Tag Archives: Graphics Cards

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

A substantial PC upgrade, or even a better workspace, doesn’t have to be a huge project that drains your time and energy. If you can order the parts, there are several worthwhile improvements you can make that’ll pay off big when it’s time to work (or play). Here are some of them.

10. Switch to a New, Better Case

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

This one’s for the PC builders out there. Even if you keep all of the same components, there’s nothing like a brand new case to give your computer—and your desk—a new lease on life. Maybe you’d like some more easily accessible USB ports, or maybe you bought a huge case back in the day and now you’d rather have a space-saving model.


As long as you buy smart and don’t let a new case spiral into building a new PC, you can have your cake and eat it too. If you need some suggestions, we have our favorite PC cases here, and our favorite small form-factor PC cases here to get you started. You can (and should) also check out what the folks at Logical Increments suggests based on your budget, and what’s popular over on PCPartPicker.


9. Upgrade Your Display

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

A new display, bigger display, or additional display can make all the difference in your productivity (or not, but it’ll definitely make your desk cooler.) Whether you’re rocking an old 22" display you’ve had forever, don’t even have an external display, or could use the screen real estate that a 4K display could offer, now’s a good time to upgrade.


Even if you don’t want to go full 4K, there are plenty of affordable, large panels that could give you more room to work. You could always go with an ultrawide display instead of multiple panels, or you can pick up a large, solid budget LED display to give your desk a facelift and a utility boost.


8. Get a New Keyboard and Mouse

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

You use your keyboard and mouse every day, and there’s no easier way to give yourself that “new computer” feeling than to upgrade them both. Sure, your PC’s innards will be the same as they’ve always been, but new peripherals, especially ones you’ve had your eyes on, can make a huge difference.


If you’ve been using the keyboard and mouse that came with your computer, now’s a good time to upgrade to a new one. Maybe give a mechanical keyboard a try (we love them around here), or pick up a sleek new gaming keyboard (and mouse). They’re fun for play, sure, but they can also help you get real work done. If you need some mouse suggestions, we’ve always been big fans of Logitech’s Performance MX, but the new MX Master is a fitting successor to it. It’s not your only option, though!


7. Upgrade your Graphics Card

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

Again, this is for the desktop PC owners (and builders) here, but a graphics card upgrade can be a big improvement for a PC that’s starting to show its age (or slow down when you try to unwind and play some video games!) Of course, it’s not always a smart investment, so you should make sure you think hard before rushing out to buy whatever card everyone’s shouting about these days. Still, if yours is due for an upgrade and you’ll actually benefit from the upgrade, it’s easy to find even budget-friendly cards that will make the most of that new display we mentioned earlier, and speed up your system’s performance in your favorite games.


6. Give Yourself the Gift of Better Audio

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

Whether you like to listen to music, or you record audio for podcasts, streams, or just do the occasional Skype call or Hangout with coworkers, a new pair of speakers or headphones (and we have some suggestions in the headphone department,) and a microphone can go a long long way toward making sure your audio is crystal clear. Best of all, they don’t cost a fortune, and installation is easy enough to do in a couple of minutes.


We’re big fans of the Blue Yeti, but if that’s not your style, here are some of our other picks. If you’re still not sure, check out our guide to choosing the best microphone for you, or check out some of our favorite headsets with attached microphones if that’s more your speed.

When it comes to speakers, you have plenty of options, from simple bookshelf speakers you can connect to anything, great desktop speaker systems designed for PCs, to full 5.1 surround systems. Choose what works for you and your space, but anything will be an upgrade over the speakers that came with your PC, or whatever’s built into your laptop.

5. Add a New, HD Camera

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

If you’re thinking about doing video streams, or just want your visuals to match the crystal clear audio you got from that last upgrade, a new camera is in order. Odds are whatever camera is built into your laptop may not be the best, and certainly isn’t adjustable. A new, HD-capable camera will make sure everyone can see you clearly and you’re not a fuzzy blob on-screen when you fire up a Skype call, or try to do a Google Hangout with friends or coworkers when you work from home. Worst case, if you don’t have a camera at all, you probably have a good one on your phone. We have guides to turn your iOS device or Android phone into a PC-connected webcam.


