VIDEOCARD FAQ


With so many video card choice out there, it is helpful to know just what is needed and what is excess baggage. Also, with the increasing use of high-resolution graphics, even in business software, and graphical user interface, such as Windows, the need for an adequate video card is a major component in the performance of the entire system.



AGP Port ... ?

Today's software is increasing in graphic intensity. Even mundane business software uses icons, charts and animations. When you add 3D games and educational software to the equation, one can see that there is a crunch in bandwidth for graphical information. With newer software and games getting much more graphics intensive, the PCI bus is maxed out. In fact, the PCI bus, once considered very fast, can now be considered a bottleneck.

Intel knew this very fact, and in response, they designed the Accelerated Graphics Port, or AGP. In short, AGP uses the main PC memory to hold 3D images. In effect, this gives the AGP video card an unlimited amount of video memory. To speed up the data transfer, Intel designed the port as a direct path to the PC's main memory.

AGP Motherboard/Chipset Drivers

Not only do you need display drivers for an AGP graphics card, you also need drivers for your motherboard which enable AGP functionality for the motherboard chipset.

These drivers may be referred to using any of the following names:
  • AGP Driver
  • AGP Miniport
  • AGP VXD Driver
  • Chipset Driver
  • GART Driver
  • VGART
Often you will see the name of a motherboard chipset in connection with these terms. For example:
  • ALi GART Driver
  • AMD AGP Miniport
  • Intel VGART
  • VIA AGP Driver

Aren't there AGP drivers on the Windows CD?
Yes. There are some. But they do not support very many motherboards.
Intel 440BX and 440LX chipsets are supported on the Windows 98 and Windows 2000 installation CD's. A small number of chipsets from other manufacturers may also work without additional software.
However, if your motherboard is newer than your operating system, or if you experience any sort of problem with the AGP chipset drivers on the Windows CD, you will need a software update from your motherboard manufacturer.

Where can I get AGP drivers for my motherboard/chipset?
If you purchased a new motherboard, you likely received a diskette or CD which contains these drivers.
If you purchased a new system, the drivers were probably pre-installed by the system manufacturer. You might also find a copy of these drivers on your system "Rescue CD", or in a folder on your hard disk.
You can also locate these drivers on the motherboard manufacturer's website.

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Chipset or Video Card Processor ... ?

There are two types of chipsets available on a video card GPU and VPU.

GPU
Graphics processing unit—the main chip on a videocard. The GPU performs all the calculations that draw 3D images on your screen. GPUs include a rudimentary level of programmable shader support, whereas VPUs are totally programmable.

VPU:
Visual processing unit. Some 3D companies designate their 3D chips as "VPUs." VPUs are fully programmable. In fact, in theory you could perform any calculation on a VPU that would run on a CPU. On the other hand, GPUs are capable of just a limited number of sequential operations.

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Memory ... ?

Memory located on the video card, in some cases located on the motherboard that is accessible by the video and computer processor. With more video memory the video card and computer is capable of handling more complex graphics at a faster rate. Video card memory may be between 8 and 128MB of memory or higher.

There are various forms of memory SDRAM , DDR and DDR-II.

SDRAM:
Synchronous dynamic random access memory. SDRAM is the dominant form of memory on today's videocards. Its low cost and high speed make for a perfect combo. Variants of SDRAM (e.g., DDR SDRAM) run as high as 500MHz and provide more than 20GB/s of memory bandwidth.

DDR:
Double data rate, usually used to describe memory. DDR memory can transfer two chunks of data every clock cycle, a "double-pumped" strategy that effectively double memory speed.

DDR-II:
The latest version of DDR memory. DDR-II memory doesn't transfer more data per clock cycle than the original DDR memory, but it has been modified to run at much higher clock speeds than plain DDR.

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VGA ... ?

VGA

VGA stands for Video Graphics Array. It was introduced on April 2, 1987 by IBM, the same day it introduced the MCGA and 8514/A adapters. Although all three were advances for the time, only VGA became increasingly popular. VGA, although now more advanced, has become the standard for desktop video, leaving both the MCGA and 8514 in the dust.

IBM PS/2 systems contained the VGA circuitry on a single VLSI chip which was integrated onto the motherboard. In order for users to use the new adapter in earlier systems, IBM developed the PS/2 Display Adapter, or the VGA video card. This card contained all the circuitry needed to produce VGA graphics, and like all expansion cards, it plugged into a slot on the motherboard, via an 8-bit interface. In the light of advances, IBM has discontinued this basic VGA card, although many third party cards are available. Today, the VGA card is not much used, and usually serves as a "spare".

VGA offers clean images at higher resolutions. The standard VGA can produce as many as 256 colors at a time from a palette of 262,144 colors. The original VGA, though, had to be at a 320x400 resolution to display this amount of color. At the standard 640x480 resolution, it was only capable of 16 colors at a time. Also, VGA extends into the monochrome world. It uses color summing to translate color graphics into graphics using 64 different shades of grey. This, in effect, simulates color on a monochrome monitor. VGA requires a VGA monitor, or one capable of accepting the analog output of a VGA card.

