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Top 5 Things to Know about Video Graphics Cards

by Paul Sanders

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Avid gamers need to have some serious processing power to keep their fast-paced, action-packed games running smoothly. Often, the integrated graphics processor on your computer can't keep up with high-resolution, complex video games or movies. To power those fast-moving, stunning images, you need a video card. Here are the top five things to know to select a video graphics card that will get you into the game.

Video Graphics Cards:

  1. Integrated and plug-in graphics accelerators. Most computers have video acceleration built into the main processor, but they are typically not as fast as plug-in graphics cards. They also don't have their own memory and must use your main computer resources to run video games and movies. A video graphics card has its own memory and processor, freeing up your computer's resources for other tasks and speeding up performance. Video graphics cards are also at the front of special effects technology development, so they're constantly improving. A card more than a few years old will quickly become obsolete. One feature which has been advanced is the type of slot that a video graphics card will fit into.



    When looking for graphics cards, you'll see labels like PCI (peripheral component interconnect), AGP (advanced graphics port) and PCIe (PCI Express). These terms describe the type of motherboard slot that the graphics card requires for connection. PCIe is the most recent advancement. So, if you look for a graphics card labeled PCIe, you will be pretty much up to date.

  2. Processor speed and memory. Every video graphics card has a graphics processing unit, which is similar to the central processing unit on your computer's motherboard. The GPU processes the images for your computer monitor. Developers have programmed GPUs with abilities such as full-scene anti aliasing (FSAA) and anisotropic filtering, which help make cleaner and more realistic 3-D objects. How fast your video graphics card can perform these tasks depends on its processor speed and how much memory it has. Processor speed is measured in megahertz (MHz). Usually, you will find video graphics cards with memory in the 128 MB to 512 MB range. High-end video games generally require at least 128 MB and recommend 256 MB of video card memory.

  3. Frames per second (FPS). Each frame is one full-screen image that your video card processes. Your eye can process about 25 frames per second, but a good video graphics card will operate at 60 FPS or higher to produce a clean image with no blurring or pixilation. A video card with more memory can save more images in a memory buffer until they are needed, increasing FPS.

  4. Pixel fill rate. How many pixels your video card's GPU can process per second will determine how quickly it can process images. A good video card will have a high pixel fill rate, but it isn't the main factor to consider.

  5. Triangles per second. 3-D images rendered by computers are made up of millions of tiny polygons. The more of these shapes a video graphics card can process per second, the less blurring you will see when playing videos or playing video games.

Tips:

  1. Double-check what type of slots your computer has. You don't want to buy a video card only to find that it fits in a slot that your computer doesn't use.

  2. Read the system requirement sections on software that you want to use. Look at the video card requirements, too; the recommended specifications for video cards are usually higher. Use these as the minimum for selecting your video card. As time goes by, system requirements will increase, and you don't want to be left behind.

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