4. Add More Convenient Power (Strips)

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

When you set up your desk the first time, odds are you didn’t include all the power you’d need to connect everything you have now. Maybe you added some power strips later, or worse, you’re daisy-chaining power strips together for some reason. Stop that and get yourself a good surge protector, or better yet, a good UPS to protect your gear. Then tack on a long, server-style power strip to connect to it and give you all the power you need for all your gear. It’s a better solution than big, bulky power strips hanging off the walls, and your cables will be easier to manage.


3. Upgrade Your Power Supply

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

Now we’re getting serious. Upgrading your power supply may take a little time (no more than transplanting all of your gear to a new case, however!) but if you’re rocking the one that came with your case when you built your PC, one that’s way too underpowered for the gear you’ve crammed into your build, or you’re experiencing strange and quirky problems with your system, it might be time for an upgrade. Don’t expect to save money on energy though, that’s not what this is about—it’s about stability and giving you enough juice to run everything you want to run. Get thee to a power supply calculator and make sure the one you buy can support your system.


2. Add more RAM

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

We’ve said before that most modern systems probably won’t benefit from more than around 4GB of RAM, but that doesn’t mean that yours won’t be an outlier. If you don’t have that much, or you do memory intensive tasks, high-end gaming, or use virtualization software to test software or experiment, you’ll need more—a lot more. For everyday use though, 16GB is the new ceiling. Plus, while RAM isn’t as cheap as it used to be, it’s still cheap enough that in some cases it makes more sense to just max out your motherboard and call it a day.


However, just make sure you’re not spending more on RAM than you would on other, better and more valuable upgrades to your system. More RAM isn’t a silver bullet to better performance, but if your system is hurting for memory, you probably know it already, so full speed ahead.

1. Install an (or Upgrade Your) SSD

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

If you have a computer built at all in the past few years, your boot drive is probably already an SSD. That’s great! You may want another one—bigger SSDs are cheaper now than they’ve ever been, and even if you already have one, if it’s super old and slow, there’s nothing wrong with upgrading to a newer, faster one. Even if you have a laptop, your drive is probably easy to swap out and replace, and the benefits will show themselves the first time you reboot your machine.


If you need some help picking a good one, here are some suggestions, and of course, you can always find some good picks at Logical Increments and make sure they’re compatible with your gear at PCPartPicker. When it comes time to actually do the installation, make sure you take your files and settings with you, and optimize it for performance.


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Illustration by Fruzsina Kuhári. Photos by TJStamp, Brett Morrison, Kevin Pham, Matthew Keefe, yoppy, Murat Tanyel, danrock, Yutaka Tsutano, and Intel Free Press.

PC Graphics Card Showdown: NVIDIA vs. AMD

PC Graphics Card Showdown: NVIDIA vs. AMD

The hardest part of building a PC is picking the parts, especially when everyone around you seems to have an opinion. And no flame war is more prevalent than the NVIDIA snobs vs the AMD fanboys. What’s really going on with these two companies, and which card should you get?

Today’s Sunday Showdown is going to be a bit different. Instead of directly comparing two graphics cards, we’re going to talk a bit about the companies who make them, where each manufacturer wins and loses, and how to pick the right card for you.


Price-to-Performance Is Always Changing

PC Graphics Card Showdown: NVIDIA vs. AMD

First, a little real talk: Anyone who tells you one of these companies “sucks” is not to be trusted. They both make unequivocally great video cards for PC gaming, and you should consider both for your next build.

By far the most important factor in choosing a video card is its price to performance ratio. How well does it fare in games against the other cards in the same price range? Neither company wins consistently on a price to performance basis, though at the time of this writing, AMD cards are priced at a particularly good value. But this fluctutates often, and can even vary from card to card.

