Gaming on a PC is a singular pleasure that people who’ve only ever gamed on a console just can’t know. It’s also more complicated and expensive, though, and involves swapping out components as newer, faster ones come along.

Upgrading your system’s graphics card is probably the best way to make your games look better and run faster, and happily it’s quite an easy process.

Get a new one

First, you need to buy a new one. While there are many, many choices out there at various price points and performance levels, we’re going to recommend NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 770 and AMD’s Radeon R9 280X as the cards that offer you the best performance for your money right now. They both cost between R4 000 to R5 000.

AMD and NVIDIA Cards

You just need to make sure you have a power supply that’s 650W or bigger before buying either one, as these cards can use quite a bit of electricity when they’re rendering graphics at high resolutions and with all the pretty-making features turned on.

Out with the old

Now, you need to take the old one out. To do that, unplug everything that’s going into the back of your desktop PC and move the tower to an uncluttered flat surface somewhere. Remove all screws securing the case’s side panel, and open the case up.

old_gfx

If you have an old graphics card, this is where you’ll unscrew the single screw keeping it in place, press gently on the plastic tab that keeps it clicked into the motherboard (that big green piece of flat plastic that everything plugs in to), and give it a pull. It should come away easily. If your old graphics card uses an extra power cable, make sure that’s disconnected first. If you’ve never had a dedicated graphics card because you’ve been using onboard video, ignore this step.

In with the new

Now unpack your shiny new graphics card and insert it into the slot your old card just vacated, and secure it with a screw. You should hear a satisfying click as the card is seated correctly. It will need extra power, so grab the little cable that came with the card and plug it into one of the spare power plugs from your power supply. Plug the other end into the power port on the rear of your new card.

new_gfx_2

Close your case and secure it with screws once again. Reconnect everything and switch your PC on; Windows will detect that new hardware has been installed and attempt to install a basic driver so you can see what you’re doing. Open a browser and go to Google; enter the name of your graphics card followed by the word “drivers”, and follow the links that appear to the correct page. Download the latest drivers for your operating system and install them once they’re down.

installing_drivers

Game on

Once that’s all been done, you will need to reboot your system. When you’re back into Windows, all that’s left to do is play any game you please and enjoy the faster frame rates, superior smoothness and the option to crank all settings to the maximum without taking a performance hit.

A Glossary of Terms:

Onboard graphics: A graphics processor that is embedded into a motherboard. It outputs video signals to a monitor or TV so you can see your desktop and run basic programs, but is generally not as powerful as a dedicated graphics card for things like games and detailed 3D graphics.

Frame rates: The measure of the number of frames per second a graphics card can output. The higher the frame rate, the more smooth video looks.

Dedicated Graphics Card: A separate piece of hardware dedicated to a single function, that of rendering graphics as fast as possible.

[Images – AMD, Asus]
Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.