What Video Card Should I Buy?
A new separate video card is typically an improvement from integrated video. Higher performance video cards provide smoother full motion video and better 3D gaming performance.
How Video Cards Operate
Before selecting a video card, we believe it is important to know what a video card does in the system. The separate video card plugs into a slot on your board and provides your computer with a second sub-processor called a GPU (graphics processing unit). All the calculations that are needed to turn the computer code into the picture on the screen are given over to this second sub processor and it is dedicated to this task. This hand-off of this job frees up your main CPU to do its main job of calculating and pushing data around. If you are have very simple graphics related calculations (like text or small static images) a separate GPU is less important than with more complicated or moving images.
In video games, a separate graphics card helps to turn a set of instructions into a complex 3D image with surface textures and shading that are constantly changing. The 3D model also has virtual lighting and other factors. In many cases video games actually will not work if they do not identify a separate GPU and they will only start to apply many of the possible textures and shading of figures when they sense a GPU of sufficient capability. A higher level GPU will also allow for more frames per second to be generated so the action will feel less choppy, more natural, and more realistic. When processing moving video images (especially high definition) the video card is often given the task of filling in any gaps, errors, or compression remnants in the video frames to give the images a clean, smooth and clear appearance.
The performance of a particular video card is even harder to quantify than the performance level of a CPU. The video card has both a graphics processor chip that has multiple processing cores, different types of bus systems, memory interfaces, cache memory, pipeline staging etc. and it has a memory subsystem that can range wildly in speed and type. The best advice that we have is to buy the most modern version of cards from either manufacturer and to rely on the price point of these cards to be the best indication of performance level. .
When you see a memory amount associated with a video card, this quantity has a specific benefit, even if it is different than most people believe. The amount of video memory is directly related to the size of output and the number of colors displayed. .
Generally if you are running at the highest 24 bit mode of color, 1GB will support up to approximately 1600 x 1080 and 2GB of memory will support 2 monitors at full resolution or larger monitor resolutions up to approx 30" monitors at full color. 3GB or 4GB Cards are typically useful if you are running multiple large monitors at full resolution.
Separate video cards connect to all modern systems with basically the same interface. All of the motherboards we sell have at least one PCIe x16 port on the motherboard. This is the only interface that can be used on a modern motherboard. Older AGP or very very old original PCI or ISA type cards can no longer be used for video.
Some high end video cards have such a high end GPU that they require a power connection to be attached directly to the video card itself. These cards will have a single or multiple 6 pin or 8 pin power connectors on the card and they require that you use a special type of power supply that has matching plugs. We do not recommend using an adapter plug that converts two 4 pin molex connectors on the power supply to a single 6 pin plug. These generally work for a short period of time before burning out the 12V rail of the power supply.
The most common types of video output ports are:
15 pin VGA (DB15) connector. These are typically blue connectors that are rounded in shape roughly the size of the tip of your pointer finger. This analog connector has rounded corners longer on the top then on the bottom.
DVI connector. These digital connectors are roughly 1" x 1/2" and have a grid of 21 (3x7) square holes next to a section of 4 square holes.
HDMI / Mini HDMI Connector. This digital connector is common on HDTVs and uses a single flat blade connector that that is approximately 1/2" wide by 1/16th Inch high (1/4" by 1/16th for Mini HDMI) To carry both video & audio signals.
Display Port / Mini Display Port Connector. This digital connector is similar to HDMI but allows for additional types of data to be carried by the port (like network) in addition to audio and video.
Most of the cards we sell come with multiple connectors so they will match most monitors. Lowest cost motherboards with integrated video will often only have the DB15 / VGA port, so if you plan to output to HDTV directly from a motherboard with integrated video, be sure to click on the details link to verify the types of outputs the board has. All of the video cards we sell can support dual displays and will send either the same signal to two monitors or can split the signal to span two monitors.
Some of the motherboards we offer have multiple video card slots. These multiple slots can be used either to pair together multiple matched video cards. To pair together multiple ATI cards the board has to have multiple slots and support "Crossfire". To pair together multiple Nvidia cards the board has to have multiple slots and support "SLI".