Gaming 101: Are Dual Graphics Cards Better Than One?
Avid gamers are always looking for the next achievement to unlock. If this extends to your gaming PC maintenance and upgrade, using two graphics cards seems a viable move.
Ramping up graphics processing performance with dual graphics cards is pretty common today. The idea is to run your favorite or any demanding games on higher settings with two mid-range graphics cards and get more bang for your buck in the process. But does this option really beat investing in a single high-end card?
To help you address your 2 GPU vs 1 GPU debate in your head, we look closer into the advantages and disadvantages of switching things up with dual GPU cards.
GPUs vs Graphic Cards: What’s the Difference?
But before we dive in, let’s quickly define two important terms: GPU and graphics card. Do note that we often use them interchangeably. While they’re not exactly the same thing, the differences are subtle and do not eclipse their critical role in enhancing your gaming experience.
GPU stands for graphics processing unit, a specialized chip designed to render the images you see on your computer screen, usually graphics and videos.
A graphics card or video card, on the other hand, is a plug-in card that contains the GPU in the same way that the motherboard houses your computer’s central processing unit (CPU).
Now, keep in mind that there are two types of GPUs:
- Type 1: Called an integrated GPU, the first type lives directly on your machine’s processor and uses a small amount of your system’s memory.
- Type 2: The second type is a separate or dedicated GPU with its own card and memory.
When it comes to the ideal GPU for gaming, adding a dedicated graphics card can bolster your gaming experience. In a 2 graphics cards vs 1 graphic card setup, dual cards can share the load while doubling efficiency. For instance, if a single integrated card renders images at 1080p, two cards can handle newer technologies such as 4K.
SLI or CrossFire?
Make sure you’re dealing with this dual video cards vs single card dilemma as you should. That is, see to it your gaming PC is configured to run two cards in the first place. In addition, your system should be able to support NVIDIA’s SLI or AMD’s CrossFire technology. SLI or Scalable Link Interface and CrossFire link two or more cards together, delivering a single output.
Check if you have:
- A compatible motherboard with the right graphics card slots
- Two compatible video cards
- A bridge connector included in the motherboard or video cards
SLI requires two cards with the same GPU, but not necessarily the same brand, e.g., two GTX 780 Tis; CrossFire lets you pair some GPUs with other similar cards, e.g., Radeon 7950 with Radeon 7900.
The Pros and Cons of Running Two Graphics Cards
Now that we got the definition of terms and system requirements out of the way, let’s delve into the pros and cons of using dual graphics cards.
Whether you’re running SLI or CrossFirehere, a dual-card setup provides you with the following advantages:
- Depending on your cards, compatible games run smoothly.
- Two GPUs support multi-monitor gaming.
- Dual cards can split the workload, optimize performance (better frame rates, higher resolutions), and provide extra filters.
- Additional cards let you leverage newer technologies such as 4K Displays.
- Considering the quality, two mid-range cards can be slightly cheaper compared to one high-end card.
- Buying a second of your current card instead of upgrading to a newer model can cost you less.
As with anything, there are a few disadvantages that come with using two graphics cards. These include:
- Running two cards close to each other consumes more power and produces more heat and additional noise.
- Dual-card compatibility with all games is not guaranteed.
- SLI and CrossFire can sometimes cause onscreen micro stutters, making the video look choppy.
- Not every game supports SLI and CrossFire due to video driver constraints, so you may have to tweak the driver settings yourself to get the game working.
So, What’s the Best Option?
After weighing the pros and cons, don’t forget to factor your budget, system compatibility and readiness, and personal requirements into your final decision. Here’s a breakdown of the best option for different types of gamers or buyers:
For the Average Gamer
To settle the dual GPU vs single GPU debate, we’re here to say you don’t have to use two graphics cards. A singular high-end graphics card should do if you’re not looking for extreme graphics performance and don’t have multiple 4K monitors set up. Some new graphics cards don’t even have SLI support, so you probably want to steer clear of any configuration work.
For Hardcore Frame Chasers
If you know you’ll benefit hugely from the enhanced 3D performance that dual cards offer, go for it. But be prepared to spend more on a compatible motherboard and extra storage space. You should also spare time and energy to tweak your drivers as needed.
The biggest draw with dual cards running on an SLI or CrossFire setup is its support for streaming. With a dedicated card for the game to run on and another for rendering a stream for Twitch, Youtube, or Facebook, you can prevent your game from having frame drops when you hit the “go live” button.
For Multimedia Experts
With select SLI support for the Adobe Suite, you can optimize your workflow on applications like Adobe Premiere Pro or Adobe Lightroom. Ensure GPU Acceleration is enabled, and your exports may start taking up less of your computer’s resources.
For Everyone Else
There’s a good chance you don’t need to buy a second card to upgrade your computer’s performance. Instead, consider getting a faster GPU. Better yet, test your hardware and compute benchmarks to see if other components of your machine are holding you back.