Things to look for
One of the most difficult components to chose is a video card. The main reason for this is that there are so many and each one has different qualities and disadvantages , which must all be taken into consideration. In this guide , I will give you a list of things to look for in a video card , plus a load of recommendations for just about every user.
Each video card is unique , even though it may use the same chipset , different manufacturers produce different drivers and BIOS which can affect overall preformance greatly. This section will point out important features to look for.
Before deciding on a video card , you must first decide what you would like to use your computer for. For example , a person who runs predominately Word or Excel will not need as fast or as an expensive card as a 'hardcore' gamer or professional 3D graphic designer. Anyway , on the the good stuff!
RAM: One of the first aspects a buyer looks at is the amount of RAM the card holds , and what type of RAM. The amount of RAM determines the max. resolution and max. colors that your video card is capable of displaying. The amount of RAM found in mainstream cards ranges from 1meg in the el-cheapo cards all the way up to 40 megs found in the professional 3D video cards (most of these are based on the GLINT 3D accelerator , created for hi-end CAD) I can't think of any use for 40megs of RAM , however it exists.(Even though it would be cool having more Video RAM than normal RAM on your system!) Most video cards nowadays come with at least 2megs , usually 4. The question is HOW MUCH RAM DO I NEED? This depends on what you plan on doing with your computer. If you are mostly surfing the web or using excel and word , I recommend no more than 4 megs of RAM , anything more would be a waste. If you are a heavy gamer , I would recommend at least 4 , and maybe even 4 megs for 2D plus another 4 megs in the form of a 3D daughter (add-on) Card , such as the Monster 3D (check out video card reviews on the VIDEO PAGE for more info on this card). Anyway , here is a little chart below comparing each type of user and the amount of mem they would want.
Basic Business user (XCEL & WORD & NETSCAPE) - 1-4megs. Anything more is overkill.
Light Gamer - 2-4megs. Anything more, is again , overkill.
Heavy Gamer - 4 - 8megs. This could be in the form of 1 8meg card , or a 4meg card w/an addon 3D card , such as the Monster 3D or the Apocalpyse 3Dx.
Professional CAD user. 4 minimum. Virtually endless , though I personally think anything over 32 is a waste of money.
NOT only does the amount of RAM matter in a video card , but also the type of RAM. There are many types of RAM which greatly influence the preformance of the card. The basic types are
DRAM - The cheapest type of RAM. Found in lower end cards , such as the older Trident and Cirrus chips.
EDO DRAM - EDO DRAM is to DRAM as EDO is to FPM. Basically , EDO is faster and provides more bandwith than standard DRAM. It is used in many cards , however , most newer cards use faster more efficent types of RAM (Found in many S3 cards)
VRAM - Once the state of the art RAM , this RAM has the advantage of being DUAL-PORTED , meaning you can put info in while taking info out! (Found in many hi-end cards , such as the Imagine 128 , the Virge/VX and many more...
WRAM - A faster form of VRAM (usually up to 20% faster! Found in Matrox cards. (And in the new #9 REVOLUTION 3D)
SDRAM - Synchronious (spelling) DRAM , this is basically real fast RAM , usually running at 100mhz. Just like SDRAM for your computer.
SGRAM - SDRAM for your video card. Usually somewhat faster than SDRAM and support Bus of up to 125mhz!!! Also , access times as low as 8ns!! This type of RAM can provide peak bandwith's of up to 1.6GIG/sec!!!
MDRAM - This memory is found predominetly ( i think only) in the TSENG Et6000 series chips. It is a form of SGRAM which provides maximum bandwith as well as 128bit access through memory interleaving even with only 2 megs of RAM on the card. However , this seems to slow down the card , so 4megs is really optimal (at least according to Tseng)
RambusRAM - A new type of memory which supports speeds of up to 500mhz and access times as low as 2ns! Unfortunately , this type of memory is used predominately in the SLOW Cirrus Logic chipsets. When this memory is harnessed to its full potential , we should see some promising results. (The chromatic Mpact2 is taking advantage of this new technology , and yeilding excellent results. (I hope to have a review for this card coming as soon as i get some responces from Chromatic)
What type of Ram is right for you?
This all depends , again , on what you are using your video card for. Basically , the cards using SDRAM , SGRAM , MDRAM , RambusRAM , and WRAM are the fastest (w/the execption of the Cirrus and Trident chipsets... (Sorry about all the putdowns... if you disagree w/my assessments of these cards... e-mail me!) Thats all for RAM , no on to the next section.... RAMDAC!
