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How To Choose a Graphics Card

written by: Lucinda Watrous•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 7/7/2011

Graphics cards control much more about a computer display than most people think. Choosing a graphics card should be given plenty of consideration in terms of capability, along with price. Continue reading to find out how to choose a graphics card for your computer system.

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    Choosing a graphics card can be overwhelming if you have not put time and effort into researching what you want, what you need, and what is available on the market. For more information about what a graphics card is, why you need one, and why you would want to upgrade your existing one, please see Computer Components: Video Card.

    Obviously, it is important to have a decent graphics card, because everything your computer displays has to be processed by the graphics card. If you are using your computer for standard email and word processing tasks, it is not really important to have a great card. If you use your computer to play games, or you use your computer to design graphics and web sites, you probably need one of the higher end cards.

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    Things You'll Need

    • Research
    • Budget
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    Step One

    Consider the type of chip you want. Two main manufacturers ATI and NVidia have chips present in almost every card on the market. The chip is very important because it controls much of the performance ability in the card. If you find two different cards with the same chip in them, chances are, they will behave reasonably similarly.

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    Step Two

    Consider the amount of RAM that the video card has. Do not confuse this with RAM in your computer. The more RAM present in the video card, the faster it will be able to process graphic information, and smoother transitions between all of this graphic information. This is likely going to be a main difference in terms of price when it comes to two cards with the same chip.

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    Step Three

    Consider the applications you'll be using the card for, and with. We've briefly covered this in the About section, but, if you're buying the new card for a specific purpose such as watching TV or movies on your computer, you'll also want to consider what that means for programs that are already on your computer, and the tasks you already do with them. If you need a high end graphics card, see the Tips, Warnings, and Other Information section below. If you're replacing your integrated card and just need something to get your computer working again, you won't have as much to consider, unless you want to upgrade to something a bit better than what you were using.

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    Step Four

    Consider the amount of money you have to spend. You can get a graphics card for $70, but it doesn't mean that you should. Several good and high end cards will run you $100-$300, while the top of the line cards will cost you around $600. Shop around quite a bit, and consider online vendors over conventional stores to help find the best deal.

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    Tips, Warnings, and Other Information

    • Make sure your computer has the power supply it needs to run the new card. Some cards will require more power than you can supply to it, thus requiring an upgrade. For more information, see: PC Power Supply, and Before you Buy that new Video Card.