Introduction: How to Install a Video Card

About: I have been working with and fixing computers and electronics for 15 years. I own operate a local repair and custom build shop in Fort Worth, TX. We also deal in other kinds of electronic projects including Ho…

For most of my regular readers this will be a bit simple. However, now that I am posting more DIY's on instructables I'm trying to cater to a larger audience now. If you find that the graphics on your PC are lacking, games run a bit laggy, frame-rates are low, or you simply just want higher resolutions, you may find it's time to upgrade your video solution. In this tutorial I will show you how to upgrade from integrated graphics to a dedicated GPU (Graphics Processing Unit.)

You will need
1. Screw driver
2. Zip-Ties
3. Video Card

Time Required
30 Minutes

Before You Start
Do your research. You are going to have to figure out what kind of card you want, and what is compatible with your board. Everyone has preferences base don what they are doing with the card. The two most common reasons for a video upgrade are for gaming, auto-cad, and video editing. A gaming card and a CAD card are not the same thing. CAD cards are horrible at running games. They aren't designed for tessellation and the algorithms that the card run are different. Also, cards run the gamut in price range. Cheap cards only lighten the load, while more expensive cards produce more expensive results. If you want to runt he latest games with no compromise be ready to drop $200.00 on a video card all the way up to $600.00 per card.

SLi and Cross Fire
Both nVidia and ATI offer multiple GPU solutions that are salable. This means multiple cards (up to 4) working together to render the same image. These setups can become very extreme and expensive and are designed for extreme gaming. This tutorial is only aimed at a single card configuration. If you are experimenting with SLi, please see my other tutorial on Digital Elite PC.

Is the card compatible with your board? In this case you just need to be sure you have the right type of card. PCI, AGP, or PCIe. In a single card configuration it does not matter if you have an ATI or an Nvidia card. Chipset compatibility only matters when trying to scale your cards. Now if you plan to add another card later get the chip-set that your board is designed for. If you aren't sure what chip-set your board runs check your motherboard manufacturer website. 

AGP - is pretty much dead. I don't even think anyone makes that slot anymore. 

PCIe - This is the current standard for GPUs. There are 3 types of PCIe ports. 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 - All are cross compatible. The bigger the version the faster it runs. If you put a 1.0 card in a 3.0 slot it will run, but the card will not run as fast as the lane and you will not be utilizing the full potential of your board. Turn it around and put a 3.0 card in a 1.0 slot. The card SHOULD run as they are supposed to be backward compatible. But your mother board will not be able to keep up with card and you will not be getting as good of frame rates as you could get with a better motherboard. I'm not even about to go into 4x, 8x, and 16x speeds. 

PCI - Standard PCI is still supported by some legacy vendors. These cards typically aren't very powerful but can allow you to do more than what you did before. If you do not have PCIe but don't want to upgrade your motherboard yet, look for a standard PCI card. 

Step 1: Do Some Cleaning

The first thing you will want to do is tidy things up. open up the case, use compressed air to clean and do some re arranging. Use zip ties to tie back cables. A new video card is going to produce some heat so you want to open up the real estate as much as possible to get good airflow. Low temperatures are always a plus, but it's going to help your card perform better and give you better results. Plus it's just good habit to keep your PC tidy for when you have to replace parts later. 

Pay attention to where you rout your power cables. Depending on what video card you purchased you may need to attach a power dongle to make it run. Typically cards will run on 1 or 2 (6pin) 24v rail. If your power supply doesn't meet this requirement you may have to use a Molex adapter. The adapter will convert two Molex connections (from separate rails) into (1)24v connection. Be sure that the two connections are not on the same rail or you are not applying enough power to the card. Also be sure to check the side of your GPU box for the minimum power requirements, you may need to upgrade your Power Supply if it is not powerful enough to support the card. SLi/Crossfire configs will need even more power. 

Make sure that the power cord will reach the plug in for your card if it is required. (Some lower end cards can operate off board power alone.) 

Step 2: Install Card

The first step is to remove the IO shields. Single card slots only need one removed, but bigger dual slot cards will need two shields removed. Use your screwdriver to pop them out. 

Next slide your card into the appropriate slot. Do not wiggle it or put it in at and angle or you could damage it. You should be able to push it straight in. PCIe slots have a locking tab that will click when you are finished. Replace the screws you took from the IO shield to hold the card in place. 

Plug in your power connector(s). 

Finally replace your side panel. Now you are finished with the hardware portion of your installation.  

Step 3: Install Drivers

When you plug in your computer be sure to connect the monitor cable to your new card (not the old port.) Start you machine up and let it boot. Try not to panic when Windows/Linux pops up and it looks horrible. nothing is wrong. You haven't installed your drivers yet so the card is running in it's basic plug and play settings. (Which aren't very good.) 

Your video card probably came with a disc. it has the latest drivers that were out when the card was manufactured. For simplicity sake you can put that in your drive, start it and follow the on screen instructions. After that you will be up and running. however those of us who are a little more experienced will typically got to the manufacturer or chip-set website to download the latest drivers. Updating your drivers can increase performance, add new features to your car, and even sometimes lower temps from different on board programming. If you ever experience performance problems with your video card the first thing you should always do is download and install the latest drivers. 

Enjoy your new video card. 

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