Author: Steve Burke, GamersNexus
Graphics card installation is one of the easiest aspects of build assembly. Unlike CPU installs, the video card does not have the same type of fragile (and easily bent) pins in its socket. Before starting, for clarity, there is a technical differentiation that should be made.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “GPU” AND A “VIDEO/GRAPHICS CARD?”
Technically speaking, the GPU – or graphics processing unit – is the physical silicon package (silicon die, or “chip,” atop a substrate) that is mounted to the video card by the factory. Many builders and manufacturers will use “GPU” and “video card” or “graphics card” interchangeably when describing this aspect of the build. There is a technical difference between them, but for all intents and purposes, the interchangeable references are more-or-less globally accepted as referring to the physical card.
A video card might be the GTX 960, but its GPU would be the GM206 (Maxwell GPU, model 206); another example would be an R9 Fury X, whose GPU is a Fiji chip. GPU naming schemes normally refer to their subsequent “architectures,” or the specific generation of design as instituted by AMD or nVidia.
Now that you know the difference between a GPU and a graphics card, let’s begin!
HOW TO INSTALL A GRAPHICS CARD
- If your motherboard has multiple PCI Express (PCI-e) slots and you’re considering a multi-GPU or multi-PCIe device configuration, check the motherboard manual to determine which slots are ideal for your specific assortment of devices. Some boards will “multiplex” PCI-e lanes using special chips (called PEX/PLX chips) to get more performance out of devices. In such an instance, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting full use out of that option.
- Determine how many case expansion slots the video card takes. You can do this by lining-up the card in the PCI Express (PCI-e) slot on the motherboard. The most common count is two slots, but some cards will take “2.5” (or even three – though that is exceedingly rare); low-end devices might take only one expansion slot.
- Remove the screws holding the expansion slot in place.
- Remove the expansion bay covers. You may keep them in a separate box for storage or toss them. They are functionally useless for the remainder of our process, unless you need to repackage the case for some reason (like to sell to a friend in the event you later upgrade).
- Line the video card’s PCI-e pins and “shoe” up with the slot it’s going into. Like RAM, you’ll here a slight “click” once the card is pressed into place. Use light pressure through the thumbs to mount the video card. If too much force is required, stop and inspect to determine what’s causing the resistance. It may be improperly aligned or there may be a cable in the way.
- If the device uses multiple expansion slots, re-install all of those screws to mount it. Using both (in the event of a two-slot card) screws will significantly reduce “GPU sag,” or the act of the video card weighing itself down in a fashion which makes it un-level.
After installing, give the video card a slight wiggle to make sure it’s not going anywhere. Ensure the PCI-e slot’s shoe popped into place and is now locked (in the “up” position). Some motherboards, like some of the high-end X99 boards, do not use this same locking mechanism. If that is the case, look at the pins to ensure that they are fully socketed into the PCI-e slot.