So when you decide on your budget, pick a few cards from each company that fit into your price range and start looking up benchmarks. Anandtech has a good benchmark tool that will show you how each card performs in different games (pay special attention to the games you actually play!) You’ll probably find that one is consistently better for the money. Tom’s Hardware also publishes regular guides to the current crop of cards and which ones are the best for your hard-earned cash, so I recommend checking that out as well.

Each Has Its Own Exclusive Technologies

PC Graphics Card Showdown: NVIDIA vs. AMD

Price to performance is, by far, the most important trait in which card you pick—however, there are other minor ways NVIDIA and AMD try to stand out from one another.

NVIDIA has some exclusive big-name technologies, like PhysX, which isn’t in a ton of games but provides additional physics effects. In some cases, AMD has equivalent technologies, but NVIDIA is often first to the punch. NVIDIA was the first to launch G-Sync monitors, for example, which adapt the monitor’s refresh rate to the game to eliminate nasty screen tearing. AMD’s Freesync technology is very similar, but didn’t show up until after G-Sync was already on the market. Freesync, however, is more open in nature—which means compatible monitors will be less expensive and (hopefully) more plentiful.

You might also consider NVIDIA’s Shadowplay feature, which records your games to video, or AMD’s GVR, which isn’t quite as powerful but serves the same purpose (and came out a bit later). NVIDIA cards can also stream games to Shield devices, which is pretty cool if you want to play on a handheld device.

NVIDIA isn’t always first on the scene with new tech, of course—AMD came out with its TressFX hair physics before NVIDIA’s HairWorks, and it actually performs better, too. But NVIDIA has a reputation of pushing the envelope a bit more often, especially with big, marketable features, while AMD gains their edge by making their features more “open”.

Scandal After Scandal

PC Graphics Card Showdown: NVIDIA vs. AMD

Of course, no flame war would be complete without scandals in the press and gamers making half-founded accusations. For example, NVIDIA and AMD recently had a spat over their respective hair technologies. AMD’s TressFX (which actually came out first) creates some very realistic hair, but it works better on AMD cards. NVIDIA’s HairWorks does something similar, but works much better on NVIDIA cards than it does on AMD. So much so that after The Witcher 3 launched, AMD accused NVIDIA of purposely crippling their cards. The two companies sniped at each other for awhile, gamers took sides, and the battle still rages on.

And that’s just one example. AMD constantly has a bad reputation for unreliable drivers and cards that run hot. NVIDIA users were upset when they found out that some of the GTX 970’s RAM ran at slower speeds than the rest. Many users cite disappointment over AMD cards that are merely “rebrands” of the previous generations. And current NVIDIA cards won’t be able to take advantage of some upcoming DirectX 12 features that AMD will, causing people to accuse NVIDIA of planned obsolescence.

You can see how the flame wars might get pretty heated.

Very few of these scandals are as simple as one side would have you believe. They may contain useful information, but beware of people who use them to point to the fact that AMD “doesn’t innovate” or NVIDIA is “anti-consumer”. And beware of people making grand predictions of the future based off one benchmark or one marketing campaign. You can never know what the future will bring.

Buy What’s Right for You

When you’re building a PC, asking experienced builders for advice is usually a great idea. But when it comes to video cards, be prepared for some serious brand wars—and don’t let the opinions of others negate your own research.

First and foremost, look at which cards perform best in your budget. If you require any exclusive technologies (maybe you have an NVIDIA Shield, or a Freesync-but-not-G-sync compatible monitor), that may sway your decision as well. And when it comes to the scandals…well, feel free to keep up with the news, but if it all feels like too much, buy the card that proves itself in the benchmarks and price tag. Brand loyalty won’t get you very far.


Is It Worth It to Run Two Graphics Cards in My Gaming PC?

Is It Worth It to Run Two Graphics Cards in My Gaming PC?Dear Lifehacker,
I’m building a new gaming PC using your guide, but I have one question: Is running two graphics cards worth it? Some people tell me I can get more bang for my buck with two midrange cards, but others say I should get one high-end card instead. Which is true?

