How To Install A Graphics Card: Step-by-Step Guide
by Rustam Iqbal
Graphics cards are essential for powerful gaming PCs, video editing workstations, and AI deep-learning PCs. As a novice builder, selecting the best graphics card might be overwhelming. We intend to guide you through finalizing the graphics card for your build while guiding you on how to install a graphics card ( AMAZON ) are the most valuable hardware.
If you follow the step-by-step guidelines, your computer will handle the graphics card without bottlenecking it. Everything you see on your screen is generated through complex graphics card hardware. It converts all the inputs to a user-friendly, understandable output for an average PC user.
Everything from display port type, frequency of operation, communication protocols, resolution, adaptive sync, ray-tracing, and deep learning super sampling (DLSS) affect how you view that information. We will take you through the journey of building a firm grasp on these terms and their practical implementation.
We will instigate by introducing the basic terms for graphics cards. Then focus on the specifications that make up a graphics card’s worth. Help you understand the value of a graphics card and evaluate its components’ reliability.
The performance of a graphics card does not depend on its chipset alone. The support system is equally essential to extract the true potential of a chip.
Explore Graphics Card in Depth!
What Is A Graphics Card?
You must understand that GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) and graphics card are not interchangeable terms. GPUs were created to render 3D graphics in real-time. Now evolved, they can simulate light in a 3D environment, execute deep learning for AI, and provide high-performance computation.
CPU (Central Processing Unit) and GPU are close cousins. GPU consists of cores, clock speed, and memory (VRAM). A CPU is installed on a motherboard, and a GPU is installed on a graphics card PCB(Printed Circuit Board).
The number of cores in a GPU is sky-high compared to a CPU. CPU cores are robust, low in quantity, and work in series. GPU cores are weak and abundant but designed to work in parallel. Higher Cores mean better performance. Clock speed also should be significant as the number of processing cycles in a second is represented as GHz.
Higher memory clock and storage size results in GPU being able to simulate more comprehensive environments in open-world games or perform better AI functionality. GPU is a critical part of a graphics card; Without it, the hardware has no value.
A graphics card itself is a system that contains cooling components, VRAM, GPU, boot profiles, PCB, and display ports. We will discuss each aspect in detail. Some graphics card manufacturers include Asus, MSI, Colorful, Gigabyte, Zotac, XFX, PNY, and EVGA.
They all have a unique spin on the assembly and design of the graphics card. Let’s move on to the detailed aspects of the graphics card.
How To Pick The Graphics Card!
Choosing a New Graphics Card!
There are mainly three GPU manufacturers: Nvidia, AMD, and Intel. They all have their implementation of light simulation technology and AI capabilities. Currently, Nvidia is leading in AI technology with its latest RTX series.
AMD Radeon makes high-end and mid-range GPUs with a value of 4K performance without enabling light simulation (ray tracing). Intel lies in the value-for-money category with all the necessary features. It’s up to the user to select the GPU within their budget.
Always go for the higher number of cores, better operating frequency, and lower TDP (thermal design power). A higher number of cores means that your graphics card will handle more load in parallel, drastically improving the results and speed. Operating frequency represents the number of processing cycles occurring in a second.
The GPU base frequency is the lowest speed at which it can operate then there is a boost frequency. Boost is the highest frequency at which a graphics card can function. Working at a higher frequency increases power consumption and heat production. GPUs are smartly designed to be energy efficient and increase/decrease their operating frequency per requirement.
What Is Inside The Graphics Card!
Just like a CPU, GPU also requires a storage space that is very fast to store data that is being processed temporarily. It also holds the data that has been processed and needs to be shown continuously. Open-world games like Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, or Assasins Creed require data storage space for their large maps.
If you can view far away in-game, you have a big VRAM. As the GPU continuously communicates with the VRAM, its speed is also essential. The faster the communication, the lower the latency and better frame rates per second.
There are loads of material in a graphics card. The materials of the heat sink, the number of PCB layers, the VRM (Voltage Regulating Module) chokes, the and contact material are critical. It’s a simple rule: a material with high electrical conductivity also has good thermal conductivity. Usually, copper, gold, aluminum, and stainless steel are used.
It is preferred to have copper material wherever high thermal performance is required, such as heatsinks. Gold should be used, such as slot contacts where contact or wear and tear is expected. Aluminum is usually used in fins, and stainless steel is used for support where toughness is required.
