What is a Video Card?

Definition of a Video Card & How to Download Video Card Drivers

Photo of an XFX AMD Radeon HD 5450 1GB GDDR3 VGA/DVI/HDMI Low Profile PCI-Express Video Card (ONXFX1PLS2)
XFX AMD Radeon HD 5450 Video Card. © XFX Inc.

The video card is an expansion card that allows the computer to send graphical information to a video display device such as a monitor, TV, or projector.

Some other names for a video card include graphics card, graphics adapter, display adapter, video adapter, video controller, and add-in boards (AIBs).

A staggering number of companies manufacture video cards, but almost every one includes a graphics processing unit (GPU) from either NVIDIA Corporation or AMD.

Video Card Description

A video card is a piece of computer hardware that's rectangular in shape with numerous contacts on the bottom of the card and one or more ports on the side for connection to video displays and other devices.

The video card installs in an expansion slot on the motherboard. While most video cards are of the PCIe format, video cards come in other formats as well, including PCI and AGP. These additional formats are older standards and don't communicate with the CPU and other components as quickly as PCIe.

In a desktop, since the motherboard, case, and expansion cards are designed with compatibility in mind, the side of the video card fits just outside the back of the case when installed, making its ports (e.g. HDMI, DVI, or VGA) available for use.

Some video cards have only one port for connection to a standard monitor or projector while more advanced cards may have ports for connections to multiple output sources including additional monitors and televisions.

Still other cards may have inputs for video editing and other advanced tasks.

Laptops, tablets, and even smartphones, all have video cards, albeit smaller and most often non-replaceable.

Important Video Card Facts

Each motherboard supports only a limited range of video card formats so be sure to always check with your motherboard manufacturer before making a purchase.

Many modern computers do not have video expansion cards but instead have on-board video - GPUs integrated directly onto the motherboard. This allows for a less expensive computer but also for a less powerful graphics system. This option is wise for the average business and home user not interested in advanced graphics capabilities or the latest games.

Most motherboards with on-board video allow BIOS to disable the chip in order to make use of a video card installed to an expansion slot (see how to get to BIOS here). Using a dedicated video card may improve overall system performance because it includes its own RAM, power regulators, and cooling so that the system RAM and CPU can be used for other things.

What Video Card Do I Have?

In Windows, the easiest way to see what video card you have is to use Device Manager (see how to get there here). You can find the video card listed under the Display adapters section.

Another way to see what graphics card you have is through a free system information tool like Speccy, which identifies the manufacturer, model, BIOS version, device ID, bus interface, temperature, amount of memory, and other video card details.

Opening the computer case is another option, allowing you to see for yourself what video card is installed.

Doing this is of course required if you plan to replace the video card, but just identifying information about it is best done through the software I mentioned above.

How To Install or Update a Video Card Driver

Like all hardware, a video card requires a device driver in order to communicate with the operating system and other computer software. The same process you'd use to update any sort of hardware applies to updating a video card driver.

If you know what video card driver you need, you can go to directly to the manufacturer's website and manually download it. This is always the best way to get drivers because you can be confident that the driver is stable and doesn't contain any malware.

Follow this AMD Radeon Video Card Drivers or this NVIDIA GeForce Video Card Drivers link to get the latest and official download links for AMD or NVIDIA graphics card drivers. If you're not using an AMD or NVIDIA video card, see How To Find and Download Drivers From Manufacturer Websites for more information on finding the right drivers for your card.

Once you've downloaded the video card driver that matches your hardware, see How Do I Update Drivers in Windows? if you need help installing it. Luckily, most video card drivers are auto-installable, meaning you won't need those manual update steps.

If you don't know the specific video card driver that you need, or if you'd rather not download and install the driver manually, you can use a free program to automatically detect the driver you need and even download it for you. My favorite program that can do this is Driver Booster, but you can find several others in my list of Free Driver Updater Tools.

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