The Dos and Donts of Buying Graphics or Video Cards

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The Do's and Don'ts of Buying Graphics or Video Cards

Next to additional memory, the most common upgrade that desktop and laptop computer buyers invest in are enhanced graphics or video cards. Terms which can be used interchangeably, basically a graphics or video card is a piece of hardware meant to enhance output video display. Video cards can help with an array of features from the quality of 3D scenes and 2D graphics to decoding television outputs. They also give users the ability to connect multiple monitors to a computing unit.

However, the choice to upgrade a graphics card is not as straightforward as it may seem, and simply making that choice is not enough. There are also specific do's and don'ts associated with buying graphics or video cards that, if followed, will make the process easier. Following these do's and don'ts will ensure that buyers get the best graphics card for their money and that it is right for their computer and their needs. Do's and don'ts cover everything from components and specs to shopping with eBay, and are meant to provide clarity and direction to buyers.

Don't Assume Graphics Cards Are Just for Gamers

Although the prevalence of high-end computer games has increased exponentially over the past few decades, the use of graphics cards outside of the gamer market is not at all uncommon. Though there is no doubt that the serious gamer needs a graphics or video card, many other people can benefit from this enhancement as well. Indeed, the introduction of operating systems such as Windows 8 demands higher graphics capabilities in the most unassuming of units. The key to knowing what one person needs vs. the other comes down to the distinction between 2D and 3D graphics cards.

2D Graphics Cards for Everyday Use

Everything from basic web browsing and word processing to email is rendered in 2D or two dimensions. 2D graphics cards work with the basic video signal which is passed between the graphics card and the monitor to render sharp images in every plane. Though they are far less complex than 3D graphics, 2D graphics can still stress a system and cause it to run slowly. The addition of an enhanced graphics card can help to remedy this discrepancy in everyday use.

3D Graphics Cards for Gamers and Professionals

3D graphics cards are a completely different animal. Aside from the basic function of transmitting images between the card and the monitor, the addition of a third dimension makes it the job of the 3D graphics card to choose what is seen, its relative size, and its position in relation to other objects on the screen. This work, primarily done in advanced games and through 3D programs such as those used by architects, clearly calls for additional work and the processing capabilities of enhanced graphics or video cards.

Do Understand Graphics Card Specs

Deciding to upgrade a graphics card is not the only choice that needs to be made in the realm of hardware updates. Graphics or video cards include several options that need to be considered as well. Before doing this, buyers need to know which components or specs are most important, and then gather additional details about them. This means reviewing the two options for graphics processing units (GPUs) as well as becoming familiar with two other specs: memory and bit count.

GPU Differences

The single most important component of a graphics or video card is known as the graphics processing unit, also known as the GPU, or visual processing unit (VPU). This component is actually an electronic circuit with the task of manipulating and altering memory for the purpose of speeding up image creation. Basically, with the function of the GPU, a graphics card really works as a minicomputer.

No matter the brand of graphics or video cards buyers are looking at, the GPU is made by one of two companies: ATI or Nvidia. Though each of these brands makes its own cards as well, known as Radeon and GeForce respectively, other companies build graphics cards around these two basic GPUs. In essence, the options available from these other companies simply add casing around the processor itself. This leads to aesthetic and practical differences, such as ports, rather than a difference in power or capability.

The key to deciding on which video card to buy is learning to read each card's model number to figure out the details regarding its 'generation' and power from that. Each card has a four-digit number which breaks down into the following:

Number

Placement

What it means...

'Thousandths' place

X---

The line of the chip; higher numbers represent newer models

'Hundredths' place

-X--

Relative power of the chip; lower numbers (0-2) are lower budget and lower power; higher numbers (8 and 9) are higher cost and more powerful

'Tenths' place and 'ones' place

--X- and ---X

Two-digit model number of the chip

The way that both ATI and Nvidia work is through releasing the high-performance line first and then following up with midrange and budget options. Therefore, Radeon 4850 would come out prior to Radeon 4350.

Additional Specs

In addition to the information about the GPU in a graphics or video card, buyers should also pay attention to two additional specs: card memory and the number of bits. These elements, though less important than the processor, are still essential to consider.

Memory or RAM

A graphics card's memory, also called RAM, is generally determined by buyers based on the reasons they have for purchasing a graphics card in the first place. If using a graphics or video card for a specific game or program, then this requirement should be prominently displayed on the box or on the website for online games. A good rule of thumb is to make sure to exceed the recommended memory amount to make sure that the card is prepared for updates and other future improvements. Really, more is better.

Number of Bits

The general range of bits, or binary digits, within most graphics or video card options is 64-bit to 520-bit. The purpose of the bit count is to express the speed in which the processor can transmit information between itself and the card's memory. Higher numbers equal faster processing with most recommendations starting at 128-bits for budget cards and 256-bits for higher-end options.

Don't Underestimate the Relationship Between Cost and Quality

In addition to the relative uses and the details of graphics or video cards, the final point that buyers need to consider is price. Unfortunately, like most computer components, the sad fact surrounding the graphics card market is that more expensive, powerful models perform better. This is why it is so important for buyers to determine their needs and then price compare on the same model of card rather than across models. To do otherwise would potentially sacrifice power and capabilities in favour of price. Good graphics cards cost a lot of money, but they are worth it.

Do Consider Buying Graphics or Video Cards on eBay

In the quest to save some money on the purchase of graphics or video cards, it is common for buyers to 'shop around', that is, go to multiple stores looking for the best deal. However, this process is incredibly time consuming, and though graphics cards are commonly available at electronics shops and other computer-related retailers, using a site like eBay to quickly search and compare graphics or video cards is a great way to save time and money.

Consider Buying Used or Refurbished

One of the benefits of shopping with eBay is that buyers can easily save money through the purchase of used and refurbished graphics cards. Rather than spending a lot of money on a brand new, powerful card, the sellers on eBay routinely offer used graphics card models at a discount that can save buyers money while still providing them with the power that they need.

Conclusion

The addition of graphics or video cards to desktops and laptops is one of the most common add-ons amongst patrons today. However, the process of deciding which graphics card to buy can be complex. There are specific do's and don'ts that buyers should follow to make sure that their buying experience is an easy one.

First, buyers need to understand that graphics cards are for more than gamers. Indeed, 2D graphics cards can enhance everyday computing experiences in the same way 3D graphics cards enhance online gameplay. Next, knowing the different specs of graphics or video cards, such as GPUs, memory, and bit count can help buyers match what is available to their specific needs.

Unfortunately, the sad fact of buying graphics or video cards is that spending more money leads to better performance. That is why shopping through eBay is such a good idea. With an easy search system and the option of buying graphics cards used or refurbished, buyers can easily compare prices and get the best deal possible without the inconvenience of travelling to multiple stores and/or websites. In the end, knowing what you want, what is available, and what eBay offers is the best way to get the right graphics or video card at the right price.

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