A reference card GPU is the original design of a GPU from the manufacturers.
In this case, AMD or NVIDIA. Any design released after the original from companies such as ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, EVGA, etc. is referred to as a custom GPU.
Knowing which graphics card you want to buy is only a step of the process. If you are not in any way familiar with PC slang and terms, you might quickly get confused when reading up on forums about which GPU you should buy.
Frequently, you will see the word “reference card” being thrown around. What exactly does it mean and how is that important for your gaming experience?
Well, it can definitely have an impact on many aspects of your gaming experience. This is why it is a good idea to learn what the term means.
To put it simply, a reference card is the manufacturer’s original design for a GPU. Companies such as NVIDIA or AMD have a design in mind for their GPU and that is how the product is first released on the market.
At the same time, both AMD and NVIDIA send their PCB (Printed Circuit Board) plans to third-party companies that specialize in manufacturing video cards such as XFX, Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, Sapphire, EVGA, and many others.
The point of this is for NVIDIA and AMD to offload a large chunk of their manufacturing work to successfully satisfy the demand of the market.
The cards coming out of these companies are referred to as AIBs, aftermarket cards, or custom GPUs. Any of these terms are correct, so feel free to use any of these.
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What Are The Differences?
Now that you know what a reference card GPU is, you probably still don’t have any idea whether you should get a reference or an aftermarket model of the GPU you want.
What are the differences?
Every single one of these companies I mentioned above has created their own design for a certain GPU. Let’s take the RX 6800 as an example.
Currently, there are over a dozen variants of the RX 6800. One is longer, another one is shorter, and a third one is bigger in every aspect. Sometimes they come with a dual-fan setup, other times they come with a triple-fan setup. There are a lot of differences in terms of design.
Lower-end GPUs that don’t require a lot of cooling can even have completely passive cooling. No fans, just a heatsink.
Usually, the aftermarket cards come with much beefier heatsinks, fans, and the overall design is much bolder than a reference card.
Another major difference between a reference and an aftermarket card is the pricing. Reference cards are released with the original price specified by the manufacturer, in this case, AMD or NVIDIA.
Aftermarket graphics cards are almost always above that MSRP usually because these third-party companies have invested a lot more in the design and cooling.
For example, the RX 6800 has an MSRP of $579. If you buy a reference card (named Founders Edition), you should be paying a maximum of $579.
However, if you look at the aftermarket RX 6800s from ASUS, Gigabyte, etc. you will be looking at prices that are a bit more than that. It could be $50 more, $100 more, and sometimes even more than that. It depends on the model.
Cooling And Performance
One huge advantage that AIBs have over the reference design GPU is in cooling and performance. These aftermarket cards are not equipped with such beefy heatsinks for no reason. They are much more efficient at dissipating heat and keeping the card cool at all times, even during long gaming sessions.
With lower temperatures, third-party brands have the freedom to push the card to its limits. This is often referred to as a factory overclock. This brings just a bit of extra performance in-game.
Should You Buy A Reference Or An Aftermarket Card?
Now, you might be wondering: Which variant of the GPU you picked is right for you? Well, it depends. What are you looking for?
If you do not care about the looks, noise, or temperatures of your computer and you just want to get the best bang-for-the-buck graphics card, just get a reference card. They are cheaper and deliver almost the same performance as AIBs.
If you care about noise levels, RGB lighting, and low temperatures, you should be getting an aftermarket GPU.
Although that’s where things get even more complicated because then you will have to choose the right brand and model. Fortunately, there are tons of reviews and articles that can assist you in making this decision.
This last sentence above can be deleted. You could use it to link it to the Best RX 6800 cards article once its published.