How to Determine Graphics Card Compatibility With a Motherboard. What graphics card can my pc handle

If you plan to use your hardware primarily for gaming, then multi-GPU setup is not recommended. Driver and game support for this technology is constantly declining and the possible performance gain is minimal.

How to Determine Graphics Card Compatibility With a Motherboard

Graphics cards help improve graphics-intensive applications.

It only takes a few minutes to add a new graphics card to your office computer. Installing the card is the easy part. Ensuring that the card will work with the current motherboard of a computer often requires a lot of research. Some vendors call them graphics cards, while others call them video cards or even graphics processors, which stands for graphics processing unit. Whether you’re adding a second card to your computer or replacing a current one, you need to know the card is compatible with your computer’s motherboard and case before purchasing.

Checking Basic Graphics Card Compatibility

Motherboards have specific types of sockets for connecting additional components. Almost all modern computers use PCI Express 3.0 slots, which means that the graphics card can be inserted into any open slot. If your computer uses PCI Express 2.0 or a different version of PCI Express, the newer card should be backward compatible. Ancient computers may have AGP slots for graphics cards that are of a different shape and size and will not be compatible with modern cards. Most of the time, you’ll need a PCI-e x16 slot, which should be the longest slot on your motherboard.

In addition to the motherboard slot, most graphics cards require a power connection, which requires a 6-pin or 8-pin connector. Extremely powerful cards require two connectors instead of one. If you are not sure what type of graphics card connectors your computer motherboard uses, check its technical specifications or open the case after disconnecting the computer, remove the current graphics card and count the pin connectors.

Integrated graphics may not have independent RAM, but neither does it generate as much heat or use as much power and battery life as their discrete counterparts. Integrated graphics are generally not preferred for graphics-heavy games, but it’s more affordable. They are also good for more basic visual tasks like streaming movies and TV.

How to Check if a Graphics Card Is Compatible With a Motherboard

Motherboards have slots for adding additional hardware. Nowadays, every modern computer has PCI Express 3.0 slots, and the card can enter any available one. If your computer has PCI Express 2.0 slots or a different version of PCI Express, don’t worry. Newer graphics cards are backwards compatible, which means that the PCI Express 3.0 graphics card works with a PCI Express 2.0 slot. If you are using a computer with AGP slots, you should know that most modern graphics cards will not be compatible.

In most cases, you’ll need a PCI Express x16 slot for your graphics card. Fortunately, almost every modern computer has one. If you plan on plugging in multiple graphics cards, make sure you have two available slots.

To confirm if your graphics card is compatible with your motherboard, check the PCI Express slots.

How to Check if a Graphics Card Is Compatible With a CPU

Typically, any processor is compatible with any graphics card. The question should not be whether it is compatible, but what processor is sufficient for a particular graphics card. If you want to connect a powerful graphics card to an older CPU, the CPU will actually slow down (bottleneck) the card itself.

The same rule applies the other way around. If you have a powerful processor, buy a matching graphics card. Otherwise, you will not use your computer to the fullest power, as your graphics card will limit it.

A useful website to help you with compliance is User Benchmark. Here you can check your specs and see what options are best for your CPU.

Knowing which graphics card you have can be a bit confusing as there are two relevant model numbers: the GPU model (that is, the actual chip that does the job) and the model of the card itself (including other hardware like cooler, voltage regulator etc).

What to look for in a graphics card

When looking for graphics cards, you can choose from two major brands; AMD and NVIDIA. Both manufacturers offer high-quality, high-performance graphics cards.

  • First you need to decide how much memory you want in your graphics card
  • Also consider factors such as computer size (desktop vs laptop),
  • Whether you want a separate graphics processor or a graphics card integrated into the processor
  • Take into account what power connectors your card uses
  • Note the Design Thermal Power (TDP)

All of this will determine whether the graphics card will fit directly into your computer and whether it can receive adequate power and cooling. For an overview of the best budget GPUs, check out our HP Tech Takes article here.

1. Integrated vs discrete graphics

Integrated graphics are more common on smaller systems like laptops, but you’ll also find them in desktops for those who don’t need to use high-powered graphics software.

Integrated graphics may not have independent RAM, but neither does it generate as much heat or use as much power and battery life as their discrete counterparts. Integrated graphics are generally not preferred for graphics-heavy games, but it’s more affordable. They are also good for more basic visual tasks like streaming movies and TV.

If you’re interested in using your computer for graphics-intensive tasks, such as gaming at high settings, video editing, photo editing, and 3D rendering, you’ll need to invest in a separate graphics card.

These cards have their own RAM, unlike their integrated cousins. However, a discrete graphics card requires a good CPU to match as well as a cooling configuration to prevent the PC from overheating. It also uses more power, so you’ll need a larger (and more expensive) power supply in your desktop PC to run both CPUs.

It also means that if you have a separate card in your laptop, you will be dealing with shorter battery life compared to the less powerful options.

2. Desktop vs laptop graphics cards

Graphics cards for both desktops and laptops have separate considerations. Due to the types of devices these graphics cards are made for, there are differences between the aspect ratio, performance, and price of desktop and laptop graphics cards.

  • Form Factor: The ability to fit larger, stronger components is one of the benefits of using a tower computer. The PC tower provides the space and cooling necessary to handle the heat and power consumption of durable GPUs.
  • Performance: You will enjoy higher specs compared to laptop graphics cards. This includes greater memory bandwidth, faster pixel speeds, and greater texture mapping than with laptop graphics cards.
  • Price: Desktop cards are more affordable because the hardware is less compact and therefore less costly to manufacture.
  • Form Factor: Smaller components are necessary as the GPU has to fit into the thin casing of the laptop. As a result, they are optimized for energy consumption and use advanced thermal and electrical technology. They are also designed to run as quietly as possible.
  • Performance: Manufacturers are approaching parity for desktop and laptop GPUs, but as we mentioned earlier, laptop cards tend to underperform in some areas.
  • Price: You’ll pay a premium for laptop graphics cards. This is because the components to create a portable and energy-efficient graphics card are more expensive to manufacture. Larger and more powerful laptop graphics cards are available, but they also add to the overall weight of the device, can heat up the laptop, and make portability difficult.


Choosing a graphics card is one of the hardest parts of buying a new computer, primarily because it’s one of the most important components, so you want to get it right. Plus, if you’re new to GPUs, you’ll need to unpack a lot of terminology.

Overall, you should update your graphics card every 4 to 5 years, although an extremely high-end GPU may last a bit longer. While price is a major factor in your decision making, performance and memory needed should also be considered. And be aware of your computer’s CPU as it may need updating as well. After all, the best GPU is only as efficient as its companion processor.

About the Author: Daniel Horowitz is the co-author of HP® Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author who has written for USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.

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