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What Is a Video Graphics Card?

A video graphics card.
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  • Written By: Rebecca Mecomber
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2014
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A video graphics card is a computer hardware device. Also called a computer graphics card or video adapter, the video graphics card manages the many graphic duties of the computer. At its most basic, the video graphics card receives data from the computer's central processing unit (CPU) and converts the data into images, which it then transmits to the computer monitor via the monitor cable. The computer CPU is certainly capable of rendering graphics, but the video graphics card relieves some of the load and provides better graphic imagery and video playback for today's high definition software applications and games.

Depending on the computer and motherboard, the computer graphics card might be integrated or might be a separate card. Most low-end budget computers and laptops are equipped with an integrated video card to conserve space or provide only basic video rendering capabilities. Higher-end computers sport a separate, removable video graphics card connected to a slot on the motherboard, the main "brain" of the computer that connects all of the computer parts together. Separate video graphics cards require a compatible motherboard with a graphics card slot.

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Video graphics card technology has changed, becoming more sophisticated as the demand for faster and clearer graphics has grown. Older computers might have a series of Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) slots that accept a variety of PCI cards for modems, a video sound card and the now-outdated graphics card. Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) technology is faster but is overshadowed by the even faster PCI Express card that accommodates the vivid high-definition games and video playback. Extreme graphic acceleration for very high-end gaming uses a graphics processing unit (GPU) engine that provides real-time, realistic images and playback.

The video graphics card needs special software to allow the card to communicate the data it receives and sends to the computer operating system. This software, called the graphics driver, is usually built into the graphic card processor. Additional software applications installed onto the computer might enhance performance and allow the computer user to make customized settings for superior execution.

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