Replacing Your Graphics Adapter

Category: Video

Graphics adapters or video cards – call them what you will, they’re one of the most popular computer upgrades. There are many graphics adapters on the market, ranging in price from under $50 to over $500. Here are some points to consider when shopping for a replacement video card...

Upgrading Your Graphics Adapter

If you’re not happy with the video quality, resolution or display speed of your computer, replacing the graphics adapter can be a good idea. Maybe you’re a gamer who wants lightning fast screen response, or a sports fan craving crisper graphics to catch all the action in high definition.

First, you will want a card that fits an expansion slot in your computer. If your PC was made in the past five years or so, it will probably have one or more PCI Express slots; that is the latest and preferred card slot format. If your computer is older and lacks PCI Express slots, you will be limited to older and less capable graphics adapters, such as PCI or AGP. On the bright side, older means cheaper!

The chipset at the heart of a video card is like the CPU of a computer. As with CPUs, there are two major competitors in graphics chipsets: Nvidia and AMD Radeon. Which chipset is better is the subject of religious fervor. You might compare it to people who prefer Chevy over Ford, or vice versa. However, you will find more Nvidia graphics adapters than AMD on the market.

The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is to a video card what a CPU is to a computer system. The GPU does all the processing to display color, lines, motion, etc. GPU speed is important, especially if you are into PC gaming. Look through your library of games to see which one demands the fastest GPU and aim for that speed.

Video Card Memory, Ports and Other Specs

Memory is also an important performance factor for a graphics adapter. Graphics memory is not the same as a computer’s RAM; formats of graphics memory range from GDDR2 to GDDR5. Each format has a different memory interface. Graphics memory tends to cost more than RAM, too. A better quality video card will include a gigabyte (1 GB) or more of graphics memory, but many 512MB cards provide good performance.

The I/O ports on a video card determine what you can use to display video output and what inputs the card will accept. The output ports will be of greater importance to most people, because it’s where you will connect your monitor. Common output ports include HDMI, DVI and VGA. You don’t need all three, just make sure that your monitor and video card have matching connectors. If you plan to connect a camcorder or TV cable to your video card, look for one that has those input ports.

DirectX and OpenGL are application programming interfaces (APIs) used by different classes of programs to render advanced graphics. DirectX is used mainly for games and multimedia, while OpenGL is the standard for 3D. You’ll only need to be concerned about this difference if you have some software that insists on one or the other.

Which graphics adapter is best for you? That depends on how important you rate each of the above factors. Here are a few that are very popular for consumer-level PCs now. At the low end, the MSI R4350 Graphics Adapter (around $40, AMD Radeon chipset) has 512 MB, and ports for both DVI and HDMI monitors. The EVGA GeForce 8400 GS is similar in features and price, but is built on the NVIDIA chipset, and also includes a VGA port for older use with monitors. Moving up in the spectrum, the AMD Radeon HD 6950 and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560/570 models are very popular with gamers.

If you're considering a high-end graphics adapter, check to see how much power it requires. You may also need to upgrade to a heftier power supply that can provide 350-400 watts of power.

Installing a Graphics Adapter

Once you buy a graphics adapter that fits your needs and budget, installing it in your computer is pretty easy.

First, uninstall the software for your existing graphics adapter. On a Windows computer, open Device Manager and right-click on the graphics adapter to open its Properties. Under the Driver tab, click Uninstall.

Turn off all power to the PC and the monitor. Open the case and remove the old graphics card, if it is mounted in a slot. (A graphics adapter integrated into the motherboard cannot be removed.)

Install the new card in a slot according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Turn on the PC and monitor. When Windows boots up, it will recognize that there is new hardware and request the CD containing the graphics adapter’s driver. Follow the prompts to install the software drivers for the new video adapter.

Your thoughts are welcome on this topic! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Replacing Your Graphics Adapter"

Posted by:

21 Sep 2011

Good article on replacing the card. How do we do this if the card is on the motherborard? How do we make sure that the computer reads from the new card and not the built in one?

EDITOR'S NOTE: You may need to go into the BIOS Setup and disable the onboard video.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2011

Don't understand this from the article: If you plan to connect a camcorder or TV cable to your video card, look for one that has those input ports. In the phrase "look for one", is that referring to the "camcorder or TV cable" or to the "video card"?

Although you don't deal with Linux or the various distributions (my interest is Ubuntu), doesn't windows deal with connecting two monitors to the same video card?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I was referring to the video card.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2011

Just what I needed. I need to upgrade to edit HD videos.

What great timing!!

Posted by:

Lisa Y
21 Sep 2011

Something I have run into recently, is the need to replace FAILED graphics adapter that is integrated on a motherboard. This is complicated further by the fact that it is a small form factor PC, and the available PCIe slot is so close to the case that a replacement card WILL NOT FIT. I have seen "external" video adapters for a reasonable price. Can you comment on them please?

Posted by:

25 Sep 2011

To Larry, sometimes the new card takes over automatically. Depends on you system. But it will work none the less..Good luck

Posted by:

22 Dec 2011

unsure of the added memory of a video card and the total memory of the system. Does one effect the other? want to add a better graphic card on an older XP machine that can only support 4 gig of memory and when card is installed it shows only around 3gig available. unsure of how computer memory usage is handled do you have an article about this? thanks

Posted by:

14 Aug 2013

Hi Bob. Great article. I have a MSI 945 PL Neo-F, LGA 775/socket T, mother board. I have read that it has pci express x16 graphics interface. Would this mean that I can use any graphics card as long as it is pci express 16? Thanks!

Posted by:

16 Mar 2014

Wanting to know about my computers video card, and why the game i was downloading wasn't detected. The system requirements was 128 recommended.. The game was 286mb.. The one i have in this computer is AMD 64 Family 17 Model 3 Stepping 1..

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