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Computer Graphics Card Upgrade Guide

page 1 of 3


If you are like me, you've probably been keeping an eye on the numerous computer graphics cards that have been going on sale, and you are no doubt wondering if it's a good time to upgrade your video card. While it is a relatively easy procedure to install a new video card, the decision of when to upgrade, and what card to buy, is very complicated.

Deciding if you need a new Graphics Card

Before we get started on the upgrade decision, let's talk a little about why you might want to upgrade your video card. There are probably only two basic reasons to upgrade a video card:

1. Your current card has poor performance.

2. You just "want" faster video performance.

If you think your current video card is performing poorly, there are a couple of things you should do prior to upgrading your video card. The first thing your should do is give your computer a "tune-up". This involves things like running Defrag, Scandisk, virus checkers etc. (for further explanation of tune-up procedures, see our article Computer Maintenance Tips).

Once you are certain that your computer is performing properly, and your computer is still experiencing slowdowns in video intensive programs, like games or graphic design programs, then the second thing you may need to do is upgrade your computer's main system memory. Inadequate amounts of system RAM will choke your computer's performance. That's why I recommend all newer computers have at least 512 MB of system RAM.

If your computer is more than 3 years old, I would suggest that you save your money for a new computer and forego the expense of a video card upgrade. A new video card will not significantly increase the performance of systems this old.

Once you have decided that you need a new video card, or you just want a newer video card to improve your system's performance, it's time to lay down some rules for upgrading.

Graphics Card General Upgrade Rules

1. To buy the fastest video card available is extremely expensive and may not significantly improve your system's performance. The fastest computer graphics cards (NVidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra and the ATI Radeon 9800 XT) sell in the $400-$500 range. It is unreasonable to think about upgrading to these cards unless you already have a very fast computer system.
Remember that a slow system is an indication that you might need, or want, a new computer.

2. The vast majority of people should try to buy graphics cards with good performance at reasonable prices. My reasonable price is less than $200. In this price range you can find very good video cards that won't dig too deep into your computer budget.

3. Know the type of video card your system can use. Most computer systems built in the last 2 years have an AGP video port. However, many low cost computers do not have an AGP port and must be upgraded with a PCI video card.
If you are uncertain as to the type of video card your system can use, visit your computer manufacturer's web site and research your computer's video capabilities.

4. Decide whether you want to install the card yourself or if you would rather have someone else install it for you. Many major computer chain stores will install new computer peripherals for free or for a small fee if you buy the item in their store.

5. Make sure you understand your right to return the video card if you are unsatisfied with it. Many online stores do not accept graphics card returns or will charge you a restocking fee. Needless to say, always use a credit card when shopping online.

Next we'll take a look at a few handy tables that list the features of the newer graphics cards from ATI and NVidia.

Next: ATI and NVidia Graphics Card Comparison Tables >>

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