NOTE: I didn’t write this article to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t upgrade your graphics card. That comes down to you, your personal circumstances and your desperation to upgrade. I will never tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your money. This article is intended to guide you through the thought process and hopefully help you to make a decision before pulling the trigger on a purchase.
Gamers, particularly PC gamers, are notorious for wanting better, more realistic graphics. As the industry continues to pursue photorealism, the demand for powerful graphics cards intensifies. Inevitably, some gamers will consider upgrading to keep up with the ever-improving visuals on offer.
The question is, should you upgrade your graphics card?
Even if your gaming PC is powerful enough not to bottleneck a new card, you should take some time to carefully consider whether you really need to upgrade. While having the best graphics possible is certainly alluring, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be getting a better gaming experience than with ageing hardware.
I have recently upgraded my graphics card from an ageing mid-level graphics card to a 1080ti. While the 1080ti has been superceded by the 2080ti, it remains a beastly card with a large price tag. I not an overly wealthy person and, so, the investment was a significant one for me. As such, I was expecting big things from my new card.
But, was it worth it?
My Gaming PC
I bought my PC early in 2014. It cost me less than £1,000 but I wanted it to be as futureproof as possible. I prioritised the processor and motherboard, as I didn’t want to go through the agro of upgrading those down the line. As those components (plus 16GB RAM) chewed through a chunk of my budget, I had a limited budget for a graphics card. I ended up going with an AMD Radeon HD 7950.
Friends told me I should have gone with Nvidia, I should have spent as much as I could afford on the graphics card first, and so on. But, honestly? I was happy with my purchase. I could run most games at Ultra at 1080p and those I couldn’t were still running at Very High.
Everything looked great. I was a PC gamer with no regrets.
Fast forward to 2018 and I was beginning to wonder if a new graphics card would revolutionise my gaming experience. I mean, my 7950 wasn’t a top of the range card when I’d bought it 4 years before, having something new would give a significantly better experience, right? Right?
My New Graphics Card
I eventually snapped up a 1080ti in a sale during the run-up to the 20XX-series announcement and launch, capitalising on the uncertainty about how good the new cards would be. I couldn’t wait to stick it in my rig. As an added bonus, I was also gifted a 4K gaming monitor with G-Sync.
Fast-forward a few hours and everything was installed, my drivers were updated and my G-Sync settings were configured. I was ready for my mind to be blown.
I booted up The Division. Then Grand Theft Auto. Then Metal Gear Solid 5. Then Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
It was underwhelming.
I’d gone from an ageing mid-level card on a 1080p monitor to a 1080 Ti on a 4K screen and, honestly, things do look better. I can now play at maxed out settings, rather than dialling down while benefitting from 4K and G-Sync. Things look great.
So, why do I feel slightly underwhelmed with my purchases?
Despite having an older graphics card, everything looked fine before. I was playing The Division on mostly Very High settings before and I was blown away by it. A couple of extra shiny surfaces and a few more snowflakes isn’t enough to justify well over £1,000 of upgrades. The same can be said for the other games listed above, and just about every video game in general.
The games are the same. The jump from Very High, or even High, settings to Ultra isn’t as significant as the jump from Low to High or Very High settings. Textures still look great and the worlds feel just as immersive. Only the most hardcore of gamers will truly notice and appreciate the slight improvements a week after upgrading.
So…Should YOU Upgrade Your Graphics Card?
As always, that depends on who you are and what kind of gamer you are. If you’re the type of gamer who has to have the best of everything, either for peace of mind that you’re getting the best experience or even just for bragging rights, then by all means upgrade.
Equally, if your graphics card is giving you a choppy experience as it throws a low frame rate at you, or if you can only play games with the settings dialled right down to potato mode, then upgrade. You’ll get a much better experience and that in itself is worth the money.
And, if you’re looking at getting VR and your graphics card has literally no hope of powering it, then by all means upgrade. It’s a no-brainer. Upgrading just to experience VR with a smooth experience is more than justified in my opinion.
However, if you’re happy with your gaming set up but are just wondering whether things could be better if you threw more money at your gaming PC, then you should think twice before spending your hard earned cash. Having the power to effectively game at 4K with G-Sync is great, I won’t lie to you, but it isn’t as mind-blowing if your rig is already churning out a decent frame rate and things already look good to you.
It’s so easy to forget that games, in general, are stunning these days and they have been for a long time. There are improvements gained by using higher graphical settings but only you can answer whether the jump from one graphical setting to another is significant enough to warrant the outlay for a new graphics card.
I love my set up and I’m glad that I have a system that will hopefully not require too much investment for the foreseeable future. Despite that, I only really felt like I’d got value for money when I bought a VR headset. Until then all I could think about is how instead of my upgrades I could have got a PS4 AND a Nintendo Switch, plus a couple of games, then put a bit of money towards Christmas.
It is far too easy to get caught up wondering “what if…” when it comes to looking at upgrading your graphics card. The truth is, the games are the same and whether you should upgrade really depends on you, your personal circumstances and your current set up. Good luck!