Video accelerators

Video accelerators<@VM>Pick the right card to handle graphics easily<@VM>Pick the right card to handle graphics easily (cont.)

The power to handle 2-D and 3-D graphics is at hand

J.B. Miles

Special to GCN

Even if you're not a PC gamer or professional computer-aided designer, your PC or workstation could be struggling under a heavy graphics load. If this is true, it's probably time to replace the video card that came with your system.


ATI Technologies' Rage Fury Pro provides 2-D, 3-D and video graphics, along with DVD playback, at a maximum resolution of 1,920 by 1,440. It's priced at $180.


Video cards'also known as video accelerators, video adapters, video boards, graphics cards, graphics accelerators or graphics adapters'can make or break your ability to work in graphics programs. They come with their own powerful processors and take over most of the display-related functions from the host CPU.

The burden of graphics processing is assigned to the video card's chip set. After the graphical data is processed, it is stored in the card's frame buffer. When the time comes for it to be displayed, the data is transferred to the card's RAM digital-to-analog converter chip, where the digital information is converted to analog signals for use by the computer's analog monitor.

The idea behind all this is to relieve the host CPU from the burden of graphics processing so that the entire system runs faster and 2-D and 3-D graphics and video output come alive with exquisite detail, clarity and color.

This is all many people want or need to know about video cards, but knowing more could help you avoid wasting money on a card that doesn't suit your computing requirements.

Buying a new video card is a little like buying a new car. Some buyers peek at the engine first; others begin with different performance-related details, such as suspension, balance and transmission type. Still others look first at cosmetic details such as color and body style. For both automobiles and video cards, I recommend starting with the engine.

Chip set. A video card's engine is its chip set. As you can imagine, for simply handling daily chores'traditional office word processing or downloading e-mail'its processing power and speed aren't all that important. But for more complex tasks, a powerful graphics engine becomes essential.


The WinFast GeForce2 GTS from Leadtek Research packs 32M of double-data-rate SDRAM and has a maximum resolution of 2,048 by 1,536. It's priced at $349.


The latest generation of graphics chip sets, such as those made by 3dfx Interactive and S3 Inc., easily provides high resolutions at high color depths (millions of possible color combinations). They produce great-looking images packed with detail and brilliant colors.

It's in the cards

Most of the cards listed in the accompanying table offer maximum resolutions of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels, with maximum color depths of 32-bits. For most purposes, a resolution of 1,920 by 1,440 is more than adequate.

High-end cards with 64-bit color depths are available, but except for fancy gaming and some very high-end graphics tasks, most users won't require this much. But don't buy a card offering less than a 16-bit color depth, unless you own an aging PC with an old VGA monitor.

And if you've ever struggled along with a PC with a monitor-video card combination offering a very low refresh rate, you'll know what eyestrain can do to your level of productivity. Any modern video card should offer a refresh rate of at least 75 hertz at the resolution your monitor is set for. Note the reverse correlation between resolution and refresh rate'the higher the resolution, the slower the refresh rate'and set your system accordingly.

Check the specifications of your video card. Good cards often come with 2-D and 3-D matrices showing refresh rates at different resolutions.


Creative Labs' Annihilator Pro has an nVidia GeForce 256 chip set, 32M of SDRAM and gives maximum resolution of 2,048 by 1,536. It's priced at $215.


Memory. To make a very long story short, a card needs lots of RAM to provide a buffer for the millions of pixels that are included in high-resolution graphics with millions of color options. You want as much memory as possible.

Not long ago, a video card with 8M of RAM was considered top-of-the-line. Plenty of these are still available for well under $100 and are perfectly suitable for common office applications. But if you're moving up, don't buy a card with less than 16M of RAM. For high-end 2-D CAD and modeling tasks, or for 3-D gaming, don't buy a card with less than 32M of RAM. And buy even more RAM if you can afford it.

There are several different types of RAM to consider. Most video cards today use synchronous dynamic RAM. A few use synchronous graphics RAM, which is a little faster than SDRAM but also more expensive.

The newest, and best, memory architecture used in video cards is double-data-rate, or DDR, SDRAM, which effectively doubles memory speed by enabling two memory operations to take place for each clock cycle of the processor. Used with Accelerated Graphics Port video cards, DDR technology provides the fastest graphical data throughput available.

Bus type. AGP vs. PCI. The 32-bit PCI bus was developed to replace the 16-bit ISA bus, which proved too slow for most current graphics applications. Then along came Accelerated Graphics Port, which provides the fastest-yet data pipeline from the video card to system RAM. The 4X AGP bus currently represents the cutting edge of video card technology and will likely hold that title until the next best bus architecture replaces it.

The going rate


Elsa's Erazor X has an nVidia GeForce 256 chip set, 32M of SDRAM and maximum resolution of 1,900 by 1,440. It's priced at $150.


