Upgrading Video Cards Made Easy

Mar 18, 2013 adapter card, compaq, dell, 0 Comments
Upgrading video cards


Upgrading video cards upgrades is seldom considered when people have computer issues. When people have a video game that’s slow and jerky, with a less-than-spectacular play experience? Give it more memory and a faster processor. That should fix it. We also have those that aren’t satisfied with their movie watching experience. “Let’s go buy a new monitor, that’ll fix the problem.”

The problem with these statements is two-fold. The video game issue might be solved by throwing more memory and a faster processor into the computer, but you’re also spending a good deal of money. And the unsatisfactory movie experience? Same thing there, too. Both problems can be better addressed by installing a better video card, with a faster and more powerful graphics processing unit (GPU), with more dedicated graphics memory. Graphics memory is faster than system memory, so having more of it can help fix quite a few problems.

Upgrading Video Cards Done Right

It’s been the trend in the computer components industry to integrate. Years ago, almost every computer function required a new card. If you wanted to get online, you bought either a modem or a network adapter card. If you wanted to listen to music, you needed a sound card. And, in order to do anything at all, you first needed to see it, so you needed a video card.

These days, this is no longer the case. The companies that make the main board (known as the motherboard) for our computers have started putting all of these functions onto the motherboard. And they give us some pretty nice ones, too. My little Toshiba notebook has more video crunching power than my last desktop computer with a dedicated video card.

However, sometimes the components the motherboard makers include aren’t cut out for our uses. As an example, I like to watch movies quite a bit, so I had to buy a separate surround processor for my notebook. And if you’re into action-packed movies and video games, the video subsystem built into your computer’s motherboard probably isn’t up to the challenge you’re giving it. Most likely, it’s sharing memory resources with the system; slower memory resources at that. Dedicated video memory is much faster than regular system memory.

Upgrading video cards

Photo credit: Blue Square Thing

So, how do you know what to buy? Truthfully, it isn’t all that hard actually. It may sound like a cliché, but you buy the best you can afford. Look for a trustworthy name brand, such as GeForce or Radeon. My favorite hardware review site has a hierarchical list of what they consider to be the best available. This list is a great place to get an idea of what you need to fix your video problems.

Most of these cards are available in different architectures, or how they connect to the computer’s mainboard. Some are AGP, while others are PCIe. If your computer is a store bought device, such as from Dell or Compaq, either check the documentation, or contact their support to see what it supports. Armed with that information, you can make an informed buying decision.

While you’re looking through the documentation and/or talking with support, ask them if there are any settings in BIOS that need to be changed, or a jumper on the motherboard that needs to be moved to disable the onboard video and enable an external video card.

Install the New Card in the Computer

Disconnect everything from your computer except the power cord, and position it so it’s easy to reach. Keep the power cord attached to keep the case grounded, so you don’t damage anything with static discharge.

Open the case. Some will just have two latches you need to pop, while others will be secured with some screws. Remove the cover and set it aside. On the back of the case, you will see some covers over openings by the large connector slots. Remove one of those covers by either lifting it out or twisting it out, exposing the opening. Remove the screw at the top of the exposed opening.

Line up your new video card with the opening and the corresponding connection slot and firmly push it straight in. Don’t force it. If it won’t fit, try one of the other slots. Insert the screw to secure the card in place. If technical support told you there was a jumper that needed to be moved, do this now. Close the case.

Most computers will require you to make a change in the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) to disable the onboard video card and enable the external card. Hook up the monitor to the onboard video port and the keyboard. Turn the computer on and watch for the message telling you how to enter the configuration menu. This is a single key (usually ESC or F2) that needs to be hit before the boot process begins.

Using the arrow keys, move the highlight across the top menu to the Onboard Peripherals selection and hit either or the down arrow. There’s a command menu on the bottom of the screen. Using the down arrow, scroll to Onboard Video or just Video, and change it to External or Disabled. Next, exit the BIOS settings menu and save your changes. As the computer is rebooting, switch the video cable to the new video card. Once the system boots up, you’ll need to use the included software disc to install the drivers and control utility.

You’re finished — and now you realize that upgrading video cards isn’t that tough after all!


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Mike is a certified low voltage installer with over 10 years of professional experience in the field, much of it working for Cable TV companies. He also has over a decade of experience in the computer field as a network engineer and support specialist. Mike's hobbies include installing high-end audio and video systems.

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