Windows XP / Beginners

Picking a video adapter

You may want to replace your video adapter card to get higher resolution and a higher refresh rate, better performance, or additional features. Some graphics cards promise faster rendering of three-dimensional objects in several popular games. Many graphics cards fail to live up to their promises.

Surprisingly, business users (which is to say, people who don't use their PCs for fast action games) may want to upgrade their video cards, particularly if they're still using the built-in on-board video that comes "free" with new computers. A decent video card - even a relatively cheap one - can make text look better and eliminate the distracting smears that frequently accompany scrolling through documents, e-mail messages, or spreadsheets.

To produce a display with a given combination of resolution and refresh rate (see the discussion in the preceding sections), both your monitor and your video adapter have to be up to the challenge. If you buy a monitor that can run at 1800 x 1600 with 92 Hz refresh, you may also have to buy a more capable video card to keep up with it.

Alternatively, you could consider refinancing a Third World country. This stuff doesn't come cheap, folks.

When you choose a new video adapter, consider the following points:

  • Be sure that the card can display the highest resolution you want with a refresh rate high enough to eliminate flicker. Check the number of colors that the card can display at the resolution you want. If you work with video or photographs, you need 32-bit color ("true color") at the resolution you'll be working at.
  • If your computer's motherboard has an AGP adapter slot, get an adapter with an AGP interface. (See the section, "Interfaces for adapter cards," earlier in this tutorial.)
  • If your monitor has a Digital Video Interface, get a video card with a DVI port. It's worth paying extra.
  • Get an adapter designed to perform well with the types of applications you run. If you play video games a lot, you should get a 3D adapter, which has special hardware to display game images quickly; bonus points for an adapter with full DirectX support (that's the program inside Windows that makes video - and video games - run faster).
  • If you want to watch TV on your computer, or use the computer to capture video from a TV signal or VCR, choose a card that supports TV input and output. (Generally you can use a USB port for copying pictures from a video camera) Many video board manufacturers have TV support that rivals Windows Media Center.

Warning The single greatest source of frustration with Windows since its inception has been lousy video drivers. In every version of Windows, with every video card manufacturer. Windows XP is no exception. Video card manufacturers take a long time to come out with decent drivers for their wares - and when they have a stable driver, the pressure to incorporate new features frequently leads to unstable newer versions. If you buy a new video card, make sure you check the manufacturer's Web site for the latest Windows XP driver prior to installing the card. And always keep your old video card, just in case the new one simply won't work.

Tip Most video adapters have built-in video memory, which they use to hold the image displayed on the screen. Some adapters let you add more video memory to get higher resolutions with more colors. Check out this option before you replace your card. If you can reach your goal by adding video memory to your existing card, that can be a cheaper and easier way to go.

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