How to Upgrade and Install a Video Card?
by Ryan Pollack
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A video card upgrade is one of the biggest steps you can take to improve the gaming and multimedia power of a system. Video cards are based on a chipset (a certain combination of circuitry and processors that gives a video card certain features and connects it with the rest of the computer). As time passes your video card's chipset slowly becomes obsolete as developers add new features to their software and take advantage of new features in newer chipsets. If you try to run software that takes advantage of a feature, and your card does not support it then the performance of the program will be poor or the program will not run at all. To solve this problem you can purchase a newer video card with a newer chipset, a faster processor and more memory.
This guide assumes that you have decided your current video card is not performing well with today's applications and that you have decided to remedy this situation by purchasing a newer, more up-to-date video card.
- Deciding on a Video Card
- Preparing for Installation
- Removing the old Video Card
- Installing the new Video Card
Deciding on a Video Card
Although this guide will not go into choosing a specific video card, there are some physical concerns that must be thought about in order to successfully use a video card you purchase. I will briefly go over those concerns.
The major physical configuration issue when getting a video card is what slot types you can use in your system's motherboard. Each slot type is commonly referred to by its acronym.
Two types of slots, and thus two types of video cards, are available:
To use an AGP graphics card, you need to have a compatible AGP slot on your motherboard. You can check with your computer's manufacturer (or your motherboard's manufacturer) to determine if you have an AGP slot or not.
- PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) A slot designed to accommodate a wide range of computer parts, including video cards, sound cards, and modems. Your computer will contain up to six PCI slots.
- AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) Developed more recently, the AGP slot (there is only one on a motherboard) is dedicated solely to video cards. As such, AGP video cards are more powerful than PCI cards.
Figure 1 shows the location of these slots on a typical motherboard. You simply insert the video card into an empty slot.
Figure 1: The AGP and PCI slots are outlined in red
Warning: When picking out a video card, keep your slot type in mind! If you don't have an AGP slot in your computer, then purchasing an AGP card will be worthless.
For additional physical concerns please see the appendix of this guide. For suggestions on cards and more information on choosing a video card please see our separate how to choose page or ask a question on our forum.
Preparing for Installation
Before you start installing a video card, make sure you have the following items with you:
Tip: An optional item to have is an anti-static bracelet, sometimes called a grounding wrist strap. Wearing one of these will prevent you from accidentally damaging your computer with static electricity. You don't need one, though, if you follow the steps (outlined below) to ensure your computer's safety.
- A Phillips-head screwdriver. Fit the screwdriver into the screws on the back of your computer to make sure that it is the appropriate size.
- The manual that came with your new video card
- A place to work that is not carpeted. Carpet is prone to building up static electricity.
- The instruction sheet that came with your case. You don't need this if you already know how to open your computer's case.
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Diagram of a typical video card
Figure 2 shows you what a typical video card looks like. Refer to this diagram if any of the terminology used in the instructions confuses you.
Figure 2: A Typical Video Card
Warning: Do not touch the gold contacts of your video card, or else you could damage it severely.
- Screw hole: The small hole where a screw attaches the video card to the computer case
- Monitor port: Where the monitor cable plugs in
- Metal bracket: Term for the metal piece attached to a video card that contains the monitor port and screw hole
- Gold contacts: The part of the video card that actually connects to your motherboard. This is the part of the video card that gets inserted into the slot.
Removing the driver for the current video card
Windows refers to your video card as a Display Adapter. To make the installation process easier, you must tell Windows to use its generic display adapter driver, which has settings that will work with every video card. Otherwise, your current video card settings might interfere with your new video card.
Note: If you are running Windows NT, 2000, or XP, make sure you are logged in as an Administrator. Otherwise you will be unable to complete these steps.
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- Locate the My Computer icon
- Right-click the My Computer icon, and select Properties
- If you are in Windows 95, 98, or ME, select the Device Manager tab.
- If you are using Windows NT, 2000, or XP, select the Hardware tab, then select the Device Manager button
- Double-click the menu item labeled Display adapters. Your current display adapter will appear immediately below as a separate menu item.
- Right-click the display adapter text that has just appeared. A menu with several options will appear.
- Select Remove or Uninstall from this menu. Figure 3 shows the Device Manager with the Uninstall option highlighted in Windows XP.
FIGURE 2: Device Manager with the Uninstall option highlighted
- Select Yes if any additional prompts appear. If Windows prompts you to restart your computer, select No.
- Shut down your computer normally.
Removing the Current Video Card
You're now ready to physically remove the old video card from your computer.
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- Locate your video card. On the back of your monitor, you will see two cables. One is plugged into the power outlet; the other one is plugged into the back of your computer. The attachment point of this second cable is your video card.
- Remove all the cables attached to the back of your computer.
- Place your computer on a workbench, a table, a large piece of cardboard, or a hardwood/tile floor. You shouldn't work on carpet since it builds up a large amount of static electricity that could easily damage your computer.
- Remove your computer's case. If the case comes off in parts, remove only the left side panel. Be sure to keep track of any screws you remove. Your computer's manual may assist in this task by directing you on how to remove the case.
- Place your computer on its side so that its inside is exposed and facing upwards. In this position, the bottom of the computer's case is closest to you. This arrangement will assist you in inserting and removing the video card by giving you a surface against which you can push.
Warning:Before you go ANY further, you must remove all static electricity from your body. This step is extremely important because you cannot feel the amount of static electricity necessary to damage your computer. To remove static electricity from your body, simply touch any non-painted metal part of the case frame (not any circuitry or the components themselves!). If you have a grounding wrist strap, attach it now. If not, touch your case frame several times during this procedure in order to disperse any static buildup.
