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How To Buy
How To Buy A ...Video Card

Resolution and Refresh

The card you choose must work with your monitor. Compare the resolution and refresh rates that each can handle. Most mainstream monitors can handle resolutions of 1024x768 at a 75Hz refresh rate. High-end video cards can pump out refresh rates of 1280x1024 or even 1600x1200, but those cards cost more, and your monitor may not be able to handle those resolutions.


As memory prices dropped in the past year, the price of video cards followed suit. Video cards range from $140 to $400. A video card with 2MB of DRAM should cost less than $200, while a high-end board with 4MB of VRAM costs about $100 more.


If you think you might turn to more graphics-intensive computing in the future, consider an upgradable card. Many 2MB cards let you add an additional 2MB of memory.


Most video cards incorporate 2MB or 4MB of memory. But consider the type of memory as well as the amount. The two most common types of memory are DRAM (dynamic RAM), a single-port type of memory, and VRAM (video RAM), a dual-port memory type. DRAM is less expensive, and performs well for business users. The more costly VRAM is better for desktop publishers and users who need true-color or high-resolution graphics. Number Nine uses an alternative dual-ported memory called Windows RAM (WRAM)

Processor Types

There are about 10 different 32- and 64-bit graphics processor chips used on mainstream video cards. To take advantage of the speed offered by a 64-bit processor, your card should have at least 2MB of RAM, while a 32-bit processor requires only 1MB.

You may not consider yourself a graphics user, but Windows 95 is extremely graphics-intensive, placing heavy demands on your system. Even if you are using only business applications, simple screen redraws can drain your video resources. So when you purchase a new video card, you may want to consider one that is upgradable.

If you are buying a card for a Pentium PC, get one based on the PCI-bus architecture. Two older and slower standards are the ISA bus, a slot type found on most PCs by default, and VLB, found on many 486-based PCs.

After you purchase a card, be sure to visit the vendor's Web site and download the latest drivers. It's possible that improvements were made between the time your card was packaged and when you bought it, because drivers are updated frequently. New drivers can improve your system's video-and overall-performance, and may help avoid conflicts with some applications. Before installing the new driver, make sure it will work with the video card's BIOS version. If not, a BIOS upgrade might be required before you can install the new driver. If the card has a flash BIOS, you can probably download that upgrade.

Copyright 1997 CMP Media Inc.

(From Windows Magazine, January 1997, page 245.)