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The Noob's Guide To Nvidia GPUs

post #1 of 61
Thread Starter 
Table Of Contents
1. Intro
2. Brands
  • PNY
  • EVGA
  • MSI
  • XFX
  • BFG
  • Zotac
  • Asus
  • Gigabyte
  • Palit
  • Galaxy
  • Sparkle
  • Colorful
  • ECS
  • Inno3D
3.Reference Cards
  • Reference Style
  • Non-Reference Style
4. SLI
5. Video RAM
6. Overclocking
7. Temperatures
8. Core Clock, Shader Clock, Memory Clock, What's the Difference?
  • Core Clock
  • Memory Clock
  • Shader Clock
9. Some Benchmarks and Charts
10. PCI Express
11. Where To Buy
12. The Future
13. Conclusion

1. Intro:

Hey OCN! I (probably like many of you) have a lot of friends that know nothing about computers but really want to start learning. The problem that many of them face is that they don’t know where to start. The world of computers can seem daunting and overwhelming to a beginner, so I am creating this guide to serve as a stepping stone for newcomers that want a good place to start. And what better place to start building a gaming PC than with the graphics card right? Lets Begin teaching.gif

2. Brands:

First let's talk about brands. Many new users go on sites such as newegg or amazon in search of a new card and see the same card made by multiple companies, and often find themselves wondering what the difference between an EVGA GTX 560 and an MSI Twin Frozr GTX 560 is. There are many differences, but let's start with the basics and how these brands came about.

When Nvidia creates a new card, they essentially sell the "blueprints" of that card to other companies. The other companies then make slight modifications to the design, (such as custom cooling, different clock speeds, a new faceplate/color scheme etc..) and sell them with their brand on the front at their own price. The following is a list of some major brands that u will most definitely run into when shopping for a new card.

PNY: In many cases PNY offers some of the cheapest cards on the market. While EVGA and and MSI are generally the most expensive, PNY and Zotac (which I will talk about later) tend to offer their renditions for 10-30 dollars less. Don’t let the modest price of PNY fool you though! They still have great customer support and their warranties are nothing to scoff at.

EVGA: Known for their unrivaled customer support. If you are a noob (or anyone for that matter) this company is great to buy from. All of their cards are backed by very solid warranties. They also offer the step up program. Which allows you to buy a new card, and pay only the difference between the new card and what you already have, thus allowing you to get super cheap upgrades. More info on step up can be found HERE.
The downside to EVGA is their cards tend to cost at least 10-20 dollars more than the majority of the brands on this list. But the extra money is well worth it in the long run if you ever have any problems because they will always come to the rescue. Also make sure if you buy from them that you REGISTER your card on their website the day u receive it in the mail or purchase it from a store so that you can take advantage of these benefits! Cant go wrong with EVGA.

MSI: More recently MSI has been becoming a much more prominent graphics card brand. Their highly popular twin Frozr models have some of the best stock GPU cooling on the market and are great for heat intensive setups such as SLI and heavy overclocking. Just make sure you stay away from their motherboards. Asus and Gigabyte are kings on that front. Support wise, MSI is just average, with many users suffering problems, but others having great experiences. Something to keep in mind about their support and comments you hear online about this company is that MSI makes A LOT of different products, and some of the other products they produce are not as good as their graphics cards or arent supported as well. Graphics card wise MSI is easily one of the best right now. I had an issue with a fan on my MSI GTX 460 Twin Frozr (I let it get too dusty and the fans got clogged and wouldnt spin properly). The RMA process was easy. I opened a ticket on their website, sent in the card, and 2 weeks later I had a brand new one at my door from MSI. That is the only customer service experience I have had with MSI, and I was satisfied. I would recommend this brand.

XFX (Not so much anymore): I am sure we all remember this brand. They were awesome while they made Nvidia cards and i remember owning a few and never having any problems with them. Unfortunately they ceased doing business with Nvidia in October of 2010. More info on the XFX and Nvidia Split can be found HERE.

BFG (Not so much anymore): BFG officially exited the graphics card market on May 18th 2010. They still provide RMA support for their existing graphics cards, and they still offer their award winning power supplies, although with brands like Antec, Seasonic, and Corsair, I don’t see why you would buy BFG in that field. More info on BFG stopping graphics card production can be found HERE. For the record, when this brand was around, they made awesome cards.

