Sandra, when they talk about "shared video memory", they mean the video board built into the computer is using up some of your regular system memory as part of its normal operation, rather than the video adapter having its own dedicated memory chips built onto it.
(So, for example, if your computer comes with 256MB of system memory, but the computer has "shared video memory" - it may "borrow" 32MB from your 256MB, effectively leaving Windows with 224MB to work with.)
As long as you have enough system memory installed in the computer, this probably isn't a really big problem in and of itself, but there's another "catch". The video chipsets that used shared memory are generally used because they're inexpensive. They're not geared towards "performance". They're probably just fine for web surfing, email and basic photo editing. But if you're planning on playing games, video editing and movie-watching - you could easily be left wanting something more.
If you're really happy with everything else about the computer in question though, the shared video memory still might not be a "deal breaker". On most of these systems, you can install a better video card after the fact. (You may want to verify that the computer does, indeed, have a usable "AGP" or "PCI express" type video slot inside it for this purpose.) If so, installing a new video board in that slot should automatically disable the built-in video - and all you'd have to do is move your monitor's video cable to the plug on the back of the new board you put in.) Good video cards for gaming aren't cheap (which is why so many manufacturers give you inexpensive, relatively poor-performing video in the systems the way you buy them "off the shelf"), but you wouldn't have to make the investment until you're really ready to use it, if you go this route.
Submitted by: Tom W.
When you see the notation that a computer uses shared memory for the video, it means that the computer doesn't have a separate video card. Instead, it uses a function of the motherboard's chipset to display video. The other marketing term sometimes used for this is onboard video. The term shared memory refers to the fact that the onboard video doesn't have its own dedicated memory to use as a frame buffer like a video card does. Instead, the chipset uses a portion of the system memory (RAM) as a frame buffer. That's why in a system that uses onboard video Windows will report that the amount of installed memory is smaller than the size of the modules installed. For example, if the system has a 256MB RAM module installed but has the video memory share set at 64MB, Windows will report that 192MB of RAM is installed.
With modern processors and motherboards, and inexpensive system RAM, onboard video is not a handicap for everyday computing tasks like using MS Office, the internet, and email. It won't affect photoediting or movie watching either, usually. However throw games into the equation and you've got a problem. With the exception of some chipsets which have versions of the nVidia GeForce or ATI Radeon video chipset built in, onboard video will make games run like slideshows. Even those with the more capable video chipsets aren't going to be speed demons because they contain detuned versions of several generations-old video chipsets. If you want to be able to play 3D games on the computer, you're going to need one which has a dedicated game-capable video card.
The most inexpensive computers, usually from the large brand name companies, have no capacity for even installing a high performance video card because they don't have the necessary AGP or PCI-X slot. So what you should buy is a computer which either already has a games-capable video card installed when you purchase it, or has an AGP or PCI-X slot built-in for upgrading from the onboard video. This means that you aren't going to be able to use the slim-case $299 computers that are so heavily advertised, but it doesn't mean that you have to get one of the $6000 dual video card gaming monsters in a custom airbrushed case either.
Just to confuse the issue just a bit more, if the system you buy includes a flat panel LCD monitor, you should look into that monitor's specs regarding response time if you are going to want to watch movies or play fast moving games on it. Less expensive LCD monitors often use slow-reacting LCD panels that cause blurring and streaking (ghosting) of fast moving images, making movie watching and game playing an unpleasant experience. Older style CRT monitors don't have this issue at all, but it is something to watch for when buying a system with an LCD, especially in low-priced packages that include the monitor.
Submitted by: Steve S. of Osage Beach, MO
Dear Sandra W.,
When you're in the market for a new PC, you will usually come across the option you described. It's what is commonly know as getting either integrated graphics (Intel Extreme Graphics 2) or dedicated graphics (i.e., ATI Radeon, nVidia GeForce). There is a difference, often quite significant, especially given the tasks you hope to work on.
