So you finally bit the bullet and decided to upgrade your video card. You either had a good deal on a new card or got a slightly older card that’s still better than the one you previously had. Now the question is: How do you upgrade your GPU?
Over the years, installing a video card has gotten much easier. That said, it can still be daunting for those new to working on their own PCs. Great news: we’re here to give you an easy-to-follow guide on how to upgrade your GPU.
Things before you install a new GPU
Here are a couple of things you need to consider if you’re going to upgrade your GPU.
First, you need to figure out if your GPU of choice will fit in your PC. Most tower and mid-tower cases will accept most GPUs. But a smaller ITX case may not accept some of the bigger, more powerful ones.
Beyond that, you need to make sure your power supply can handle it. Most newer GPUs require a lot of power. Back in the day, a 500-watt power supply could handle most top-end GPUs. But now, you’d need at least a 650-watt power supply to run even a mid-range GPU.
What makes this challenging is that your other components also consume power. Luckily, you can use this handy website to calculate just how much power your PC’s components are using and how much more your selected GPU will add.
Then, make sure you have the correct connector for your GPUs power. Most GPUs these days will use two 8-pin PCI Express (PCIe) power connectors. Some older ones, however, will use only one. Meanwhile, some newer, more powerful ones will use three of these.
In addition, Nvidia’s Founders Edition cards use a proprietary 12-pin connector, but these usually come with adaptors for it.
Once you have a GPU that fits both your case and your power supply, you’re ready to upgrade your GPU.
How to remove your old GPU
The first thing you need to do (assuming you’ve already powered down your system) is to detach the power cable or cables from your old GPU. Once you’ve done this, you can unscrew the GPU from your case. Take note that most GPUs these days take up two slots on your case, so you’ll need to unscrew two screws.
Thankfully, these are usually thumbscrews in newer cases. But ready a screwdriver just in case.
Once you’ve unscrewed your old GPU, it’s still not free. You then need to unlock the latch that locks it onto the PCIe slot. You will need to unlatch this before you can pull your old GPU out. In addition, unlatching pushes the old GPU out a bit from the slot.
Once you’ve unscrewed and unlatched your old GPU, you can pull it out and set it aside.
This is also a good time to clean your PC’s parts before you install your new GPU. Any dust that settles on your PC’s heat spreaders or on your fans can make it run hotter. The hotter a PC runs, the slower it gets, as your components are designed to throttle their performance down when it gets too hot to prevent any damage.
Physically installing your new GPU
With your old GPU taken out of your PC, you’re now ready to install your new one. Whether you’re installing a brand new card—such as the GeForce RTX 3060 Ti Ventus 2X OC from MSI that we’re using in the photos for this guide—or an older second-hand card, the process is the same.
Line up your new GPU with the PCIe slot you’re putting it into, then slowly slot it in. While doing so, make sure to align the metal tabs on the GPU’s IO plate—the metal plate in the back where you plug in your cables—with their slots in the case. As these just out further than your new GPU’s PCIe connector, these need to be aligned before you can slot it in.
Once you’ve aligned the tabs, slotting your new GPU into its PCIe slot should be pretty straightforward. You’ll know you’ve done it correctly once the latch automatically locks it in.
At this point, it may be tempting to give your new GPU a little shake to test if it’s in properly. But you’d best avoid doing this. A GPU is a pretty heavy component, with its metal heatsink and fans—trying to wiggle it may cause extra strain that can damage the PCIe slot.
If the PCIe slot’s latch is locked and the GPU’s IO shield’s screw holes line up correctly, then you know that it’s seated right. At this point, you can now screw it in to secure it.
All that’s left to do is to plug the GPU power cables back in. Now, remember how GPUs can be pretty heavy; well, this can be a factor in how you wire it up.
Most GPUs have their power connectors to the right, near the front of the case. This is also where there is the least amount of physical support for your new GPU.
If you don’t give your power cables enough slack, they can pull down on your GPU. This can contribute to a phenomenon called GPU sag, where it bends over time due to the weight of its cooling components.
While power cables with not enough slack aren’t the only reason for GPU sag, especially with bigger cards, it’s better to play it safe, especially if you’re using a case with a tempered glass or acrylic window, as is quite common these days.
If your power supply’s cables don’t give enough slack, using extensions can help. These also have the advantage of looking good, which can be an added bonus.
With this, your new GPU is now physically installed. All that’s left is for you to plug in your monitor (or monitors), power on your PC and install new drivers and software for your new GPU.
Installing drivers and software
Once you turn on your PC with your new GPU, your operating system should immediately detect it. But even if it does run, that doesn’t mean you’re done. You still need to install the proper drivers to take full advantage of the features it brings.
You can get drivers for your new GPU from either AMD or Nvidia’s websites, depending on what card you’ve bought.
For Nvidia customers, you can navigate to this site, then pick your GPU from the list to get the most up-to-date game-ready driver.
For AMD customers on Windows 7 or 10, you can go to this site and download AMD Adrenalin which will detect and download the correct drivers. However, if you’re not on Windows 7 or 10, you can pick your GPU from a list to get the drivers instead. (Read: GUIDE: Should you buy an AMD graphics card?)
In addition to drivers, both AMD and Nvidia have additional software, such as Nvidia’s GeForce Experience, that you can install to help manage your cards.
Once you’ve installed the drivers, then you’re new GPU is just about ready. But if you’re looking to take a bit more control of your new GPU, then there’s one more piece of software you should install: MSI Afterburner.
Despite the fact that it’s made by MSI, Afterburner will work with any GPU from any vendor.
Afterburner that will allow you to tweak various parameters of your GPU and even overclock it. Even if you aren’t looking to overclock your card, Afterburner can still let you do simple tweaks, such as increasing your GPU’s fan speed for better cooling and performance.
Beyond that, it also allows you to monitor various parameters for both your GPU and your PC in general. This is great if you’re looking to troubleshoot any performance issues. It can allow you to find out what other things are holding your PC’s performance back.
With that, we have covered everything on how to upgrade your GPU. All that’s left to do is run some games and enjoy your PC’s newfound graphical prowess—or you can read on to understand how overclocking works.
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