RAMDAC: RAMDAC stands for Random access Memory digital to analog converter. Basically , what the RAMDAC does is convert the digital data stored in the video card into analog data so that it can be displayed on the screen. RAMDAC is measured in MEGAHERTZ (Mhz) and ranges anywhere from 135 , the cheap cards , and ET6000 (its weakness) to 230 or even 250mhz , found in Most Matrox Cards (their major strength) RAMDAC affects resolution , refresh rates as well , because the faster a video card can convert digital to analog , the faster it can put pixels on the screen , the higher the refresh rate. RAMDAC also affects 2D preformance.
DATA PATH: Basically , for new cards , it's either 64bit , or 128bit. A 128bit card sends 128bits at a time all over the place (i.e to the screen , to be processed , etc...) The 64bit sends 64. Just because a 128bit card can send 2x as much to be processed than the 64bit, it isn't necessarily 2x as fast (actually it almost never is) However , 128bit cards usually outpreform its 64bit counterparts in 2D.
Features: Before you
buy a video card , you will most likely want to know what features this
card has , and what they have. For example , some cards have TV/out , which
means you can play games on your TV/etc.. Many cards also support 3D acceleration
, which greatly enhances Direct3D , OpenGL , and many games. The features
you will need depends on , once again , what you will be using your computer
for. I recommend checking out the video card reviews in the Hardware
Section for a list of features of some of the reviewed cards.
Well , here are what I recommend for certain uses.
Plain Old Word/Excel/Netscape user - What ever is cheapest , no more than 4 megs is necessary. I recommend a cheap S3 card , they give you good 2D , plus some 3D support. (Diamond Stealth 3D 2000 for example) Also , the ET6000 is a good choice , excellent 2D , no 3D , very cheap (under 50$!!)
Plain User Plus some games - ET6000 w/2-4megs , cheap , excellent 2D , faster 3D than most ViRGE based cards (the older ViRGES at least) even though it has no 3D hardware acceleration and costs between 40-70$!! Great for older games like Duke3D and even fast w/Quake , etc... Also look at the , S3 ViRGE , For under 40$ if you shop right , you can get a 4MEG ViRGE based card. It has good 2D as well as some 3D support , however , 3D isn't that great. Worth it if you need 4Megs of RAM.
Budget concerned Gamer - 2 Choices , ET6000 w/4megs for 70$ , or Stealth II (100-120$). I recommend the ET6000 if you play mostly DOS Games and less 'very 3d' games , such as GLQuake for instance. If you play GLQuake , and other newer 3D games that support hardware acceleration , i recommend the stealth II.
Extreme Gamer - If you are an extreme gamer and have alot of money to spend , you have LOTS of choices! If you want the best OpenGL gaming in games like GLQuake and GLQuake 2 and have 'unlimited' budget , I recommend an ET6000 w/Monster 3D or the RIVA 128. For faster gameplay , get the RIVA , for more support on upcoming games , get the ET6000 w/Monster 3D. If you have a PII/400 or something around that speed (at least 350) maybe go for the apocalypse 5D , it has faster 2D than the ET6000 (it uses ET6100) and has the PowerVR2 chip for 3D. This chip is slower than the Monster 3D , however , it scales w/CPU power , so i am confident that on a PII/400 or even a PII/350 , the PowerVR2 will outpreform the Monster 3D. If you want Voodoo and 2D combined i DONT recommend the Hercules Stingray 128/3D etc becuase it has relatively slow 2D (Alliance AT3D is slow compared to S3 and Tseng chips) and slower 3D than the Monster 3D (Voodoo is faster than Voodoo Rush , found in Hercules Stringray 128) Plus , this costs more than the ET6000 and Monster 3D combined. You may be saying 'But Voodoo Rush lets you run games in a window and in higher resolutions than the Monster 3D' , TRUE: however , the Apocalypse 3Dx (NEC PowerVR2) can run in resolutions of up to 1024x768!! and its faster on most PII based systems. If you dont have a PII based system , I recommend the Stealth II , or upcoming Thriller 3D , which will give you the BEST preformance on a slower system. I hope that big word soup helped you out :·)
Budget Concerned CAD/3D modeller - Look no further than the Stealth II...
High End CAD/3D Modeller , (oh yeah , RICH also) - e gamer and haIf you need top of the line , no matter how much money , I recommend the FireGL Pro 3000 or 4000 , for about 3000$ you get 32MGs of RAM plus great OpenGL and CAD preformance. If you're not that rich , look at the FireGL Pro 1000 based on the permedia 2 chip , it has excellent 2D as well as even better 3D , plus simply STUNNING Windows NT OpenGL preformance. Also , Hercules' upcoming Thriller 3D will be a good choice for CAD.
Thats All for now! Check back soon for some more info on choosing a video card!!