Graphics CardsYou'll need a capable graphics board if you plan to play advanced games—but first you'll need to understand graphics technology and lingo. Here's what you need to know.
When it comes to graphics memory, you can never have too much, especially if you're a gamer. More RAM means better performance, improved 3D texturing, and higher display resolutions. If you're an avid gamer itching to frag opponents in Half-Life 2 or Call of Juarez, make the move up to at least 512MB. More memory allows for smoother gameplay, though casual gamers should be satisfied with 256MB.
Both nVidia and ATI, makers of today's top consumer graphics-processing units—the engines that drive the cards—support PCI Express (PCIe) technology, which has double the bandwidth of the previous graphics-card standard, AGP. If your computer is older, it might not have a PCIe slot; be sure to check beforehand, so you can get the right kind of card for your PC.
SLI VERSUS CROSSFIRE
Hard-core gamers who want to achieve blazing frame rates can cram two graphics cards inside their PCs. nVidia's Scalable Link Interface (SLI) lets you install two nVidia GeForce cards, whereas ATI's CrossFire solution lets you do the same with two Radeon cards. Some things to consider before making the dual-card jump: Make sure your motherboard supports these solutions (not all do); check that your power-supply unit has adequate wattage to power the two cards; and make sure your PC has enough space inside to accommodate both cards.
The latest version of Microsoft's multimedia instruction set, DirectX 10 (DX10), enhances the ability of compatible graphics cards to render realistic visuals with complex shading and lighting effects. Most newer graphics cards support DX10, and all will support the older DX9, but few applications (even games) take full advantage of DX10 at this point. If you want to be assured the best gaming experience possible, consider getting a DX10 card for the not-far-off day that the technology will be the norm.
DVI VERSUS ANALOG
Most of today's LCD monitors have Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connections, which provide image quality superior to the standard analog VGA interface (which is also typically present). Make sure your card has a DVI connection so you can take advantage of this improvement. If you plan to add a 30-inch monitor, make sure your graphics card supports dual-link DVI—some large LCDs require support for this specification.
Can't afford a digital video recorder (DVR)? Some graphics cards with built-in TV tuners let you watch your favorite channels on your PC and use your computer as a TiVo-style DVR, enabling you to save shows to your hard drive and watch them at your convenience.
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