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9/15/06 Nongamer needs recommendations for video cards

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / September 14, 2006 2:51 AM PDT
Question:

Hi! I have decided to build my first desktop computer and have a pretty good handle on all the components except graphics cards. How does one go about choosing a graphics card? I am a middle-of-the-road user. Some of the major applications I use are Adobe Photoshop CS2, Open Office, Firefox (heavy Web surfer), Adobe Acrobat 7, Windows Media Player, Visual FoxPro 9, SnagIt 8, Picasa2, and assorted utilities, such as antivirus and antimalware apps. I have looked at different graphics cards but am very confused about their capabilities. It seems most boards are built around speed, and they all seem to be targeted at gamers; they cost from $300 to $600 and up. I'm trying to get a video card that is geared toward my usage at a reasonable price. I am open to recommendations. I don't believe I need all the bells and whistles. Could someone explain the options and try to determine what I really need? I'm so confused. I will be running Windows XP Pro.

Submitted by: Bob C.

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Answer:


Bob, for what it's worth, unless you're a die-hard gamer, there's really no need to spend $600 for a video card. Most $30 to $80 cards will do the trick and then some.

The first thing to do is look at the motherboard you're buying and what kind of support is built into it. Is it AGP or PCIe? AGP is a standard that seems to be on its way out. PCIe (PCI Express) seems to be the up-and-coming technology. Before going any further, you will also need to know what your motherboard will support beyond the basic functions, that is, does it support SLI or CrossFire?

SLI and CrossFire are two technologies by Nvidia and ATI, respectively, that allow you to use multiple video cards or cards with multiple GPUs (graphical processor units). Given the list of things you said you wanted to be running, neither SLI nor CrossFire is going to do much for you. It would be like sticking a dragster engine in the family's grocery-getting car. Yeah, you get to the store in 3.4 seconds (instead of 1.2 minutes), but you're getting 2 gallons to the mile. Those high-end graphics cards, while able to do a bazillion polygons per second, also tend to require 500-, 600-watt, or larger power supplies. Not to mention the cooling tower from a small nuclear reactor to keep the heat in check.

Truth be told, NONE of the apps you've mentioned is really graphically intensive. In fact, for the most part, your computer will be just fine with a regular, standard, "low end" to middle of the road video card.

The biggest concern, given your needs, is the monitor you're going to be using. What's the max resolution? 1024x768, 1280x1024, higher? Does the monitor have DVI or analog inputs? Make sure the card you choose will have the right type of output onboard.

On average, I'd recommend a card with at least 256 MB of video memory. While I realize you mentioned you are planning on running XP Pro on this computer, Vista will be coming out in January and you never know you might be upgrading to it someday in the future. It never hurts to think ahead and pricewise - the difference between 128 MB and 256 MB is hardly worth pinching $5 to $10. Always think ahead.

There are a LOT of brands out there - but 99% of those video cards are built around chipsets made by two main competitors - Nvidia and ATI. The 3rd major player in the graphical arena is Intel - but most of their video gear is designed into their own motherboards and laptops. As to which direction to go - both offer equally decent standard desktop graphic displays. The remaining percentage are fringe players that are on their proverbial last legs.

Choosing your options as to which chipset is usually a matter of preference. As far as which I would choose - it doesn't really matter too much to me. One of my older boxes (3 yrs old now) has an ATI video chipset built in. The new box I built this year has an Nvidia chipset built into the motherboard AND has an add-on Nvidia PCIe card. All three have been quite adequate for the tasks I've thrown at them - with one exception - the one built into the motherboard on the new box. Given that computer is running Vista (Beta 2), it made more sense to put in an add-on card, with its own separate memory. This way it's not sapping 128 MB from the main memory pool. Vista's happier with the full GB of RAM devoted to it.

Bonus features can generally be pretty cool - tho, sometimes useless. As an example - video cards with built in TV tuners. TV tuners included with modern video cards generally support older style ANALOG cable. As to how long analog cable will be offered up and supported, that remains to be seen. Additionally, you will probably need additional services - such as another cable drop, maybe a cable box (depending on your cable service) and the software you need to setup and record using your video card. Of course, these may be things you're not interested in.

Above all, consider the PRICE. Use sites like http://www.pricewatch.com to find deals on the video card you ultimately decide on. Some vendors will have the same video card for less money than others. It never hurts to shop around.


So, to recap - the main things to consider are:

1.) The type of slot available on the motherboard.

2.) The output display (Monitor) and the resolution you want.

3.) Any bonus features (built in TV tuner?) available...

4.) Price!

From this point, your best bet would be to read the reviews of individual cards/chipsets or better still, look at the specs for the specific card online. Most manufacturers will post them on their web site.

Submitted by: Pete Z. of Los Angeles, California
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Honorable mentions
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / September 14, 2006 2:51 AM PDT
Answer:

Bob, this could a short answer: If you are not a gamer, it almost doesn?t matter what you get, almost all video solutions (including integrated ?chipset? video with ?shared memory?) will meet all of your needs. Personally, I would recommend that you get a card that has a DVI-I output (digital output for an LCD display with digital input; any card with DVI-I will also support a display using a conventional analog 15-pin VGA interface). But even that is now commonplace and found in many if not most cards, even low-end cards. So your options are wide open and there is no need to spend a lot of money on a premium card for your planned use of the card and your computer.

Now for a bit more detail:

Display adapters (video cards) work in 2D mode and 3D mode, and these don?t necessarily mean what many people think that they mean.

