Graphics/Video Card Buying Guide

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Graphics/Video Card Buying Guide

The terms "graphics card" and "video card" refer to the same thing, and buying one can be daunting given the number of alternatives on offer. Some computers do not give users the ability to choose between the two prominent manufacturers, Nvidia and ATI, thereby limiting their options to a certain degree, although both manufacturers do offer comparable products. Buyers in today's world can expect to come by some fairly reasonable video cards that are good enough for everyday use, and the other end of the spectrum consists of high-end alternatives targeted at hardcore gamers.

Most shops that deal in computer parts keep video cards as part of their inventory, although just how many options any one shop may present cannot be ascertained without actually visiting or getting in touch with a shop salesperson. Buying online, through a website like eBay, on the other hand, presents buyers with multiple options in a single place. Before buying a video card, buyers should understand what to look for, such as compatibility with a computer's motherboard. Other aspects that need a buyer's attention include learning about different connector types, memory, clock speed, and ports.

Motherboard Compatibility

Motherboard compatibility with a video card depends on different factors, and in addition to the connector or bus type, buyers need to pay attention to the motherboard and video card's voltage and amperage ratings. The three basic options when it comes to connector or bus types used to connect a video card to a motherboard include PCI, PCI Express, and AGP; and since these slots are distinctly different, they are easy to tell apart. Buyers should bear in mind that an AGP card does not work with a motherboard that uses PCI Express, and the reverse holds true as well. Further examples include an AGP 3.0 card not working with a motherboard using an AGP 1.0 card; and a PCI Express x1 slot not accepting a PCI Express x8 card.

PCI

PCI stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect, and although the newer PCI Express has been used since 2005, the use of PCI as an interface to connect graphic cards with motherboards remains commonplace even now.

PCI Express

PCI Express, or PCIe, is designed to serve as a faster alternative to both PCI and AGP, and it comes with the capability of transferring large volumes of bandwidths, providing enhanced performance in graphics. Its improvements over its predecessor include superior performance scaling, native hot plug functionality, as well as a lower input-output pin count. The number of lanes a PCIe card comes with is represented by "x1" or "x16". While an x1 slot does not accept an x16 card, an x1 card can be used with an x16 slot.

AGP

AGP stands for Accelerated Graphics Port. This standard came into being to serve as a better alternative when compared to PCI, offering around four times the bandwidth. A majority of the AGP cards available now work only with AGP 2.0 and 3.0 standards, and with the advent of PCIe, AGP's market share has continued to fall. Buyers, however, can still come by AGP motherboards as well as graphic cards.

Memory

Video cards come with inbuilt memories, and in the absence of sufficient memory, a graphics card is not able to transfer videos it processes in a timely manner, resulting in the stuttering and tearing of imagery. Existing GPU, or graphic processor unit, designs come with architectures specifying just how much RAM can be used with them, and this does limit choices. The RAM that a graphics card comes with, though, can be used as a good indicator to establish at which market segment the card in question is targeted.

Evolution of RAM in Graphic Card Memory

As RAM technology has evolved, users are now offered much faster RAMs to choose from than a decade ago, and these changes have crept into the video card industry as well. While video cards primarily depended on the DDR technology until 2003, the period that followed witnessed changes ranging from GDDR2 to GDDR5, with the GDDR5 being faster and more expensive than all its predecessors.

What Is a Good Alternative?

Buyers who use standard monitors and are looking at using no more than moderate graphic settings can look at a 1 GB GDDR5 128-bit bus alternative as a good starting point. People who use HD monitors or are looking at taking advantage of the hi-tech graphics offered by many new games should think about investing in a minimum of 2 GB RAM coupled with a 192-bit bus.

Buyers should bear in mind that they can find the same type of video cards with different memory options. For example, Nvidia's GTX 580 is offered in 1.5 GB and 3 GB alternatives. What's important to note is that when the same types of video cards come with varying memories, those with more memory are typically faster, and also cost more.

Clock Speed

Since video cards make use of memory quite like CPUs, clock speed is something that plays a role in establishing how good or fast any given video card is. However, clock speed alone cannot be used as a definitive parameter in establishing the performance of a graphics card because its performance also depends on the GPU's architecture. For example, a graphics card with 3 GHz clock speed could be slower than a 2 GHz alternative, if its GPU comes with inferior architecture. In addition, double the clock speed does not necessarily translate into twice the performance.

A number of low-end video cards offer high clock speeds, but buyers should know that this does not have to translate into better performance because other factors need to be addressed as well.

Ports

Graphics cards come with ports, or connectors, that are used to connect them to monitors and other devices, like televisions and media players. A majority of the new graphics cards now come with DVI ports, a step up over the older analogue VGA option. These ports are used in transmitting digital signals to monitors. Cards that come with VGA ports can be used with DVI devices, which can be done by using a DVI to VGA convertor. Buyers also have the option to look for graphics cards that come with HDMI ports, aimed at serving as a single port type to be used with various digital devices.

Other Aspects

Gaming aficionados should ideally look for a dual, tri, or quad card setup because these offer superior graphics performance, and looking for cards that support DirectX 11, a language used to program most modern day games, is suggested. The physical size of video cards varies, and some new cards are quite big in comparison to their older counterparts, making it important to establish if any given card fits into a given cabinet or chassis. High-end cards tend to come with exceptional capabilities when it comes to 3D rendering, and this feature alone can increase the price of a graphics card. Some cards control multiple monitors, and these, again, are typically high-end alternatives.

Buying Graphics/Video Cards on eBay

In addition to just about every graphics card manufactured by Nvidia and ATI, eBay also gives buyers the option to find video cards made by Dell, HP, ASUS, PNY, Compaq, Pine Technology, Sapphire, and PowerColor. Buyers can choose in accordance to the memory type with which these cards come, and the options include: DDR SDRAM, DDR2 SDRAM, DDR3 SDRAM, DDR5 SDRAM, and SDR SDRAM. Choosing between memory sizes ranging from 64 MB to 2.5 GB is also an option.

Looking for any kind of a video card on eBay is quite easy because of the search box that can be found on every eBay page. Buyers simply have to type in whatever they are looking for and hit enter, and suitable results follow suit. The other option eBay users have when looking for video cards is to use the menu system that helps categorise products suitably.

eBay buyers should pay attention to what is charged in the form of postage and packaging costs because this varies from seller to seller, with no real standard being followed.

Conclusion

Video cards are not difficult to upgrade, although buyers should know that many new video cards are very power hungry and can require added power connections. When it comes to general desktop graphic applications, dual monitor support, basic desktop publishing, or TV output, buyers can make do with budget alternatives. Mainstream alternatives are suitable for light gaming and general applications, like digital photography or video editing. Top-end video cards are meant for heavy-duty gaming and come with the capability to handle heavy graphics, including 3D imagery. These cards offer the ability to connect to multiple displays, and they come with fast processors and lots of memory, offering fast frame rates and superior visual quality.

How much a buyer is required to spend when buying a video card depends on what is required. Buyers have the option to choose between some rather affordable low-end alternatives, and they can also find a number of rather expensive high-end variants. What's been noticed is that the latest offerings are generally overpriced, and buying a model that's slightly even a couple of months old can be significantly cheaper, and more often than not, serves more than the required purpose.

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