Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

How To: Install a New Graphics Card

This was previously published at Blogcritics.org. You can read my article here.

Periodically, every computer needs an upgrade. Parts get old and, as software becomes more sophisticated, that old gear just doesn’t cut it. Trust me, I know the feeling. I went through this process last February. My main PC came with an nVidia 7300 LE graphics card – just barely better than having an integrated graphics chipset at the time and absolutely useless by today’s standards. I wanted to play HD video without overworking my processor. I wanted to play the latest video games without having to set them at minimum resolution and low detail. Oblivion and Bioshock are fun at 640X480, but they rely on more than their story line to create a quality experience. For example, I can either tell you about a magnificent painting, or I can show you the Mona Lisa. One option has decidedly more impact than the other.

XFX 8800 GT

XFX 8800 GT

The steps by which I upgraded my card were relatively simple. First, the obvious – pick a card to buy. I went with a PCI-Express card. PCI-Express is currently the standard port for graphics cards; older computers may use an AGP port. The card I purchased was the nVidia 8800 GT, which offered excellent value for its price. It gave me an exponential performance increase without breaking the bank, and would last me at least a year or two. When purchasing a card, I recommend avoiding brick and mortar stores. Go with an online vendor such as Newegg, Tiger Direct, or Zip Zoom Fly. They offer better prices and often have specials such as sales or free shipping.

Device Manager

Device Manager

After my new card arrived, I went through the process of preparing to install my new card. I went into the Device Manager feature of Windows (Start > Control Panel > System > Hardware > Device Manager) and selected Display Adapter from the drop-down list. I highlighted the 7300 LE currently in place and selected Uninstall from the toolbar at the top of the window. Uninstalling the current card’s drivers is the best way to avoid problems later. You don’t want them conflicting with the new card (if you’re using integrated graphics, you don’t have to worry about this step, but you will need to take an extra one later). Afterward, I shut down the computer and unplugged all the cords from the back of the PC.

Once everything was unplugged, I opened up my computer. Most have screws on the back panel that allows the user to get inside the tower; others have some sort of “easy-open” feature. Mine had the latter. After opening my computer, I made sure to ground myself against a metal surface. This eliminated risk of electro-static discharge when touching PC components, which can destroy fragile computer hardware. Toward that end, your new card will come packaged in a static-free bag. Keep this so you have something to store your old card in. You’d be surprised how many situations there are where a backup card can come in handy.

Installing the card

Installing the card

The physical installation of a graphics card is surprisingly simple. If you’re using a PCI-E port, it will be the longest slot on your motherboard, oriented parallel to the ground and aligned with one of the expansion slots on the back panel of your computer. AGP Ports are aligned similarly, but are shorter. If you already have card in your PC, just use the same slot for simplicity’s sake. Line up your new card with the PCI-E slot so that the display adapters on the back of the card will poke out of the expansion slot. Firmly and carefully push down on the card until it until it is firmly seated in the slot. You should hear a click. Secure the card by screwing the back plate onto the expansion slot.

Six pin PCI-E power connector

Six pin PCI-E power connector

Examine your card for power sockets. Lower-end cards do not need them, as they draw enough power from the PCI-E slot, but more expensive cards require one or two cables from your power supply. My 8800 GT required a single rectangular six-pin power connector; my friend Raymond’s card uses two such power connectors. It is important to verify that your power supply has sufficient capacity for your card. Check not only the total wattage of the power supply, but the amperage as well. This information is generally displayed on a sticker on the side of your power supply. If you do not provide the card with the power it requires, it is possible to permanently damage your card.

Once you’ve successfully installed your card, close the case, reattach any cables, and boot up your computer. Use the CD included with your card to install the necessary drivers for the card, or simply go to the manufacturer’s website and download the latest driver. Restart your computer to finalize the installation of the software. If you were previously using integrated graphics, this is when your extra step comes in. When the boot screen comes up, press whatever function key opens your BIOS (usually F9 or F10). Navigate to the video adapter section and opt to use your new card instead of the integrated option. Save, and exit back to the boot process.

That’s it! You’ve finished installing your new graphics card. Enjoy the performance improvements, which will be most readily noticeable when playing videogames. The change from playing something at 640X480 to full HD (1920X1200) is a beautiful thing, trust me.

If you ever have problems with your new card, don’t worry. There are several support options out there. The easiest is to try doing a web search for the name of your card, paired with a short description of the problem you’re having. There are always others out there who have had the exact same problem you’re currently experiencing. If that doesn’t work, contact the card’s manufacturer and speak with tech support.

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October 9, 2008 - Posted by | Tech | , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Thanks, keep up your great post !

    Comment by Tony - Free-games-247.com | November 4, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] Hello, Nikon D60. You’re A Sexy Beast. Excessive? Perhaps. At the same time, the transition from an Olympus FE-140 to a Nikon D60 is similar to what I experienced when I switched video cards in my desktop from an nVidia 7300LE to an 8800GT. […]

    Pingback by Hello, Nikon D60. You’re A Sexy Beast. « Tech + Lifestyle: Enhance Your World | March 27, 2009 | Reply


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