If you have been reading this chapter from the beginning, you already know what this section tells you: Unless you're using your computer for games, streaming video from DVDs or the Internet, or video editing, you don't need a state-of-the-art graphics adapter.
As long as the video card has enough RAM to support your screen resolution and enough power for a refresh rate of at least 66 Hz, it should be entirely adequate for word processing and most other office use, for e-mail and Web browsing, and for most of the other things that people do with their computers, except games, streaming video, and video editing. Just about every current make and model of graphics controller has more than enough power and memory for general home and office use. You might need a new and more powerful controller when you install the new Windows Vista operating system, but until then, the card you're currently using is probably okay.
On the other hand, if you buy an older video card with only 8MB of RAM or less at a swap meet or a surplus store, you're on your own. It will probably work well enough to send an image to your analog monitor, but it won't allow you to see a high-resolution image or more than a relatively small number of colors. Cheap video cards are a bad bargain; you can buy a new one with much better performance for just a little more money.
If you're a serious gamer, high-end graphic controllers make sense for your system. A high-speed processor, lots of memory, and a high-bit-rate memory interface all contribute to the quality of the 3-D images that make your favorite games so realistic. If you have a TV tuner in your computer, or if you watch a lot of DVD movies, you might not need the absolute best available graphics controller, but you see better image quality with a more powerful processor and more RAM than you might need for simple 2-D applications.
Upgrading your video card can make a tremendous difference to what you see on your screen. But remember that newer and even better video chipsets will be introduced in a few months, and the makers of new video cards want the early adopters to pay for most of their research and development costs. Today's top-of-the-line controller is next year's mid-range bargain.
Microsoft's newest version of Windows includes a new and much more complex graphic environment than the one in Windows XP or any previous Windows release. In order to use all the features of this new package, Microsoft has announced a set of minimum requirements for Windows Vista's 3-D desktop, including at least 128MB of video RAM, support for DirectX 9 (a Microsoft specification for advanced multimedia performance) and a graphics processor that includes a pixel shader (a graphics function that can add shading, color and other details to individual pixels) and supports at least 32 bits per pixel. In other words, it probably needs a much more powerful video card than many non-gamers are currently using.
Each of the chipset companies has a Web site that lists their products that are compatible with Vista:
Vista requires more graphics processing power and memory than older Windows versions, but it's not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars for a super-deluxe video card designed for very high-performance games and multimedia editing programs-there are plenty of relatively inexpensive video cards that meet Microsoft's published requirements for Vista. When you're evaluating a new card, read the specifications carefully to make sure it has enough memory and it supports the other hardware and software requirements.