Zotac: This brand came about in 2008 with a mission to deliver high quality pc components to the market. I have never had a personal experience with this particular brand, but I have read hundreds of QQ threads about people that don’t receive their rebates/RMA’s from this company(rebates seem to be the biggest complaint). I don’t know as much about Zotac as I do the others so if another guru wants to help me fill in the gaps on this one I am all ears!!

Asus: Legendary for their motherboards, but also make some pretty kick ass graphics cards. Most recently (as of 11/22/2011) they have released the Mars II GPU which is essentially a single card, with the power of TWO GTX 580s (the 580 is most powerful single GPU on the market. And this thing is basically 2 of those). Asus has a pretty sweet video of these things running in SLI HERE.
As far as Asus support goes, they have excellent support in North America. Unfortunately I have heard different from users in Canada and Europe. So if you are in the U.S. they are a great buy for just about any product they make.

Gigabyte: Another company known for their legendary motherboards, this company has also began to secure a solid foot hold in the graphics card market. Gigabyte has always had great support, and the cooling on some of their newer cards is awesome. Recently they released the GTX 580 SOC. This thing has a fat factory overclock on it, and the cooling is nuts. I have owned Gigabyte motherboards for years and have never had a single problem. I would highly recommend this brand for graphics cards as well.

Palit / Gainward: This brand has fantastic customer support, as decreed by other members here at OCN. Gainward is based in Europe and features some excellent non-reference cooling solutions, check out their Phantom line to see some how their cooling innovation looks and works.

Galaxy / KFA2: Galaxy often has some of the cheapest prices in the available in the US. They boast massive rebates (sometimes 50$ or more!!). I have never had a personal experience with this brand, so i cannot vouch for how good they are with honoring rebates/support/cooling. But they are cheap!

Sparkle: A decent brand that makes solid cards. Cards in their Calibre series usually come equipped with Arctic Cooling's Accelero coolers, which are about as good as aftermarket cooling gets before water. Very cool (pun intended tongue.gif )

Colorful: This brand only exists in Asia and Europe, but they have recently made news with the most powerful GTX 560 Ti released to date (factory overclocked to 1010 core). More info on that can be found HERE.

ECS: Known as one of the the most promintent OEM manufacturers of motherboards world wide, they have recently made a resurgence in the retail GPU market with high end reference cards.

Inno3D: This brand exists in Europe only, and since I am in the US i havent had experience with them. But if you are thinking about buying from them, i have seen a few here on OCN with these cards in their sigs. You could ask them for feedback if you desire thumb.gif

Special Thanks goes to Booty Warrior for his suggestions in this section!

3. Reference Cards:

A reference style GPU usually means that the card is presented as the GPU maker had intended (Nvidia and AMD) this includes everything from the PCB, layout of the components and the heatsink/fan. So basically you are getting the card exactly as the GPU maker intended

A non-reference style GPU is when the card manufacturers (like PNY, EVGA, MSI etc..) make changes that deviate from the original design. These changes can be something like a better heatsink/fan design, overclocking, changes to the PCB or any other changes that they see fit to make.

4. SLI:

Some of you out there may be wondering what all of this “SLI” business is. SLI is when you run 2 of the same graphics cards together, at the same time, on the same machine, thus netting you higher performance. But don’t take it from me! Read the Official SLI FAQ! All credit for that goes to our wonderful mod t4ct1c47

5. Video RAM:

Next let’s talk Video RAM, or as most call it, VRAM. For those that don’t already know, RAM stands for random access memory. Video RAM is really just a buffer between the computer processor and the display and is often called the frame buffer. When images are to be sent to the display, they are first read by the processor as data from some form of main (non-video) RAM and then written to video RAM. From video RAM, the data is converted by a RAM digital-to-analog converter (RAMDAC) into analog signals that are sent to the display presentation mechanism (a monitor).
Source

So what is video RAM good for? HUGE RESOLUTIONS!! If you are using (or planning on using) a multiple monitor setup, then you want as much VRAM as possible. VRAM is also what allows you to crank up settings like anti aliasing and draw distance. So you may be asking, how much VRAM should I get? How much do I need? Well the answer to that question is, it all depends. What resolution you will play at and what games you will play determine how much VRAM you will need. If you want some more specific information about how much VRAM you may need for certain setting/games/resolutions, you can check out this thread.

