Anyone buying a new graphics card must consider several factors before settling on the right one for his or her computer. Following these steps will facilitate your choice.
Choosing a Graphics Card
1. Choose the type of video card you want based on the type of slot your motherboard has. An AGP slot offers options up to 8x, while a PCI Expert (PCIe) slot is available in 1x, 4x, 8x, 16x and 32x. PCIe is considered to be superior to an AGP card because a PCIe motherboard can support multiple PCIe slots but only one AGP. Multiple PCIe slots enable you to load two graphic cards. If you use advanced image editing or audio editing applications, a PCIe card is ideal for you. There is also a PCI card but it is found only in older computers; it has largely been replaced by more advanced cards.
2. Choose the right level of graphics card for your needs. If you want one that supports normal office applications and Internet browsing, go for a low-cost card. If you want to use 3D games as well, a midlevel graphics card can work though it may not give you the desired result for super-advanced 3D games. For the best results on the latest 3D games, choose a high-level premium graphics card.
3. Understand processor clock speed. It is a measure of a processor’s power but not the only one. A higher clock speed does not guarantee faster processing but certainly helps to increase the processing speed. A basic graphics card has a clock speed ranging between 240 MHz and 300 MHz, a mid level graphics card clock speed is between 300 MHz and 500 MHz while a high-performance graphics card clock speed is between 500 MHz and 1 GHz.
4. Understand memory size. The memory size of a graphics card refers to the extent to which it can support graphics operations without tapping into the PC’s memory. The more memory it has, the faster it works. A basic graphics card has a memory size up to 128 MB, a midlevel graphics card has memory between 128 MB and 256 MB while a high-performance graphics card has memory size between 256 MB and 1 GB.
5. Understand memory bandwidth. Memory bandwidth refers to the speed at which the graphics processor communicates with the graphics memory. A higher memory bandwidth enables faster rendering.
6. Know about shader models. If you are an advanced graphics developer who wants minute details like shadows and reflections, you will need a DirectX Shader Model.
7. Learn about fill rate. It refers to the number of pixels that can be reproduced on the screen per second. A good fill rate would result in the faster loading of the on-screen image.
8. Consider a model with the TV-out facility. It enables you to watch your PC video on a TV screen.
9. Consider a model with DVI. Such a model would enable you to watch PC video on DVI monitors. Several LCD monitors support the DVI format.
10. Consider a dual-head graphics card. It enables you to connect two monitors together on one graphics card.
11. Consider scalable link Interface. It supports the usage of two graphics cards on the same computer. This means you can use two monitors at the same time. If you use a PCIe card, you can even connect up to four monitors simultaneously.
12. Understand integrated graphics. Some motherboards do not require a graphics card at all since they have graphics processing capabilities already built in. But these can only support basic office applications and normal Internet browsing.
Purchasing a Graphics Card
13. Compare prices video cards online as well as in computer stores. Look at various buyers’ guides to understand features, pricing and versions of different video cards. Some buyers’ guides include MySimon and Nextag (see links below). These will also give you a list of stores selling video cards and their respective prices.
14. Buy your preferred graphics card online. You can log on to any reliable online retailer or go to the preferred brand’s Web site and shop online.
15. Buy your graphics card from a local retailer.