In 2D mode, the card displays images presented to it as bitmaps by the programs you are running (even if the image is a 3D image). Basically, the program says to the video card ?display these pixels? and gives the graphics card the list of the exact pixels to be displayed at every point on the screen. The display just puts them up on the screen.

In 3D mode, however, the video card itself (rather than the program you are running) actually generates the image (the pixels). The program says ?I want a sphere of this size on the screen at this location with this shading and this texture?, but the 3D video card, not the program, actually generates the pixels that you see on the screen. The video card is now a much more active (and performance determining) component of the system, because the video card, rather than the program, is actually generating the pixels that you see displayed on the screen (although it?s doing it from very specific ?blueprint? supplied by the program).

We have long ago passed the point at which there is any significant difference in performance between any currently manufactured video cards running in 2D modes. And ALL of the applications that you listed ? even Photoshop and video/TV ? are 2D applications.

So you can pretty much do whatever you want and go with a relatively inexpensive video card, because the primary 3D applications are video action gaming and CAD / computer modeling, and you didn?t list either of those as a major use of your computer.

I do want to make one other point, however: Windows Vista comes out next year, and one of Vista?s major ?eye candy? features will be the ?Aero? user. Aero is optional, Vista will run without it if the user wants to turn it off or if the video card doesn?t support it, but if you are building a new computer at this point, you don?t want to build one that won?t at least be capable of running Vista with Aero. And Aero itself requires 3D capabilities, although as 3D apps go, it is not performance intensive. So make sure that you get a video card that will be capable of running Aero. This isn?t difficult, and it?s likely that almost any card in current production and using a current ATI or NVidia video chip will support Aero. The major technical requirements are a minimum of 128MB of memory and support for ?Pixel Shader 2?, but someone has to write a Windows Vista Aero driver for your video card and it?s video chip, and there are a number of cards out there which would be Aero capable but for which no driver exists or is currently planned to exist.

[With regard to shared memory chipset video, note that systems using Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950 will run Aero, while those using the earlier GMA 900 currently will not run Aero. GMA 900 is one of the cases of hardware that is apparently Aero capable but for which there just is no driver. In fact, the Microsoft Windows Vista Advisor originally said (based on actual analysis of the hardware capabilities) that GMA 900 WOULD run Aero. But neither Intel nor Microsoft has committed to writing an Aero driver to support GMA 900, and this is a real sore point with me. There are tens of millions, perhaps even a hundred million computers, many even manufactured in 2006, that use GMA 900, including many, many laptops from all of the major laptop vendors (Toshiba, Dell, HP, Sony ?..). Yet because neither Intel nor Microsoft will write the necessary driver, owners of these systems may be out of luck as far as Aero is concerned.]

Now, all that said, let me point you to an excellent review of video cards that came out a couple of months ago, it can be found here:

http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1558,1945652,00.asp

The article says it?s a review of gaming cards but, in fact it?s just a good review of video cards in general, and you won?t go wrong if you get any of the cards that were well regarded in their particular price range. And for your purposes, the best of the low-end cards (in the $100 range) would be just fine.

Submitted by: Barry W. of North Canton, Ohio

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Answer:


Well Bob, from the list of applications you mainly use, you may even get away without a graphics card at all!!

Many motherboards now come with integrated graphics built in them nowadays. If you are not a gamer or into 3D rendering, then you night get away with going for integrated graphics. The last time I had a system with integrated graphics, the motherboard had a standard SVGA port on the back. I'm not 100% sure how they ship now, but I suspect that they may have DVI ports for TFT monitors. If like me you are running a good old CRT there are adapters available to convert DVI into SVGA. This is something you will need to double check regardless of whether you go for integrated graphics, or an add in card.

If you may run games occasionally, then you really need a graphics card to get decent performance and graphics from your machine. These come in two flavours: PCI-E and AGP. AGP is becoming dated now, and PCI-E is the new standard. You will need to double check the motherboard specifications just to make sure you buy the correct card. All the new motherboards I have seen are PCI-E, but its just something to double check to save frustration at the assembly stage of your new machine.

Right, you should now know whether you need a card or not, and which interface you require. Next question is RED (ATi) or Green (nVidia)? Really doesn't matter too much for middle of the road cards, but you may have a personal preference. The current market cards are fairly evenly matched on performance, and each company is taking turns at "mine is faster than yours". This is only really with the top end enthusiast cards, and the difference is not noticeable in normal use. Both companies are producing excellent cards that run games at a high FPS (frames per second). Once over about 75 fps, you really can't tell them apart by eye anyway. Another consideration is Croosfire (ATi) and SLI (nVidia). These systems are again aimed at enthusiasts, so unless you need a future proof setup, you can really overlook these. They are both setups with more than one graphics card for super high performance. If you do want either though, this limits your motherboard selections. There are quite a lot of mobos that support crossfire (ATi), but only the nForce chipset motherboards will allow nVidia's SLI to work.

Anyway, I digress. Current midrange cards and their approximate prices. I live in the UK, so the best I can do is apply a currency conversion. Prices will only be approximate:

nVidia

? 7300 Series (GS or better) (
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Addendum question to the graphics card question from today
by newbiez / September 15, 2006 5:41 AM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

Hey,

Saw all these great answers, and wondering if any of you have answers to the question of what to do in a same situation, i.e. graphics card, if you are buying a laptop and not building yourself. Getting an XPS1210, pretty much have it all picked out, except graphics card. Choices are either: Integrated Intel

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Get the cheap one.
by johnbiest / September 15, 2006 7:07 AM PDT

With an LCD screen, you won't be wanting to set your video any higher than the native resolution of the screen itself - and any of the onboard chips can handle that with ease. None of your applications will demand much of the video chip.

