Cheap Video Cards

August 14th, 2006 | Video Cards
Chaintech GeForce 6600 GT / 128MB DDR3 / PCI Express / VGA / DVI / TV Out / Video Card
Chaintech GeForce 6600GT 128MB PCIe w/TV & DVI Out

Cheap video cards are becoming more widely available as technology moves on, with top models costing ever more. The job of the video card, often called the graphics card, is to deliver the picture produced by the computer to the screen. This may seem like a fairly simple task but it can become very complicated. But for most people there is not too much that you need to know to make a wise choice in deciding on the video card or graphics card that will meet your need. And cheap video cards will do for most people.

What Computer Video Cards will I need?

Which computer video cards you need will vary depending on the applications you plan to do.

Nowadays, with many motherboards, the computer video cards built in. These will usually sharea portion of the main memory with the computer, and can actually support very good 2D graphics as seen in most office and desktop applications like word processing and web browsers. The ability of these processors on the motherboard has gotten so good that if you don’t plan to play many 3D games or use any specialised applications like CAD a lot, then they will more than do for your graphics needs.

Connect3D Radeon 7000 / 32MB DDR / AGP / VGA / RCA / TV Out / Video Card
Connect3D Radeon 7000 32MB DDR AGP w/ TV Out

The most important factor for an everyday, office application computer video cards is the ability to be able to produce the optimal screen size and resolution. Making sure your chosen card can produce at least 75MHz@your-chosen-screen-resolution is important to keep a sharp picture. With LCD monitors, as low as 60MHz might be acceptable because of their resistance to flicker, but I still recommend 75MHz. The screen resolution usually depends on the monitor size. The bigger the monitor the more stuff you want to fit on it.I run my 19inch monitor at 1280×1024 which gives me the size I like. 800×600 on my monitor results in huge icons in windows.

Much of the confusion with video cards is caused by the ever increasing demand of computer gamers. 3D computer games require an immense amount of power to bring their environments to life. For this reason graphics cards can now cost over $500. This is compounded when you factor in that new technologies like SLI allow two cards to work together to do the graphics work.

So is it worth having a 3D graphics card?

As a general rule I would say “No” but it depends largely on what you do with your computer. Even ofice applications like picture editing listening to digital music and surfing the net don’t need them, you don’t even need them to watch DVDs.

A 3D graphics card will improve your graphics. It will make them smoother and allow you to run very high refresh rates. Everyday graphics will improve, but the most advantage will be seen in 3D applications, like 3D modelling and 3D gaming, as these programs will use the card’s built in features.

As long as your graphics card can support the screen resolution you hope for at 75MHz or more, I think it’s fine.

If your needs include specialised applications like Computer Aided Design or video editing, there are specialised cards from both ATI and nVidia that are optimised for programs like AutoCAD, 3DSMax, Maya, Softimage and others.

ATI and nVidia

The main competitors in the video card race are ATI video cards and nVidia video cards. Both these companies keep pushing the boundaries to produce ever higher quality and ever stronger performance from their graphics cards.

Of course, as always, the main focus goes to the high-end video cards aimed at gamers. Both ATI video cards, nVidia video cards and others allow players to achieve ever higher frames per second from their games at increasingly high resolutions.

This involves developing new technologies all the time. Like technologies that take two video cards and pair them together to achieve better results. ATI video cards had a strong hold on the video card market for quite a while, but nVidia have done a good job at producing better video cards which are now a serious threat to ATI.

Video card slots

Along with the evolution of video cards has come and improvement in the interface with the motherboard.

The slot, which is where the video card is connected to the motherboard can come in 3 different varieties nowadays, usually suggesting the price range the cards for it will fall into.

The three different kinds are:

  • PCI - The oldest kind, always found on motherboards
  • AGP - Different speed varieties, but is being phased out, still great even for high end games
  • PCI express (PCIe) - Matches fastest AGP, but has future potential
Connect3D Radeon 7000 / 32MB DDR / AGP / VGA / RCA / TV Out / Video Card
Connect3D Radeon 7000 32MB DDR AGP w/ TV Out

PCI slots

This is a standard expansion slot, all motherboards have them. The design of PCI slots means that they are not capable of the kind of transfer rates that are needed for gaming graphics.

Only cheap video cards come in this flavor, but with that said, they are still worth a look at, just because they are cheap does not mean they are bad.

AGP slots

AGP was an answer to the high speeds needed by graphics cards. But even the first AGP needed to be improved as time went on.

Often you will see a video card marked as AGP 8X or AGP 4x. The 4x and 8x mean that they can transfer that times as much information as the original AGP.

Even with those increases in speed the technology itself was outdone and a newer kind came into play, allowing other new technologies to be used.

PCI Express slots

This slot, which is the newest, and becoming more and more popular, was the answer to the extra bandwidth needed by newer games. Although initially it doesn’t actually outperform AGP, the potential is there.

As well as the bandwidth, it supports other things, like the ability to use 2 PCIe slots and put 2 video cards together, using SLI technology.

