What Should I Look For In A Video Adapter Card?

May 10, 2009

in computer hardware,photos and video

by David Hakala

The video adapter that came with your computer may be just fine for ordinary routine tasks: email, Web browsing, a little business or personal writing, etc. But if you play games or watch high definition videos on your computer, you will want better performance than most factory-installed video adapters provide. When shopping for a video adapter card, follow these guidelines.

The GPU is more important than the RAM. GPU stands for Graphics Processor Unit. It is the specialized computing chip that turns bits into dazzling full color, high-definition images moving at lightning speed. RAM is just the GPU’s scratchpad as it performs the billions of necessary calculations. Research GPUs to find the one best optimized for your typical uses, then buy a card with that GPU and an adequate amount of RAM – usually 128 MB more than the vendor says is the minimum requirement.

Learn to read the model codes of the most popular video card vendors. The model codes tell you a lot about what you are buying. For example, an ATI 3xxx model card is older than a 4xxx card, but that doesn’t mean the 4xxx card is better, necessarily. The second number in the model code, ranging from 3 to 8, tells you the performance level of that card within its model year. So a 38xx high performance card probably outshines 43xx newer card. And newer always costs more than it should.

Match the performance of the GPU to the performance of your CPU. The fastest video card will be hobbled by a slow central processor unit. They have to work together. If you have a mid-range CPU then your best buy is a mid-range vide card.

Make sure before you buy that your computer’s power supply can meet the new video card’s needs. Video cards are power hungry. Be sure you have enough of the right kind of connectors available on your power supply. You may have to upgrade the power supply.

Like shopping for a car, shopping for a video card can be intoxicating. But at the end of the day when you reach for your credit card, buy what you need and not what makes you feel like a teenaged hot rodder.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dhakala