Video Display Adapters

These are the cards that take the signal from the CPU and translate it into something that the monitor can project. The current industry minimum standard is a 1 MB SVGA card, 2 MB are recommended by most (I personally consider this a bare minimum), and the 4 MB and 8 MB versions are becoming a lot more common and less expensive. Things you should consider are:

1. How much video RAM does it support?

There are two primary types of video cards - upgradeable, and not. Most of the cards I have are Diamond 3D 3000's with 4 MB of VRAM... they are screamers. The Diamond 3D 2000 2 MB EDO isn't bad. Here are the basics: type of Video RAM - DRAM, EDO RAM, VRAM,  WRAM and SGRAM (from slowest to fastest).
Next, can more RAM be added? 4 MB will do just about anything you can think off, unless you are doing video editing or massive graphics. Keep in mind that the video card is directly responsible for at least 40 to 60% of your computers actual display speed... unless you are copying or moving files, printing, or modeming the video card plays a HUGE roll. I highly recommend getting the absolute best video card you can afford, based on your needs.
Diamond, Matrox, ATI, STB, and Number Nine are some of the absolute best brand names available. Keep in mind that there are often multiple makes and models by each company. For instance, the Diamond 3D 2000 has 3 or 4 different models - based on the amount and type of RAM on the card, and whether it is OEM or retail.
RAM, as you know, stands for Random Access Memory. Video RAM doesn't save your program or data. It allows your computer to manipulate and save screen images while the system is powered on. The faster the RAM, the faster screens can be displayed... the faster the CPU can release the next bits of information, which in turn removes a very common "bottle neck" which greatly slows down most computers.

2. What type of bus does it use?

We recommend using a card that uses either a VLB or PCI bus interface - 32 bit minimum, 64 bit is recommended. These busses will provide the card with data at a higher rate of speed than it would be received using an 16 bit ISA bus. A 2 MB DRAM PCI card will generally compete with and beat a 4 MB VRAM 16 bit ISA card (but not always). So the bus is as important as the type and amount of RAM. The newest bus type is the AGP (Advanced Graphics Protocol) port - a very special port on Pentium II systems, which supposedly has a direct path to the CPU and video card - and faster. I haven't yet personally tested or seen this to be true. I believe that it would be faster, based on logic, if the software is designed to take advantage of it specifically. Windows 98 supposedly takes full advantage of the AGP port. I will add more, as it becomes available.

3. What type of monitor does it support?

Not all monitors are created equal, some have different style connectors while others have different signal requirements. You want digital, not analog. Get the lowest dpi (dots per inch) possible. .28 dpi is the most common and standard, .25 is virtually the best... .52 dpi is really bad and very cheap. Thus, the smaller the number here, the better. You should also try to get the fastest refresh rate possible, and "Plug-N-Play" if you are running Windows95/98.
If you can, get a degausser. This devise "demagnetizes" your monitor, which is useful when you have had your monitor for a while.
Be careful of the USB monitors - they may be the best thing since sliced butter... but I don't see it yet. I spoke with three of the people I have work on "broken" monitors... they aren't equipped to work on them. Furthermore, the USB monitors may not allow you to used any of the high-end video cards (probably not - but it is unconfirmed right now).

4. Are there "Feature Connectors"?

Most people will NEVER need these, much less have an opportunity to use them. However, if you think you might want to use your computer for some of the real high-end games, video capture and/or editing, displaying full screen videos, and a handful of other things. Most cards that cost $150 or more have feature connector(s) built in and automatic.

5. What is the main chip on the card?

Certain "video decompiler" chips, EPROM's, and DEC's also greatly add to the cards performance. It started nearly 10 years ago with the Seng ET4000, the S3 chip made things even better, faster, and with demand... cost effective. The Trio64 is one of the best, moderately priced chips out now. And there are many that are even better. Having a card with "built-in" screens, and GUI (Graphical User Interface) will also greatly increase the speed. Some cards are made specifically for CAD - with all of the primary CAD algorithms built-in, most are now made for Windows95/98 with standard GUI screens built-in. Some cards have hardware MPEG-1 built-in, others have MPEG-2 decompression algorithms.

The "moral," get the best video card you can, which is designed for the type of computing you will be doing the most of.
I strongly believe (and can prove) that the type and speed of the video card is actually MORE IMPORTANT than the size of the CPU. And this component needs to be selected wisely.

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