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Graphics Cards
Eye-popping 3D graphics are now a common occurrence.

There's a prettier picture on your monitor lately. Not only can you get more memory at a lower cost, but greater graphics acceleration as well. You're not likely to opt for a 2MB graphics card and settle for a mere 64,000 colors at 1024x768-pixel resolution. Upgrade to a 4MB card and you'll fill that same screen space with a 16.7 million-, true-color display.

With 17-inch and larger monitors becoming more prevalent, a 1024x768-pixel resolution is not only feasible, but preferable. And since 4MB graphics accelerator cards are currently available for under $150, they're excellent and economical complements to these large displays.

Plummeting memory prices are also part of the graphics adapter story. Last year, an advanced card like the Number Nine Imagine 128 Series 2 cost $699 with 4MB of VRAM; today you can buy an 8MB version at that price.

EDO DRAM has become the most common type of graphics memory, with faster types such as MDRAM, SGRAM and WRAM showing up on pricier products. Accelerators are also starting to use the new Rambus architecture. And dual-ported VRAM isn't going away anytime soon; it's still found on high-end cards.

Perhaps this year's biggest development is 3D, with prices for capable cards starting at less than $100. Direct3D, Microsoft's answer to 3D graphics, gives programmers a low-level interface to take advantage of hardware acceleration without coding to specific hardware. Many graphics accelerators now support Direct3D.

We're also seeing graphics adapters that work with TV tuner cards to let you receive cable TV channels as well as display PC graphics on a TV. Movie playback should become more mainstream, too, with more adapters supporting MPEG II--which improves on the picture quality available with MPEG I.

Intel's long-awaited Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) promises a significant boost for 3D graphics. Microsoft will support AGP in future releases of Windows.


Graphics Cards: The Winners

Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.