Plus, the laptop itself will start looking old in a few years. Batteries go bad, screen connections go bad, you spill a drink on the keyboard, drop it, etc. All good reasons to buy the cheapest laptop you can find. I have a Dell that was top of the line a few years ago. It's still fast enough, but the battery ($150) is down to about 50 minutes, and my screen connection is loose, so every once in a while I have to flex the computer to get the lines off the screen. I wish I had bought the cheapest one back then, so I could justify buying a new one today.

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Thanks, one more ques.
by newbiez / September 15, 2006 2:22 PM PDT
In reply to: Get the cheap one.

Thanks for the tips, so I may go with the cheaper graphics, but not going to go with the cheapest laptop I can find. Even if I did, I'd still end up spending enough that I couldn't justify buying something new in 2 years. I'm buying the XPS because everyone I spoke to from reviewers to users, etc..said its the model to go with if I do want to keep for 5-6 years and I do. And yes, I know I can spill stuff on it, etc..why I shall keep the coffee away. <smile>.

But you think the Intel 950 integrated is enough huh? I don't need the Nvidia dedicated?

Thanks again.

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5-6 years is a long time
by johnbiest / September 15, 2006 2:59 PM PDT
In reply to: Thanks, one more ques.

Laptops are tough to configure, because there is no going back and buying better components. And 5-6 years is a long time - if you get into gaming somewhere down the line, you will be unhappy with the onboard Intel graphics. Also keep in mind that ANY onboard graphics chip is a compromise. A video chipset will work far better on it's own dedicated videocard than the same chip built into a motherboard. (TomsHardware.com had a great review of onboard chipsets, way back when nVidia first got into the mainboard business.) Is the nVidia video on it's own dedicated board?

But outside of gaming, the Intel video will do everything you ask of it. All it really has to do for your applications is crank out high resolution and deep color depth, which they all can do easily. Video editing is done by the main processor.

I don't know how much an XPS is, but if the nVidia is a large percentage of the cost, I'd leave it out. But if you are spending $2000 on a laptop, what's another $129?

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Graphics card
by joel178 / September 16, 2006 12:34 PM PDT

I have built two rigs and am still using the one I last built. I am a gamer. If you are not a gamer, any video card in the $100 - $150 range will more than suit your needs. These cards are considered "bargin basement cards". I would suggest getting a NVIDIA 5700 to 7600 card. This will give you a good variety of cards to choose from and will also allow you to adjust your price accordingly. Any of the cards inbetween the ranges are decent cards that you can play most games with, watch movies and do most any graphics tasks with. I suggest buying the lower priced range "gaming" card, just because everyone I know after a while of working with a computer will end up either gaming or watching movies on their rig. If you know for a fact that you will never play games or watch movies or do photo or video editing, then as the first responder told you, it won't really matter what video card you purchase. But, if there is even the slightest hint that you may want to do one or any of them, on this machine, then go with the low priced gaming card.

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Go with AMD, not Intel
by chrisk1965 / September 16, 2006 3:16 PM PDT

For your apps, onboard video is probably okay, but its always better to get alittle more than what your needs are now, in planning for the future. (i.e. it used to be the recomended minimum processor speed was 800 mhz to run most programs, but that has changed to to 1gb minimum...always think of the future when building/buying a computer.) So as far as your graphics question, I would suggest go with the extra $ for the dedicated card. Two reasons, 1. thinking in terms of the fututre, and 2. onboard graphics uses system memory...so if the laptop is 512 mb of system memory, and you are taking away say 128 mb for the onboard video, system memory drops to 384, and nowadays, even 512 mb is on the low side.
Theres some food for thought...hope it helps...Chris...

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if video available on mobo, stick with it for now?
by Cadillac84 / September 15, 2006 10:03 AM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

Based on Barry's answer (with which I have no reason to disagree), you might select a motherboard with built-in video and make sure it has a PCIe (preferably PCIe-16?) available.

If you do that, take the money you might have spent on a video card and invest it wisely for a few months. When Vista Aero becomes desireable for you, cash in your investment and buy a PCI Express video card that will meet Vista's requirements and already has the proper driver.

Assuming you have enough money left over, you can buy Vista -- if you don't, you won't even have to cash in your investment and you can stick with XP Pro. When you get old like me, you can cash in your investment and take a cruise!

Good question and some good answers!

Chuck

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Video Cards
by smegs / September 15, 2006 3:37 PM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

Just make sure you get retail box if possible. Several years ago I purchased a ATI video card. not Retail. After 1 year the card died. and ATI wouldnt even bother to help me out. So I spent 200 bucks for nothing at the time. So my next card im using now is a 6800 BFG. ultra. Man what awesome preformance and awesome quality. Plus it has a lifetime warrenty to think about.

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Graphix ....
by weby4p / October 14, 2006 4:22 AM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

well well well.... I believe by the time your are reading this suggestion ... you would have already assembled ur system. but if otherwise and for the benefit for ne other user ....

For the applications you have mentioned you need good RAM (2GB DDR2) and a dual core processor preferably core2duo from intel... and a decent mobo... a nvidia chipset/ or Intel 975X chipset. with good onboard graphix solutions .... would do the trick ... yeah you still want to buy a graphix card ... stick to a mobo which supports PCI.e or PCI.x graphix cards... pci.x is a new format which is faster than a PCI.e ... and yeah think of future upgradebality ... so i would suggest to wait and watch ... b'cos once vista is out the market would be flooded with ... new solutions supporting vista.... so for ur requirement a goood onboard graphix solutions with 1 - 2 GB RAM is more than enough as of now ....

