Alternatively known as a display adapter, graphics card, video adapter, video board, or video controller, a video card is an expansion card that connects to a computer motherboard. It is used to create a picture on a display; without a video card, you would not be able to see this page. More plainly, it's a piece of hardware inside your computer that processes images and video, some tasks normally handled by the CPU (central processing unit). Video cards are used by gamers in place of integrated graphics due to their extra processing power and video ram.
A visual overview of a computer video card
Below are two visual examples of what a video card may look like inside of a computer. First is a picture of an older model AGP video card with multiple types of connections and components on it. Second is an example of a more modern PCI Express video card used with today's gaming computers.
Some motherboards may also use an onboard video card, which means the video card is not a separate expansion card like those shown below.
Video card ports
The pictures above also help illustrate the types of video ports used with video cards. For more information about any of these ports, click the links below.
- DVI (digital visual interface)
- HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)
- VGA (Video Graphics Adapter)
In the past, VGA or SVGA (Super Video Graphics Array) was the most widely-used connection with computer monitors. Today, most flat-panel displays utilize DVI or HDMI connectors.
Video card expansion slots (connections)
A video card expansion slot is where the card connects to the motherboard. In the picture above, the video card is inserted into the AGP expansion slot on the computer motherboard. Over the development of computers, there were several types of expansion slots used for video cards. Today, the most common expansion slot for video cards is PCIe (PCI Express), which replaced AGP (accelerated graphics port), which replaced PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect), which replaced ISA (Industry Standard Architecture).
Some OEM (original equipment manufacturer) computers and motherboards may have a video card onboard or integrated into the motherboard.
Does every computer need a video card?
No. Many computer motherboards have an onboard video card that would allow the computer to work without a video card connected to an expansion slot. Also, many servers do not need a video card because they're accessed remotely.
Can I install more than one video card?
Yes. Both AMD Radeon (utilizing CrossFire) and NVIDIA GeForce (utilizing SLI (Scalable Link Interface)) cards are capable of running two or more video cards together.
Video card history
While graphics circuitry has been used in arcade games since the mid-1970s, it wasn't until the early 1980s that the first graphics chips emerged for computers. Developed by NEC, the High-Performance Graphics Display Controller 7220, or NEC 7220, was one of the earliest processing chips for computer graphics, capable of 4 MHz to 5.5 MHz clock speeds. It was a popular and advanced graphics chips throughout the 1980s.
In the early 1990s, multiple developers started integrating 2D acceleration into their graphics chips, with S3 Graphics being the first. Named the S3 86C911, it utilized the ISA slot on a motherboard and featured 1 MB of video memory.
Developed by NVIDIA and released on October 11, 1999, the GeForce 256 was touted as the first video card for consumer PCs with 2D and 3D hardware-accelerated graphics in a single unit. The first GeForce 256 chips featured 32 MB SDR video memory and had a 166 MHz clock speed. Later versions of the GeForce 256 changed to DDR (double data rate) video memory for improved performance. The GeForce 256 helped pave the way forward towards the video cards we know and use today.
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