Need a Graphics Card? Here’s Some Advice

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A graphics processor has a huge impact on your computing experience. Follow our tips to pick the right board or integrated GPU.

THE GRAPHICS PROCESSING unit (GPU) in modern PCs is responsible for everything you see on screen. Both Windows 7 and Vista, for example, can take advantage of the GPU’s 3D-acceleration features to create smooth window movement, transparency, and other effects. A GPU also renders all of the 3D graphics in games, educational titles, and other apps. (For more details, see the full version of this article at find.pcworld.com/63935.) Those reasons make finding the right graphics card for your needs critical. Here are a few things to consider before you buy.

Discrete or integrated? This is probably the biggest question you’ll have to answer. Do you go with a discrete graphics board (in either a desktop or a laptop) or integrated graphics? If you want to play games, even just a little, you’ll have a better experience with a discrete board. If you just want to browse the Web and work on some light word processing or e-mail, integrated graphics should be enough. Intel’s offerings aren’t as good as ATI’s or nVidia’s; if you care about video quality (say, for viewing DVDs or downloaded video), get an ATI or nVidia chip. And if laptop battery life is your top concern, go with integrated graphics, or at least buy a notebook with “hybrid” or “switchable” graphics that use an integrated GPU to save power, but can change to a discrete board for improved performance in games.

How much should I spend? As a rule of thumb, don’t spend less than $100. Boards in the $99-to-$149 range offer a lot of bang for the buck and can run almost all modern games well. At prices lower than that, the performance drops rapidly—if you buy such a board, you’ll just need to upgrade sooner. If you’re a gamer, look for cards priced at $179 to $229, which offer great performance. You don’t need to spend more than that if you’re reading this article; high-end boards are for hard-core graphics fans who don’t require basic advice.

How much memory do I need? You’ll see a lot of cheap boards with 1GB of memory. But cards in the $100 range that have more than 512MB don’t offer much extra benefit; a faster GPU chip on the card is more important. In the $149-and-up range, however, pick a card with 1GB of RAM. If you choose integrated graphics, that technology will use system memory and you don’t need to think about it (but this memory sharing is one of the reasons integrated GPUs are so slow).

Recommended Picks
Which board is for you? Here are some suggestions (current at the time of writing): Among low-cost options, consider the ATI Radeon HD 4850 or nVidia Ge -Force GTS 250. If you’re an enthusiast, try the Radeon HD 4890 or GeForce GTX 275. And for top results, there’s no substitute for ATI’s DirectX 11 cards, the Radeon HD 5850 and 5870, which offer unmatched performance and features.

Source of Information : PC World December 2009

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