How to build a 4K HTPC – Part Seven: Graphics Card – The Definitive Installation/Upgrade/How-To Guide

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Graphics Card Installation

Installing a graphics card is one of the easier upgrades you can do to your PC. But there are a few potential issues that could arise if you miss a step.

Let’s assume you meet all of the above criteria, and you have purchased a brand new AMD or Nvidia GPU. You have verified that your new graphics card has all of the proper outputs (HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, etc.) you need for your setup. You are finally ready to get your hands dirty.

Step 1: Drivers

If you are building a brand new PC that has never had an OS installed, you can skip this section. You do not need to worry about drivers just yet. For everyone else, let’s assume you are upgrading your current graphics card and/or integrated graphics setup. The first thing you need to do is remove all of your old display drivers. Regardless of where you are coming from and going too (AMD to Nvidia, Intel to AMD, Nvidia to Nvidia, etc.) Removing the old drivers is not going to hurt, most times it’s required, and will more than likely save you from various issues. We don’t need to go there, just remove your old drivers, ok.

Download New Drivers

Now would be a good time to download the most recent (beta or official release) driver package for your new graphics card. Unless you are doing a brand new install, don’t bother using the drivers found on the CD that came with your GPU. 99% of the time they are already obsolete by the time you open the box, you will just end up downloading the newest drivers anyway.

To find drivers just Google the type of GPU you purchased (GTX 970, AMD R9 390, etc.) + “drivers”, and you should have no issue finding the most recent drivers. Download the correct driver for your OS, but do not install it just yet. We’re saving it for later. We just want to have it ready, it’s not as easy to do it after you uninstall your display drivers and you have to use a super low-resolution display for navigation.

Remove Old Drivers

Method 1: So how do you remove your old drivers? You can manually uninstall your old drivers via the control panel. Control panel>Device Manager>Display Adapters. Select your adapter, go to the “Driver” tab, and select uninstall. Your screen should change, and your stuff should be all out of whack. That is actually a good sign. You should be good to go. Shut down, and proceed to the next step.

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Method 2: Another way to thoroughly remove your old display drivers and any remnants (especially if you are having driver issues) is to use a very handy tool from the folks at guru3d.com called DDU or Display Driver Uninstaller. This tool removes just about any trace your old drivers might have left behind. It’s just like a new installation of Windows, you start from a clean slate. The tool is very easy to use. Reboot into safe mode, run the tool, select your driver, click clean and shutdown, and you are ready to physically install your new GPU.

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 Step 2: Remove Current Graphics Card

Time to crack open your case and pull that old dinosaur out of there. If you were running on integrated graphics, you can obviously skip this step. This is a simple procedure, but there are a few things to look out for. If your motherboard supports PCIe 3.0, you will want to connect your graphics card to that slot. If your graphics card and/or motherboard are relatively new, they should both support PCIe 3.0. Most are clearly marked on your motherboard as “PCI-E 3.0″. You can always refer to your motherboard support manual if you are unsure.

The real world performance difference between PCIe 2.0 and 3.0 is relatively minor. A couple of FPS here and there, but you might as well setup your system as optimally as possible.

A1L9nCVka9L._SL1500_Connect to the PCIe 3.0 slot

Before working inside of your CPU (any time you are messing around in there), static discharge, and electrical shorts should be your main concerns. There are a few ways to be proactive in preventing these issues.

  1. Turn off your PSU, that button on the back of your PC. Leave plugged in. Afterward, click your PC’s power button to remove any residual power that may have been stored in the PSU. Your PC may act like it’s turning on for a brief moment even though it is unplugged.
  2. Ground yourself. Touch any conductive metal surface. The metal chassis of your PC will usually work if it is steel. You can also invest in a grounding strip if your home is really dry or you are deathly afraid of static shocks. Don’t get too paranoid, though, just remember, if you leave your work area, make sure you ground yourself again before getting back to it.

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(6+2) & 6 pin PCIe power connectors connected to the old graphics card.

Unplug all HDMI, DVI, VGA, etc. cables (duh). Unplug all PCIe power connections to the existing card. Once the power is disconnected, your graphics card should have a few screws that secure the card to your case, usually found on the bracket. Unscrew each and save for later.

Your card should be locked into place, you will need to unlock it. At the far end of the PCIe slot, there will be some kind of locking mechanism. Slide or push on the locking mech to release your card. Carefully (some cards are deceptively heavy, so use two hands) pull it away from the motherboard. Set onto an anti-static surface, such as the bag your graphics card came in or brown paper bag.

To install your new graphics card simply follow the procedure in reverse. Most of the time, the GPU fan will be facing down. Align the card, and gently slide it into the PCIe slot. If anything seems out of alignment, you are doing something wrong. Everything should align properly with very little resistance. Once seated, lock the card into place.

Insert the proper power connectors for your new card. This could differ from your previous setup. You may need more or fewer power connectors. For instance, our MSI GTX 970 requires a 6+8 pin PCIe power connectors. Not all PSU’s will come with these connectors by default (most newer PSU’s will probably come with 6+6 minimum). But luckily most cards will come with an adapter to make any additional power sources you may need. But this varies greatly by card type and model. Just another thing to consider when you are looking at upgrading your GPU.

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Awesome!

The final step, secure the graphics card in place by using the same screws we previously removed. At this point, feel free to turn the PSU back on and plug in your cables. You are finished with the physical installation portion. Whew…

 Step 3: Setup

Almost finished! The final step is setting up your new GPU and installing drivers. Boot up your PC, you should go straight to Windows without issue. If you don’t, something went wrong. Retrace your steps and make sure you made all the proper connections and your new graphics card is seated properly. Once booted, Windows may begin to install drivers it finds automatically, preferably you don’t want to let Windows automatically install drivers, you’ve already taken care of that. If you used DDU, it should have prompted you to turn off the automatic update feature.

Once fully booted find the driver package you had previously downloaded. Run the driver package and let it do the rest. You should be up and running in a matter of minutes. If your card is in good working order, and you followed all the steps in this guide, you should have no issues. You are finally ready to destroy some vidya games and/or stream some 4K content @60Hz.

Well, that is it, folks. Hope you had fun.

Find out how our 4K HTPC is holding up after a half year. What, if anything would I change if I had to do it over again? HTPC Six Month Update

As always, if you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear them. Hit me up in the comments section. Till next time! ETR out!

  • jh1289

    I’ve got a GTX 970 with an Intel 4790k and 8GB of RAM, but I still can’t play 4k video… it stutters badly. What could be wrong?

    • ETR

      Assuming you have an adequate connection, it’s not because of a lack of horsepower. Are you using Chrome? Strangely enough, I’ve had issues streaming 4k video from YouTube via Chrome. Try using (I hate to say it) IE or Edge if you’re on Windows 10.

    • M Zhilmi AM

      I assume you use smart tv. Maybe the automatic switching frame rate thingy. Try using kodi and set the frame rate to switch to video frame rate (something like dat. Im lazy to look back. Sorry)
      It helps me a lot. Seamless. No stutters when playing video

    • Matthew F

      If your streaming 4k you do not need 3/4 of that hardware for an HTPC, integrated IGP would suffice since streaming sites nutter the crap out of bitrate.

      Streaming or local content?

  • prstorero

    I just read all seven of this series’ parts in one day lol. We will probably think about setting up a HTPC later this year since I brought up the idea after reading a few of these parts ;). Right now I’ve got my old laptop hooked up to an HDMI cable and have stremio on there for watching some things. I’m sure once we get a more dedicated machine, we will start using it even more. Thanks for all the time you put into writing these.

    • ETR

      Thanks for the comment. Good luck with the future build.