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Other recommendations from our members
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / September 14, 2006 2:52 AM PDT
Answer:

Bob,

Many (if not most) motherboards these days have built-in graphics chips. You didn't mention what type of motherboard you are installing, but if it has a built-in graphics adapter, I'd go with that one. As you pointed out, you don't need a fancy gamer's add-on. The built-in should be just fine. I run apps similar to yours, and my built-in has performed admirably. My board has a Celeron processor (running XP Pro), and is five years old, meaning it's not exactly state-of-the-art, but I can stream video with no problems, so what else do I really need? Or you? Talk to the gear-head at your "parts shop."

Submitted by: Dane G.

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On two separate computers, I have installed video cards, both with 256 MB of on board dedicated memory. The CPUs are 2.6 & 2.7 Ghz Celerons.. Graphics cards are used to deal with rendering video on Pinnacle Studio 9, Cyberlink Video and Digital Picture programs, ULead sd.

One is equipped with a BFG Ge NVIDIA 5500 PCI video card, the other with an APG ATI Radeon 9550. For surfing the net, simple video games (do not do the high end video games, so no opinion), Adobe CS, Kodak, HP, Cyberlink, Pinnacle, U-Lead programs these cards both do the trick. Price range for these types of cards, I have seen recently for the $40 to $100 price range, dependant on manufacturer or or retailer. Main improvement I have noticed is the faster response time, and improved graphics depth with the Motherboards I have, over the onboard integrated graphics. Newer boards, from many manufacturers use a Ge Nvidia graphics, and a few the Radeon graphics. If the integrated graphics on the mobo you are using does an acceptable job, why go to a separate card. If you are in need ;of a greater rendering speed or memory for graphics, I would look at some of the cards that are available in the under $100 category on line. TigerDirect.com has numerous cards in this class for under a $100. There are many other online sources also for this type of product. Read the reviews and chose. I have had satisfactory results with both.

Submitted by: Robert B.

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Dear Bob,

You don't mention what kind of processor (single or dual-core) or how much RAM you plan on putting in your system. With the programs you have mentioned using, those two are of greater concern than the graphics card. The processor and RAM have to supply the data to the video card before it can do its job. That being said, the card still has to have sufficient "horsepower" to handle that inflow of data, or it could be swamped by it.

Here's a frame of reference for you. This past spring, I had a local "mom & pop" store build a new system for me. Given what programs I was running and what I desired to do with this system, this is what they suggested. The CPU is an AMD Athalon 64 3500+ (single core), an ASUS motherboard (the A8N5X), an ASUS Extreme 6600 w/256 mb of memory, and 1 gb of RAM on the MB. I'm using XP Pro, Photoshop 6, Cool Edit 96, AVG antivirus, ZoneAlarm firewall (both free), IE 6, and assorted old MS office programs (97/98 versions of Word, Excel, Publisher). Your programs list is at a higher level so you might want to consider a dual-core CPU with a minimum if one gig of RAM. Depending on how many RAM slots you have total, I urge you to keep "dual-channel" memory sticks in mind and put 2 sticks of 512 mb OR 2 one gig strips, especially if you plan on having other programs running at the same time as Photoshop CS.

Good luck with your new system.

Submitted by: John F.

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Hi there, the answer I think would be to stick to ATI GRAPHICS CARDS from rage pro upwards from $40 they are not only quality and power for your money but also no running problems whatever you want to use them for, I've got the ATI RADEON 9700 which came with my laptop running xp home, I hope this helps.

Submitted by: James

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Bob, I am not surprised at your confusion, because I have personally observed that almost all the advertising out there is for those "overkill" graphics cards that you describe.

I doubt that I am allowed here to suggest sources or specific video adapters, but in a short sentence, you need a $30 adapter to support the apps you named. They are readily available on the web and will probably be locally almost anywhere also.

Nvidia and ATI are two prominent chip manufacturers that manufacture chips for this range of adapter.

Look for 128MB of onboard memory, something like a GeForce (which is a type, not a product) capability adapter and make sure the resolution is high enough to support what you want. At $30 you can sometimes get as high as 1920 x 1440 resolution or even higher.

Submitted by: Lynn W.

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Answer:


Bob,

The nvidia 7600 series cards and their rival ATI's x1600 video cards will handle what you do. The important thing is that they will also work into the future for you. Both are offered in both AGP and PCI-E so you are covered no matter which you need. With a little shopping it will be easy to keep the cost below $200. if you are not interested in the games and extras look for a "lite" version, it's the same card, warranty and drivers but no goodies.

Submitted by: William C.

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Answer:


BobC,

Graphics cards for your new custom built system Bob you hit the nail-on-the-head, high end graphics cards are for serious gamers who are always buying the latest and greatest games. Where more in-depth 3D rendering, more complex action screens demand high power boards to create those complex images and keep up with the every changing, fast changing gaming screens. You mention Photoshop but I do not see any intense video or photo editing being done. Therefore almost any card will do. My suggestion is your buy a middle-of -the-road card. Look in the price range of $100- 150.00 (on sale) of course.

Submitted by: Joseph P.

