Improve your PC’s graphics performance

Over the past year, a new generation of PC graphics cards has been exploiting cutting-edge video processors and fast memory to provide eye-popping performance, especially in 3D games and other graphics-intensive applications. In addition, many graphics boards now provide special features such as multiple-monitor setups; the Matrox Parhelia-512, for example, supports up to three monitors.

While swapping graphics cards is a relatively easy upgrade project, make sure you match your new card to the abilities of your PC and to the applications that you frequently use.

Spending $900 on a new graphics card doesn’t make much sense if your PC is more than two or three years old, or if you use your system mainly to surf the Web or work in Excel.

As always, before you begin, make sure that you do a complete backup of your system.

  1. Uninstall the old software.

    The best way to ensure a trouble-free installation of your new card is to unin­stall your current card’s utilities and drivers. Go to the Control Panel, double-click the Add/Remove applet, and see if there’s an uninstall entry for your graphics card software. If not, check your current card maker’s Web site for information on uninstalling software. Still no luck? Go to Windows Device Manager, double-click Display Adapters, select your existing card, and click Remove (See here for an example).

    If your PC has integrated graphics on the motherboard (i.e., there’s no separate graphics card), you’ll likely have to disable it before installing a new card. Check your PC manual for details.

  2. Get the latest drivers.

    No matter how new your graphics card is, the manufacturer likely has updated drivers already. Download them from the support section of your card maker’s Web site before you begin (See example interface here).

  3. Swap the boards.

    Turn off your PC and unplug it from the wall. Disconnect the monitor cable. To avoid static problems, use an antistatic wrist strap according to manufacturer directions. Open the case, remove the screw that holds your existing graphics card, and carefully pull out the card. (Some AGP slots have a clip that holds the front of the card; you may need to release it. Check your motherboard manual.)

    Insert your new card, making sure it’s firmly in the slot. Many graphics card problems can be traced to an incompletely seated card. Secure it with the screw that you removed earlier.

  4. Connect the monitor(s).

    If your new graphics board doesn’t have an analog monitor connector, it should come with an adapter for one of the DVI ports. Since many new cards have multiple connectors, read the manual to make sure that you connect your primary monitor to the correct connector.

  5. Install the drivers and software.

    Reconnect your PC’s power cord and turn on the power. Windows should detect the new card and start the Found New Hardware Wizard. Check your card’s manual for any special procedures and then follow the on-screen directions. After completing the basic installation, follow the manufacturer’s directions to install any software for special features. The final step is to adjust the settings to your preferences.

Benefits: Faster, clearer, high-resolution graphics, especially for games and video
Cost: Value card, $150 to $300; power card, $300 to $1000
Expertise level: Intermediate
Time required: 15 to 30 minutes
Tools required: Phillips screwdriver, antistatic wrist strap (recommended)
Vendors: ATI, Gainward, Gigabyte, Hercules, Leadtek, Matrox, MSI.

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Stan Miastkowski

PC World
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