Cooling can be performed using the movement of cool air through the heat fins, or users can utilize an AIO cooler graphics card to keep the temperature of the GPU under control. Maintaining the temperature is vital as the graphics cards while operating, produce heat represented in watts written as TDP.
The components will fail and stop working if we do not control the temperature. There are two primary heat-producing components: the GPU and VRAM. Typically, thermal pads are placed on the VRAM and thermal paste on the GPU to remove the gap between the heat plate and the heat source. The manufacturer usually mentions the quality of thermal paste and heat pads.
Heat moves into the fins, and cool air forced by a fan cools the fins. Fans are an active part of a graphics card, and their built quality affects the longevity of your product. The MTTF (Mean Time to Failure) is mentioned in hours and should be extended.
As we mentioned, users can change the frequency of the GPU, and modern gaming graphics cards have overclocking capability. They have an extensive cooling system that keeps the chip running under its operating temperature even when overclocked, leading to better performance.
Some graphics cards come with dual-BIOS which utilize normal and boosted functions with a simple onboard switch. Switching to boosted BIOS will result in better performance but more power consumption. While normal can be used when performing non-GPU intensive work.
Importance Of PC Case Compatibility
When buying a graphics card, you need to evaluate its dimensions carefully. PC cases come in different sizes Full-Tower, Mid-Tower, Micro-ATX, and Mini-ITX. Each of them has different widths and placement of hard drive bays.
When purchasing a graphics card with a tri-fan configuration, you should mainly be concerned about its fitting along the width of the chassis. It is the distance from the front of your PC case to the rear panel. A typical length of a high-end GPU is around 12.5” to 14”.
Power Supply Requirements
The power consumption of each graphics card is unique as it depends on the GPU make and the cooling system power requirement. Manufacturers specify the power supply requirement in their product speciation. Check it and buy a power supply with a higher rating depending on your other hardware requirements.
The second this to consider is connectivity. Graphics cards have power connections on the opposite side of the PCIe slot, which will either be a 6-pin or 8-pin port. Modern high-end GPUs require two 8-pin connections to have adequate power for functionality.
Expansion slots are part of the motherboard. A graphics card operates on a PCIe x16 slot, usually the longest slot on the motherboard with a clip at one end for latching the graphics card. The PCIe slot provides the communication protocol with the CPU, and there are different versions of the PCIe interface, for example, PCIe 3.0, 4.0, or 5.0.
Newer editions have faster speeds. Be sure that your graphics card PCIe version and motherboard PCIe x16 version match to ensure no bottleneck occurs. Although the graphics card is installed in a single PCIe x16 slot, its width usually takes up more than two slots.
PC Case Cooling
Why A PC Case Should Be Cool!
Airflow inside the case can cause your graphics card to perform outstanding or stop functioning. PC cases are fitted with fans to move air through them from the front to the rear. Builds with liquid cooling systems have radiators fitted on top of the chassis which also contribute to the cooling of components.
Cold air should be drawn in, and fans should blow the hot air out to maintain the temperature of the parts. You can have static pressure-based cooling fans to ensure low noise production and high flow of air. As the graphics card ultimately releases heat into the air inside the chassis, fans should replace it.
How to Install a New Graphics Card
Installing a new graphics card can be exciting. You would want your PC up and running in the least time possible, but we recommend taking a slower approach. Computer hardware is delicate and needs to be handled with care to ensure no damage during installation.
While going through our guidelines following are the necessary set of tools that you need before starting your PC build:
- Antistatic pad or Antistatic wristband
- Philips head screwdriver
- HDMI, DP, or Type-C USB for connecting with the monitor
- Gloves to avoid injury from sharp fins
Step 1: Preparing Your PC
First, you will need to connect the antistatic pad and wristband to a large piece of metal for grounding. It will protect the delicate electronics on your graphics card from damage due to static charge from the body. Make sure the PSU(Power Supply Unit) power cord is disconnected.
After all the light indications are turned OFF, lay your PC case on its side. Open the side panel of the chassis. You will need to unscrew the Philips head screws on the back panel, or you may have a clip-based fastening.
If you already have a graphics card installed on your motherboard, you can follow the steps backward to remove it.
