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Before you buy that new video card...

by: Finn Orfano ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

If you have a factory built PC, there's a good chance that the power supply can't handle the minimum power requirements for that high-end gaming video card you wish to install.

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    More Power Required

    If you are into the latest computer games, then chances are you will need a better video card than what originally came installed in your PC. Some games have such detailed graphics that you can’t even play them without some kind of advanced video card. Luckily, you can get a really good video card for less than $100. You can even get a decent one for less than $50. However, there something you need to know before you upgrade.

    Most of the higher end video cards, like the Nvidia 7000 and 8000 series on up, require at least a 350 watt power supply to work. The reason is that these cards have their own processors and often include giant cooling fans, so they need a lot of power to run. The problem is that most off-the-shelf computers, like that HP or Dell machine you got at Circuit City or Best Buy, doesn’t have anywhere close to a 350 watt power supply.

    PC manufacturers, from HP to Dell to Gateway, usually put together machines with just enough to get by. That’s why most of their computers only include a basic power supply that runs around 200 to 250 watts, if that much. If you never bother to upgrade your machine, then the basic factory power supply is all you’ll ever need. However, if you decide to upgrade your video card, you may end up having to buy a new power supply, too. A good power supply will run you anywhere from $40-80, depending on the size and features.

    Before you buy a new video card, check out the system requirements to make sure it doesn’t need a power supply more powerful than the one you currently have. I’ve found on sites like that the product listing doesn’t always say whether it does or not. The manufacturer’s website would be the most reliable source of info, or you could call customer service from wherever you wish to buy the card.

    Trying to use a high end video card connected to an underpowered power supply could result in a myriad of problems. At best, it might actually still work, but it could still result in system instability or your PC simply won’t work at all. Given how sensitive PC components can be, I wouldn’t risk trying to make a video card work in an underpowered system. The long term effects of doing so could greatly reduce the life of your PC.

    Upgrading your power supply is actually not that big a deal. What you do have to watch out for is that the newer, more powerful supply will probably make more noise than your old factory one. Also make sure you buy the right kind of supply to go along with the drives in your PC, as there are a variety of options available, and one size never fits all when it comes to computer components.