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How to install a new GPU

May contain graphic images

Right now, there’s a graphics card shortage the likes of which have never been seen, and thus the knowledge of how to install a new GPU has only slightly more relevance than knowing how to parallel park a griffin. Or maybe not – it is technically possible, if annoyingly rare, to grab one of the best graphics cards of the current generation before a reseller or blockchain enthusiast snaps up ten of them at once. And even the most morose estimates don’t suggest this dearth will last forever, in which case: welcome, RPS readers of the future.

Unlike when installing a new CPU, there are no manufacturer-specific sockets to worry about here, as all graphics cards are designed to fit into the same PCIe slot that’s present on pretty much every motherboard. There’s some light screwdriver-wielding required, but even so, upgrading your graphics takes should only take a few minutes. Not a bad time investment when, in terms of performance gains, it’s probably the most significant change to your PC you can possibly make.

Another difference from changing the CPU is that it’s easy to install a GPU when the motherboard is already inside the case, so you won’t have to disassemble your rig to upgrade it. That said, always make sure that your system is switched off and disconnected from the mains before changing components like this. Speaking of, we’ve got guides on how to install RAM and how to install an SSD as well.

How to install a new GPU

Step 1: Remove the side panel of your PC case to access the main internal chamber.

A gaming PC laying on its side with the side panel removed.
For conventional case designs, the whole process will be easier if you turn your PC on its side as well.

Step 2: If you’re replacing an old graphics card, you’ll need to remove it first. Start by disconnecting any power connectors and display cables, then use a screwdriver to undo the screws securing it at the rear of the case. At the right edge of the card’s PCIe x16 slot, push down on the latch to release the card, then pull it out of said slot.

A screwdriver removes the screws holding a graphics cards in its PC case.
These are technically thumbscrews, but it's easier to use a screwdriver.

If you’re building a PC from scratch, start by using a screwdriver to remove the slot covers from the rear of your PC. This is where your GPU’s rear ports and/or vents will poke out, so you only need to take out two or three at most.

A screwdriver removes the screws holding a PC case's PCU slot covers.
Most graphics cards take up two of these slots; only higher-end models need three.

To see which covers need removing, check where your motherboard’s topmost PCIe x16 slot is. This is where you’ll be inserting the card, so remove the covers that are level with and just below the x16 slot. Keep the loose screws close to hand, too – you’ll need those again in a moment.

Step 3: Press down the latch on the PCIe x16 slot to open it, unless it’s still open from removing the old GPU. Then, push your new graphics card fully into it. It should lock in place with an audible click, as the latch snaps back down by itself.

A finger presses down on the release latch of a motherboard's PCIe x16 slot.
A lot of motherboards reinforce their PCIe slots with metal frames.

Why use the topmost slot specifically, when you may seemingly have other x16 slots on the motherboard? Usually, these aren’t x16 slots at all, but run at slower PCIe x8 or even PCIe x4 speeds. There’s no need to hamper your GPU performance by dumping it in anything other than fastest slot; if you do have additional full-size slots, save them for less important components like sound cards.

An Nvidia RTX 3090 graphics card being inserted into a motherboard's PCIe x16 slot.
Push the card in carefully but firmly.

Step 4: Secure the card by using the PCI slot screws to affix the card to the case’s chassis. They go right back into the same holes you removed them from a couple of steps ago.

A screwdriver secures a graphics card in its PC case by tightening the PCI slot screws at the rear.
You can buy anti-sag brackets that sit underneath your card, but they aren't essential. Just securing these screws will keep everything in place.

Don’t lose those screws or otherwise skip this step, as although locking the card into the PCIe x16 slot will stop it falling out, the extra support is good for your PC's health. Otherwise the card will just hang out of the slot, sagging and potentially damaging the motherboard over time.

Step 5: Connect the power cable, or cables, from your PSU to the 6-pin or 8-pin socket(s) on the card. The cables are often labelled “PCIe” and always use 6-pin or 8-pin headers, including some that are 8-pin but can split apart to form a 6-pin connection. AMD and Nvidia cards use the same type of power connector, though some recent Nvidia Founders Edition cards require an additional adapter as well. This comes in the box, so grab it, connect the standard PSU cables to it, and plug the other end into your GPU.

A PCIe power cable being held up next to Nvidia's RTX 30 series power adapter.
Nvidia's use of an adapter is an outlier - on most GPUs, the PSU cables plug straight into the card.

Step 6: Connect your monitor using the video outputs on the rear of the card. Once connected, you can power up your PC once more.

A DisplayPort cable being plugged into an output port on a graphics card.
Repeat this step when connecting multiple monitors.

Step 7: Install the display drivers for your new card. Assuming you’ve connected everything correctly, your PC should be back up and running, though your display may be running at a much lower resolution than normal. No worries – to both fix this and get the best possible performance out of your new GPU, simply load up a browser and find the latest display drivers for it. AMD and Nvidia have these on their respective sites, so just enter the model details, then download and run the installation tool.

A screenshot of Nvidia's graphics driver download page.
Punch in your GPU details to get the correct drivers.

Congratulations – not only have you found yourself a sweet new graphics card in borderline hostile market conditions, but you’ve successfully installed it. Now all you need is one of the best gaming monitors to make sure the extra performance is going towards the best possible visuals.

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About the Author
James Archer avatar

James Archer

Hardware Editor

James had previously hung around beneath the RPS treehouse as a freelancer, before being told to drop the pine cones and climb up to become hardware editor. He has over a decade’s experience in testing/writing about tech and games, something you can probably tell from his hairline.

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