What You Need to Know Before Upgrading a Graphics Card on an Older PC

Before you upgrade your graphics card on an older computer, you should know that it’s not just a matter of getting the newest/most powerful graphics card out there (even if you have the cash for it).

In this article, we’ll quickly cover a few key items you should consider before upgrading your graphics card. Knowing these will ensure you get the most bang for buck with a graphics card selection, and strike that optimal balance between performance and money spent.

This article will mostly apply to those with an older PC that most likely has older other components (think CPU and motherboard that were released a few years ago, for example).

There are a few key things to be aware of so that you don’t end up buying a graphics card that is not a good match for your existing components – read on to find out more!

Consider The Long Term View

When selecting  a new graphics card, it’s definitely important to take a long-term look at your PC setup, and based on that, determine the correct budget for your new graphics card purchase.

Why do this? Because it’s 100% worth thinking about your plan with your computer and making sure that any purchase is a good fit to that plan.

Questions To Ask Before Any Hardware Upgrade

  1. How old are my existing hardware components?
  2. How is my PC lacking in performance currently?
  3. What performance do I want to achieve?
  4. How much do I want/have to spend?
  5. What’s most important to me when using my computer, and what do I mostly use my PC for?
  6. Do I want to upgrade single hardware components, or just go for an entirely new build?
  7. If I upgrade a single part now, what should I upgrade next, and when?
  8. Will my proposed hardware upgrade be compatible with existing parts (and future planned parts)?

Example

Say you bought a Acer Aspire TC-780-ACKi5 back in 2017.  This PC had integrated/on-board graphics, so no actual graphics card. You might have upgraded this it at the time by following our guide for upgrading the graphics in Acer’s TC-780 with a dedicated graphics card.

You run through the questions in our list above –

  1. How old are my existing hardware components?
    The PC was purchased in 2017, and upgraded with a GT710 2GB (a card released around 2014) at that time.
  2. How is my PC lacking in performance currently?
    Not achieving as high FPS as I would like in games, plus having to have settings on medium.
  3. What performance do I want to achieve?
    Higher FPS and gameplay on high quality settings with full textures etc turned on.
  4. How much do I want/have to spend?
    Would like to spend as little as possible for now, but still improve gameplay.
  5. What’s most important to me when using my computer, and what do I mostly use my PC for?
    Smooth gameplay when playing games, and I want to be able to continue to play newer game titles with high quality settings.
  6. Do I want to upgrade single hardware components, or just go for an entirely new build?
    Ideally just upgrade the graphics card if that will help me achieve better game quality.
  7. If I upgrade a single part now, what should I upgrade next, and when?
    Rough plan is to upgrade just the graphics card for now because that seems to be the limiting part. Later might need to upgrade CPU if that starts to limit the rest of the system.
  8. Will my proposed hardware upgrade be compatible with existing parts (and future planned parts)?
    I can get a decent graphics card that works well with my existing processor, possibly can overclock the processor if that is a limiting factor.

Taking a ‘zoomed out’ view can help you anticipate how much you should spend now, and what your next move is for your computer.

Are you better to save up a bit more now, and upgrade multiple parts all at once, or just upgrade individual parts at a time?

Do you think you’d rather continue upgrading your current PC, or if the majority of individual parts are all getting pretty old, you might just want to get rid of them and spring for an entirely new pre-built PC?

In the example above, since the PC was purchased somewhat recently, and the CPU and motherboard aren’t that old, it’s probably worth just sticking with them for now and upgrading only the graphics card.

Understand Bottlenecking: And Don’t Let it Negate Your Graphics Card Spend

Have you heard of ‘bottlenecking’? If not, it’s an important concept to be aware of.

Even though it’s often used in a negative context, every computer has a bottleneck somewhere, and this isn’t always necessarily a bad thing.

This is just an inherent property when you have a system that involves multiple parts – the system will generally always be limited by the lowest capabilities of one of those parts.

Bottlenecking refers to the ‘weakest link’ in your hardware. Your computer’s computer processor, storage drives, memory, motherboard, graphics card and power supply all work together and the upper limits of the overall performance you see is often capped at one (or more) of these components’ best performance.

When considering graphics card upgrades in particular, you need to be aware that choosing the best, most expensive graphics card out there is not necessarily going to give you the performance advertised if your CPU or some other link in the chain is limiting the graphics card’s performance.

The CPU is usually the most relevant component here that can bottleneck your graphics card. A classic example is if you have a less capable CPU paired with a top-of-the-line graphics card.

The CPU may be working at 100% but still only giving the graphics card the information it needs to process at a much slower speed than the graphics card is actually capable of.

What does this mean? It means that from the user’s perspective, the graphics might just look slow, or you won’t be getting as many Frames Per Second (FPS) as other people are getting with this graphics card. What’s actually happening is that the graphics card is underperforming because it’s actually not getting information fast enough (has been limited by your older CPU).

This means you’ve just paid a lot of money for a graphics card, that’s not actually working as you’d expect it to. Unless you also upgrade your CPU, you’ve unfortunately kind of wasted your money.

This is why it’s essential to make sure when you’re looking to buy a new graphics card, that it’s a good match for your CPU.

Check For Any Other ‘Gotchas’: Power Supply and Physical Fit

A final thing to check for when selecting a graphics card for upgrade is those little gotchas that sometimes people forget to check:

  • That your power supply has enough capacity (Watts) to supply your chosen graphics card
  • That the graphics card will actually physically fit into your computer case

Be aware that there are often different manufacturers who make graphics card models; so if one brand of your chosen graphics card model is too big, you might be able to find the same card by a different manufacturer that has a smaller physical size.

Conclusion

Hopefully these few checks are a useful guide for helping you to select an appropriate graphics card model for your computer.

Understanding your budget, considering your existing CPU and checking that your case and power supply will be compatible with your chosen graphics card are the main few items you should check before purchasing a new graphics card.

Are there any other things you look for when considering graphics card upgrades? Leave us a comment below and we’ll add this to the article.

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