My opinion would be to go for a PCI Express slot, just because of the future proofness. However, good deals can be had on AGP cards, as the technology gets phased out, the slightly older cards become cheaper.

Built-in computer video card

If you are in the market for a new computer or have a new on and are thinking you need to upgrade these are some of the built-in computer video card options that are available and would be more than suitable for office type applications.

“Built-in” computer video card means that the parts that are often put seperately on a video card are actually on the motherboard. The quality of these has improved much, and can produce good graphics. Not high-powered, but very good for office use.

On the motherboard it is often possible to spot the graphics chip if your board comes with one. By looking at the list below you will be able to spot that chip on your motherboard, as they are marked on their surface with the company and brand.

  • ATI Radeon - XPRESS 200, 9100 IGP, RX330 motherboard chipsets
  • Intel Extreme Graphics II - Intel i865G, i865GV chipsets
  • Intel GMA 900 - Intel i915G, i915GV, i910GL chipsets
  • nVidia GeForce4 MX - nForce 2 chipset
  • S3 Graphics UniChrome Pro - IGP Integrated in the VIA PM880, PM800, K8M800 chipsets
  • SiS Mirage Graphics - SiS 661FX, SiS 741, SiS 741GX chipsets
  • SiS Mirage Graphics 2 - SiS 760 chipset

Basic video cards - for most work computers

If you already have a computer and the graphics power is not enough then you might have no option but to upgrade. These bottom of the range video cards are more than enough for most applications, but NOT FOR GAMES. They don’t have enough clout to handle that kind of graphics requirement. Here is a list of the companies and their cards. A good cheap video card can be a great way to get the motherboard you like. Sometimes a motherboard that suits your needs lacks built-in video, which can be simply overcome with a cheap video card.

A note on naming of cards: nVidia and ATI chipsets are used by many different companies to make video cards. So when you see a video card like “Chaintech GeForce 6600GT 128MB PCIe w/TV & DVI Out”, the name “Chaintech” refers to the company that produced the card. The “GeForce 6600GT 128MB PCIe” part shows that it is based on the “nVidia GeForce 6600GT” as they are the ones that make the GeForce series.

  • ATI PCIe - Radeon x300se
  • ATI AGP - Radeon 9200 series, Radeon 9250 series and Radeon 7000 series
  • nVidia PCIe - GeForce FX 6200 with TurboCache
  • nVidia AGP - GeForce4 MX and GeForce FX 5200
  • Matrox - this company specializes in graphics cards for 2D applications
  • XGI - Volari V3, Volari V3XT

Mid-range graphics cards - video card comparison of cards for multi purpose computers with a little gaming

For casual gamers a little more power is needed. These cards will not push the limits in terms of new games. They will, however, satisfy your need to do something more than work on your computer. These cards are a little more expensive, coming in at around a hundred bucks and going up from there. Have a look at the video card comparisson.

  • ATI PCIe - Radeon x600 and Radeon x700
  • ATI AGP - Radeon 9550 series, Radeon 9600 series and Radeon 9800 series
  • nVidia PCIe - GeForce FX 6200 and GeForce FX 6600
  • nVidia AGP - GeForce FX 6200 and GeForce FX 6600
  • S3 AGP - Deltachrome S8
  • XGI AGP - Volari V5, V8

High-end graphics cards - Hardcore gamers, game lovers and techies

And finally for the ultimate game experience, you need to venture into the money is no object category of cards. These cards are the cutting edge, offering the most performance and the latest developments

  • ATI PCIe - Radeon x800 and Radeon x850
  • ATI AGP - Radeon x800
  • nVidia PCIe - GeForce FX 6800
  • nVidia AGP - GeForce FX 6800

Video cards for specific purposes

For those who need specific performance these will provide a good starting point for the things you need. These cards are designed to excel at 2D applications, and as well as doing their designed task exceptionally well, they probably won’t be very well in a video card comparison with high-end card but will also provide a boost in general performance.

  • 3D Labs: Wildcat product line
  • ATI: FireGL product line
  • Matrox: Parhelia product line
  • nVidia: Quadro product line

The final decision

You should now be able to make an informed decision on how to get a cheap video cards, or if you even need to.

My personal preferance is to make sure that I get a motherboard with a decent, even if cheap video cards built in. They are more than enough for my purposes, and anough for more than 80% of computer buyers out there. The vast majority of 3D cards are designed with games in mind.

I don’t see the need to purchase an extremely expensive model when what comes with the motherboard will usually do. No, I won’t get high performance in games, but I don’t play them anyway. They do provide the resolution and quality I need for my day to day work.

If I was to purchase a 3D card for games I would go for a top end model, otherwise a cheap video cards. I see no point in hovering near the middle as games keep moving forward. Graphics cards move ahead very quickly in terms of their technology. The top models from nVidia and ATI are fantastic and the difference that is there wouldn’t be noticed by any but the most gaming enthused.

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