From a simple command line interface showing plain text in monochrome to stunning 3D action games in full color–display cards have come a long way. Today, display cards are as powerful, if not more, as the main processor itself. They have their own memory, speed, and processing capabilities. They can perform complex lightening and transformation calculations and generate mind-boggling textures on 3D objects. They can give you an ultimate gaming experience, or increase your screen’s refresh rates to produce flicker-free images on screen.
High-screen resolution, refresh rates, and 3D capabilities are no longer the domain of high-end display cards. They’re now considered prerequisites for any display adapter. So what is it that makes a difference in display cards? How do you know which one is the best for you? Read on to find out.
Dependence on motherboards
The complexity of display functions you need on your desktop determines your display card. This in turn, is determined by the kind of applications you use it for.
Currently, your choice of display card is based on the motherboard you own. There are two categories of motherboards available in the market today.
The first comes with an AGP slot, and includes motherboards based on the Intel 440XX series of chipsets–LX, BX, ZX, and BX-2. The Super Socket 7, AMD K7, and some Intel 810 motherboards also come with an AGP slot.
The second category is based on the new Intel 810 chipset with in-built graphics functions. So you don’t need a separate display adapter. The on-board graphics offers both 2D and 3D graphics built using the AGP technology. They’re aimed at the entry-level PC market where cost is the driving factor. It offers screen resolutions of up to 1,600x1,200 with 256-bit color depth at a screen refresh rate of 85 Hz. That’s quite impressive. It also supports all the latest 3D capabilities like perspective-correct texture mapping, fogging and Z-buffering, Gouraud shading, alpha-blending, and bilinear and anisotropic mip-mapping.
However, the onboard graphics can be a limitation for the 810 motherboards, as some manufacturers don’t provide an external AGP slot on their motherboards. So if its graphics capabilities aren’t good enough for you, you can’t upgrade to a better AGP card. PCI cards are a possibility, but they aren’t readily available. A PC with an 810 motherboard is good for running common business applications like word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. They are great for corporate buyers who need PCs for running productivity applications and Web-surfing.
The 810 chipset offers various other display features, and it’s up to the motherboard manufacturer to incorporate them. It has a digital video-out function wherein you can connect it to a television instead of a monitor. There are two flavors in the chipset too–with and without 4 MB of 32-bit 100 MHz SDRAM display cache. This offers better graphics performance.
The gaming capability of the 810 is better than that of entry-level AGP cards, such as those from SiS, Trident, Cirrus Logic, etc. However, it’s not as good as AGP cards based around RIVA TNT, 3Dfx, Matrox, and other similar chipsets. If you want better gaming, then you need a motherboard with an AGP slot. If you have an old Socket 7 motherboard without an AGP port, then your choice is restricted to PCI or older ISA cards.
Types of display cards
There are two distinct categories of display cards—graphics cards and gaming cards. A graphics card may not give you good gaming performance as it’s optimized for high-end graphics applications such as CAD and other design software. Graphics cards are readily available in both PCI and AGP versions. They also come with abundant video memory reaching 96 MB and above.
AGP gaming cards are available by the dozen in the market ranging from as low as Rs 1,200 and going up to Rs 20,000 and above. The difference in these cards is based on the kind of chipset and the number of features. For example, the SiS AGP cards are quite cheap, but they aren’t suited for gaming. On the other hand, cards based on chipsets from ATI, nVIDIA RIVA TNT, and Matrox are specifically designed for gaming. Most of them even come bundled with one or two full game titles.
The best part is that all these cards give similar performance when running common business
applications. So go for a high-end card only if you’re heavily into gaming. Don’t go for a card with anything less than 16 MB of VRAM for gaming. As most of them give similar performance, your choice should be based on price, and available features.
Some additional features include multiple ports for TV/Video in/out. So you can connect your television instead of your monitor to their output. This would be useful if you need a larger screen for games. These cards also let you connect your VCR or other video devices and do some video capturing. Some even come with VR glasses.