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Answer:


Bob,

I have several computers running Windows XP that are running mid-range cards, ranging in price from around $55-$150. I too didn?t need all the graphics speed and still wanted to upgrade over the built in chipsets graphics. Make sure you check the type of video card slot that is available in your system; AGP or PCIx16 are the most common. The two main graphics engines are ATI based or Nvidia and both will do a good job. For Nvidia type cards look for a 6600 series card or later with 256 Mb of memory. If an ATI card look for a 1300 , 700x or higher with 256Mb of memory. Any card within these guidelines will give you much better graphics and you can still play a game or two and will find better overall system performance over the built in graphics. Also check out CNET?s price comparison for venders. Often some of the larger venders will have rebates on these cards making them a real bargain.

Good luck,

Submitted by: Jim C.

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Answer:


I built my computer about 18 months ago. Playing games is not my thing either and after much reading and looking around I settled on a very middle of the road card.

Your computer usage and mine is quite similar and I am sure that you can find a very suitable graphics card for just under $100. Things have certainly changed in 18 months but I got a "e-Geforce FX5200, 256MB DDR AGP" and never looked back. I built my computer around a AMD Athlon 64, ASUS A8V Deluxe mother board and 2G of DDR RAM with the Windows Media Center Edition 2005 OS. All works great and it was a fun and challenging thing to do. Good Luck!

P.S. Don't go cheap on your case and fans - - for just a few more dollars it can run so quiet that you have to look at the lights to make certain it is running!

Submitted by: Wayne

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Answer:


Speed is an issue with any good graphic software. If you use Adobe Photoshop CS2 or Paint Shop Pro on a regular basis a high speed graphics card is necessary. The high speed graphics cards produce instant results. I have been very pleased with the high speed card performance with the two systems I have built in the last year. If you are going to go for the best performance with memory size and processor speed you want a graphics card that can perform at the same level.

Submitted by: Russ M.

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Answer:


While there are a large number of cards which push their gaming capabilities, they are just as capable of improving on the performance of some of the multi-media programs you use. However there are some great alternatives for under $200, and one I would recommend is the Gigabyte Nvidia 7600 GT 256mb, which can be had at tiger direct for about $173. Good luck.

Submitted by: Osmer B.

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Answer:


There are a ton of graphics cards you can get for your situation. A great graphics card is the Radeon X300se, it is under 100.00 and offers great performance, and has 256mb on card memory, which is a good thing. I used that in my computer for a while (and it's built into my motherboard too, but the card will be better, more memory, and it frees up my system ram...). So I would suggest getting a cheap Diamond (Box with red side) ATI radeaon card.

Submitted by: Nick L.

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Answer:


Wow! What a question! Almost the same one I asked a few weeks ago when I was researching a new system for myself, and almost the same suite of programs (or similar) that I use.

It was recommended I get the Sapphire x1600 Pro w/512 MB RAM. It has the PCIE interface that most new motherboards are using, and it also has both analog and digital ports to interface with your monitor.. so, if you have an older analog monitor it will work, or if you choose to upgrade to a digital monitor, it will work as well.

Also, it is not as power hungry as those more expensive graphics cards, so you don't need a bigger power supply or extra cooling.

If you are not a heavy gamer, then this card will do very well.. and best of all, it only costs about $125. Not a bad deal!

Submitted by: Paul L.

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Answer:


Hi Bob C.

Your question regarding graphic cards is one shared by many. Graphic card manufacturers are very competitive (Nvidea and ATI) and with so many options, it can become a real 'thought process' as to which is best for you. In my opinion, your best option for selecting a card that meets and exceeds your expectations is to read the reviews available from such sites as:

http://reviews.search.com/search?q=graphic+cards&tag=srch.

You want to insure that your computer will support the board you choose so be sure to read the requirements of the card and match to the capabilities of your mother board slots/pwr supply.

After a careful review and selection of the card that is right for your needs (and wallet), you should consider visiting the card web-site and insure that your driver(s) are the most recent available for your card.

Good luck with your decision!

Submitted by: Harry C.

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Answer to which video card to use for a home built PC.

After reviewing the list, none of the applications are a great burden on the graphics capability of most medium grade video cards.

One of my favorite cards is the ATI all in Wonder card which provides plenty of flexibility for connecting external devices. I checked this week?s fliers and noted a 256 meg All in wonder for $70 after rebates.

Another alternative is to purchase a motherboard with on board video capability which is the lowest cost alternative. You still would have the capability to upgrade your video performance at a later date should your computing needs change.

Hope this helps with your PC building experience.

Submitted by: Donn J.

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Answer:


OK, Bob. It looks to me as if you are using a lot of graphics programs, but not video production or gaming. I would suggest a mid-range card in the 128-256 MB range of onboard memory. I have heard of a card with 1 GB of memory, but I believe that was specifically for gaming; you won't need anything so expensive. The amount of memory I suggest is to relieve your system RAM of the video processing, and actually do the work you intend with the programs you use.

Good luck!

Submitted by: Bruce R. of West Columbia, South Carolina

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Answer:


Bob,

I'm using almost the same type of software (Open Office, Firefox (heavy Web surfer), Visual FoxPro 9) with a 3 year old card @1600x1200 with 32bit color. So, any current video card around $100 will do the job for you. They will have enough muscle to run higher resolution/colors if you moved beyond that. If you are going to play games/HD video from time to time, I would recommend that invest a little more($200) by getting an PCIe/HDMI/HDCP enabled card. With that, you will be able to connect to your monitor(if HDCP enabled) or HDTV and play HD/BR DVDs and some games. It's only a suggestion to protect your investment. Who knows, that computer might be converted into a Media Center/server in the future and it will be one way to recycle that old computer by then.

