A Video Card Upgrade - What you need to know

This article describes what you need to consider when upgrading your video card. If you are looking for specific directions on How to Install a Graphics Card then use the link provided.

The video card or graphics card is the nexus of all images generated by a computer. Any images visible on the monitor, and any rendering, texturing, or shading of these images, is performed by the graphics card.

As such, the single best way to increase overall image quality and/or performance of the computer during the image creation process is to upgrade the existing graphics card.

Upgrading the graphics card of a computer provides numerous immediate benefits, including:

An upgraded video card provides these immediate benefits for several reasons.

Buffering

Newer graphics cards have more video memory, which means the graphics card is able to hold a larger number of images prior to displaying them on the screen. This is a process known as buffering.

Graphics cards work much like movie projectors - they display a series of images in quick succession. This provides the illusion of movement to the human eye. More video memory means the graphics card can prepare a greater number of images and store them until they need to be sent to the monitor.

With as many as 75 full-screen images per second sent to the monitor, and each of these images taking up as much as 50 Megabytes of information, even a moderate increase in video memory - say 512 megabytes - would provide the graphics card with enough buffer space to prepare up to 10 additional frames per second.

By allowing the graphics card to buffer frames, and store them in RAM well in advance of being sent to the monitor, this allows the graphics card to add additional effects to each frame.

Increased buffer space improves anything that has to do with:

For user who desire upgrades in these areas, increasing the video memory of the presently installed graphics card will work wonders.

Post-Processing

Post-processing, in technical terms, is any processing done by the graphics card after the image is rendered. Post-processing effects are 100% dependent on the GPU, therefore a faster or more efficient GPU is the only way to increase the availability or detail of post-processing effects.

Post processing effects include anything that has to do with:

For users who require additional post-processing effects, increasing the speed of the GPU on the presently installed graphics card will do the trick.

Heat

The final factor to consider when upgrading a graphics card has to do with combating the heat generated by the graphics card itself.

All graphics cards that have an on-board GPU also have some form of heat sink - usually a piece of metal or metal alloy - that fastens directly to the GPU. Heat sinks act as baffles or conductors, pulling away the heat generated by the operations of the GPU. This allows the GPU to work at higher speed with greater stability.

As the speeds of graphics cards have improved, the heat they generate has likewise increased, requiring new and better methods of cooling. Many of the newest GPUs include a liquid cooling apparatus that is far more efficient than the standard metal heat sink.

Superior heat removal technology is yet another factor to consider in the search for a better and faster graphics card.

Upgrade Synergy

Post-processing effects work by making additional passes over images that have already been rendered and are stored in the RAM of the video card, waiting to be sent to the monitor.

The increase in RAM provides the graphics card with more time to provide post-processing effects, since there are more images stored in RAM at any given time, and the increase in GPU speed allowed the graphics card to perform more post-processing per image, enhancing overall image quality.

Finally, effective heat management allows faster overall GPU performance and stability.

For this reason, it is nearly always preferable to upgrade all three qualities of a graphics card nominally than to upgrade any one quality greatly. This is why newer graphics cards are generally released by manufacturers onto the market with an increase to available RAM, an increase to GPU speed, and a superior method of heat removal technology.

Summary

The functions of a graphics card are largely interdependent. To get the best bang for your buck, look for a moderate increase across the board rather than a single large increase to memory or speed.