I work in an office full of PC gamers, myself included, and many of them have been upgrading their computers. When it comes to PC games, one of the best components to get the most out of a game is a new video card. Most off-the-shelf computers can barely even run today’s newest games because of the advanced graphics and sound.
If you have a factory made computer, you can’t just drop a high-end video card in it and start running. The problem is the power supply. Most of the high-end video cards require a minimum 300-350 watt power supply to run. Most factory computers have a 200-250 watt power supply. This means in addition to buying a new video card, you may also need to get a new power supply. On top of that, you have to know whether or not your new power supply will even work in your PC.
Why does the video card need such a big power supply? Because it has so much on board that it needs the extra power. A video card has its own processor and memory, plus most of them have giant cooling fans to cool them off. When you are playing a very graphic-intensive game, things will heat up inside your computer. Most factory PC’s include power supplies that put out just enough juice to keep its main components running, plus a few extras. They weren’t made with big power-hogging video cards in mind. This is why many hardcore PC gamers build their own computers, rather than buy one at a store.
Before you upgrade, first you need to decide what kind of video card you want, then check whether or not it needs a higher end power supply. On Newegg.com, they often tell you in the product specifications, but not all of them are completely accurate. I bought an 8400GS card there and it never said anything about it recommending a 300 watt power supply. Luckily, it still works in my HP desktop with a 230 watt power supply, but I am going to get a better one once the one-year warranty runs out. I have only had one time where my computer did not want to turn on.
As a general rule, most of the NVidia 7000 or higher series will require a minimum 300 watt power supply. I’ve found a few of the lower-end ones that don’t, but the majority do need one. If you’re going to upgrade your video card, you’d be wasting your money not to get at least something from the 7000 or higher series, anyway. If you prefer the ATI Radeon chipset, most of the 3000 series or higher will need a better power supply than what most factory systems include.
The best way to tell what kind of power supply you have is to open up the case of your computer and look at the label. The power supply is a metal box that the power chord plugs into, and should be located on the back of the PC. On the inside of the machine, it will have a bunch of cables coming out of it. The power supply should have some kind of label that states the name of the manufacturer, model and serial number, and the power rating. It may be in small print, so look closely. If it is a factory system, chances are it will be somewhere between 200-250 watts, which will look like 200w or 250w.
Power supplies are actually quite easy to replace. Most motherboards are ATX or ATX12V style, so things have become fairly standardized with how motherboards connect to power supplies. What you have to be careful of is what cables come on the power supply. Some have power just for SATA drives while others are made for IDE drives. Some also have a limited number of connections. Since there are way too many different types of computers and configurations to address here, my best advice is to consult the manufacturer’s website and see if they have a message board. Chances are, somebody will have already asked a question about upgrading. Otherwise, get somebody who knows what they are doing to look inside your computer and tell you what kind of power supply you will need.
One last thing – Before you go poking around inside your computer, you may want to get a friend who knows what they are doing to help you. It’s quite easy to ruin a PC with static electricity or from mishandling. Always remember to make sure you unplug the power cable before opening up the case. Being able to fix your own computer is a satisfying experience, but it can also turn into an expensive learning experience if you are not careful.
If you are a PC gamer, having a decent video card makes all the difference in the world when it comes to enhancing graphics and gameplay. It may take a little effort to upgrade your factory machine, but the end result is absolutely worth it.