You’ve done it, you’ve decided to install a GPU and now you’re holding it in your hands imagining the possibilities. You can’t wait to load up your favorite game and finally see it in all its splendid glory with advanced lighting, realistic shadows and fully rendered textures. It’s going to be awesome. There’s just one more thing and maybe the most important. How do you install a graphics card?
Computers have come a long way over the last ten years and installing a graphics card is nearly as simple as swapping out a keyboard now. As easy as it is there are a few things to remember to make the process as smooth as possible. There’s nothing more annoying than to be so excited to try out a new piece of hardware that you make a mistake installing it and set yourself back hours while trying to fix things.
We’ll go through the steps to install a GPU in detail to get you back to gaming as soon as possible. In this guide we’re going to assume you don’t have one installed already. If you do already have a graphics card installed it’s easy to reverse the steps below before installing the new one.
Preparing for Installation of GPU
Before you install a graphics card you’ll want to get a few things ready. First make sure you have a good space to work. You’ll want a clean table with good lighting so you have space to layout your parts and tools. You’ll probably need a screwdriver or two for removing screws. A standard phillips and flathead should cover all your bases. As long as you’re opening up your computer to install a GPU it’s not a bad idea to do some cleaning. Get a can of compressed air as well. When all that’s ready, you can get down to business.
Opening Things Up
Power down your computer, disconnect everything and get it to your work area. When you start working with the computer itself you’ll want to be careful with static shocks that can harm sensitive components. An anti-static strap (like this one sold at Amazon) is the best solution but you can also help reduce your risk by touching the metal sides of the case before handling anything with a circuit board. Also be sure to wear shoes and avoid working on carpet if possible. Nothing builds up static faster than socks on carpet.
With everything set you can remove the side panel of the case to get to the good stuff inside. Usually there are one or two screws that need to be removed and you may need a screwdriver if your case doesn’t have thumbscrews. Next you’ll want to remove the hold-down that secures the expansion slot inserts. When that’s done you can pop out the insert needed to make an opening to install your graphics card. If you purchased a dual-slot graphics card then remove two expansion slot inserts.
Getting the GPU In
Now we actually get to install the GPU. Depending on your computer’s case, you may have to move some wires around to clear the space for the new graphics card. Small cable ties are handy for securing wires out of the way. With the space cleared you can get your card out of the package and get to work. When handling the card, hold it by the edges, avoiding the face of the circuit board. Carefully position the card over the expansion slot on the motherboard and make sure the tabs on the bottom of the card line up. The tab on the top of the backplate of the card should stick out over the little plate on the case for securing. Gently push the card into the slot. It shouldn’t take much force to do this so if you feel some resistance stop and see if something is in the way. There is a small tab on the bottom of the card that should click into a securing tab on the motherboard. You might have to help it by pulling back the securing tab and seating the card all the way in place.
Once the card is in reinstall the hold-down plate on the back of the case so the graphics card is completely secure and won’t wiggle back and forth. The last thing inside that you’ll need to do is connect power. You’ll need to connect one or more PCI 6-pin or PCI 6+2 power connectors to your card to finish the job. The power connectors on the card are usually on the top, interior corner. If you don’t see one, there is the chance your card is powered by the motherboard directly. This is usually for smaller, less powerful cards.
Before you put the side panel back on, take a last look inside your case and make sure you haven’t accidently unplugged anything, pushed a wire into a cooling fan or dropped a screw inside. The last thing you want to do is turn the power on and have a silly mistake fry your whole computer.
After the side panel is back on you can hook everything back up to the computer. When reattaching the monitor cable, remember to connect it to the new port on the graphics card and not the old one on the motherboard. Once everything’s hooked up, hit the power button and your computer should start up normally. If it doesn’t you may have hooked something up wrong or you may have an issue with your computer not liking new hardware. This is a problem that can happen with some computers and requires adjusting settings in your BIOS. We’ll cover that in another article.
Install GPU Drivers
When your computer starts up, Windows should automatically install drivers for your new graphics card and get you to the desktop. When you’re up and running you’ll need to download proper drivers for your graphics card. The best places are the card’s manufacturer’s website or directly from Nvidia or AMD. Once these are installed you have completed the installation of your graphics card and can start enjoying it.
Best Performance from a GPU
One important thing to remember when you install a graphics card is that manufacturers release new drivers on a regular basis. In order to keep your card running at it’s full potential you’ll want to update to these new drivers as soon as possible. Most companies release a companion program that automatically checks for new drivers. The other option is to check the manufacturer’s website every few months to see if an update is available.
A computer with a graphics card installed also builds up more heat. If your case has room for one, an extra cooling fan is a cheap and easy way to keep your system running cool and quick. If you can install a graphics card you can easily install a cooling fan. Also, remember to clean your computer at least twice a year. Having a graphics card installed can increase the amount of dust getting trapped inside your computer with the increased airflow from the fans.