Right graphics card for me: Zotac GTX 670 AMP!

I love talking about graphics cards. Reason: For a computer enthusiast, they are sexy! They are objects of desire. They have an appeal that no other computer component has. A graphics card, just like a CPU, is a product of some amazing engineering. But compared to a CPU, it is tens of times more powerful. For years, this horsepower has been used to render amazing looking 3D games. But recently, graphics cards have found favour with one more group of users – scientists, who use them for high performance computing. Also, with the arrival of GPU computing, graphics cards can nowadays crack passwords in seconds, mint Bitcoins, carry out complex protein simulations and encode videos.

Before I talk about Zotac GTX 670 AMP! I want to take a brief look at the current graphics card market and bust a myth that is used by computer dealers to fool people.

Only two makers 

Factually, it is wrong to say that there are only two companies that make graphics cards for a computer. Apart from Nvidia and AMD, Intel too makes graphics chips. But there is a difference. There are two types of graphics cards – discrete and integrated.

Integrated graphics chips: This is what Intel sells you when it says that your computer is powered by HD 4000 graphics or HD 3000 graphics. The same is true for chips that AMD puts in its computers. Earlier, integrated graphics chips were used to be a part the motherboard. But for the last few years both AMD and Intel have moved them inside the CPU chip. At the same time, these integrated solutions have also become quite fast. While earlier they had trouble playing even 1080P videos, now they can handle modern 3D games at a relatively decent resolution of 1280x768.

The difference between integrated and discrete chips is that the discrete one has its own resources (RAM, power supply and similar other stuff) while the integrated chip shares system resources.

Discrete graphics chips: These are the graphics cards that you see in a shop. They have to be plugged into the motherboard, come with their own RAM, may require extra power (all high to middle end cards do) and are overall vastly superior to integrated chips.

Coming back to the question of manufactures, there are only two companies that make discrete graphics cards – Nvidia and AMD. But then what about Asus, Zotac, Gigabyte, XFX and Palit etc?

These are OEMs – or in other words the hardware partners of Nvidia and AMD. The actual chips are made by AMD and Nvidia but they are packaged into a graphics card by their partners, who then brand the card with their name and sell it in the market. In many cases, there is no difference between a particular card sold be various partners – GTX 690 is an example – because it is made by Nvidia or AMD with the help of one of their partners and then given to all others who go to the market and sell them.

Now, let’s bust the myth 

Myth: More (video) RAM makes a graphics card faster. It is always better to buy a graphics card with more VRAM.

Truth: This RAM claim is a blatant lie. It is like saying that bigger wheels on Maruti 800 will make it go faster than Ferrari. Just the way the performance of a car depends largely on the engine inside its hood, the performance of a graphics card depends on the graphics chip (the processing engine) under its heatsink. Anyone saying otherwise is trying to fool you. There is no reason why you should buy a low or midrange graphics card with ridiculous amount of RAM. Yes, RAM does play a role but it is not terribly important in the grand scheme of things. To simplify the primary role of VRAM is to store the frames that graphics card has prepared and load textures etc for quick access. Unless you are playing at a high resolution on a 24-inch or bigger monitor, more than 1GB RAM is rarely required. And for high resolution, a budget card is a bad choice to start with. 

One more thing… 

… Before I talk about how and why I selected the Zotac card. As it happens in the graphics card market, AMD and Nvidia come out with new chip architecture almost every year. Then they make graphics cards based on this architecture. While buying a graphics card, make sure that you get the chip based on latest architecture. Usually, the model number is pretty good explanation of a graphics card’s standing in the market. While it’s not definitive, the information below will help you demystify the model number: 

For AMD 

a) A typical graphics card is named as HD XXXX where X represents a number telling a buyer about the card. For example, currently the company sells HD 7970. Here first 7 denotes that the card belongs to the 7 series, which is based on latest architecture. The number 9 shows that the card belongs to the top of the line group within the 7 series. Next 7 indicates the potency of the card. And 0 is incidental.

b) Following this formula we can say that HD 7970 > HD 7950 > HD 7870 > HD 7850 > HD 7770 > HD 7750. Irrespective of the amount of VRAM this is the relative position of AMD graphics cards at the moment. This means putting 4GB RAM on HD 7850 won't make it faster than HD 7870 that has 2GB RAM.

c) If you are buying an older series card, be careful about the model number because the higher number is better only if the first number is same.

d) To explain it, let me line up a few older cards. These are HD 6970 > HD 6950 > HD 6870 > HD 6850 > HD 6770.

e) If we mix six and seven series cards, the standing is like this: 7970 > HD 7950 > HD 6970 = HD 7870 > 7850 = HD 6950 > HD 6870 > HD 6850 HD > 7770 > HD 7750 = HD 6770 

For Nvidia cards 

What is true for AMD is true for Nvidia cards. This means pay close attention to the numbers in a model’s name and be careful of the first number. But Nvidia also uses some prefixes. These are:
GS – Entry level
GTS – Mainstream
GTX – Performance/enthusiast 

Why Zotac GTX 670 AMP! 

a) I wanted a card that could help me play games at the native resolution of my monitor (1920 X 1200) for at least three years with ease. This means at least 40FPS on average in any game that I want to play.

b) A quick glance at various reviews showed me that I had to select a card from GTX 680, GTX 670, HD 7970, HD 7950 and HD 7870.

c) Of these, the fastest are HD 7970 and GTX 680. But both cost around Rs 35,000.

d) I wanted an Nvidia card because in general Nvidia has better driver support for new games. (My previous card HD 4850 was from AMD)

e) This means either GTX 680 or GTX 670. (I would have considered GTX 660 Ti but it doesn’t exist for now). GTX 670 is around 5% slower than GTX 680 when overclocked. Yet, the price difference is around 20%. This makes GTX 670  an easy pick.

f) I wanted a card with third-party cooler because Delhi gets quite hot. In general I like components that run cool.

g) This led me to shortlist Gigabyte GTX 670 Windforce, Asus GTX 670 TOP and Zotac GTX 670 AMP.

h) Of the three, my original choice was Gigabyte GTX 670 Windforce. But I couldn’t find it in the market.

i) I found only Zotac one.

j) Also I realized that Zotac GTX 670 AMP! comes with five years warranty and  RAM that is clocked ridiculously high. This made the decision easy.

To sum it up 

a) The amount of RAM in a graphics card doesn’t matter unless you are going to play games on a 30-inch monitor.

b) Pay attention to the graphics chip in the card you are buying. To understand its performance, decode its model number

c) Buy a graphics card that you need. And that depends on the resolution of your monitor

d) 17-inches or smaller monitor: GTS X50 or HD X770 will do fine

e) 17 inches to 22 inches monitor: GTX X60 or HD X850 will do fine. Step up by one model if you want to be a bit more future-proof.

f) 24-inch (16:10 aspect ratio): Go for at least GTX X60 Ti or HD X870.

g) 30-inch monitor or multi-monitor gaming: GTX X80 or HD X9X0

h) Not a hardcore gamer: Get a mainstream card like HD X750 or GTS X40

i) Make sure that you have a power supply unit that can feed the card you are buying. A graphics card is the most power-hungry component in a computer. I will talk more about it when I write about power supply units. 

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