How To Know If A Graphics Card Is Compatible

If you want more performance to be able to play the latest games in high resolution and maximum quality, you need a good graphics card. Here we explain how to know if the graphics card will fit your PC and if it is compatible.

It’s important to get this stage right, because without it, you’ll be left with a powerful graphics card that won’t work properly with your PC. In this article, we will show you how to make sure both graphics cards are compatible with your device and would physically fit inside your case.

Once it’s sorted, the installation process is actually relatively straightforward by comparison.

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Background for PC graphics

Many PCs rely on so-called ‘integrated’ graphics, which is a chip on the motherboard or a chip built into the CPU itself. Other PCs have a ‘dedicated’ graphics card, which plugs into an expansion slot on the motherboard.

You can usually tell what type your PC uses by the location of the port you use to connect the monitor. If it’s among the other ports, such as USB and Ethernet, it’s integrated graphics. If the port is separate from the others and has more than one port, such as a pair of DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort outputs, it could be a dedicated graphics card.

Whichever it is, you’ll need both an expansion slot – called PCI Express – and a corresponding slot in the box – with a removable backplate where the connections will sit to fit a dedicated graphics card.

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How to know if a graphics card is compatible: Find a PCI Express slot

On many PCs, there will be several expansion slots on the motherboard. Normally they would all be PCI Express, but for one graphics card you need a PCI Express x16 slot. There are three versions of this slot, but they are backwards compatible, so a modern PCI Express 3.0 graphics card will work in a motherboard with a PCI Express x16 2.0 slot.

This motherboard has two PCI Express x16 slots. It’s most common to use the highest grade for one graphics card, but if you’re installing two in an nVidia SLI or AMD Crossfire setup, you’ll need both. However, check to see which standards your motherboard supports before investing in a pair of cards.

How to know if a graphics card is compatible?

How to know if a graphics card is compatible: length and height

More powerful graphics cards tend to have big fans to keep them cool and this makes them twice as thick as ‘single-height’ cards. The way most PCs are built means that the fan assembly will be underneath the card and not on top of it, so you’ll need an unused slot – and backplate – just below the PCI Express x16 slot.

Also, you need to measure the distance from the backplate to any components that might block a long graphics card on the front of your case. Don’t forget that some cards have power sockets on the back edge instead of the side, so you’ll need to add about 30-40mm to your chosen card length to make sure the card will fit.

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If you’re not sure how long the card will last, ask the manufacturer, seller, or try our own forums to find someone who already owns the card and can confirm how big it is.

How to know if a graphics card is compatible: power requirements

Even if you have a PCI Express x16 slot and plenty of room, you’ll need extra power for most graphics cards. Your power supply is likely to have PCI-E power connectors, but they may become bundled and unconnected if no graphics card is currently inserted.

These connectors are typically black, marked PCI-E, and have six pins in a 3×2 arrangement.

If your PSU doesn’t have these, you can buy a standard four-pin power connection adapter or a SATA connector. Be careful with graphics cards that require two PCI Express power connectors because each of these must be connected to a different 12v rail of the power supply. On most PSUs, this means connecting each of the two adapters to a different ‘power connection string’, not to the same string.

How to know if a graphics card is compatible?

Finally, make sure your power supply has enough headroom above what the existing components are drawing to power your new graphics card.

It can be hard to deal with if you do, but a general rule of thumb is that high-end graphics cards will require at least a 600W PSU, if not more. It is a mistake to assume that the PSU can continuously output the maximum power rating and you will definitely have problems if your components take up more than about 80% of the PSU’s top rating.

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Again, it’s fairly easy to check how much power a graphics card gets from its specifications by searching online.

Considering buying? Check out our roundup of the best graphics cards.

To make sure you get the best price, you should also check out the best graphics card deals.

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