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 video card card helps to turn a set of instructions into a complex 3D image with surface textures and shading that are constantly changing. 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. The best advice that we have is to look at the "G3D" score we show below each card and use this as a reference of relative performance.
The impact of video card memory amount 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 1GB will support a display size of 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, 4GB, & 8GB cards are typically useful if you are running multiple large monitors at full resolution.
Separate video cards connect to the motherboard in the PCIe x16 port. This is the only interface that can be used on a modern motherboard. Older AGP or very very old original PCI 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 from the power supply to be attached directly to the video card. These cards will have a single or multiple 6 pin or 8 pin power connectors on the card.
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".