Step 2: Remove Expansion Slot Plates
While viewing the chassis from its side, you will observe that metal sheets cover slots at the rear panel. These are PCIe or expansion slot plates that cover the opening of the PC when no expansion cards are installed. It is done to prevent dust or bugs from entering the enclosure and causing damage to the sensitive equipment.
The build-up of dust leads to lower heat transfer and degraded performance. Only remove the required amount of slot plates and leave the rest covered. You may need to use the Philips head screwdriver to unfasten them from their place.
Step 3: Open Your PCIe Slot
Each PCIe slot has a fasting clip on the end of it. The purpose is to grip the graphics card properly when the chassis is a vertical standing desktop PC. The user will fasten the graphics card to the case from two points, one from the rear PCI slot screw and the other is the clip-on PCIe slot.
As the graphics card becomes heavier due to their performance, it becomes critical to reinforce the slots to keep them from shearing. A loose connection can lead to equipment damage. Therefore, the slots are now reinforced with larger clips. High-end motherboards now have easier latch and unlatch mechanisms that work with a simple button press.
Follow the motherboard guideline if you do not have a retention clip at the end of the PCIe slot.
Step 4: Install the Graphics Card
After removing your graphics card from the box, make sure you do not pick it up by pressing against the fan blades. Be gentle in your approach and take your time. First, locate the main connector of your graphics card. It is at the bottom of the graphics card concerning the orientation of the text on the rear side of the card.
A metal plate with display ports will sit along the back panel of your computer enclosure. The power connection 8-pin/6-pin port will face you.
The main connector of your graphics card will have gold conductors with a groove in the middle. While aligning the connector with the primary PCIe x16 slot, the groove will be the main guide.
Be careful when aligning components along the PCIe slot that can be damaged when force is applied. Slowly alight the grooves, alight the rear ports with the slots, and level your graphics card horizontally.
Now press gently on the by locating the PCB on top of the graphics card. Pushing on any other component may cause damage or deterioration in performance. You will hear a click sound, meaning that the retention clip has firmly gripped the assembly.
Ensure the display ports are properly aligned from the back of your enclosure. The metal plate with display ports has a slot for inserting a screw for fasting to ensure it is aligned. Now place the screw we removed previously and tighten it firmly.
Step 5: Attach Your PSU Connectors
As we discussed earlier, you will need a PSU with an 8-pin or 6-pin connector. Now is the time to use those connectors. Most modern GPUs require external power besides the power from the PCIe slot. When plugging in the connector, you will find that it won’t be able to insert in any other orientation besides the correct one.
When you insert the connection, make sure you hear the click sound; otherwise, a loose power connection may lead to damage and heating. Cleanly route your cable to prevent it from touching moving fans inside your PC case. Use a cable tie to tidy up your interior.
Step 6: Connect Your Monitors and Boot the PC
After the graphics card has been connected to the motherboard, we can connect the monitor to the display port. If you plan to run 8K resolutions on your monitor, you will need a DisplayPort 1.4 or higher, or if your monitor supports HDMI 2.1, you can transmit 8K resolution.
You cannot display 8K or 4K on an ordinary display cable. While purchasing a cable, make sure that your monitor can connect with it and has the support for high-resolution data transfer. USB Type-C is also gaining popularity amongst users. Check the port versions and buy your cables properly.
Connect your compatible cable to the back of your graphics card and safely route it to your monitor. Insert the other end into the monitor port. Ensure the ports are fully inserted; otherwise, you will get a blank screen. Now connect your power cable to the PSU and press the power button. If you get a display, it’s great; if not, try checking all the connections again. Make sure the cables are right. Hopefully, you will get a display.
Step 7: Install or Update Drivers
You will need to install the latest drivers to ensure your computer runs at its optimum performance. AMD, Nvidia, and Intel have their utility that can automatically detect your graphics card and install relevant drivers. It will also optimize your application for the graphics card you installed.
Your screen may flicker multiple times while installing the drivers. It’s nothing to be worried about; the display is refreshing after gaining new operating instructions.
We hope you understand how to install a graphics card clearly and that you will be able to execute the process in the future. Buying and installing a graphics card is pretty simple. Upgrading your current graphics card or installing a new one are worthwhile investments.
Modern PCs cannot survive without a dedicated GPU.
Whether it’s gaming, video editing, mining crypto, or AI application, everything depends on the performance of your graphics card, and now you know how to install it.