Graphics Board Shopping Tips
When shopping for graphics boards, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by features and prices. However, most people live quite happily without a $500 graphics board. If you stick to what you need and follow these tips, you should be able to get a board at a price you can smile about.
Go for midrange boards: Unless you need the ultimate gaming board (and have a brand-new, high-end PC that can use it to maximum advantage), aim below the top. You can usually save at least $100, and you won't sacrifice much in terms of performance.
Gamers need more power: If you're planning to play new games, you'll want a powerful board that supports the DirectX 10 API and has 512MB of DDR SDRAM.
Review the reviews: Many major technology publications--including PC World--run regular reviews of graphics boards and benchmark them against the competition. It's a good way to familiarize yourself with the different boards and see how they perform against one another.
Check the connection: PCI Express cards can't fit in AGP slots and vice versa, so check what your PC can accommodate before you buy. Similarly, make sure there is room inside your PC for a board that takes up two slots.
Shop online: Online stores can have a greater range of boards at a greater range of prices than brick-and-mortar retail chains. Also, prices fluctuate based on inventory and the age of the chip set. Check around before buying.
Consider your needs: Don't throw away money on features you won't be using. Unless you're planning to capture and edit digital video, for example, get a board without video- and audio-in ports. By getting only what you need, you can save money or spend the money on features (such as more RAM) that matter more to you.
Check the list of included software: Many graphics boards include a bundle of utilities, games, or video editing software, so find out what comes with your purchase. If a couple of $30 to $50 games you plan to buy anyway are bundled in the package, a seemingly pricey board can turn into a good deal. Plus, bundled overclocking software (when used according to manufacturer's recommendations) can improve your board's performance.
Beware of HDCP:If you want to watch HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc content, then you'll need a card that implements HDCP--not one that just supports it. For more information on all that you need, see "High-Def Movies on a PC."
For more information on graphics boards tested by PC World, go to the appropriate links on our Hardware Reviews Web page (prices as of April 2007).