If you’ve ever been to Best Buy or Circuit City, you may have seen their aisles full of video cards. Before I started studying computers seriously, I would gaze at the flashy boxes, picturing some alpha-geek with a soldering iron toiling for hours to install one of the cards in his computer.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that a new video card is one of the easiest upgrades you can make to your PC. It’s often necessary for running high-end games or software, so knowing how to install a video card is important. It can also do your computer more good than a few extra color and resolution settings, especially if it has integrated, or built-in video (and most newer, low-cost PCs do).
When a system uses built-in video, it has to apply some of its memory and processor power to displaying graphics. Video cards (sometimes called graphics cards) come equipped with their own RAM and other resources, taking the burden off the rest of the computer. It’s not uncommon to see an overall speed boost after putting a graphics card in a computer with integrated video.
Before you rush out and buy the priciest card in the store, you’ll need to know whether your PC uses an Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) or a regular PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) card.
The easiest way to do this is to check manuals or the manufacturer’s website; this isn’t always an option, so knowing how to tell without such aids is a good skill to have. Pull off the case on your system and look at the short, white PCI slots near the bottom of the motherboard. If there is a brown or orange slot above them, set slightly back, you need to install an AGP graphics card there. If you don’t see this slot, you’ll have to put a PCI card in one of the available ports.
AGP graphics adapters generally perform better than PCI ones, because AGP gets higher priority on the motherboard. PCI cards have other advantages, mainly that several can be installed on one computer, allowing the use of multiple monitors. More than one AGP port on a motherboard is rare.
Once you have the right card, all you need to do is put it in the slot with the monitor connector facing out. As with most circuit boards, a little pressure will be needed, and don’t be afraid to rock the card back and forth to get it in. Once the card is seated, the only cable you need to plug in is the monitor connector. After putting the case back on and starting up the PC, install the drivers included with the video card. That’s it.
There’s a lot of complexity to video card technology, but very little to installing one. Even if you don’t have problems with your current video, it can substantially improve performance, and that’s always good.