by Jeff Smith
When it comes to picking the best video card for your machine, what it really comes down to is what kind of slot is available for it to fit in. There are many different types of PC card slots, and its a pretty good way to guess the age of a PC if you don't know already. Keep in mind that the only way to upgrade what slots you have is to upgrade your motherboard or get a new machine. Note, if you wish to know what these slots look like so you can identify what's in your machine, just go to Google and do an image search for the type of slot.
The oldest slots I have dealt with are ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) and they went out of style a long time ago. An ISA slot couldn't handle a graphics card from today if you begged and pleaded.
The next step up from ISA is PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect). A PCI slot can handle the lower end of the graphics cards from yesteryear. Your computer most likely has a few of these slots because they're used for just about everything, not just graphics. The best card for this slot (by online reviews) is the nVidia GeForce FX5700 (approx $90), but be warned, they're hard to find and be sure its a PCI card, because this model also comes in AGP.
AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port Interface) was the successor to the PCI slot. AGP was also the first slot dedicated solely to graphics. It came with increasing data transfer factors (2x, 4x, 8x) as time went by that let data flow through the port with increasing speed. Reviews say that the best AGP card out there is the nVidia XFX GeForce 7900 GS. And they're not too hard to find online for around $180.
The newest and fastest graphics slot yet is the PCI-e or PCX slot, which stands for PCI-express. This is the current graphics card slot of choice for the hardcore gamer. Like the AGP, PCI-e come with modifiers like x2, x4, x8, x16 and x32, but unlike AGP where these are factors of transfer rates, this number represents the number of data channels or "lanes" available for data to travel through. Each lane allows 2.5 Gbits/sec of data transfer. Being that this is the slot that all the graphics card companies are supporting right now, picking the best card is a bit difficult because the title will likely be taken by a different card next week. And some of the prices of these cards go way up there ($400-$600) for the top-end. But a good reasonably priced card can be found for around $80 to $150 so just shop around online to find one that fits your budget.
You may have noticed that the cards I mentioned above were from nVidia. There's pretty fierce rivalry between nVidia and another company, ATI (recently bought by AMD) over the graphics card market, and there are fans on both sides. For a long time, I preferred ATI over nVidia hands down. NVidia's cards were often more powerful, but I always felt ATI's cards had more features, such as TV-out support and dual monitor support and such. Now that I've gone to Linux though, ATI no longer is my favorite brand. ATI doesn't support Linux very well, and even their best hardware suffers from lack of proper drivers in Linux. This is no one's fault but ATI. NVidia has caught up with them in the features, and has excellent Linux driver support. If you're even going to consider gaming in Linux, nVidia is definately the way to go.
Next week I will wrap up the gaming tips with an article solely on Linux gaming... whats available just for Linux, and also how you can run many Windows games on Linux.
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