How to install a graphics card

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Whether you’re building a brand new gaming PC from scratch or are simply upgrading your GPU to improve your FPS and in-game visuals, you need to know how to install a graphics card.

If you need to remove an old graphics card before installing your new one, you should uninstall your old graphics card drivers first. If you’re running Windows 10, press Windows Key + I to go to the Settings menu, then select Apps. Use the search feature to find AMD or Nvidia display drivers. Select them, then Uninstall. Wait for it to complete, then shut down your PC.

It’s also a good idea to take some safety precautions when removing or installing any components. At the very least, that means unplugging the power cable, but we’d also recommend an anti-static wristband, standing on a rubber mat, or at least periodically touching the metal frame of your case to make sure you aren’t holding any static charge.

Step 1: Remove the old graphics card

If you have an old graphics card in your PC, you need to remove it before you can install the new one.  If you’re starting from scratch, skip forward to the next step.

You should first remove the power cable(s) if it has them. They’ll be located near the end of the card and will typically have a push-pin you’ll need to apply pressure on to release.

Next, you’ll need to remove the screws holding it to the PCIExpress backplate. Use your fingers (if thumbscrews) or a screwdriver to remove those, and put them to the side as we’ll need them when installing the new GPU.

The final step is to release the clip mechanism that most motherboards use to hold a card in place. It will be located underneath the card at the end of the PCExpress slot. If you can, take a good look at it as some require pressing, while others must be pulled to the side. If you can’t see it due to your card getting in the way, have a good feel and determine how it can be loosened by touch. If in doubt, look up your motherboard make online to get a good idea of what it looks like.

Once the clip is relaxed, carefully lift the card out of the PCIExpress slot. Sometimes a card can get stuck on the PCIExpress backplate due to the way the case is designed, so don’t worry about giving the card a little jiggle to release it.

When the card is removed, be sure to place it on a surface that isn’t electrically conductive. Ideally, place it inside an anti-static bag.

Step 2: Remove PCIExpress backplate(s)

In this particular case, the screws are on the exterior, but most will have them on the interior.

You can’t install a new graphics card without making space for it in the PCIExpress backing plate. If you removed your old graphics card first, there’s a good chance that there’s plenty of space back there already, but if you didn’t or if your new GPU is larger than the last, you may also need to remove an extra backplate or two.

Take a look at your next graphics card and even hold it over the PCIExpress slot you want to install it into. It’s typically the ‘top’ most slot on the board (if you’re unsure, look at your motherboard manual or an online resource). Figure out how many PCIExpress slots you’ll need and use either your fingers or a screwdriver to remove the requisite number of PCIExpress backplates.

Put them somewhere safe as you never know if you might need them again in the future.

Step 3: Plug in the new card

With plenty of space for your new graphics card, it’s time to actually install it. The process is relatively simple, but can be a little fiddly depending on the size of your PC case and whether your other components obstruct you at all. Regardless, you’ll be slotting your graphics card into the PCIExpress slot. You may need to come in at a slight angle to make sure that the I/O plate on the back of the card slots into the PCIExpress backplate correctly.

The most important step to remember here is that it won’t take much force to install. Be firm, but gentle. If you find it’s not slotting in, take it out and see if something is obstructing the PCIExpress slot. You should hear the clip at the end of the PCIExpress slot “click” when it’s installed, but that may not be the case for every motherboard.

When you’re satisfied with its installation, make sure to screw in the backplate screws to hold it firmly in place. If needs be, you can shift the card slightly in its slot to better angle the screws.

Step 4: Attach power cables

Locate the right cables you need for the job — it may be one or two 6-pin or 8-pin PCIExpress power connectors. Double check you have the right ones as using the wrong power cable can damage your components.

When you’re certain, plug them in to the corresponding slots at the end of your new GPU. You should hear them click into place, but you can confirm they are all the way in by giving them a slight tug. If plugged in properly, they shouldn’t move.

Step 5: Test it out

The moment of truth for any PC hardware change — see if it works. Double check you’ve done everything correctly so far, then, before putting your whole PC back together and plugging everything in, plug in the power cable, your keyboard and mouse, and a single monitor video cable. Then turn your PC on and see if you get a picture. If you do, congratulations! You’ve installed a new graphics card. Skip on to the next step.

If you don’t see a picture, don’t fret, there may be a simple explanation.

Your first step should be to double check that you’ve got the power cables in. If you do and the card is definitely receiving power (fans spinning up, lights shining), then repeat the above steps. Remove the card and “reseat” it in the slot to make sure it’s definitely plugged in correctly. Also double check the connection between your monitor and graphics card. Make sure the cable is plugged in correctly at both ends.

If that doesn’t work, you could try resetting the CMOS/BIOS. It’s also worth checking that your PSU is powerful enough to handle your new graphics card too. RealHardTechX is a great resource for that.

Step 6: Install new drivers

Once you get to the desktop, it’s time to install some new drivers. If you didn’t already, uninstall the ones from your old graphics card. We would even recommend using a utility like Display Driver Uninstaller to be extra thorough. Then reboot your system.

Download the latest drivers from Nvidia or AMD’s website depending on your brand of graphics card, and run the installer. When it’s complete, reboot your system again and you’ll be good to go.

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