Submitted by: Steve

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Answer:


You are right. Nearly every new video card out is aimed at speed, and basically only gaming software is going to take advantage of any extra features, so let's skip numbers, although I do like to have decent memory 16 to 32MB so that I can get very high definition. It can be very handy to be able to clearly read the equivalent of 6 to 8 A4 pages on one screen.

Your usage sounds like mine: The computer has much work to do, but the video only has to show the result.

Your main choice is going to be governed by the motherboard you have chosen: either AGP or PCI Express; or, if you're determined to be completely prehistoric about it, plain old PCI (I've not seen ISA on a contemporary m/board in so long to even suggest it).

If you want to watch video (DVD, net streams, etc.) then I would suggest AGP 2 or 4. Don't be afraid to consider a second-hand one from eBay. Gamers in particular are always up- grading, and you can get some pretty severe hardware at a very good price.

Submitted by: Mic

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Answer:


Graphic Cards are limited to the type Motherboard for which you have. Presently an AGP Graphic Card is becoming a thing of the past. That type of card, AGP, will only function in MoBos that have an AGP slot. The future of Graphic Cards is the PCI. Remember, an AGP card and a PCI card are not interchangeable. Gamers mostly rely on framepersecond speed as well as pixelization because of their effects...smoke,fires and shadows. The more pixelization a card offers the better the quality picture.

Submitted by: Annette F.

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Answer:


I think an ATI Radeon X800XT (or any in that family) would take care of present and future needs. It should have 256MB of memory. You also have to decide on an AGP card or PCI Express card. If you don't know the difference, you are in over head. Good luck.

Submitted by: Rick T.
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Ignore John F.'s comments...I think
by j71k68 / September 15, 2006 2:44 AM PDT

John F. said:
My computer = ''CPU is an AMD Athalon 64 3500+ (single core), an ASUS motherboard (the A8N5X), an ASUS Extreme 6600 w/256 mb of memory, and 1 gb of RAM on the MB. I'm using XP Pro, Photoshop 6, Cool Edit 96, AVG antivirus, ZoneAlarm firewall (both free), IE 6, and assorted old MS office programs (97/98 versions of Word, Excel, Publisher). Your programs list is at a higher level so you might want to consider a dual-core CPU with a minimum if one gig of RAM.''

Please tell me that you use more programs than that John!! My Athlon 2100+, Shuttle MB w/ 768 Megs mem., and 128MB Radeon 9000 Pro that I built 4 years ago would plow through that program list and then some. And you say Bob's list is even more demanding than yours!!!! If that is all you use your PC for then I believe that ''mom & pop'' worked you over real good when they suckered you into that machine.

As for the comments on Dual Core, maybe if you ran Photoshop, AUTOCad, Excel, Word, and had 15 IExplorer windows open you might need Dual Core. That goes for the ''minimum 1Gb of memory''. Photoshop, Adobe, etc., while they do use memory and other system resources, do not require massive amounts. I have no problem running the newest versions of many programs, with the only real glitch being AUTOCad.

If you believe you ''need'' your system for your requirements based on ''ma & pa's'' recommendation, I see why you recommend such high specs to others. But in reality, you wouldn't really need anything close to that for his list of applications.

Just don't want others to get the wrong idea's,

...my two cents

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Opinions are just that
by JTHunter / September 15, 2006 12:16 PM PDT

Venom,
The programs I listed are the programs from my old 98 machine. Most will be upgraded or replaced as I learn to use XP better. Heck, I haven't even learned how to burn a DVD yet! The system is only 4 months old and these were the specs I gave the store. Of course, it is over-kill for now. REPEAT - for now. Photoshop in particular, is one of the programs I plan on upgrading. Nor do I go into all the utilities running in the background, at least not beyond the the AVG and ZoneAlarm. There is also Spyware Blaster, SpyGuard, Spybot S & D, Ad-Aware, Motherboard Monitor, the software for my UPS, an alarm clock program, and at least 6 others, all running in the background. I don't stress systems to the max, which MAY be one reason why my Win. 98 system has been used for 8 years with only one reformat of the hard drive. And that was only 2 years ago.
As for the "mom & pop" store, it was my good fortune to find people like these that are willing to spend the time and talk about a customers computer problems (at NO CHARGE), possibly helping them without having to lug the tower in for work! After over 3 years of talks with these people, I trust their opinions and judgement. They listened to what I was doing, what I HOPED to be doing, and made recommendations. I researched the products and brands they suggested and we went from there. Maybe it is overkill, but they deserve the business, and a lot more than the big "box stores"!

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What about high resolution and multi-tasking?
by Steve Josephson / September 17, 2006 4:36 AM PDT

I'm getting ready to build a PC and my use will be similar. I am not a gamer. But I run my computer at 1200x1600 and I would like to be able to run even higher resolutions when I can afford the 30" lcd monitor.

I want to be able to quickly page from screen to scrren and have almost instant fill. I don't want my graphics card to be the limiting factor.

The idea of using my PC as a tv is something I am intrested in. When I get that 30" monitor, I'd like to be my personal tv at the same time.

Is it better to have a separate card for TV or is the all-in-wonder a good idea?

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TV tuner cards
by johnbiest / September 17, 2006 7:31 AM PDT

As I said in another post, I've tried 3 different PCI tuner cards, and I can never get a perfect picture, because there's tons of interference inside a computer case. If I were ever to buy another, I'd try one of those external USB boxes, in hopes of eliminating that problem.

I've never tried an All-In-Wonder, but I can't see why they would be any different. Plus, you are kind of stuck with the combo, as opposed to having separate video and tuner cards.

