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One graphics card or two?

I'm looking for a super-fast gaming PC, but should I buy one that uses a single graphics card or a pair running in tandem?

Hi, I bought a PC a few years ago, and although it was a pretty good all-rounder then it's clearly starting to show its age. I'd like to buy a new PC, and being a keen gamer, I want one that can handle the latest titles.

The problem is, I'm really confused about whether to get one with a single graphics card, or to splash out for one that has two graphics cards -- as I heard the latter can run games twice as fast. What makes things more confusing is that I'm not sure if getting a PC with one super-fast graphics card is better than a PC with two slightly slower cards running in tandem.

Help!

Paulette Sewell

There are a number of factors you'll need to consider when buying a gaming PC. The first of these, as you're aware, is the type of graphics card you'll need, but an equally important concern is the monitor.

Your sparkly new PC can have all the graphics-processing power in the world, but unless you've got a screen that can make the most of it, all the visual horsepower from the graphics card(s) will go to waste.

Many of today's high-end gaming PCs ship with 19-inch TFT screens, the vast majority of which have a native (natural) resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels. Because the purpose of high-end graphics systems is to help run games at resolutions beyond this (such as 1,600x1,200 pixels) these screens simply don't fit the bill.
 
If your monitor maxes out at a resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels or lower, there's little point in opting for a super high-end graphics solution, as the screen will act as a bottleneck. Think of it as driving a Ferrari in an area with a 30mph speed limit. Surrounded by lots of police.

Ideally, you'll need a monitor that supports 1,600x1,200 pixels -- so start looking for models that measure 20 inches and up. Also ensure you buy one with as low a response time as you can afford, as these are less likely to make your fast-moving games look blurred.

Once you've got the right screen, it's fair to say that PCs with dual graphics-card solutions, such as Nvidia's SLI or ATI's Crossfire systems, are faster than their single-card counterparts.

However, having said that, I'd personally recommend a PC with a very fast single graphics card. These are typically less expensive than dual-card systems, but will still run most games at high resolution. Plus there's the added bonus of being able to add a second graphics card to improve performance as more demanding games are released, but you'll need to ensure your PC has a motherboard with a spare graphics port.