Both PCI and AGP buses are 32 bits wide, but current AGP data transfer rates are either two times or four times faster than PCI. A 2X AGP bus enables transfer rates of 566 megabytes/sec, and a 4X AGP doubles that to more than 1 gigabyte/sec. Virtually all 4X AGP cards can drop back to 2X AGP transfer speeds.

Most new PCs and workstations come with at least one AGP port, and it won't be long before vendors stop making PCI versions. But if you have an older PC, replacing a PCI card with an AGP version may pose some problems, because AGP cards can only be used in a PC equipped with an AGP port.

Another potential problem is that if your AGP chip set is hardwired to the motherboard of your new PC, it can't be upgraded without changing the entire motherboard. One solution is to bypass the AGP card with a PCI card, but in this case you lose the advantages that AGP brings to the plate.

RAMDAC. The faster the RAM digital-to-analog converter chip, the faster the digital instructions will be converted to images on your computer screen. Older, slower 8M video cards slogged along with RAMDAC speeds of less than 150 MHz; virtually all the units listed in this guide operate at 300 MHz or 350 MHz. That's enough speed to move mountains of pixels in a hurry.

Time for support

API support. Two major standards for application programming interfaces apply to video cards.


Which card suits you best?
•High-end video cards are made to work with recent PC models; you'd be wasting your money installing one on an old, slow machine.

•The best video cards today have 32M of double-data-rate synchronous dynamic RAM and a chip set from a reputable manufacturer. Just be sure your computer can support them.

•Manufacturers are phasing out PCI video cards.

•A card's DVD playback capabilities may be specific to a particular vendor's DVD player, so check the fine print carefully.

•A video card must process at least 30 frames per second to meet the standard for full-motion video.


Microsoft's DirectX 7.0 is virtually ubiquitous and should be included in the API set of any video card you buy. SGI's OpenGL is less common but ought to be included in a card used for gaming purposes.

3dfx Interactives GLide and MiniGL are APIs designed by the company for its Voodoo series of graphics cards. They are similar to OpenGL, but not as widely used.

Other details. A fairly arcane set of definitions comes with a detailed understanding of video card technology.

Only the most dedicated gamers or graphics design cognoscenti need to know them, but check the 3dfx and Matrox Graphics Inc. Web sites for some excellent glossaries of technical terms used in the industry.

Your selection of a video card should depend largely on the purposes for which it will be used.

The cards listed in this guide will meet moderate-to-heavy 2-D and 3-D graphics and video requirements and are generally priced between $100 and $300.

If you have an old PC used for office applications with few graphics involved, save your money and keep your old card. Just replace the entire PC when it's no longer useful.

For slow, 133-MHz to 233-MHz Intel Pentium II or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. K-6 workstations, a graphics card with 8M to 16M of RAM will handle limited graphics and video for well under $100.'These can be purchased from almost all of the vendors listed.

At the other end of the scale, graphics professionals working on high-end workstations should consider a very powerful graphics accelerator designed specifically for CAD or specialized video editing. These generally cost $800 or more and also are available from most of the vendors listed.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers.























































































































































































































































































VendorProductChip setMemoryInterfaceMaximum
resolution in pixels
RAMDACGeneral featuresPrice
Asus Computer
International Inc.
Newark, Calif.
510-739-3777
www.asus.com
AGP-V770 GeForce2
256 GTS Pure
nVidia GeForce2
GTS
32M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback
$257
AGP-V6800 GeForce
256 DDR
nVidia GeForce2
256 DDR
32M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, Video-In,
TV-Out
$208
AGP-V6600 GeForce
256 Deluxe
nVidia GeForce 25632M SGRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, Video-In
$183
ATI Technologies Inc.
Thornhill, Ontario
905-882-2600
www.ati.com
Xpert 2000ATI Rage 12832M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X/4X1,920 by 1,200300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback
$110
All-In-Wonder 128ATI Rage 12816M/32M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X/4X1,920 by 1,440300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-In/Out
$249 to
$299
Rage Fury ProATI Rage 12832M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X/4X
1,920 by 1,440300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-Out,
optional TV tuner
$180
Rage MagnumATI Rage 12832M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X
1,920 by 1,440300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, optional
TV tuner
$89
Xpert 128ATI Rage 12816M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X
1,280 by 1,024300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, optional
TV tuner
$60
CardExpert
Technology Inc.
Fremont, Calif.
510-252-1118
www.gainward.com
CardExpert GeForce
256
nVidia GeForce 25632M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video;
TV-Out
$215
CardExpert TNT2 PronVidia Riva TNT232M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$95
Creative Labs Inc.
Milpitas, Calif.
800-998-1000
www.creative.com
3D Blaster Savage4S3 Savage4 PRO32M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X1,920 by 1,200300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$79
3D Blaster Banshee3dfx Voodoo
Banshee
16M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X1,920 by 1,200250 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$56
Annihilator 2nVidia GeForce2
GTS
32M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$300
Annihilator PronVidia GeForce 25632M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$215
Graphics Blaster
Riva TNT
nVidia Riva TNT16M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X1,920 by 1,200N/A2-D, 3-D, video$56
Elsa Inc.
San Jose, Calif.
800-272-3572
www.elsa.com
Erazor X2nVidia GeForce 25632M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X1,900 by 1,440350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video;
TV-Out
$299
Erazor XnVidia GeForce 25632M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X1,900 by 1,440350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$150
GLoria IInVidia Quadro64M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$799
GladiacnVidia GeForce2
GTS
32M DDR SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X/4X
2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$249
Gladiac MXnVidia GeForce2
MX
64M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, videoTo be
released
in fall
Guillemot Corp.
Montreal
877-484-5536
www.hercules.com
3D Prophet II MXnVidia GeForce2
MX
32M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$200
3D Prophet II GTS
32M
nVidia GeForce2
GTS
32M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-Out
$359
3D Prophet II GTS
64M
nVidia GeForce2
GTS
64M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-Out,
DVI-Out
$334
3D Prophet DDR-DVInVidia GeForce 25632M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHzSame$269
InnoVision Multimedia
Technologies Inc.
Walnut, Calif.
909-598-0768
www.inno3d.com
Tornado GeForce
256 DDR
nVidia GeForce 25632M/64M DDR
SDRAM
AGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$1976
Tornado GeForce
256 SDR
nVidia GeForce 25632M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$136















































































































































































































