Another worthy thing to note about VRAM is, once you have enough to do whatever it is you want to do, getting more will do NOTHING. So it is indeed possible to have too MUCH VRAM. Obviously it wont hurt, but after a certain point, you will cease to see a performance gain from getting more VRAM. The misunderstanding among noobs that moar VRAM = moar Performance is extremely wide-spread, and many people need to be firmly disabused of this notion, as it is not true in all cases.

Special Thanks to aftershock64 for making a suggestion in this section of the guide!

6. Overclocking:

For those that don’t already know, (which you should because this is OCN after all!!) overclocking is when you push your components to perform at a higher level than they perform out of the box. Graphics cards are perhaps the easiest component in your PC to overclock. There is a fantastic little tool called MSI AfterBurner HERE.

This program allows you to configure custom fan profiles for your graphics cards, and includes sliders that allow you to adjust core clock, shader clock, and memory clock on the fly! Most high-end cards these days overclock pretty well right out of the box. Just make sure you start out small and work your way up. Overlclocking does increase temperatures though so BE CAREFUL and don’t push it too far if you are just starting out. If you desire to do some serious graphics card overclocking then I would suggest aftermarket cooling. I won't go into aftermarket cooling here because this is just a noobs guide. MSI Afterburner also has a nifty feature that allows you to monitor frame rates while in game.

7. Temperatures:

After my bit about overclocking and my warning about temperatures, many of you may be wondering what the temperature ceiling is for graphics cards so you know what to look for if you are having heat problems or just starting to overclock. Thankfully, another awesome mod has put together an extremely helpful FAQ about graphics card temperatures that can be found HERE.

It basically says that if you aren't over about 95 degrees Celsius, you have nothing to worry about, but I still suggest you read it because it is a great FAQ!! All credit for that goes to another awesome mod, Metallicamaster3


8. Core Clock, Shader Clock, Memory Clock, What's the Difference?

Core Clock:
This is the clock speed of the graphics processor on the card. The clock speed of the chip combined with the number and configurations of the pipelines in the chip, can yield an accurate estimation of how well the card will perform. In an overwhelming amount of cases, two graphics cards of the same generation from the same company, will differ only in core and memory clock speeds. The core clock of your graphics card is quite similar in nature to the CPU clock of your processor.

Memory Clock:
This is the clock speed of the onboard memory of a graphics card. The memory clock, along with the size of the memory bus, tells us the amount of memory bandwidth a graphics card has. The more memory bandwidth a card has, the more effectively it will be able to handle higher resolutions and high levels of anti-aliasing. Memory comes in a variety of different flavors, most of which are rendition of DDR (double data rate). This means that memory can read from/write to memory twice every clock cycle. So if your memory clock is 600 Mhz, then the effective clock speed will be 1200 Mhz.

Shader Clock:
The shader clock sets the clock speeds of the individual shader processors. Shaders are different for AMD and Nvidia cards. Nvidia uses CUDA processors, and AMD uses Stream Processors. Some day you may find yourself comparing an Nvdia card and an AMD card side by side. In the midst of your comparison, you may find yourself wondering why Nvidia cards have less "shaders" than AMD cards. Dont be fooled by this! A single CUDA core is generally 2.5 times faster than an AMD stream processor. This is due in part to the fact that CUDA cores run at 1.5 times the core clock, whereas with AMD cards, the stream processors run at the same speed as the clock. So what does that mean? Well, when you overclock your Nvidia GPU's core clock by 1 MHz, you are also increasing the speed of each CUDA Core (aka 'Shader' clocks) by 1.5MHz. However, when OC'ing the core of your AMD, the SP's ramp up at 1:1 with the core clock. This difference doesn't have any real practical importance, aside from accounting for some of why you can't compare SP and CUDA counts directly. The shader clock is essentially a measurement of the speed of the shader engine on the card.

