If you want games, graphics, and other multimedia programs to run faster, upgrading to a more powerful graphics card should be one of your first priorities.
And the demands of Microsoft's Windows Vista and Windows 7 with their 3D-accelerated Aero interface, gives you another reason to upgrade. To run Aero you'll need at least a DirectX 9 capable graphics chip with 128MB of dedicated memory onboard. With a DirectX 10 or 11 capable graphics chip you will need at least 512MB or 1GB of dedicated memory to make your computer perform well. And with the advent of Windows 8 and faster graphic cards you should budget for at least 6GB or 8GB of memory.
Make sure you know what kind of graphic card will work in your PC before you go shopping for a new one. Unfortunately there are two main types of graphics card currently on sale and if you choose the wrong one it will not plug into your PC's motherboard. The two types currently available are those that fit into an AGP slot and those made for the PCI Express slot. Your motherboard will have a slot for one or the other, but PCI Express only appeared in 2004, so many people could still have an AGP based graphics system, especially if they are still using Windows XP.
If your motherboard has a PCI Express graphics slot make sure that the power supply in your PC will support your new card. Today’s powerful graphics cards often need 17 amps or more on the 12 volt line of the power supply unit (PSU). If your existing power supply is underpowered you will have to upgrade to a more powerful one. To check your power supply's rating open your PC and check the description that should be printed on its side.
Depending on how old your computer is, you might have to replace the entire motherboard, and even the CPU, memory, and other components, just to replace the graphics card. If this is your situation, then it's probably better just to buy a new computer.
If you are still unsure what graphic card slot your motherboard has, check your motherboard or system manual or look on the website of your motherboard’s manufacturer.
Once you have decided what graphic cards are compatible with your motherboard, choosing the right graphic card boils down to checking out each one's performance, features and price.
The best way to judge performance is to read the monthly reviews in computer magazines like PC Pro, PC Advisor and Computer Shopper. These magazines (and their website's) measure graphic card performance using 3D benchmarks and some of the most demanding games. This will help you work out which is the right card for you and your budget.
Some motherboards can accommodate two PCI Express graphics cards at once, which greatly increases your computers 3D performance. There are two dual graphics cards standards: SLI for Nvidia based cards and CrossFire for ATi based cards. If your motherboard doesn't support the kind of card you want, it may be worth considering a motherboard upgrade.
In addition to the new graphics card, you will need a small, nonmagnetic Phillips screwdriver and a simple anti-static grounding strap that attaches to your wrist. We recommend the Mercury Antistatic Wrist Band.
Rather than using the supplied driver CD it's a good idea to download the latest version of the drivers, for your particular graphics chip, from the card manufacturer's website. This option is better because graphics cards nearly always ship with drivers that are not up to date. Two of the biggest card manufacturers are nvidia and ati - www.nvidia.com or www.ati.com.
Start by uninstalling your old graphic card's drivers. In Windows right click My Computer, select Properties, and under the Hardware tab (or, at the top of the left hand list in Win 7) click on Device Manager. Double-click the name of your current graphics card, listed under Display Adapter, and under the Driver tab, click the Uninstall button.
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 your new card. This will involve a trip to the BIOS. Pressing the delete or esc key repeatedly as your computer starts up will usually take you into the BIOS settings. Check your motherboard or system manual for details on what to disable. Then make the change and Save and Exit the BIOS so your PC reboots.
Now uninstall any other software used to manage your current card by running Add or Remove Programs, or Programs and Features in Windows 7 (both links can be found in the Windows Control Panel). Typically these programs will be listed under NVIDIA, ATI or the model name of your graphics card.
Your screen might change to a lower resolution and colour depth during or after the uninstall process. When it's done, the computer will prompt you to reboot. Say no! Instead, shut down the computer, unplug the AC cord, open the case, and prepare to remove the old card physically.
Check the cable that runs from you monitor to the card at the back of your PC. That's your computer's graphics card.
Now unplug your PC and position it so that you can comfortably reach into the case's interior. If you have a tower case, you'll find it easier to install a graphic card if you lay the case on its side. Remove the computers side panel, usually held in by screws or clips.
Ground yourself. Protect your PC's delicate circuits from static electric charges on your body by properly grounding yourself. If you don't have a grounding strap, at least ground your body by touching a metal faucet, pipe, or even a metal part on the outside of your PC's case before touching the inside of your PC or any component.
If you haven't already done so, unplug the monitor cable. Now remove the screw or screws holding the graphic card in place and remove the card by grabbing its edges and pulling it upward with an even force while opening the small clip at the end of the card slot. If the card seems stuck, try gently rocking it lengthwise but don’t use too much force as you may damage the AGP or PCI Express slot.
Place the card into an anti static bag. If you don't have one handy, lay the card flat on a clean surface and later, when you've freed up the anti static bag that your new card came in, use it to store your old card. It may prove useful some day or perhaps can you can even sell it.
Remove the new card from its packaging. Avoid touching the chips or circuits on the face of the card; hold the card by the edges only. Align the card's gold connectors with the expansion slot and gently but firmly push down on the top edge with even pressure until the card is securely seated.
Secure the card to the PC's chassis with the existing screw or another clamping mechanism. Connect any power connectors.
Reassemble your PC's case and plug back in your monitor, speakers, keyboard and mouse. Reconnect your PC's power cord and turn your computer on.
Cancel any Windows attempts to find new hardware drivers, and find the drivers that you downloaded and double click the .exe file to install them.
You'll need to reboot when the driver installation is finished. After the computer re-boots the graphic card installation should be complete and your monitors screen should look normal.
The final step is to adjust the graphic settings to your preferences. You can do this by right clicking on your PC’s desktop and selecting Properties and the Settings tab
If you are using Windows 7 right click on your desktop and select Personalize or Screen Resolution.
The 'Settings' tab should state your graphic cards details and give you the opportunity to change the screen resolution and colour quality. You can usually use the software tools provided by Nvidia or ATi to achieve even better results.
If you cannot adjust your windows display properties try restarting your computer and trying again. If you still cannot adjust these settings you will have to reinstall the drivers.
Also visually check that your new graphics card is properly seated in its AGP or PCI Express slot and that the driver is displayed in Device Manager.
If problems persist, checkout our article - Solving Graphic Card Problems.