Sunday, June 15, 2008

Figuring Out Which Video Card Is Right for You

When you think about upgrading a video card, do not just think it's for "gamers only." A number of specialized video cards on the market have nothing to do with games.
Here's a cross section of what's available:
  • A gamer's card: The latest 3-D video cards (equipped with GeForce 7 and Radeon X850 chipsets, from NVIDIA and ATI, respectively) kick serious tail for all types of games out there - no matter which are your favorites. If you haven't seen the realistic 3-D figures that these cards can produce, visit the gaming store at your local mall and ask a salesperson to crank up the latest game. Of course, Windows will display ho-hum applications faster with one of these cards as well. Many 3-D gaming cards also offer dual monitor support so that you can run two monitors side-by-side for a really big desktop.
These high-end, 3-D cards run tremendously hot - after all, they're practically separate computers - so they usually have a fan already installed on the card. However, if you're planning on installing the card in an older PC, you should have at least two fans installed in your case - that's one for the power supply (which is standard equipment) and at least one auxiliary fan (to help circulate air to all those hot components).
  • An MPEG card: These cards are specifically designed for encoding and decoding Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) digital video (usually from a DVD, but hardware MPEG support is also very useful for doing serious video editing on your PC). The idea is simple: Let the card do the video grunt work instead of your PC's processor, and everyone is happier. High-end video cards especially designed for digital video editing are significantly more expensive than video cards meant for home and gamer machines.
  • A capture card: This popular video upgrade card allows you to capture an incoming analog video signal and convert it to digital video. For example, you can connect your VCR or older analog VHS-C camcorder into the card, convert the signal to digital video, and then record CD or DVD backups of your home movies. If you can display it on your TV, you should be able to capture it with one of these toys.

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