If you are still a noob, you should not try to compare graphics cards based on their specs. If you want to effectively compare graphics cards with one and other, look up benchmark charts. A great place to start is the next section of this guide!! thumb.gif

9. Some Benchmarks And Charts

Many of you may be wondering how certain cards stack up against each other. Which card should you buy if you want the most for your money? Or maybe you just want to see some side by side comparisons. Below are some awesome charts that I found on tomshardware.com
Tom's Hardware - Benchmark Metro 2033 - Enthusiast Chart (Click to show)
Tom's Hardware - Benchmark 3DMark11 - Enthusiast Chart (Click to show)

For a more complete set of tables and to see how AMD cards stack up, you can head HERE

One thing I would like to point out about these to charts is that the SLI GTX 460s stack up very nicely next to the single GTX 580, which is at least 200 dollars more than the former mentioned SLI setup. If you are still interested in graphics card rankings and how things stack up, then check out this thread

all credit for that thread goes to anth0789

Another very helpful site for picking the card that is right for you can be found HERE. This site has rankings of all the cards and you are able to directly compare different cards. Lots of features on this site and definitely worth checking out if you are considering a new card.
Special thanks to intelfan for pointing out this site to me. Thanks!



10. PCI Express:

So what does PCI stand for anyway? Well, PCI stands for Peripheral Component Interface. The PCI Express slot is the slot on your motherboard that you would place your graphics card into. And it looks like this: PCI Slots (Click to show)
Right now, the standard for most cards is PCI Express 2.0, however 3.0 is just now starting to rear its head on some newer motherboards, and the Nvidia Kepler Series(Which I will talk about later) that is rumored to be coming out next year will be on the 3.0 interface. But what is the actual difference between 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0?

Here’s a summary of the key parameters of the various PCI Express interfaces:
Base Clock Speed: PCIe 3.0 = 8.0GHz, PCIe 2.0= 5.0GHz, PCIe 1.1= 2.5GHz
Data Rate (per lane & per direction): PCIe 3.0 = 1000MB/s, PCIe 2.0= 500MB/s, PCIe 1.1= 250MB/s
Total Bandwidth (x16 link): PCIe 3.0 = 32GB/s, PCIe 2.0= 16GB/s, PCIe 1.1= 8GB/s
Data Transfer Rate: PCIe 3.0 = 8.0GT/s, PCIe 2.0= 5.0GT/s, PCIe 1.1= 2.5GT/s

Source

So as you can see, each generation of PCI almost doubles the previous generation on paper. However it is worthy to note that most setups running a 2.0 card on a motherboard that uses a 1.0 slot, will only really see a performance difference of about 3-5% in most cases. So you won't be running your card to its fullest potential, but most of the time you won't notice the difference. You might also see in your motherboard manual that 1 of your 2.0 slots is running at x16 and another is at x8 or x4. If you are a noob reading this I wouldn’t worry too much about this number. The performance difference between an x8 slot and an x16 slot is usually less than 5 percent.

11. Where To Buy:

My favorite place to buy anything computer related is newegg.com. However, if you have Amazon prime, you can potentially save a lot of money by buying from amazon.com because you will get free 2 day shipping and no tax(in most cases) with the Prime service. I would not recommend going to Best Buy or Frys if you are a noob at this stuff and plan on asking their sales people questions. The sales representatives at big electronic stores are just trying to sell you stuff, and most of the time aren't very knowledgeable. I have friends who don’t know much and have basically been conned into buying overpriced junk from Best Buy when they could have just come on OCN and asked for some advice! I would say rule number one of buying a new part is getting a second opinion. Don’t be afraid to ask us before you buy a new part. You could potentially save a lot of money and maybe even get something better that you did not originally know about.

12. The Future:

So what is the future looking like for Nvidia graphics cards? Well, as I stated above, the new Kepler series (we are currently in the Fermi Series) is rumored to be coming next year. Nvidia also announced that they plan on releasing the Maxwell series around 2014-2015. These cards will blow everything in existence out of the water. And I am really excited to see some new innovation and a significant graphical jump with the help of these cards. Nvidia held a conference where they discuss the future much more in depth at this link.

