What Is a Video Card?

Definition of a video card and how to download video card drivers

The video card is an expansion card that allows the computer to send graphical information to a video display device such as a monitor, TV, or projector.

Some other names for a video card include graphics card, graphics adapter, display adapter, video adapter, video controller, and add-in boards (AIBs).

A staggering number of companies manufacture video cards, but almost every one includes a graphics processing unit (GPU) from either NVIDIA Corporation or AMD.

XFX AMD Radeon HD 5450 Video Card.
XFX Inc.

Video Card Description

A video card is a piece of computer hardware that's rectangular in shape with numerous contacts on the bottom of the card and one or more ports on the side for connection to video displays and other devices.

The video card installs in an expansion slot on the motherboard. While most video cards are of the PCIe format, they come in other formats as well, including PCI and AGP. These additional formats are older standards and don't communicate with the CPU and other components as quickly as PCIe.

In a desktop, since the motherboard, case, and expansion cards are designed with compatibility in mind, the side of the video card fits just outside the back of the case when installed, making its ports (e.g., HDMI, DVI, or VGA) available for use.

Some video cards have only one port for connection to a standard monitor or projector while more advanced ones may have ports for connections to multiple output sources including additional monitors and televisions. Still, other cards may have inputs for video editing and other advanced tasks.

Laptops, tablets, and even smartphones, all have video cards, albeit smaller and most often non-replaceable.

Important Video Card Facts

Each motherboard supports only a limited range of video card formats, so be sure to always check with your motherboard manufacturer before making a purchase.

Many modern computers don't have video expansion cards but instead, have onboard video GPUs integrated directly onto the motherboard. This allows for a less expensive computer but also for a less powerful graphics system. This option is wise for the average business and home user not interested in advanced graphics capabilities or the latest games.

Most motherboards with onboard video allow BIOS to disable the chip in order to make use of a video card installed to an expansion slot. Using a dedicated video card may improve overall system performance because it includes its own RAM, power regulators, and cooling so that the system RAM and CPU can be used for other things.

What Video Card Do I Have?

In Windows, the easiest way to see what video card you have is to use Device Manager. You can find it listed under the Display adapters section.

Another way is through a free system information tool like Speccy, which identifies the manufacturer, model, BIOS version, device ID, bus interface, temperature, amount of memory, and other video card details.

Opening the computer case is another option, allowing you to see the video card for yourself. Doing this is, of course, required if you plan to replace the card, but just identifying information about it is best done through the software mentioned above.

How to Install or Update a Video Card Driver

Like all hardware, a video card requires a device driver in order to communicate with the operating system and other computer software. The same process you'd use to update any sort of hardware applies to updating a video card driver.

If you know what driver you need, you can go directly to the manufacturer's website and manually download it. This is always the best way to get drivers because you can be confident that it's stable and doesn't contain any malware.

If you don't know the specific video card driver that you need, or if you'd rather not download and install it manually, you can use a free program to automatically detect the driver you need and even download it for you.

FAQ
  • What might be the cause of a black screen right after you install a new video card?

    You may experience a black screen if you inserted the video card while the power wasn't completely off. Also, the card may not be seated properly in the PCI-e slot.

  • How do I overclock a video card?

    To overclock a video card, figure out the make and model of your video graphics card, enter it into Overclock.net, and determine its maximum core clocks, memory clocks, temperature, and voltage. Next, update the card's drivers and download overclocking software such as MSI Afterburner and Unigine Heaven. Finally, establish your card's performance baseline and see how far you can overclock the card.

  • How do I clean a video card?

    Be sure to unplug your computer and remove it from any power sources. Use a can of compressed air to clear away dust and debris, and blow off both sides of your cards, clearing dirt off shrouds and fans. Use a Q-tip with isopropyl alcohol to clean any caked-on debris.

  • What video card should I get?

    There are several things you should take into consideration before buying a graphics card. First, make sure the GPU is compatible with your motherboard, monitor, and power supply. You also need to figure out your budget because mid-range GPUs can cost around $250, while high-end graphics cards can cost several hundreds of dollars.

  • What is a video capture card?

    A video capture card converts a video signal into a digital format. Capture cards are commonly used to stream video games on sites like Twitch and YouTube because they allow you to record game footage from a console.

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