Most graphics cards are based on either the Nvidia Geforce or ATI Radeon family of chips. Each has their strengths and both offer state-of-the-art image acceleration
and comparable features.
Performance improves as you move up a range. Top chips offer more features and draw more pixels or textures in a single pass than cut-down, lower-cost options.
All current graphics processors are fine for office work, but hardcore gamers currently favour Nvidia’s Geforce 6800 or new 7800 series and ATI’s Radeon X1900 XTX and X850 XT chips.
Ensure the card you buy can display favoured resolutions with at least a 75Hz monitor refresh rate to avoid eye strain from flicker (if using a CRT monitor).
There are usually three clock speeds quoted (in megahertz). Core clock is the internal speed of the graphics processor. Memory speed (or memory clock) is the
speed of data transfer between the graphics card’s onboard memory and the graphics processor. Ramdac speed is the capability of the digital-toanalogue
converter that provides the graphics output from the card.
Graphics cards use their own dedicated video memory to store data, images and textures. The more you have, the better the performance. A card with 64MB is
fine for office tasks, but we recommend at least 128MB or 256MB for the latest games and video applications.
Around $40 will buy you a Geforce FX 5200 or Radeon 9200 card with 128MB of Ram, which is good for 2D action/strategy games, image editing and less demanding 3D games.
To play 3D action games smoothly, look at $100–$150 cards. Serious gamers should consider the latest Nvidia Geforce or ATI Radeon cards, which are likely to cost $350-plus.
Depending on the motherboard, you’ll need an AGP or PCI Express graphics card. PCI Express is the newest interface standard, offering up to double the bandwidth of an AGP 8x slot for even faster and more complex graphics.
Both ATI and Nvidia offer PCI Express versions of most of their cards. Nvidia also has its SLI (Scalable Link Interface) technology that lets you use two PCI Express graphics cards in SLI-enabled motherboards for ultimate performance. ATI’s rival technology Crossfire is due soon.
Look for support for both analogue (VGA) and digital (DVI) displays, and S-video and composite video outputs for use with TVs. Some ‘all-in-one’ cards have a built-in TV tuner and video-capture options, so you can save money rather than buying