13. Conclusion:

I Hope this helps someone out there! Say thanks if it did smile.gif. And of course if there is anything missing from this guide or some topics people would like me to cover just post a comment and I will get to it. And if anything is wrong or incorrect (we all make mistakes) pls pm me or post in the comments here so I can fix it. Thanks for reading!

A huge thanks to our awesome mod brettjv for pointing out a few things for me and making some nice contributions to this guide. Thanks!!


Updates List:

Update 1: Just added a new link to the VRAM section that talks more about how much vram you need for certain games/settings/resolutions! 11/23/11
Update 2: Added Gigabyte to the list of brands! thanks for the feedback so far 11/23/11
Update 3: Added a section about reference cards 11/23/11
Update 4: Added colors and bolded all hyperlinks 11/23/11
Update 5: Added EPIC table of contents and MOAR COLORS! 11/24/11
Update 6: MASSIVE update to the brands section. Added 7 new brands. Also added hyperlinks to every brands' website!! Updated table of contents. Also gave credit in the guide to those who have made suggestions. Anyone who makes suggestions that get into the guide from this point forth will get credit in the guide!
Update 7: Tweaked the PCI Express section and provided some extra info about how much perfomance loss there is when running a 2.0 card, in a 1.0 slot. Also prefaced the guide with a blurb informing people about upcoming price drops! 12/5/11
Update 8: Updated VRAM section with some new info. Updated shader clock section with some new info, and added a few minor tweaks. Thanks again to brettjv for pointing things out to me. Without him this update would not have happened. 12/8/11
Update 9: Minor tweak to the Shader Clock section. Thanks again brettjv 12/9/11
Update 10: Added a personal experience I have had with MSI customer service under the MSI section in brands. 8/4/12

A special thanks to all who have posted good feedback in this thread and helped my guide get stickied!
Edited by intex - 10/13/13 at 3:13pm
post #2 of 61
Nice guide thumb.gif +REP

I have a suggestion, maybe you should put in a list of how much VRAM you need depending on your resolution.
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post #3 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by aftershock64 View Post

Nice guide thumb.gif +REP
I have a suggestion, maybe you should put in a list of how much VRAM you need depending on your resolution.

Definetely! thanks for the rep and feedback! i will start working on that
post #4 of 61
The slot you have depicted in the PCI Express section is actually the 1990's Standard PCI slot. PCI-E is narrower in width, shorter in height, longer, has a lot more contacts, and has the short slot at the beginning (nearing the edge of the motherboard) rather than the end, plus it has a lot more varieties (PCI-E x1, x4, x8 and x16 the most common)

Good guide nonetheless, basics and not-so basics are well covered and should help for starters (and as a reminder for the ones who are not starters tongue.gif). Well redacted as well.
Edited by Starbomba - 11/23/11 at 6:56pm
   
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post #5 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Starbomba View Post

The slot you have depicted in the PCI Express section is actually the 1990's Standard PCI slot. PCI-E is narrower in width, shorter in height, longer, has a lot more contacts, and has the short slot at the beginning (nearing the edge of the motherboard) rather than the end, plus it has a lot more varieties (PCI-E x1, x4, x8 and x16 the most common)
Good guide nonetheless, basics and not-so basics are well covered and should help for starters (and as a reminder for the ones who are not starters tongue.gif). Well redacted as well.

thanks for the feedback! and you are right about the pic of the pci slot. just fixed it and changed it to another smile.gif
post #6 of 61
Nice.

I know there is a lot of brands out there but you may consider popping Gigabyte in your post. They are starting to make a name for themselves in the GFX card market.

Apart from the suggestions already made... good stuff! thumb.gif
post #7 of 61
Thread Starter 
Update: Just added a new link to the VRAM section that talks more about how much vram you need for certain games/settings/resolutions!

Update 2: Added Gigabyte to the list of brands! thanks for the feedback so far

Update 3: Added a section about reference cards

Update 4: Added colors and bolded all hyperlinks
Edited by intex - 11/24/11 at 1:59am
post #8 of 61
Excellent info intex. I'm considering stickying this. Let's see what others think. +rep in the meanwhile. thumb.gif
post #9 of 61
Definitely sticky this, great source of information for those learning about computers.
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post #10 of 61
oh god why'd you remind me of BFG. <<single tear rolls down cheek>>
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