Sunday, 11 October 2009

Graphic Cards Explained?

Welcome to Building Computers for Beginners

It is always difficult to find the best graphic card for your requirements no matter your level of computer experience.

A graphics card is a device that processes data and displays it on your screen or monitor.
The question that every computer builder asks themselves is what graphic card? (Perhaps it should be which graphic card?). No matter whether grammatically correct, it is a complicated question to answer and is dependent on several variables. The type of computer being built and the intended purpose of the system are important factors. The most important factor is the cost as this has to be met within the budget (unless of course, price is no object - a rare occurrence in my experience).

Onboard Graphics Adapters and Chipsets
It may seem like the perfect solution. A motherboard with on an integrated graphic adapter means that you do not have to be concerned with finding a suitable graphic card for your build. The bad news is that this is probably the biggest mistake you can make as a computer builder.

Onboard Graphic adapters (or accelerators) have a reputation for being underpowered resulting in the computer system slowing down, a syndrome that is known in the trade as a bottleneck. Like most areas of technology onboard graphic adapters have improved in recent years with Intel and SiS making some of the leading integrated chipsets. Despite recent advancements onboard graphics are not comparable to independent graphic card technology. It has to be stated that unless there is no alternative available avoid integrated graphics at all costs. Some motherboards allow for the onboard graphics to be switched off so that you can install a PCIe graphics cards instead but this is also far from ideal. I would highly recommend evading integrated graphics in all computers inclusive of laptops, many of which (even in the mid price range) are available with mobility (or discrete) graphic cards. If the fact that almost all (if not all) onboard graphics are completely rubbish is not enough, it can also be a living nightmare to update the drivers for integrated chipsets. If you are ever offered a desktop or laptop computer with onboard graphics run for the hills!

Some very cheap computers systems sometimes have abysmal motherboard and integrated graphic adapter combinations. If you buy a computer always investigate thoroughly the contents of the computer case and make sure all the internal components match their description exactly. Some of the prefixes and suffices (letters in the name such as XT) make a lot of difference to the cost and performance of the components. This is something to be aware of when looking for bargains on internet auction sites. My top tip for buying graphic cards on auction sites is to make sure you don't get carried away. I've seen graphic cards being sold for more than their retail prices due to over competitive bargain hunters getting into a frenzied bidding war!

Nvidia Geforce and ATI Radeon Graphics Cards
The two main competitive manufacturers of computer graphics cards are Nvidia and ATI (A subsidiary of AMD). Nvidia are known for their brand of Geforce graphic cards. AMD has retained the ATI Radeon brand name and use it (although not exclusively) for their current range of desktop graphic cards. Debates on internet forums rage for days, months and years about which manufacturer make the better GPU. It is an argument that is ongoing and unlikely to ever be resolved. ATI had gained a reputation for making top end cards that are slightly less expensive than their main competitor. Meanwhile Nvidia's GPU are extremely popular with hardcore gamers and have gained a reputation for having good driver support. The fact is that both manufacturers make a range of good graphic cards that will make it possible to run graphically intensive applications and games. It has to be stated that both manufacturers make a full range of different specification of graphics cards to cater for most people and their requirements.

What is NVIDIA SLI Technology?
NVIDIA® SLI™ technology is a revolutionary platform innovation that allows you to intelligently scale graphics performance by combining multiple NVIDIA graphics solutions in an SLI-Certified motherboard.
Well, that is what it says on Nvidia's website, what it actually means is that you run more than one graphics card (usually two) in the same motherboard. The graphic cards have to the same type for example both GTX 285 but they do not have to be the same make or manufacturer.

ATI CrossFire™— Multiply and Conquer
ATI’s CrossFire™ is the ultimate multi-GPU gaming platform and propels your PC to a new pinnacle of performance. Developed from the same technology used with ATI-based commercial flight simulators, ATI CrossFire soars into a new dimension of graphics capability with multiple graphics processing units (GPUs) working together in your PC.
This is what is says on ATI's website about their own version of multiple graphic card technology. Luckily, most gaming motherboards support both chipsets leaving the option to select either technology or to swap from one to another) perhaps during a future upgrade. As stated above it is difficult to predict which brand of graphic card will be all the rage in a few years down the line. If you have plans to build a computer system with more than one graphic card make sure that you research the physical attributes of your build. In same configurations the graphic card/s can block other expansion slots or ports that you may need to complete your build. It is possible to find versions of slim graphic cards that can help to utilise the space inside the computer case. Remember that high end graphic cards require their own power from the main power supply unit (PSU) so make sure that you have a suitable unit.

Installing a Graphics Card
There is nothing difficult about installing a PCIe graphics card (or any type). Remove the metal plate or panel in the case to allow for the graphic cards I/O panel. Then it is simply a matter of pressing the interface into the PCI expansion slot on the motherboard. When the card is aligned correctly and is fully pressed down the holding clip on the motherboard will (or at least it should) automatically snap shut to hold it in place. Connect the power supply (if required) from the Power Supply Unit (PSU). If you are setting up SLI or CrossFire configuration you have to connect the cards with a bridge connector that should be supplied with your graphic card/s. It is important to follow anti-static precautions when handling the graphic card/s to prevent Electro-static Discharge (ESD).

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