In the third part of our What to find in a Computing Device series, we will cover the next most important aspect of a computing device – the graphics card.

In a spec sheet of every notebook/tablet, you would see a graphics card model with a certain amount of dedicated memory. But first, what is a graphics card and what should you pick?

A graphics card is basically used to display images on screen. This includes web surfing graphics and gaming graphics. It’s like the part of your brain that processes the images that your eye sees everyday. So, what graphics card would be sufficient for you? It depends.

E-Mail and Web Surfing, casual watching HD videos and eye candy
This is the lowest end of computing-power usage and have very basic needs. This applies to productivity tasks like e-mail, business related world processing and spread sheets. However, as more eye-candy and HD videos are harder to display, it places moderate demands on graphics.

You will mostly need a good integrated chipset; however, a cheap, older and less powerful dedicated graphic card will provide a better overall performance.

Casual Gamers
If you don’t spend too much time playing games, or is a gamer that does not really care about excellent graphics, you fall in this category.

A new entry-level graphic card should do the trick, but if you want more performance, you may want a mid-range graphic card.

Gamers 
Gamers want excellent graphics, high frame rates and breath-taking experiences when playing games

The latest and most powerful Graphic card in the High-End category would be best for you

3D Animation, Modeling and Video Production
Applications that fall in this domain will sure benefit from a powerful graphic card, but the emphasis is different. Image quality and precision is far more important than raw speed.
A Mid-range graphic card should suffice for most people, although if you game, get a high end one 🙂

Generally, there are 3 types of graphics card. Theres the intel integrated graphics, AMD and Nvida graphics card

Intel Integrated Graphics

These are graphics cards inside the processor that can do very basic video processing. They share the usual type of RAM used in the notebook. Not recommended for gaming, but should be OK with normal everyday tasks.

In a 1st and 2nd generation core i-series processor, you get very basic video processing cards. They are usually called Intel HD Graphics 2000. There barely keep up with current times, and playing basic video games will result in lousy experiences.

In a 3rd and 4th generation core i-series processor, you usually would see integrated graphics 3000, 4000 or 5000 . These are a huge step up from the 1st and 2nd generation, and can play some basic video games.

Some laptops come with Intel Iris Pro Graphics. This type offers low-to-medium end graphics without consuming much power.

Do note However, that INTEL GRAPHICS ARE STILL INFERIOR TO MOST OF AMD AND NVIDA Graphics card. DO NOT BE FOOLED BY INTEL branding and numbers.

AMD or NVIDA Cards

These graphics are big step up from integrated graphics. However, there are many types of graphics card, each for different tasks. AMD and Nvida are rival campanies that make almost equally good graphics card. We will take a look at how to choose AMD graphics first, then Nvida.

AMD Card Guide –How to read their numbers?

Novice users are usually very confused about Graphic Card numbering, and sometimes get tricked by the company.

The first number of AMD Cards (HD 5750, 6750, 7750) signifies its Generation, higher it is, higher the chance that your graphic card supports more complex extensions, like higher DirectX and OpenGL Versions. Note that even if your card’s generation is higher, it doesn’t mean better performance!

HD 2xxx, 3xxx, 4xxx = DirectX 10 + OpenGL 3.3

HD 5xxx, 6xxx, 7xxx = DirectX 11 + OpenGL 4.2 + OpenCL 1.2

The second number (HD 7570, 7670, 7750) signifies the performance rank of the graphic card. Higher it is, better will be the performance in 2D and 3D applications.

1-2 = Integrated Chipsets (not recommended as they are no better than intel graphics)

3-4 = Low Level cards, only suitable for 2D applications and are a bit better than Integrated GPU’s. (eg. HD 7350, 7450)

5-6 = Entry Level cards, suitable for playing games with medium settings at 720p. Not very good for heavy 3D Modeling. (eg. HD 7570, 7670)

7-8 = Mid-Range cards, suitable for True HD (1080p) gaming at high settings. (eg. HD 7750, 7870)

9 = High-End cards, suitable for Multi-Screen (Eyefinity) gaming at ultra settings. (eg. HD 7970)

Graphic cards that finishes with a “D” is the new APU from AMD, those are integrated into the CPU and are better than Integrated Chipsets, but compares less well to dedicated cards.

The third number (HD 6570, 6670, 6750) is a performance rank between cards that have the same second number. Higher is the number, better will be the performance.

As for now, the fourth and last number is currently unused by AMD and is always a “0”.

nVidia Card Guide — How to read their numbers?

Novice users are usually very confused about Graphic Card numbering, and sometimes get tricked by the company.

The first number of nVidia Cards (340, 460, 560) signifies its Generation, higher it is, higher the chance that your graphic card supports more complex extensions, like higher DirectX and OpenGL Versions. Note that even if your card’s generation is higher, it doesn’t mean better performance! Please get a 7xx, 8xx or 9xx Generation card, if going for Nvida Graphics, to ensure smooth usage as technology gets updated

The second number (e.g. 830, 840, 850) signifies the performance rank of the graphic card. The Higher it is, better will be the performance in 2D and 3D applications.

nVidia also add a prefix and a suffix to their cards. GT prefix is for entry-level, GTS is for mid-range, and GTX is for mid-range and high-end cards. The Ti suffix is usually for an ameliorated version of the same card.

1-2 = Low Level cards, only suitable for 2D applications and are just a little more performant than Intergrated GPU’s. (eg. GT 810, 820, very rare, but must avoid)

3-4 = Entry Level cards, suitable for playing games with medium settings. Provides okay-okay performance for heavy 3D Modeling. (eg. GT 830, 840)

5-6 = Mid-Range cards, suitable for True HD (1080p) gaming at high settings. Better performance for 3D Modelling (eg. GTX 850m)

7-8 = High-End cards, suitable for Multi-Screen (3D Surround) gaming at ultra settings, and the best 3D modelling support. (eg. GTX 970m)

These graphics card usually come with 1-4gb of dedicated graphics ram (e.g. gddr5) . THEY ARE NOT USED AS SYSTEM RAM. But they improve graphics processing a lot. The more the better, but a better gauge of graphics card is by looking at their model numbers as graphics cards tend to rely on other factors such as graphics processing speed, etc.

Note that it is usually impossible to change a graphics card in a notebook, so it is best to get the best that you can afford.

Always compare the specs of both AMD and Nvida Cards to get the best bang for your buck 🙂

notebooks with dedicated graphics card usually have nearly the same power consumption as the Intel graphics as most notebooks can choose which graphics card to use automatically to save power.

Note that performance of your graphics card would be limited by processing also. See our how to choose processors post on how to choose a processor

If you have the cash, getting a good graphics card would be great. Try to avoid Intel Integrated graphics. Of course, in a tablet, you may have no choice as manufacturers omit it to make the tablet lighter and thinner.