How to install a graphics card into your Windows PC and upgrade its performance

Updating your PC’s graphics card is important for the best visual experience, especially for desktop gaming.

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Of all the components in a computer, your graphics card is usually the first to become obsolete. New graphics cards are released every year, each one boasting more power and features than the last, and the best gaming PCs are defined by the performance of their graphics card.

If your PC is more than a couple years old, and you’ve already upgraded to a solid-state drive (SSD) rather than a hard disk drive, upgrading your graphics card is likely the best way to improve your computer’s performance.

Installing a graphics card isn’t difficult, but it requires opening your computer case and replacing components, so it might seem daunting if you’ve never tinkered inside your computer before.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to replacing your graphics card. 

Make sure your new graphics card is compatible

Graphics cards aren’t one-size-fits-all, and the more powerful the card, the more resources it’ll draw from the rest of your computer. Make sure your new card will fit with the rest of your setup before you buy, or you might end up needing to get a refund.

There are usually four main considerations:

Is your power supply unit (PSU) large enough? Many graphics cards require that your computer’s power supply deliver 500 watts or more. Check the specs that came with your computer or look at the ID sticker on the power supply itself.Are there enough power connectors for your new graphics card? Newer graphics cards need more power than older models, so you may need to connect anywhere from one to three 8-pin power connectors from your power supply. Again, check the specs of your PSU and graphics card to make sure they’re compatible. Modular power supply units can easily add additional power connectors.Is your CPU fast enough? Your computer’s CPU is the piece that handles the computer’s most basic functions. If your CPU is too old, even the most advanced graphics card in the world won’t improve your computer’s performance, it’ll create a bottleneck that slows your computer down.Will the card physically fit in the computer? The new graphics card may require more than one PCI Express expansion slot. And length might be an issue: Not all card slots are “full length,” so you’ll need to make sure there’s room on the motherboard, as well as enough space in your case for a larger card.A full-length graphics card like this one might not fit in a smaller computer chassis.

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How to uninstall the old graphics drivers

If you’re replacing a graphics card with a more modern version in the same family — for example, you’re upgrading an older Nvidia card to a newer one — then you can skip this step.

But if you’re switching from AMD to Nvidia, or vice versa, then you should uninstall your old graphics drivers before starting the new installation. You can use the Settings app in Windows to remove your Nvidia GeForce or AMD Catalyst software — check out our article on how to properly uninstall programs on Windows 10 for more information. 

How to install the new graphics card

Thankfully, you’ll only need one tool for this job: a small Phillips head screwdriver. 

1. Completely turn off your computer by clicking the Start button, then “Power,” and “Shut Down.”

2. Remove the computer’s side panel (it might be a tool-less case, or you may need to unscrew the panel).

Remove the side panel to get to the graphics card slot — you may need to remove one or two screws.

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3. Find the graphics card. If you haven’t already, disconnect the video cable that runs to the monitor. Then unscrew the backplate holding the graphics card down.

Remove the screws holding the graphics card’s backplate in place.

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4. The graphics card is held down by a clip at the end of the PCI Express card slot. Unlock the clip.

You’ll need to carefully unlatch the clip holding the card in the PCI Express slot.

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5. Gently rocking the card, remove the graphics card from the slot. 

6. Take the new graphics card and, positioning it over the PCI Express slot you removed the old graphics card from, slide it into the slot. Again, you may need to gently rock it back and forth until it’s fully seated in the slot and you hear the clip lock the card in place. 

7. Screw the backplate down.

8. Connect the one or two PCI Express power connectors to the card. 

Snap the power connectors in place.

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9. Reattach the side panel and reconnect any cables you had disconnected, including the cable to the monitor.

10. Turn the computer back on. Even though you haven’t yet installed the graphics driver, your monitor should still display Windows, though it’ll probably be at a lower resolution than usual. If nothing appears on the screen at all, shut down the PC and double-check all your connections — the monitor cable, power connections to the graphics cards, and ensure the card is fully seated in the slot. 

11. After the computer starts normally, install the appropriate drivers. If you have an AMD-based graphics card, visit the AMD website’s driver install page. For Nvidia cards, install the appropriate drivers from the Nvidia driver downloads page

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