What is a video card? Also known as a graphics card or display adapter, video cards process data so that a computer can display graphics on a screen. Without a video card, the data is just ones and zeroes. Every desktop computer’s motherboard has a special expansion slot for video cards, and they usually have a rectangular circuit board with ports on one side for attaching a monitor or TV. These may include a VGA, S-Video, and DVI port. On a laptop, the video card is designed to fit into a much tighter space, and it’s usually not replaceable.
Dozens of companies manufacture their own video cards, but they generally incorporate graphics chips from NVIDIA or AMD. The main thing to keep in mind is the difference between dedicated video cards and integrated graphics. Dedicated video cards are built solely to generate visuals, with their own dedicated memory on the circuit board, whereas integrated graphics use the computer’s RAM. This makes integrated solutions less effective for running graphically intensive programs.
Checking Your Current Video Card
For Windows users, the easiest way to learn about your video card is via the Device Manager. To get there, open the Control Panel and select the “Hardware and Sound” section. On older versions of Windows, this may be named “System and Security” or “System and Maintenance”. Then, select the Device Manager from the list of icons. This lists all of your currently installed hardware and device software. You’ll find the video card under the “Display Adapters” section.
On a Mac, this is even easier. Click on the Apple logo in the top-left corner of your screen, and then select “About This Mac”. A new box will appear with information about your current operating system, processor, memory, and graphics card.
Buying a New Video Card
Before purchasing a new graphics card, do a quick search on Google to see whether your computer motherboard supports graphics upgrades. If your motherboard has an on-board GPU (graphics processing unit) and no expansion slots, you won’t be able to use the new card.
Next, you’ll want to keep in mind how fast your CPU is. Buying an overly powerful video card will result in it outpacing the computer processor, and then waiting for it to eventually catch up. When it comes to selecting a video card, memory bandwidth is generally more important than the amount of RAM. More memory bandwidth allows you to run graphically demanding programs without sacrificing performance, whereas having more RAM will not matter if its speed is lacking.
Finally, once you’ve installed a new video card, you’ll need to update the device drivers so that your operating system recognizes it. We recommend visiting the manufacturer’s website or looking up the model number with your favorite search engine.
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