Video Cards Simplified
Cut through all the geek speak to identify what
you really need to know.
The graphics/video card of a computer converts the
electronic signals that the computer generates or transfers to it from
external input into visual images. The level of clarity, definition and
detail of the images depends on the power of the video card being used.
The frame rate or the number of images or frames per second (fps)
affect the quality of a moving or changing image and determine whether
the motion will look jerky or be missing detail or will appear
In simplified terms, the video card needs
intelligence provided either by the main computer of the system (i.e.
the CPU or Central Processing Unit) or a special GPU – Graphics
Processing Unit in the video hardware. It also needs memory to hold the
information it is processing. It can share the computer’s main memory
or provide some if its own memory and only use a fraction of the main
memory or it may have its own independent memory. The more specialized
the card is by having dedicated hardware the more powerful it will be
and the more expensive it will be.
Selecting the right card for you
Dell Computers defines 3 levels according to this
1. Low end – video uses
computer CPU and memory
2. Mid Range – video card
provides GPU and generally uses its own memory but may share some
3. High end – GPU and memory
all provided by video card.
Video Card Link )
The way you use your computer will determine what
type of video solution you require
1. Basic user – word
processing, internet browsing, email and DVD movies
The basic level card will suffice for this. It
should have at least 128MB. 2 representative cards are the Nvidia
7300GT and ATI 1300XT.
2. Vista Aero User or light gaming, rich
media, and general entertainment
Microsoft’s new operating system uses dramatic
video effects to aid and enhance the user’s experience in working with
their computer. Details are here;
This capability requires mid level graphics power
and a card with at least 256 MB of its own internal memory should be
purchased. A sample card would be ATI HD2600XT.
3. Edit and view photographs in
A mid level card should be used for this. One
example is the NVidia 8600GT, All cards from this level and up should
have at least 256 MB.
4. Playback HD quality content
The card should have HDMI outputs to attach to
external displays. 2 possibilities are Nvidia 8600gt or ATI HD2600XT.
5. 3D accelerated gamesin high
definition player, CAD (Computer Aided Design), video editing or high
level graphic design
3D gaming makes the greatest demands on the
computer’s video systems and the sky is the limit here. In general, the
highest level card that your system will accept will provide the most
The choice of video card will generally be made
when you purchase a new system. Upgrading to a higher level would
require having a new card installed. The ability of your system to
accept a new card will depend on the age of your main computer hardware
board known as the motherboard. The newer video cards require special
types of connecters on the motherboard which will not be available on
the older motherboards. This issue will be discussed in more detail in
from Video Cards to Ask the Computer Doc home.