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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Bigger, Better Video Card

One surprising quirk about Windows Vista is its increased demands on the video adapter. That's because the new Aero interface offers a dynamic desktop, thumbnail and taskbar previews, and glasslike windows. This puts big demands on the graphics processor or GPU.

To run Vista, your graphics adapter must at a minimum be compatible with Microsoft's DirectX 9 technology, which is a set of Windows tools and components inside the operating system that drive what you see on the screen. That said, Vista ships with DirectX 10, which runs on DX9-compatible video adapters today. In the future, new generations of video cards will be able to harness new 3D features employed by DX10.

What You'll Need

Hardware-wise, if you want to run Vista Ultimate, you'll need a video card that has at least 128 megabytes of video RAM or VRAM (see Figure 4.8). I would argue that a machine with a video card with a minimum of 256MB of VRAM is really what you should be aiming for.

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 With Vista, you'll need a video card with 128MB of VRAM or more, like this ATI Radeon X1900. (Photo courtesy of ATI.)

In my Dell desktop machine, I run an nVidia GeForce 6800 card with 512MB of VRAM, and on the release version of Vista Ultimate, I've so far had no problem with what I see on display.

If your current system has a graphics adapter that's integrated directly onto the motherboard, your quickest way to get better graphics performance is to add a separate graphics card into your system.

Not all machines will have an expansion slot. An old 2.8GHz budget machine I bought from Dell a year or so ago doesn't have a graphics card expansion slot, so that machine is better used with Windows XP.

Determining DirectX on XP

You can find out what version of DirectX your XP (or older) system uses by clicking Start, Run, and then typing dxdiag (see Figure 4.9) and clicking OK.

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 Use the dxdiag utility to figure out what version of DirectX your old system is running. This Pentium III computer uses DX8.1.

If a dialog box pops up, asking whether it's OK to run the program, click Yes. When the DirectX diagnostic console pops up, look for the last item on the System Information list on the System tab. It will report what version of DirectX you're running.

On the Display tab, you'll see info about your video adapter, including the make, model, and approximate video memory (see Figure 4.10).

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10 This Pentium III computer has a paltry 8MB of VRAM and is not suitable for any flavor of Vista.

It will list N/A if your computer uses graphics that are integrated onto the motherboard, because integrated graphics adapters don't have their own memory; they share the system RAM with the CPU.

Click through the other tabs (or click Next Page repeatedly) to get more information on your system, including audio specs.

If you want to run the Aero interface in Vista, you may need to upgrade your video card. So check to see whether there's a card slot inside your system that's available for an upgrade card or that your existing card already occupies.

It's worth remembering that a higher-end graphics card will consume more power. If your computer's power supply unit is already stretched to the limit, your system performance may become unreliable as the power requirements peak inside the computer. If you've upgraded or added other components in the machine since you bought it—like a second hard drive or DVD drive—and you haven't upgraded from the stock power supply that came with the machine, you might run into power problems if you upgrade to a Vista-compatible graphics card.

If this is the case, you may either steel yourself to install a larger power supply, or instead you may now be seeing the merits of saving for a new Vista-configured machine.

Upgrading Your Graphics Card: The Nitty Gritty

If you go ahead with a video card upgrade, you'll need to match the card with your motherboard. The standard graphics card interface over the last number of years was AGP (short for Accelerated Graphics Port), but newer machines use a new slot called PCI Express (PCI-X).

It's important to make sure not only that you get a card with the right interface, but also that your motherboard is compatible with the card that you get. You'll often see a multiplier rating beside the AGP interface, such as "AGP 8x." Some of the newer, faster graphics cards may not be compatible with older motherboards.

Check the specifications of your motherboard to see what type of graphics card it can handle. A system or motherboard manual or manufacturer's website should be able to tell you. Also investigate in the system specs what the maximum speed of that card can be.

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