How to Install a Graphics Card

If you’re looking to transform your computer into a killer gaming rig, a new graphics card can make all the difference in the world. But if you were to only glance at online tutorials, you might think that replacing a graphics card isn’t worth the trouble, and you may as well be better off getting a fresh computer with a better graphic card in PC natively.

That’s not entirely true. While learning how to install a graphics card is a little more difficult than popping a new RAM card into the appropriate slot or hooking up an external hard drive, you can figure out how to install graphics card in PC without having to earn a new degree. Whether you’re looking for a NVIDIA or an AMD graphics card on PC, we can provide you with the tools you need to replace your old graphics card in a half hour or less.

Understanding the Motherboard

Figuring out how a computer works can seem like a daunting task at first, but once you get a feel for what a motherboard looks like and how it works, you can pretty easily learn how graphics cards and everything else sync up. The motherboard is basically your computer’s cranium. The PCI-E slots built in make it easy to plug in both your processors and other core reasoning hardware like memory.

And unless you want to install a new motherboard in addition to a graphics card, you’re going to be naturally limited by the slot quantity packed into the motherboard. What you don’t need to worry about is making sure that there’s an available slot for your graphics card. Every modern motherboard will use the PCI-E format, and that means there will always be an x16 slot for your graphics card to use.

The bigger question is whether your new card will be appropriate for the form factor of your motherboard and your case. Before you make the decision on which graphics card you want to get, you’ll need to make sure that your new GPU is an appropriate fit for your computer. There are a few steps to take care of here.

  • Measure your case. Finding the dimensions of most graphics cards is easy. They’ll be listed under the specifications on the manufacturer’s site, and we also make a habit of listing dimensions on the specs list for our reviews. Unless your case is particularly cramped or your graphics card is top of the line, it shouldn’t be an issue. But many higher end graphics cards come with their own cooling system, and that can severely limit how well they’ll work with a number of different computer cases.
  • Determine the BIOS. Short for Basic Input/Output System, the BIOS serves as the gatekeeper between your computer’s operating system and the hardware packed into each slot on your motherboard. For most users, having an incompatible BIOS will simply mean you need to change it manually. But some manufacturers lock the BIOS, meaning that you can’t install a new graphics card at all. In a case like this, your only options are to stick with what you have or invest in a new computer entirely.
  • You’ll finally want to make sure that your graphics card is compatible with your power supply unit. First off, you’ll want to see whether your power supply requires an 8 pin or 6 pin connector. 8 pin connectors are necessary for more powerful graphics cards, and some even may require two connectors. You’ll also want to make sure that your power supply puts off enough juice to properly power your graphics card. Otherwise you could deal with frustrating shutdowns and performance issues – particularly when trying to push the limits of newer games.
  • If you’re nervous about compatibility, most graphics card manufacturers will provide a list of hardware that’s compatible with your graphics card. This won’t be necessary so long as all the other factors are on point, but it can be a quick and easy way to narrow down the graphics cards you can choose from. These compatibility listings can also help you find a graphics card that’s well balanced against the quality of your CPU and other hardware.

Preparing For Installation

Now that you’re sure that your new graphics card will work with your motherboard, it’s time to make sure that everything is ready to go with the installation process. There aren’t a whole lot of tools that you’ll need here, but you will want to make sure that everything is lined up so you can install your graphics card with less fuss. Fortunately, the process won’t take much time as long as you’ve made sure that your new graphics card is compatible with your machine. Just make sure that you have your new graphics card handy. You’ll also need a Phillips head screwdriver.

You’ll also need to properly uninstall your old graphics card so that everything is squared away and ready to go for the new graphics card. This primarily means removing the drivers that your old graphics card uses. The removal process will vary depending on whether you’re using an AMD or NVIDIA graphics card, but both companies can provide you with step by step processes for removing their drivers. Even if your new GPU is the same brand of your old one, you’ll need to uninstall the drivers just to be safe.