Dual Card Dude

Dear Dual,
Using two (or more) video cards in tandem—known as “SLI” for NVIDIA cards and “Crossfire” for AMD cards—can get you better performance, sometimes even for less money than you’d spend on a comparable single card solution. However, whether it’s worth it is another story. Here’s what you need to know.

How SLI and Crossfire Work

To run SLI or Crossfire on your system, you need a few things: a compatible motherboard, two compatible video cards, and a “bridge” that connects the two cards together (these usually come with your motherboard or video cards). In SLI, you need two cards that have the same GPU—for example, two GTX 560 Tis. They don’t have to be from the same manufacturer, they just have to both be GTX 560 Tis. Crossfire has a bit more wiggle room, allowing you to pair some GPUs with other similar cards—like a Radeon 7950 with a Radeon 7970. To see which cards are compatible with one another, check out NVIDIA’s SLI page and AMD’s Crossfire page. Tom’s Hardware also has a great FAQ if you’re interested in finding out more.

Once you install both cards and the necessary bridge, you can open up your driver’s control panel and enable SLI or Crossfire. Make sure your drivers are up to date and play a game—if your drivers support SLI or Crossfire for that game, you’ll notice a significant performance boost. It won’t be exactly twice the performance, and every game will be a little different, but in many games you should find that everything runs more smoothly—with some exceptions.

The Pros and Cons of Multiple Video Cards

So why would you run multiple video cards? The main reason people go for it is its price to performance ratio. It varies from card to card, but in some cases, running two mid-range cards is slightly cheaper than running one comparable high-end card. You can get the same performance for a few bucks cheaper. They’re also ideal for multi-monitor or high-resolution gaming. Plus, they look sweet, and some people just want to make their rig look as baller as possible.

So that sounds awesome, right? Unfortunately, running multiple cards comes with some cons. For example:

  • Two video cards sitting closely together in your case will draw more power, produce more heat, and produce more noise. If you’re concerned about any of those things, SLI and Crossfire may not be for you.
  • Not all games support SLI and Crossfire. This depends on your video driver, not the game itself. NVIDIA and AMD often update their drivers to include multi-GPU support for new games, but if one of your games isn’t supported, you’ll either have to deal with one GPU or tinker with your driver settings to get the game working yourself.
  • SLI and Crossfire can sometimes cause a phenomenon called micro stuttering that makes the video look a tad choppy. It can be particularly aggravating to some people, especially at lower framerates.

In short, using two video cards may require more attention and tweaking on your part, whether to compatibility issues, heat, or just dealing with micro stutter.

So Is It Worth It?

Is It Worth It to Run Two Graphics Cards in My Gaming PC?We can’t tell you what will work for you, but I almost always try to go with a powerful single card rather than two cards in SLI or Crossfire. To me, it’s worth the extra $50 (or whatever it is) to have a card that works without system tweaks, without the extra noise, and without the chance of any micro stutter issues.

However, there is another school of thought, that says you can buy a good card now, and SLI it later. Tom’s Hardware user phishy714 explains:

With a [single GTX 560 Ti], You will be playing new games on high settings with pretty good fps easily for the next year. . . Once you start noticing you CAN’T play them on high settings, that’s when you buy another GTX 560 Ti (which will be dirt cheap by then, probably around the $120 range) and SLI them. Your system will then easily do another year’s worth of games on HIGH settings.

After that, when your GPU is two generations old, that’s when you scrap them both and get a new card.

This still means you’ll have to deal with the cons of SLI, but it allows you to wait a little bit longer before dropping wads of cash on a brand new card—you can buy an older card for cheap and eke more performance out. Of course, you could always just sell your old card on eBay and buy another single, high-end GPU too, which will save you the trouble of SLI and Crossfire.

In the end, it’s all about how much work you want to do. Some dual-GPU configurations may not require any work, but it’s hard to know that out of the gate—you always run the risk of having more work when you get multiple cards. But in some cases, it may be worth the trouble.


Photo by Gregg Tavares.

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