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If you're serious about PC gaming, then you really need a dedicated graphics card to be able to enjoy the best frame rates. Most boxed, budget systems that are available will generally have a graphics processor integrated into the motherboard, and while these are fine for day-to-day web surfing, email and office applications, when it comes to games they are less than impressive.
Although the graphics card market is dominated by two companies, the range of graphics cards available is quite diverse and there now exists a wide range of graphics cards to suit almost every budget and every type of gamer. However, with more code-names, models, interfaces, specifications and all-round choice than ever before, it's not hard to see how or why some PC gamers find the process of selecting a graphics card confusing.
However, choosing a graphics card goes beyond the task of selecting the card itself; it is also governed by a number of other factors. One of the easier, yet key elements to consider is the motherboard. Until recently, most graphics cards have been based on the AGP (Advanced Graphics Port) interface but it is now more common to find graphics cards based on PCI-E architecture. PCI-E is faster than AGP, and can send and receive a greater amount of data to the motherboard, with the result that it has now become the dominant topology for graphics hardware. However, graphics cards based on the AGP architecture are still available, but the technology is no longer capable of successfully handling the processing power of the latest graphics hardware.
Depending on your motherboard, you will have either an AGP slot or a PCI-E slot, and which one your motherboard has will determine which range of cards is available to you. If your PC has neither slot, then it is likely your motherboard has integrated graphics and unfortunately, your upgrade choices are severely limited. You could also be restricted by the amount of available space in your PC case due to cables and other devices, so make sure you check how much space you have in addition to the dimensions of the card.
An often overlooked aspect of choosing a graphics card is the amount of power the card takes to function correctly. Previously, graphics cards were able to draw their power direct from the motherboard but the newer, more powerful cards need more juice than the motherboard can supply, and so require to be connected to your system's power supply. As a result, you will need to factor in the additional draw on your power supply to ensure that the rest of your components continue to receive the required power. If your PC is underpowered and can't handle the additional strain of a new graphics card, your system will become unstable and in many cases shut down entirely and refuse to reboot due to the lack of power.
Also ensure your PC has adequate cooling as the more powerful cards generate more heat and as a result, your system can crash, lock up and even shut down if the internals become too hot. The more modern graphics cards come with heatsinks and cooling fans already fitted to help them remain cool but it is another factor to consider.
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