First of all, when they refer to memory, it means one of two things: system memory or video memory. When you choose integrated graphics, what is actually happening is your computer is using a portion of your system memory to run graphics. For example, if you buy a system with 512MB of memory and the specifications state it has a 64MB integrated graphics system, it means that you have 448MB of memory that the system has access to and 64MB that the graphics has access to (448+64=512MB). When you choose dedicated graphics (a video card installed), it is exactly that: the memory on the board is entirely separate and dedicated solely to graphics. For example, if you buy a system with 512MB of memory and an ATI Radeon X800 video card with 256MB of memory, your system can access the entire 512MB of memory on the motherboard; the video graphics subsystem has its on memory on its own card, so it can access the entire 256MB of memory that is for its exclusive use. The advantage here is the memory on a dedicated video card can move at the speed the graphics chip operates at, resulting in vastly superior graphics as compared to integrated graphics. Also, having dedicated graphics takes quite a load off the processor subsystem because the graphics card has its own processor dedicated solely to graphics (hence the chipset names such as ATI Radeon and nVidia GeForce).
Second, integrated graphics is not necessarily a bad thing, but not one I would personally choose. The decision lies with each individual based on their usage. If you were to purchase a computer with integrated graphics, you can always upgrade to a video card if your system has a PCI Express x16 slot. This used to be AGP graphics, but as always with computers, things change. Part of the issue is you will probably save money initially by going with integrated graphics; you can always upgrade to a card later. However, given that you plan on watching movies, playing games, and editing video, dedicated graphics is the way to go. This allows you to put the strain on your system, and it will likely handle it without a hiccup. The system processor will process the data for your game, video, etc., and the graphics chip will render all your graphics.
I hope I have been able to answer most of your questions and adress most of your concerns. Good luck on your new computer purchase, and I am sure you will make the decision that is most appropriate to and beneficial to your situation.
Submitted by: Eduardo G.
First, a few definitions are in order... Video memory refers to memory that memory that the graphic processor (GPU) uses to store bits of the image you see on your monitor. It stores color information for each pixel on the screen. Way back in the "dark ages" of computing, (i.e. the 1980's and 1990's), a video card was - as the name suggests, a card that was plugged into the computer's main board. Since it was separate, it required its own memory.
The trend as of say, the last 5 years or so has been to consolidate video into the circuitry of the motherboard. Some bean counting electronics wizard who designed these consolidated motherboards figured out that they no longer needed to add extra video memory (which, at the time was NOT as cheap as it is these days) dedicated to video when there was a pool of memory already on the system - the main system memory. By using system memory, they could shave the cost of having separate (and expensive) video memory from the price of making the motherboard. The upshot of this is a cheaper system. Fewer components often yield lower prices.
This can be a problem if you don't have a lot of overall system memory to begin with. Some high end video devices can make use of 128 or more MBs of RAM to make things look good - especially when playing games or processing video. If you've only got 256 MB RAM on your system and the video subsystem is taking half of it away, your system is going to be very sluggish especially with Windows XP.
Therefore, if you're going with a motherboard that has onboard video, it's best to have LOTS of extra RAM that can be dedicated to video. I would recommend a bare minimum of 640 MB overall RAM. That'll give you 512 MB for the system and 128 MB dedicated to video. Remember, when buying a computer, the MORE RAM you add, the better your system performance will be.
The downside to having built in video is that you're stuck to whatever the motherboard comes with. On the bright side, most modern video chipsets are good enough for most tasks. You'd have to look awful hard to find one that won't work with most PC based MPEG (DVD) players or most games. It?s generally a good idea to look through all of the games and applications you?re planning on playing/using to see what they suggest for their recommended systems.
Hedging your bets...
Many of the lower-ended motherboards do not have an AGP (Advanced Graphics Port) slot so you can add a better video card should you want to, or need to, somewhere down the line. On the plus side, it's cheaper - once again, the mantra "fewer components, lower cost." The big tick in the negative column, however, is that once your system?s warranty expires, should you need to replace the onboard video because it died or want to replace the onboard video with a newer, more powerful video card with all the cool features (TV capture, S-Video output, etc?), you will probably have to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water - an upgrade will mean a new motherboard and with the rate things are changing these day, quite possibly will mean new RAM and a CPU - at which point, you might as well buy a new computer. Of course, this IS what the manufacturers want - you spending money on their wares. Getting another $500 to $1500 from you is better for them than the cheap fix - a $50 video card.
Video cards come in many flavors from generic low end starting at about $35 and going all the way up to gaming specialty cards going for over $400. Most all of them are made to make use of the AGP slot on a motherboard. PCI slot video cards are slower and getting harder to find and have fewer features than their faster AGP cousins. Thus, it?s best to get a system with an AGP slot built onto the motherboard. It doesn?t add much to the cost of the system and, if nothing else, gives you some insurance.