VendorProductChip setMemoryInterfaceMaximum
resolution in pixels
RAMDACGeneral featuresPrice
Jaton Corp.
Milpitas, Calif.
408-942-9888
www.jaton.com
Video-67pronVidia ProVidia
9750
16M SDRAMPCI1,024 by 768N/A2-D, 3-D, video$50
Video-88pci-16nVidia TNT2 Vanta16M SDRAMPCI1,920 by 1,200N/A2-D, 3-D, video$58
Video-88pci-32PlusnVidia TNT2 M6432M SDRAMPCI1,920 by 1,200N/A2-D, 3-D, video;
Video-In
$69
Leadtek Research Inc.
Fremont, Calif.
510-490-8076
www.leadtek.com
WinFast GeForce2
GTS
nVidia GeForce2
GTS
32M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHzz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-Out,
optional DVI-Out
$349
WinFast GeForce 256nVidia GeForce 25632M/64M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHzSame$179 up
WinFast GeForce 256
DDR
nVidia GeForce 25632M DDR SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHzSame
$185
Matrox Graphics Inc.
Dorval, Quebec
800-361-1408
www.matrox.com/mga
Millennium G400 MAXMatrox Millennium
G400
32M SGRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536360 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-Out
$209
Millennium G400 MAX
Millennium G400
Matrox Millennium
G400
32M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536300 MHzSame$149
Marvel G400-TVMatrox Millennium
G400
16M SGRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-Out,
TV tuner
$299
S3 Inc.
Santa Clara, Calif.
408-588-8000
www.s3.com
Diamond Viper IIS3 Savage 200032M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-Out
$199
Viper II
Klingon Academy
S3 Savage 200032M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHzSame$199
Stealth III S540
Xtreme
S3 Savage432M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X1,920 by 1,440300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback
$109
Stealth III S540S3 Savage432M SGRAMPCI, AGP 2X/4X1,920 by 1,440250MHZSame$100
3Dlabs Inc.
Sunnyvale, Calif.
800-434-3348
www.3dlabs.com
Permedia3 Create!3D Permedia332M SDRAMAGP 2X2,048 by 1,536300 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback
$159
Oxygen VX13D GLINT R332M SDRAMPCI, AGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video$299
3dfx Interactive
Richardson, Texas
972-234-8750
www.3dfx.com
Voodoo5 6000AGP3dfx VSA-100128M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback
$600
Voodoo5 5500 PCI3dfx Dual VSA-10064M SDRAMPCI2,048 by 1,536350 MHzSame$300
Voodoo5 5500 AGP3dfx Dual VSA-10064M SDRAMAGP 2X/4X2,048 by 1,536350 MHzSame$300
Voodoo3 3500 TV AGP3dfx Voodoo364M SDRAMAGP 2X2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV tuner,
digital VCR, FM tuner
$180
Voodoo3 3000 PCI3dfx Voodoo316M SDRAMPCI2,048 by 1,536350 MHz2-D, 3-D, video; DVD
playback, TV-Out
$130
Voodoo3 3000 AGP3dfx Voodoo316M SDRAMAGP 2X2,048 by 1,536350 MHzSame$130
Voodoo3 2000 PCI3dfx Voodoo316M SDRAMPCI1,024 by 768300 MHzSame$100

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