Karbosguide.com - Module 7b.3

The video card (continued)


The contents:

  • Video cards and chips, different brands
  • Choosing the right video card is hard
  • Spend your money well ..
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  • Video cards and chips, different brands

    Let me comment on a couple of brands:

    The Canadian firm ATI was among the first to produce accelerated video cards, when the graphic milieus came on board in the early nineties with Windows . One of the company's first chip was called mach 8. That had an 8 bit graphic processor, which was extremely fast relative to others at the time. But they were extremely expensive. I bought one!

    Later, ATI presented mach 32 and mach 64, which were 32 bit and 64 bit graphic processors, respectively. The next accelerator chip was called ATI Rage 128. It worked with a 128 bit bus connecting the onboard RAM and the processor and it holds a new type of cache as well. Later the RADEON chip was the top model. All the way, ATI has produced solid video cards with good quality drivers. Today they are available in many price ranges, including low cost editions. You will never go wrong with an ATI card (some gamers may not agree ...).

    Matrox

    The Matrox company is also Canadian, founded in 1976. They make excellent cards with their own accelerator chips. They only make a few models. Regardless of which Matrox card you buy, it is an excellent product. Matrox comes with good drivers. Obviously to be recommended. Matrox Mystique 220 and Millennium II as well as G400 were excellent cards I personally have been very satisfied with.

    The Matrox Millennium G200 with its 128-bit DualBus delivers high end 2D, 3D and video performance. You find it in cards like Matrox Millennium and Marvel (including ports and software for Video editing). Great cards for office use!

    The G400 (sixth generation of their graphics controllers) supports AGP 1X, 2X, and 4X. It has a dual 128 bit bus between the chip and the RAM allowing simultanously reading and writing. G400 has hardware-accelerated Environment Bump Mapping (!?!), which together with newest versions of DirectX should give a better depth perspective on screen. And G450 is even improved.

    Tseng has made graphic chips for many years. In the good old DOS days, an ET 4000 card was one of the best on the market. It was equipped with Tseng's ET 4000 chip, which was excellent for DOS usage. Since then came the somewhat overlooked ET4000/W32 chip. I had good experiences with that on some low cost ViewTop cards. Tseng's latest chip was ET 6000, which mostly sold in the cheapest cards.

    S3 was big name in graphic chips. They did not manufacture their own cards, but their chips are used in numerous cards. Companies like IBM, Diamond, Number Nine, and ViewTop/Britek use S3s different accelerator chips with widely varying results.

    A small S3 Trio 64 chip was mounted in an old IBMs PC 300. On paper, the controller is not very powerful. Yet, it produced a very fine image. Thus, the quality depends just as much on other video card design features as on the accelerator chip.


    Choosing the right video card is hard

    It is difficult to choose a video card, because there is such a multitude of different ones. And you can read test reports forever. Yet, they may not be particularly useful.

    One of the best cards I ever laid my hands on was IBM's XGA graphics, which unfortunately was never available separately. Once they provided a working Windows driver, this card was in a class by itself. This was back in the early 1990s, where poor graphics was a big problem on PCs. Today most graphic controlling chip sets work fine.

    One of the problems with video cards was that the same graphics chip may be used in both good and inferior video cards. This is especially true for S3 chips, which were used in fine cards from the vendor Number Nine and also was used in ViewTops discount cards. When a fundamentally good chip is found both in great and in mediocre cards, you cannot select the card based on what chip it uses!

    Another problem was in the test methods, which the computer magazines use. They measure exclusively speed . Speeds are measured with special programs, which read how fast the screen image can be built, etc. That's fine but it does not say much about image quality, as perceived by the eye. Is it sharp, bright, not flickering, comfortable? Those are more subjective and abstract qualities, which can never be evaluated by a test program.

    You should choose a card based on its specifications. For example, can it deliver a 1024 x 768 image at 85 Hz? It should be able to do that, but not just in theory. It must also be able to do that in real life. Here is where the driver comes in.


    Spend your money well

    When you read all these technical explanations, the choosing and buying remains. In my mind, the screen image is without doubt extremely important for your daily work. It is also an area with vast quality variations.

    Often PCs have been advertised with a very cheap monitor and the very cheapest video card. Many would be happy with this equipment. The PC works fine and they may never have seen a high quality screen image.

    I will strongly recommend that you invest a little more, to get a better video system. Specifically I would recommend a 15" or 17" LCD display or a 19" Trinitron monitor. It later could be a Mag or ViewSonic. Both make excellent Trinitron screens at reasonable prices. Combine the monitor with an ATI or maybe Matrox video card and you will have a good video system!

    However, to make a good and lasting purchase, you have to understand your own video demands. Do you need:

  • Office programs with 2D graphics?
  • 3D games?
  • DVD acceleration?
  • DVI interface?

    You should get a demonstration of the card and monitor you want to buy. Especially if it is in the low/medium price group, I will strongly recommend that you see it connected. Then evaluate the screen image. How sharp is it? Does it flicker? Ask about resolution, color depth and refresh rate. If the dealer cannot answer these questions, I would not trust him. Finally, find out which driver the card needs. Read on...


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    To learn more

    Read about video basics in Module 7a

    Read about sound cards in Module 7c

    Read about digital sound and music in Module 7d

    Read about FPU work in 3D graphics

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