Submitted by: Pete Z.
When the specs state that the video memory is shared, they mean that instead of a separate video card, the system is using a video chip situated on the motherboard and that the chip is sharing the system memory rather than using it's own dedicated memory. All video cards use memory to do their job, whether they use the systems or their own.
Separate video cards have their own memory, ranging from 64MB's to 512MB's.
An on-board video card is adequate for web surfing, using basic applications like a word processor, spread sheet, simple photo editing etc. In other words tasks that don't need much video horsepower. If it is sharing the systems memory, and you have 512MB's of system memory or more, you will have no problems doing basic tasks on your system, since you will still have well over the 256MB's that you require to run your system, as long as you don't run a large number of applications at once. If you do that, you may find it necessary to add more memory to the system so it can keep that many tasks open without running out of system resources.
Where you will run into problems is if you are running applications that require a more powerful video card with a lot of resident memory available to it. By the way, any video card worth it's salt will have 128MB's or 256MB's of it's own memory. Don't bother with a system that has a 64MB video card. You will be buying old technology. Also the newest video cards are PCI Express cards. AGP video cards are still excellent, but the newest systems have PCI Express video. A separate video card, depending on the card of course, will do a better job of running video intensive tasks such as games, graphics applications etc. Also, because the video card has its own memory, the system will be able to use all its memory for running programs, since it won't have to share its memory with the video card.
I recommend either purchasing a higher end system that includes a separate video card or at least getting a system that has a video card slot so that you can have one added later if necessary. Be careful, many of the entry level systems do not have a video card slot. Keep away from them.
If you will definitely be playing games on your system and doing video editing, rather than having to start upgrading your system soon after you get it home, you may as well get the right piece of equipment to begin with. A system with a separate video card will probably have better parts as well, since they are meant for higher performance in general.
Please let us know more specifically which programs you will be using as well as your budjet. Also, let us know which systems you are considering. With that added info, I'm sure you will recieve a great deal of advice.
Hope I've been some help to you.
Submitted by: Larry H.
This is a great question and one that is very confusing for the average PC user.
To start with, video systems require a RAM memory area to store the data about what you see on the monitor screen. This can be supplied by memory on a video card (dedicated memory) or by system memory (shared memory). In a dedicated memory scheme, the memory for the video is supplied by a dedicated video card and is not used by the operating system, such as Windows XP. In a shared memory scheme, the memory for the video is supplied by the RAM that the operating system uses. This memory area cannot be used by the OS and is subtracted from available memory by the BIOS. What this means is that if the system has 512 MB of RAM and 128 MB is used for video, than the OS will only have 384 MB available to use, not the full 512 MB. You will have to make allowances for that when you look at application requirements.
For general use, shared memory video is ok. It is much slower than dedicated memory, but fast enough to not impact daily usage. However, it is in no way suitable for games, video editing and any other high demand video. For those types of applications, a good video card is a requirement. In fact, a lot of the latest games will not work with shared memory video. They require a good video card to be playable.
This does not mean that the system you are looking at is a bad system. It probably has an available AGP or PCIe video card slot for upgrading and very good video cards are available online and at electronics stores for good prices. Simply get a video card that meets your needs and put it in the system. The BIOS will detect the change and release the reserved memory back to the system for the OS.
The main thing you are looking for in a new system is amount of RAM, size of hard drive, type of optical drive, and USB port placement. The brand of CPU and speed are not as important as you might think, since a system with a fast CPU and inadequate RAM and/or too small a hard drive is slower and more frustrating to use than a system with a slower CPU and plenty of RAM and larger hard drive. The minimum amount of RAM I would recommend is 512 MB with 1 gigabyte if you can afford it. Since you want to do video editing, which takes a lot of disk space, go for the biggest drive you can get, such as 200 or 300 gigabytes. You will be surprised at how fast you can eat up disk space with videos.
For advice on a good video card, search CNET and Tom?s Hardware Guide (http://www.tomshardware.com). Tom?s Hardware Guide is unbiased and very thorough with their hardware reviews and they have a great video card section to help you determine what is best for you.
I hope this helps you with your decision.
Submitted by: David L. of Mesquite, TX