SVGA

The Super VGA category of video card is really rather loosely named. It refers to a group of video cards, all with roughly the same capabilities. It does not refer to a specific card, like the VGA technically does. SVGA was developed by third party companies in order to compete with IBM's XGA and 8514/A display adapters. They probably thought it would be cheaper to develop new hardware rather than try to adapt the new capabilities onto the standard VGA card.

SVGA is much more advanced than VGA. In most cases, one SVGA card can produce millions of colors at a choice of resolutions. But, the abilities depend on the card and the manufacturer. Since SVGA is a loose term created by several companies, there is no actual standard to SVGA.

In order to create some standard out of the chaos of SVGA, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) introduced a SVGA standard. This SVGA standard did not deal with certain methods of implementation of capabilities, but, instead, defined a standard interface called the VESA BIOS Extension. This provided programmers with one common interface to write for instead of trying to tailor their programs to work with several different SVGA cards, all different. All SVGA cards in use today comply to the VESA standard.

At first, the VESA SVGA standard was criticized, and manufacturers were slow to integrate it. At first, they distributed the extension as a program to be loaded each and every time you booted the computer. Finally, though, manufacturers integrated the extension as a part of their SVGA BIOS.

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S-Video ... ?

To test the TV-out feature of your graphics card, turn off your computer. Then connect the S-VIDEO cable from your graphics card to your TV. If your TV does not support S-VIDEO, then you may need to purchase an “S-VIDEO to Composite” adapter. Once you have all the connections you need, connect your graphics card to your TV. Make sure there are no other devices in between, such as a VCR or switchbox. Then, unplug the PC monitor from your graphics card leaving only the TV connected to your PC. Make sure your TV is set to AUX or Line-In. Otherwise, your graphics card will not detect the presence of a TV. Turn on your PC. The system should automatically detect your TV and send the video signal to your TV. If it does display the video signal onto your TV but stops once you boot into Windows, it may simply be a driver issue.

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DVI?

The connector used for digital LCD monitors; effectively eliminates the video noise from digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion.

There are two types of DVI connectors DVI-D and DVI-I.

DVI-D:
A DVI hardware spec that only includes support for a digital signal. DVI-I cables will not fit into a DVI-D connector.

DVI-I:
A DVI hardware spec that allows both analog and digital signals to be passed out the DVI port.

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How can I identify which graphics card is in my PC?

If the graphics card is already correctly installed on your PC, there are two methods for identifying which graphics card is on your PC.

The first method is for users running Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP. To identify which graphics card is in your PC, follow these steps:

Turn on your PC and let Windows load
Click on the START button
Select RUN
In the OPEN field, type in "DXDIAG" and then press the OK button
This will bring up the Direct X Diagnostics tool.
Click on the Display tab.
This will display the name and model of your graphics card.

For Windows NT4 users, once you are in Windows NT4, click on the START button -> Select Settings and then Control Panel -> Open up the icon labeled Display. This will bring up your Display Properties. Click on the "Settings" tab and it will show you the make and model of your graphics card.

The second method may not work for every PC. Generally, each time you turn on your PC, your system will display the make and model of the installed graphics card(s) on the top left corner for about three seconds. However, with some PCs, that information is replaced by your motherboard information or the logo for the company that assembled your PC. If that is the case, you may want to contact the maker of your PC for assistance in removing the OEM logo so that the information about the installed graphics card(s) will appear.

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What is DirectX and why do I need it?

In very general terms, DirectX is an interface between programs (applications and games) and the drivers that run your graphics, sound and other computer hardware.

When an application or game is written for DirectX, the programmer does not have to worry about exactly which sound card or graphics adapter might be installed in the end-user's machine. DirectX takes care of that for him.

DirectX plays a role in many functions, including 3D rendering, video playback, still and motion capture, TV Viewing applications, joystick and mouse interfaces, networking for multiplayer games and lots more.

As a result, most Windows 98 and Windows 95 users should consider DirectX as a REQUIREMENT. Without it, you are missing out on a huge amount of compatibility and functionality.


How can I tell which version of DirectX is currently installed?
Recent versions of DirectX include a tool called "DXDiag", which will display the version of DirectX on the system.

Click START - RUN, type DXDIAG and click OK
When the DirectX Diagnostic Tool appears, read the DirectX version information near the bottom of the display


Where can I get the latest version of DirectX?
Microsoft maintains a website for DirectX information and downloads.

Visit http://www.microsoft.com/directx

To go directly to the "Home User Downloads" section of the Microsoft DirectX site, follow this link:

http://www.microsoft.com/directx/homeuser/downloads

You may be routed to the "Windows Update" site to actually obtain the required files.

Windows 98 and Windows 2000 users may wish to launch "Windows Update" from the Start menu.

Which version of DirectX should I use?

In general, we recommend that you install the latest released version of DirectX from Microsoft.

Some of our recent drivers actually REQUIRE a certain version of DirectX and will NOT function properly with an earlier version.

When installing drivers from an ATI Installation CD, the minimum required version of DirectX will generally be included on the installation CD along with the display driver.

When downloading drivers from the ATI support website, the details on the required version of DirectX for the driver you are downloading will be listed in the "Requirements" section of the driver download page.

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