Upgrading Graphics Card – The Idiot’s Guide to Buying a Graphics Card

There’s always a newer version of powerful apps and software, as well as exciting games, coming out almost yearly. But if your PC’s frame rate is slow, you’ll have a less-than-pleasant experience using these high-resolution apps and games. If your screen stutters or if you experience screen lag and sometimes switch to using medium or low graphic settings to keep your PC running, then it is time to upgrade your graphics card.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy a smooth screen experience. And if your PC is giving you a “slideshow” instead of a smooth experience, you don’t have to be a tech wiz to upgrade your graphics card. This guide is written for you if you need to buy or upgrade a graphics card for your PC, but you don’t know a thing about graphic cards.

By the way, many people don’t know a great deal about graphic cards, so you are not alone. By the end of this guide, you will be able to determine precisely what graphics card is best for your PC and also learn the process of actually upgrading graphics card all in three simple steps. Spoiler alert: the process of upgrading a graphics card is not as daunting as it seems!

First things first; let’s go over the very basics of your PC. Don’t worry; we’re not delving into any details that are unnecessary for upgrading graphic cards. When you are familiar with the basic structure of your PC, you’ll discover that you can easily upgrade many components yourself.

Step 1: PC Basics

  • PC Case: This is the aluminum or steel frame that houses the various hardware components of your computer. Depending on the design of your PC case, you can open the case from one or both sides and slide off the side panel or even remove the entire case. You need to open the case to access the different hardware components inside. But before doing so, make sure to shut down your computer and disconnect every cable attached to it.

ram modules image

  • Components: The components of your computer may not be exactly like the ones you’ve seen elsewhere, but certain essential components are common to all computers. These are:
      1. Motherboard
      2. RAM modules – Random Access Memory modules
      3. CPU – Central Processing Unit
      4. Graphics Card
      5. Storage Devices – SSD (Solid State Drives) or HDD (Hard Disk Drives)
      6. Cables
      7. Power Supply Unit


Now that you are familiar with the inside of your PC, it is time to know what graphics card is compatible with your system.

Every component inside the PC case is directly or indirectly connected to the motherboard. In most cases, graphics cards are plugged into the motherboard through a PCI-Express slot (you’ll see this mostly written as PCI-e). You should look out for the longest PCI-e slot on the motherboard with connectors popping out at the rear of the PC case. It is an x16 slot. In many cases, that’s where the graphics card goes.

Now go ahead and take a look inside your PC case. Remember to power off before opening the case. Can you locate the PCI-e slot? Check to see if it is a smaller slot meant for an x4 or lesser card. Unless you have a very old PC, it should come with a motherboard equipped with at least one PCI-e slot. Anything less might not give you the smooth gaming experience or higher performance you are looking for.

If you have determined that your motherboard has a compatible slot for a modern graphics card, then go ahead to the next step.

Step 2: Choosing the Right Graphics Card

Choosing a good card now means that you don’t have to upgrade your graphics card for a couple more years to come. But what is the right graphics card for your PC? There’s a bunch of graphics cards out there, and getting into the argument of which is better will do you no good.

geforce rtx image

To save you the stress of debating which product is best, simply go through some online reviews of the primary graphics card (AMD and Nvidia). Doing this should help you decide which card to buy. The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure that the card you are choosing can run your games or programs smoothly. You can also test a card’s performance (benchmark) on many tech websites before making a purchase.

Budget Considerations

Perhaps one of the most important deciding factors in upgrading graphics card is your budget. How much you are willing to spend will determine the type of card you can buy and install. Generally, the higher the cost of the card, the more powerful it is. However, before buying a high-end graphics card, make sure that your processor can handle it. You shouldn’t buy a graphics card simply because you can afford it. For example, if you are looking to buy a graphics card in the range of $500 and above, your PC should have at least an overclocked Core i5 processor or a Core i7 processor.

Keep in mind also that it doesn’t make economic sense for the cost of upgrading your graphics card to be more than the worth of your entire PC. If you run a really old PC, perhaps a full system upgrade would be a better option.

Best Time to Buy

You don’t want to buy a card just before a new GPU launches. That’s about the worst time to purchase a new graphic card. Your best bet would be to make your purchase a short while (usually a few months) after a new GPU launches. This gives enough time for relative stability in stock and availability of the product.

Step 3: Installing

The most challenging part of upgrading your graphics card is deciding which card to buy and how much to spend on it. Now that you’ve gone past that, here comes the easiest part – the physical installation of the card. But before you plug your new graphics card into the PCI-e slot, get the following handy.


  • A set of screwdrivers. You’re going to need them for screwing and unscrewing – nothing complex, though. A Philips screwdriver is a great choice, but there’s no reason to split hairs if you don’t have it. Just use any good screwdriver.
  • A brush or vacuum cleaner. You will need them to get rid of dust from inside your PC. Of course, this is optional, but you might as well clean inside your PC since it is likely that you have been using it for several months or years now without cleaning inside.

Dust will certainly accumulate inside your PC after a long time, and not cleaning it can lead to performance issues and other problems. However, be careful not to hit or cause any damage to the components while cleaning and don’t clean it just yet. Simply get a brush or vacuum cleaner handy.

gigabyte graphic card image

Uninstall Drivers

It is now time to uninstall the programs (drivers) for your old graphics card. I would recommend using the free version of the Display Driver Uninstaller. Regardless of whether your old card was AMD or Nvidia, the Display Driver Uninstaller will remove the drivers completely. In some cases, using the AMD or Nvidia driver can leave behind some registry settings and files after uninstalling the drivers. But you can go ahead and use any uninstaller of your choice.

Once you are done uninstalling the drivers, shut down your computer and unplug the power cord. If your PC has a manual power switch (usually located at the back of the case), flip that off too. Now place your PC on a large-enough table and remove the case using a screwdriver if necessary. If there’s dust in there, it is time to clean it up.

Old Card Out… New Card In

Besides being plugged into the motherboard, in most cases, your graphics card is also secured with screws at the back of your PC case. Locate and unscrew the screws holding the card in place. Now disconnect the power connectors from the old graphics card.

Can you guess where your new card should go? In the slot where you just removed the old card, of course! Slide the new card into the empty PCI-e slot friendly and easy. Gently press it into the slot until it you hear it click into place. Now secure it with the screw from the old graphics card and then reconnect the 6-pin or 8-pin power connector from the power unit.

Always remember that when you are physically upgrading graphics card (or any other hardware component for that matter), excessive force is not necessary. The components are designed to fit in only one way, so there is no reason to force a piece of computer hardware into place. If it doesn’t fit in easily, even when you apply slight pressure, you are probably plugging it the wrong way.

Booting Up

Piece back your PC so you can test your new card. Remember to reconnect all the cables you disconnected earlier and connect your monitor to the new graphics card. It is okay to hold off replacing the side panel of your PC case the first time you piece everything back together. This will save you the stress of having to start all over again to take apart your PC in case something doesn’t go right.

It will also let you see whether or not the fans of the graphics card spin as you power up your PC. Plug in all the peripherals and start your PC. It should start normally and load your operating system. If it doesn’t start as it normally would, turn off your PC and make sure all connections are correctly in place.

Install Drivers

Finally, you need to download the latest drivers for your new graphics card. This is not a hard thing to do. Simply visit the website of your card’s manufacturer, and you will find a download link for the latest drivers. Usually, the correct drivers for your card will be detected automatically. All you need to do is click install and wait for a few minutes while the drivers do their thing.

There you have it. Upgrading a graphics card is as simple as following these three steps. Now go ahead and load your favorite programs or games and enjoy a smooth experience!