A Note For Computer Builders

If you’re looking to build a new gaming PC from scratch, you fortunately have a lot more flexibility to get the gear you want than you would if you’re trying to retrofit your existing computer. If you’re building a computer from scratch, let the CPU and the GPU be the core, guiding principles for your new computer. From there, you can find a motherboard and a case that can comfortably fit all of your hardware. It’s not an advantage that everyone is privileged to have, but it can significantly make it easier to find a graphics card that suits your need.

Taking Safety Precautions

A working computer uses a whole lot of power, and that’s true whether or not there’s a working graphics card in place. You’ll need to properly detach your computer from the power source and be sure to discharge any remaining electricity. First off, turn off your computer with the manual switch, and then unplug your computer from the power supply. At this point, you need to manually disconnect the power supply. To accomplish this, you just need to unplug the cord that connects the computer to the wall.

Removing the Old Graphics Card

Getting access to the motherboard in your old computer case is easy. While the design of computer cases can vary a little bit, practically any model will come with a side panel on the side. This is designed to be opened for maintenance, so getting it open isn’t difficult. Simply use the Phillips head screwdriver to unscrew the screws, remove the panel, and get access to the motherboard and the rest of your computer hardware. Keep in mind this is also the section you’ll want to access if you want to add RAM to a PCI-E slot. Despite being referred to as a side panel, it’s usually accessible through the rear of the PC case.

If you already have a graphics card in place, the x16 slot should be easy to find. It’s the slot that already has a graphics card plugged into it. If not, the x16 slot is going to be the biggest slot on the board. Removing the old graphics card is as simple as opening the panel. Simply use your screwdriver to remove the two screws from the GPU’s rear bracket, unclasp the clip holding the GPU in place, and slide it out. Be gentle. You may not be using your old graphics card, but it’s still an expensive piece of hardware that can help offset the cost of your new graphics card.

Installing the Card

Once the old card is removed from the slot, you’re basically just going to reverse the process to install the new card. Position the new graphics card over the slot, then carefully push down. Be sure the connector is aligned, and then lock the clips back into place. To be sure that it’s fully secured and won’t come loose during gaming sessions, screw the screws back in.

Congratulations! Your new graphics card is installed into the proper slot. From here, you can put everything back the way it was. Screw the side panel back in place, plug your computer back in, and hit the power switch. As long as you didn’t do anything wrong, your computer should register the card in your slot and run just fine. But even if your computer can register the computer and run basic functions with it, there’s still one more step to undertake.

Updating the Drivers

For day to day activities, your new graphics card should work just fine. But manufacturers employ drivers that help your operating system interact with your hardware, and that’s going to be a necessity if you want to use your graphics card for a more intensive task like gaming.

Finding the right drivers for your card won’t be that difficult. While each graphics card uses its own drivers, NVIDIA and AMD both have a guided process that lets you pick your download from a pulldown menu. Simply download the appropriate drivers for your manufacturer, and your computer will guide you step by step through the installation process. Everything should now be configured, and you’re ready to use your graphics card for high intensity tasks.

Wrapping Up

The video card on a computer may not be that big of a deal for everyday use, but gamers know that it’s one of the most important pieces of hardware to pay attention to when you’re looking for a gaming computer. The actual install process is simple, as long as you follow one provision: making sure that everything is on the up and up. Making sure that you have an available PCI-E X16 slot for your new GPU is important, as is ensuring compatibility and available space is on point.

Once all that’s lined up, you can install a graphics card in just ten minutes or less. Despite the simplicity, we advise you to read the guide closely before starting with the install. It may not be particularly difficult, but a wrong mistake can cause you physical harm or do some damage to your serious and expensive hardware components.

And if you ever feel like you’re drowning in the deep end, HotRate is ready to provide you with all the resources you’ve need. We’ve already put together comprehensive guides to some of the best graphics card models on the market today, and our reviews of the best RAM sticks can help you get the most from every other slot in your PCI-E motherboard. We even offer computer customization tutorials that can help you with everything from maximizing your CPU efficiency to understanding advanced graphics card features like G-Sync and FreeSync.