- Look on the back of your computer, and find the port where your monitor cable was attached. Figure 4 shows you what a standard monitor port looks like:
Figure 4: A standard monitor port.
This is the port attached to your video card. The port is embedded in a strip of metal called a bracket.
- Look inside your computer case and locate the screw on the bracket that holds your video card in place (remember, this card has the bracket that is attached to the monitor port on the outside). Figure 5 shows the screw you are looking for:
Figure 5: The correct screw attached to your video card
- Remove this screw and set it aside.
Tip: You may wish to make sure you have removed the correct screw by gently running your finger along the edge of the card, towards the outside of the case. When your finger touches the metal bracket attached to the card, you should see an empty hole where the screw used to be.
- Check for any wires connected to a central chip on the video card that run to a white plug. If these wires are present, unplug them from their sockets before continuing.
- Grasp your video card using your fingertips. Get a hold on as little of the card as possible while still maintaining a firm grip.
- Gently, but firmly, pull the video card from out of its slot. Video cards tend to be seated quite tightly in their slots, so you may have to brace yourself against the case this is why you should have the case lying on its side.
Warning: It only takes a small, invisible fracture to permanently damage your video card. Treat your video card gently, and do not tug or yank on it.
As you pull the card out, you may gently rock it back and forth, but do NOT bend or twist the card itself (this includes pulling the card towards you or pushing it away from you). If you are having a hard time removing the card, check to make sure that you unscrewed the correct card.
- Place the newly removed card on a piece of cardboard or a paper towel. Do not let it come into contact with possible sources of static electricity. Handle the card by its edges and do not touch the gold contacts, or any circuitry, on the card.
Installing the New Video Card
Inserting the Video Card into Your Computer
Now that your old video card is safely removed, you're ready to install the new one. Essentially, this process is just a reversal of the removal process.
- Locate the proper slot for your new video card. In most cases, this slot will be the one where your old video card was. If you decided to switch to an AGP video card, locate the brown slot on the motherboard. This slot is above (towards the top of your case), and set back further from, all the other white slots.
Warning: Do not touch the gold contacts of your video card, or else you could damage it severely.
- Orient the gold contacts of your new video card towards its slot on the motherboard
- If necessary, flip the card so that its metal bracket is facing towards the back of the case. In this position, the top of the card will now be facing down (towards the bottom of the case). The gap in the gold contacts on the card will line up with the separation in the slot.
- Lightly hold the video card's gold contacts against the slot's edges.
Warning: It only takes a small, invisible fracture to permanently damage your video card. When inserting the card into the slot, be careful not to push too hard at the wrong angle, or you could break your video card. Treat it gently, and do not bend or twist it.
- Gently, but firmly, insert the card into the slot. A solid push straight down is usually enough to seat the video card in place. When your video card is seated correctly, the screw hole in its bracket will be flush against the screw hole in the case.
- Screw the card into place using the screw that came with your video card or the one used to secure your old video card.
- If the new video card has any wires attached to it, connect them to the power supply. Your video card manual will have more detailed instructions on this process.
Note: These wires operate the fan over the video card's central chip, and your card will overheat and fail under heavy use if you don't connect them. Not all video cards have these wires, but if they are present, you must connect them.
Completing the Installation
Now that your video card is safely secured, it's time to finish up the installation.
Note: If you do not see anything on your monitor, first make sure your monitor is on, and then make sure the cable is plugged in securely. Also double check to make sure that your new video cards is firmly and properly seated. Refer to your video card's manual for any further troubleshooting.
- Put the cover back on your computer's case. Your case's instruction sheet may assist in this process.
- Plug all cables back in to your computer. Be certain that the monitor cable is plugged in to your new video card and secured properly
- Turn your monitor on.
- Turn your computer on. If you see an image on your screen, then your new video card is properly secured.
Now that your video card is up and running, it's time to let Windows know which card you installed. Windows requires a certain set of software, called drivers, to tell it exactly how to utilize your new video card.
Each video card manufacturer has a different method of installing the video card drivers in Windows. Accordingly, check your video card manual for specific instructions on how to install the drivers. The actual driver files are usually included with the video card in the form of a driver CD. Drivers can also be downloaded directly from the manufacturer of the video card or video card chipset. For more information on this please see the appendix.
The above article is provided on a reference basis. The author or associated company is not responsible for any damage or injury as a result of following or improperly following these instructions.
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The following is supplemental material we felt would enhance this article:
Physical Issues and Voltage Concerns
There are 3 main types of AGP slots: AGP 3.3V, AGP 1.5V, and AGP Pro. Newer motherboards are now using AGP 1.5V slots which will support AGP 4X video cards. AGP 1.5V slots are also used with the newer AGP .8V (8X AGP) cards. It is very important not to put a (AGP 1x/2x) 3.3V card in to a 1.5V slot as doing so will damage both the video card and motherboard. This isn't much of a concern with newer video cards because almost all of them are 1.5V AGP 4X or .8V AGP 8X. It is a concern if you are trying to use an older video card to upgrade an older system. For more information on this topic please consult our guide.
Common Driver Download Sites
Often the drivers that come with a video card are not the latest ones from the manufacturer. New video card drivers often will increase video performance and eliminate potential problems. The latest video drivers for your card can be found at the web site of your video card manufacturer, and/or the website of your video card's chipset maker such as ATI or nVidia. Here is a brief list of links to assist you.
Drivers for nVidia based video cards (Geforce, Geforce2, Geforce3, Geforce4, etc)
Driver Selector @www.nvidia.com
Drivers for Powered by ATI video cards
ATI reference driver section
Drivers for ATI video cards
ATI Find a Driver Page
Drivers for Matrox video cards
Matrox Driver Page
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