What Is a Discrete Graphics Card and Do You Need One?

Most cheap PCs come with an integrated graphics card placed on the motherboard that uses the same chip as the processor. Your graphics card must share the same system memory (RAM) as your CPU. Almost all modern motherboards have integrated graphics, but it usually performs poorly. So, if you plan to buy a custom Gaming PC online, pay attention to this vital component of your PC.

A discrete graphics card is likely what you think of when you hear graphics card or GPU. The large card with built-in fans usually plugs into a PCIe slot on your motherboard. It has dedicated RAM to give your computer extra image processing power and is much more potent than integrated graphics. This is why you typically see a graphics card advertised with a gigabyte number after the tier number.

The Naming of Discrete Graphics Cards

Discrete graphics cards' naming conventions and features can confuse new gamers. So let's break it down in simple terms on this ASUS ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2080TI-O11G on Amazon:

  • Tier Level: 2080Ti (this tiering system represents the processing speed. AMD and Nvidia have their versions)
  • Overclocked: Yes, denoted by O (a complicated topic we'll save for another day, but offering extra speed at the risk of damage)
  • Ram: 11g (the dedicated onboard RAM that the card comes with)

If you play many games, work with images and 3D rendering often, or even want to mine cryptocurrency, you need a discrete graphics card. Below we'll cover the best discrete graphics cards for these different uses in a custom Gaming PC online.

Discrete Graphics Cards for Gaming

One of the crucial reasons why people buy a discrete graphics card is to improve their computer's gaming functionality. With a decent graphics card, your computer processing unit (CPU) can render the gaming environment smoothly and with all the meticulous detail that the game studio has put into it. So, if you're looking to improve the gaming performance of your PC, then consider buying one of the following discrete graphics cards.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the most expensive of the graphics cards on this list, but if you want the absolute best option for gaming, then this is it. Its 11GB of GDDR6 SDRAM (Graphics Double Data Rate type six Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory) gives you 11GB of dedicated graphics processing power for your game rather than using your computer's built-in RAM.

Meanwhile, its 68 RT (Ray Tracing) cores enable the card to render realistic lighting, and its 4,352 CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) cores allow your CPU to share the load of processing mathematical calculations with the graphics card, resulting in faster game performance. You'll see the benefits if you have the money to invest in this graphics card.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super

4K resolution is the current gold standard in screen resolution and will enable you to play games with cinema-quality graphics. While the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is powerful, it will still struggle to perform in 4K. The best discrete graphics card for this is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super.

While less expensive than the RTX 2080 Ti, the RTX 2070 Super has the same Turing TU104 GPU and DLSS 2.0 upscaling technology so that you can run your game at a lower resolution setting. In addition, your screen will automatically upscale to its native resolution.

With an RTX 2070 Super graphics card and a 4K screen, you can play games at a high resolution without a noticeable difference in quality to the RTX 2080 Ti to justify the extra cost.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super

If you're on more of a budget, then the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super could be the best discrete graphics card for you. For a much lower price than the RTX 2080 Ti or the RTX 2070 Super, the GTX 1650 Super will enable you to run your games smoothly at 1080p resolution or even 1440p. This makes it the best value graphics card out there for gaming that you'll find for this low a price in a custom Gaming PC online.

Discrete Graphics Cards for Design/Engineering

Another use for discrete graphics cards is for people regularly running heavy-duty graphics applications. For example, suppose you're a professional designer or engineer. In that case, you may need to supplement your computer's integrated GPU with a discrete graphics card to give you the processing power required for 3D modelling, 3D rendering, etc. The type of graphics card best for this is also known as a professional or workstation graphics card. 

These cards are cheaper than gaming cards; you can consider them the bare minimum to do the task. As long as you have the budget, I'd go for the gaming cards above instead.

Nvidia Quadro K420

The Nvidia Quadro K420 is a low-priced, entry-level workstation graphics card. With 1GB of DDR3 SDRAM (Double Data Rate type 3 Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory), it comes with enough processing power to smoothly run the 3D CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software you need for your work. But, if you want to work in 4K resolution, this may not be your best graphics card.

Nvidia Quadro K620

If you're looking for a workstation graphics card that supports 4K displays, then the Nvidia Quadro K620 could be a good option. It comes with 384 CUDA cores compared to the Quadro K420's 192, making it twice as powerful. In addition, with 2GB of DDR3 SDRAM, it also has twice the random-access memory of the Quadro K420.

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