Introduction: Graphics Cards

Picture of Graphics Cards

The graphics card plays a very important part in a computer; it's what puts stuff on the screen. A graphics card does much more than just display stuff on the screen. A graphics card can be used to render 3d models, decode video, edit video and photos, computation, artificial intelligence, advanced physics/biological simulations, and much more.

Specs and Basic Terminology

GPU- Graphics Processing Unit

Die/core- The chip that does all the work.

VRAM- The storage for the information being used by the core.

Mhz- Used to measure the frequency that the core or VRAM operate at.

CU- Compute units (cores on the die in AMD GPUs)

SM- Streaming multiprocessor (cores on the die in Nvidia GPUs)

Architecture- How the parts of a die are arranged.

When comparing GPUs from different series or generations the speed of the core and VRAM and the number of CUs matters, but the things that make the biggest difference are the architecture, amount of VRAM, and type of VRAM. The importance of each spec is greatly based on what graphics card you have and what you are using it for. For example to AMD Vega cards, the speed of the VRAM matters a lot whereas on the 1000 series Nvidia cards, the speed of the core matters a lot. And Vega has a huge advantage when it comes to compute based programs because of its architecture and because it uses HBM2 VRAM which is very fast but Nvidia tends to pull ahead in power efficiency and gaming. If you were to go buy a GPU the things you should look for are the amount of VRAM, type of VRAM, and generation because the architecture is the same throughout a series.

Step 1: Parts of a Graphics Card 1

Picture of Parts of a Graphics Card 1

VRAM- The VRAM stores all the information that the GPU is using such as textures and meshes for 3D models or data sets for artificial intelligence.

VRM- The VRM supplies electricity to the core and VRAM, adjusts the voltage, and keeps the voltage steady.

MOSFETs- The MOSFETs are like valves that open up when a certain voltage is supplied. They only let certain voltages through, cleaning up the power.

Chokes- If the MOSFETs get rid of large dips or spikes in voltage, the Choke or inductor smooths it out perfectly. Chokes keep the power going to the die steady and clean.

Capacitors- If a MOSFET doesn't let power through, then the capacitors release some of their stored energy to make up for it keeping your GPU from shutting off due to power loss.

Coolers- there are a few different types of coolers. There are air coolers, water coolers, phase change coolers (basically a freezer), and liquid nitrogen pots. Air is by far the most common followed by water. LN2 is really only used in overclocking contests and phase change is really uncommon. The cooler keeps the GPU from overheating.

Step 2: Parts of a Graphics Card 2

Picture of Parts of a Graphics Card 2

Die- The die does all the processing.

CU- Compute units (cores on the die in AMD GPUs)

SM- Streaming multiprocessor (cores on the die in Nvidia GPUs)

Cores in graphics cards are like processor cores but they can only process one thing at a time making each core simpler and less powerful. Since these cores are smaller and simpler, there are much more of them, making graphics cards very good at doing lots of simple math like geometry.

ALU (arithmetic logic unit)- This does the math for computational workloads and geometry for graphics.

Register- Where the info being worked on it located.

Cache- Where the addresses for info in the VRAM and some other info is stored.

Step 3: Hardware Maintenance

Picture of Hardware Maintenance

Maintenance is very important, especially with higher end cards with big coolers because the heatsink can get clogged with dust and the thermal paste will get hard and crusty over time, raising temperatures.

Tools needed- A small Philips screwdriver, canned air, thermal paste, isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), and tissues.

Step 1- Unscrew the cooler from the board and gently pull until the cooler comes off. It will probably want to stick to the board so you can use a little force.

Step 2- Wipe the thermal paste off the cooler and die with tissue and isopropyl alcohol. Be gentle on the die, especially near all the little resistors surrounding it.

Step 3- Blow all the dust off the cooler with canned air and if there is a lot of dust on the board, wipe it off with tissue and isopropyl alcohol.

Step 4- Apply thermal paste to the die. Usually a glob about the size of a grain of rice is good but if you have a large die you may need to use more.

Step 5- Screw the cooler back on. Be careful not to over tighten and strip any screws.

Depending on how dusty your house is you should at least blow out the heatsink with canned air every 1 to 2 years. One way you can prevent your GPU from getting dusty is having mesh dust filters in front of any intake fans in your case.

Step 4: Software Maintenance

Overclocking is done in your GPU drivers or in programs like MSI Afterburner or EVGA XOC. For overclocking you will want to search online and watch others overclock the same card you have because it is very different for every card. When overclocking, you should keep a GPU benchmark running in the background. If you want to know how to flash a VBIOS there are some detailed guides below.



Step 5: Troubleshooting

GPUs can have a number of issues. If it is overheating you will want to look at the cooler. Is there is a software issue your computer will likely either crash or the screen will go black for a second and programs that primarily use your GPU will probably either close or not respond. The first thing you should do is restart your computer. If that doesn't fix it, try reinstalling your drivers. If that still doesn't solve the problem, try different versions of the drivers. If you still can't solve it Reddit or some other forum will most likely have someone that is having the same problems. Most software related problems lead back to a conflict between a program and the GPU driver. It could be as small as one setting that is causing the problem.

Step 6: Usefull Tools Used for Troubleshooting GPU Problems


Swansong (author)2017-12-15

Thanks for sharing :)

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