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Close on Vista, but slightly off target.
by A_Noid / September 15, 2006 2:41 AM PDT

One thing about Vista, is not whether to get 128 meg video, or 256 meg video, but that it is DirectX 9 or not. Vista will require DX9 if you upgrade, and have Aero. So he must not buy anything older that a GeForce 5 series AGP card, or if you go ATI, and AGP be carefull, because some of their 9XXX series are NOT DX9, and some are. (pretty much anything PCI-E will be DX9) Also plan on putting in a gig of RAM. and for longevity, make sure you get a Dual Core CPU. Multi-threading is not that important now, but will be down the road. Spend around $100-150 tops.

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If you are building ....
by johns1234 / September 15, 2006 2:55 AM PDT

If you just want a middle of the road PC, you should buy Dell. However, if you are going to build, your interest is beyond a "normal" PC. In that case, you will certainly want to explore Multimedia and eventually expand your system in a direction that will be compatible with the new technology. Right now, the only video card that will guarantee full compliance in all these areas is the nVidia 7900 series. ATI has been bought out by AMD, and they need time to figure out new goals for their company. The now available ATI cards are showing problems with compatibility in games and Multimedia apps, but the nVidia 7900 series is rising above the crowd in every respect. The cheaper cards among the new pci-e breed are crippled and tend to do their functions in software rather than on-board hardware. That is not good at any price. And indeed, the 7900 series require a decent power supply like the TruePower 480 watt in an Antec SLK1650B case. After that, you need to know about warranty and tech support for the products you choose. That is a bit tricky, and you can throw away a lot of money if you buy into the hype surrounding the "kid-stuff" mobos and low-price companies on the net. I recommend that you join us in the hardware groups on Usenet, and read for a while before you jump into a build.

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Well, I'll take a look...
by 70441.2227 / September 15, 2006 3:08 PM PDT

Hi,
Thanks for the advice. I am going to take a look at the hardware groups on Usenet. Do the have a forum dedicated to building PC's? I wish all the major middle of the road BB's had a forum on just building your own PC.
About my interest in building against buying. Over the years I have been inside the boxes of my PC's quite a bit. Adding HDD's, memory, replacing power supplies, repacing cards, adding cards, etc. My son recently built his own PC and I helped a little bit. But, I mostly just watched him do the work. We talked quite a bit about it. I liked doing it. As it turned out, he built one that was quite cost effective. And, I think faster than comparable computers. Plus, he got to hand pick his components. I find that interesting. Today's computer come a glut of software. And, 90% of it is not wanted or not used. And, can lead to many problems. Especially if try to uninstall some of it. Maybe not everyone wants to use Windows or Office or MP3 downloads or whatever? I think all the pre-installed junk(and some of it is junk) they install on one's computer today actually slows down the computer. But, I am designing and building this PC. My son doesn't have the time to do the research, building, or installing of software on a new computer.

Thanks,
Bob

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Start with a nice case
by johnbiest / September 15, 2006 3:36 PM PDT

I'm with you - I like to build 'em just to have a clean install of Windows to start with.

I've bought enough parts to build about a half dozen computers, and there is only one idea I would really push hard: a good case and power supply. Antec has been giving big rebates at CompUSA lately, selling rock solid cases with power supplies for about $50. The side fits well, and best of all (if you like to change things a lot), it's very easy to change out both the 3.5" and 5.25" drives. (Plus, it has a hinged front door to hide all my different colored drives.)

I've actually had no-name power supplies pop and take some components with them, so I put Antec PSs into everything now.

Good luck with the build.

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I've heard...
by 70441.2227 / September 16, 2006 4:10 AM PDT
In reply to: Start with a nice case

Hi,
I've heard you should get the biggest power supply you can afford?
Do you have a any model numbers for cases? Or, recommed a particular one.
I'm going to take a look in the next few days.
Thanks for all your posts. I notice you are a big contributor.

BobC

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Power supplies
by johnbiest / September 16, 2006 11:45 AM PDT
In reply to: I've heard...

Yeah, that's good advice. There is a ballpark formula out there somewhere, where your motherboard, hard drives, disk drives, add-in cards, etc., all have a number of watts they need (I don't remember the values, unfortunately), and you should never go below that number. But generally, the higher # of watts, the better, as long as it's a good name. Check out TomsHardware.com, who has a large archive of such mundane subjects.

When I bought a Compaq last year, I opened it up to find a Bestec 210W supply, which seemed like a cheapie to me, so I put in an Antec 350W. I suppose the guys at Compaq know what they are doing, but I added a few things to the computer, so I didn't want to test that theory.

The Antec case I bought is a SLK300B, which came with a 300W power supply. It's a little noisy, with two fans in the power supply plus one case fan. Inside, the 3.5" drives are held in a cage, which is held in by a latch. I have to remove the IDE cables from my motherboard to get it out. The 5.25" drives, though, come out nicely through the front of the case, held in by a locking slide mechanism. It's great if you change out drives often.

Antec also makes a case where the 3.5" drives sit sideways, so as soon as you open the side, you are looking at the back of the drives. The Sonata is also nice, and it is designed to be quiet - the power supply has a single cooling fan, and none in the case. If you don't have a big video card in there, cooling is usually not a problem - all you have to worry about is the CPU.

I didn't mean to drone on, but I didn't know how else to describe cases in any meaningful way.

