tend to have large fans to keep them cool, and this makes the card twice as thick as a ‘single height’ card. The way most PCs are built means that the fan unit will be under the card rather than above it, so you will need an unused slot – and back plate – directly under the PCI Express x16 slot.
Plus, you need to measure the distance from the back plate to any component that will block the long graphics card on the front of your case. Don’t forget that some cards have a power socket on the back edge rather than on the side, so you need to add about 30-40mm in length to the card you choose to make sure it fits.
If you are an element of how long the card is, ask the manufacturer, seller or try our own forum to find someone who already has that card and can confirm how big the card is.
How to find out if a graphics card is compatible: power requirements
Even if you have a PCI Express x16 slot and plenty of space, you will need extra power for most graphics cards. Your power supply might have a PCI-E power connector, but it might be bundled and fastened if the graphics card is installed.
This connector is usually black, marked as PCI-E and has six pins in a 3×2 setting.
If your PSU does not have this, you can buy an adapter that is connected to a standard four-pin power or SATA connector. Be careful with graphics cards that require two PCI Express power connectors because each must be connected to a different 12v rail from the power supply. For most PSUs, this means connecting each of the two adapters to a different ‘daisy chain’ power connector, and not to the same chain.
Finally, make sure your power supply has enough headroom above the current components to power your new graphics card.
It might be difficult to work if yours does, but a good rule of thumb is that a high-end graphics card will need at least 600W PSU, if not more. It is wrong to assume that the PSU can output its maximum power rating continuously, and you will definitely experience problems if your components pull in more than about 80 percent of the top PSU ratings.
Once again, it’s easy enough to check how much power the graphics card produces from its specifications by searching online.
Consider a purchase? Take a look at our best collection of graphics cards.
To make sure you get the best price, it’s a good idea to check the best graphics card offer.