Purchasing a PC graphics card can be a daunting task for those that aren't familiar with all the technical lingo that has become part of every decision regarding computer hardware. Whether you are considering an upgrade to your current system, or you want your new system to be able to run the latest games, here are some things you should know before buying a video card for gaming.
Update Your Drivers
If you're thinking of replacing your card because you're having problems running a certain game, make sure you have the latest version of the drivers for your current graphics card. You will find the latest drivers for your card available for download from the manufacturer's Web site.
ChipsetsFor the purpose of gaming, two developers of 3D graphics card chipsets have come to dominate the market: nVidia and ATI. While there are many video card manufacturers and brands, most of them build their cards around chipsets designed and supported by one of these two companies. Certain games will run a little better on one chipset than another - something you might want to consider before deciding which way to go.
AGP vs. PCI-ExpressA long time ago the Advanced Graphics Port (AGP) replaced the Peripheral Component Interface (PCI) as the standard way to connect the graphics card to the motherboard. PCI-Express is a new and faster form of PCI, which has replaced AGP as the standard for graphics card slots. PCI-Express offers roughly twice the data transfer rate of 8x AGP. You can't put a PCI-Express card in an AGP slot or vice versa, so your motherboard will have to have PCI-Express if you want to use a PCIE card.
Onboard Memory512 MB of memory is, at the time of writing this, about the minimum for a gamer looking for a new card. When it comes to memory, more is always better, although it does raise the price of the card. 1 GB cards are now common in all price ranges, but there are high-end cards with 2 GB or more of memory onboard.
FrameratesAs the term implies, framerate is an indication of how many frames per second your system can display. The rate not only varies from game to game, it is also affected by the game's settings and the action taking place at any given moment in the game. Framerate is, in some ways, the ultimate test of a video card's speed, so a lot of sites compare cards on this basis. The fastest cards in this regard are usually the most expensive as well.
DirectXWhile you may need the latest version of Microsoft DirectX (DX) software to run a game, this doesn't necessarily mean that your card must be fully compatible with the latest version of DX, you simply won't be able to use certain graphics features. Most new games support cards that have built-in DX 10 or DX 11 features, but will still run on a video card from the DX 9 era, for example. When in doubt, look for the specific chipsets that the game you want to play supports.
Power ConsumptionMany cards designed for gaming require a considerable amount of power, and they often have additional power connectors on them because they can't get enough juice through the slot itself. They also require a relatively good power supply, especially for SLI and Crossfire systems with dual video cards. If you're upgrading to the latest high-end card, you may find yourself upgrading your power supply as well. Power requirements are usually stated in the graphics card's specifications.