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(NT) (NT) Thanks - Drone on - No message
by 70441.2227 / September 16, 2006 2:39 PM PDT
In reply to: Power supplies
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Er.. Right... NOT...!
by Wolfie2k5 / September 23, 2006 11:00 AM PDT
If you just want a middle of the road PC, you should buy Dell. However, if you are going to build, your interest is beyond a "normal" PC. In that case, you will certainly want to explore Multimedia and eventually expand your system in a direction that will be compatible with the new technology. Right now, the only video card that will guarantee full compliance in all these areas is the nVidia 7900 series. ATI has been bought out by AMD, and they need time to figure out new goals for their company. The now available ATI cards are showing problems with compatibility in games and Multimedia apps, but the nVidia 7900 series is rising above the crowd in every respect. The cheaper cards among the new pci-e breed are crippled and tend to do their functions in software rather than on-board hardware. That is not good at any price. And indeed, the 7900 series require a decent power supply like the TruePower 480 watt in an Antec SLK1650B case. After that, you need to know about warranty and tech support for the products you choose. That is a bit tricky, and you can throw away a lot of money if you buy into the hype surrounding the "kid-stuff" mobos and low-price companies on the net. I recommend that you join us in the hardware groups on Usenet, and read for a while before you jump into a build.

People build computers for MANY reasons - NOT just because they want something "beyond" normal. You don't have to build a monster PC. I've been putting my own boxes together for years and have yet to build a monster gaming rig. In fact, the last one I built is a fairly modest Vista Premium ready "grocery getter" consisting of an Athlon 64 3400+, 1 GB of RAM and a 200 GB SATA2 drive with a DVD ROM drive.

Buying a Dell isn't necessarily an option either. Their quality isn't THAT great. You can buy and build a very nice computer that will last you 3-5 years for the same or less than you can buy one from Dell or any other manufacturer AND get just as much, if not more performance out of it.

I have to partially disagree with your choice of a video card. Most all members of Nvidia's 6000 and 7000 series are more than adequate for most of what the guy wants to do with his computer. Not to mention, the 7900 series tends to want a larger power supply, cooling fans, water towers and such. I humbly submit that the Nvidia 7300 GS card with 256 MB is more than adequate for most needs - even some gaming.
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Video Cards for CS2
by mcgeheep / September 15, 2006 3:55 AM PDT

Gauge the price/perfomance on your use of CS2. I am a heavy CS2 user (multi-layered PSD's (25MB+ files)and camera RAW processing)...my machine at work sports a P4 3.2 with 2GB RAM and SyncMaster 213T powered a 128MB Nvidia Quadro4 980XL ($349). My home box is much, much less expensive....AMD 3200+, 1GB RAM, 19 in. Trinitron and an 256 MB ATI 9550 ($79). The difference between these two is almost as different as night and day (especially with camera RAW files). If you use CS2 as a hobby and speed isn't a problem and you can sit and wait for filters to work, screens to change, etc. you can go with the lower cost system requirements. If you make all or part of your living with CS2 no less than 2GB of RAM, a fast processor, a quality monitor and the horsepower to run it AND CS2. Quadro's are designed for that use and with less RAM perform better than a less expensive card with double the RAM. Hope this helps.

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My choice for CS2
by digidiva100 / September 15, 2006 5:53 AM PDT
In reply to: Video Cards for CS2

I am going to get a new computer custom built for CS2 and a little hobby video editing. I plan on a dual core processor, 2 gigs of 667 MHz RAM with ability to add 2 more later if the next Photoshop will support more than 2 - 3 gigs. At this point I plan on an nVidia 7600 GS card with 256 mb. I have not heard of the Quadro card before, but I think I'll just get the 7600 and plan on upgrading later when newer models arrive with better support for Aero instead of investing over $300 now and being stuck with it due to cost. I am not going to wait for Vista because I was advised to wait for a year or so or until an SP1 comes out. However I might wait till Oct. and see if any new video cards are announced.

It will be so much faster than my current Dell with 1 gig of RAM and a 64 mb nVidia card for processing 8 Mb raw files!

Judy H

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Video Card
by Owl / September 15, 2006 4:20 AM PDT

I get a long just fine with a 32mb video card and a 19" montior using PhotoshopCS.
The main points that I see for a video card are that it has enought memory to run your montior at the maximum resolution and color depth that you want, and wide screen ratios.And of course the right output type for your montior. As for Vista compatibly I would not be concerned it unless you have a compelling reason to upgrade to it as soon as it a available as the choice and prices of card will probably be much better and and bugs worked out after a year so.

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Adequate video card for your needs
by cesareDH / September 15, 2006 5:47 AM PDT
In reply to: Video Card

nVidia GeForce 6600 256MB will get it done for now, and in the future, if you're not a gamer.

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just my opinion
by dandyjim5 / September 15, 2006 5:38 AM PDT

For the applications you are using it seems to me that precessor speed and memory are more important. Spend your money on memory.

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Graphics Card Update...
by 70441.2227 / September 15, 2006 5:45 AM PDT

Hi Pete,
Thanks for the information. It was very concise, too the point, and informative. Plus, you give a lot of tips on what to watch out for when buying. I am relieved that I don't have to buy a very expensive grahics card. The only reviews I saw were for very expensive cards.
My screen resolution is 1280 x 1024 pixels. The monitor I have picked out is very basic LCD with 16ms response time and has an analog hookup. And, the motherboard I have selected has a AGP slot. There is nothing too fancy about my new computer. Functionality is what it is all about with me. Just a basic comuter to do what I ask it to do.

Thanks again,
Bob

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Don?t buy any, buy more memory instead
by Pepepaco1980 / September 15, 2006 6:35 AM PDT

With all those applications you will be running, you better buy more memory and use the integrated video card in your mother board.

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