HTPC Update #3: My Favorite Upgrade, the Video Card
I gave in. Battlefield 3 had reduced my HTPC to a smoldering, weeping mess that begged me to put it out of its misery.
Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.
And to that end, I started with, well the anthropomorphic spin kinda fails here. It's a new video card, that's what I'm getting at.
A new video card is by far my favorite upgrade. It's easy, fast, and can drastically improve the performance of your computer. It's not going to turn a Vespa into a Veyron or anything, but it will definitely give your reasonably old PC a kick in the pants. A least carrying you on until you upgrade the rest of it, which is my intention.
The two graphic processing unit (GPU) manufacturers are NVIDIA and AMD (formally known as ATI). These companies invoke fanboyism that rivals the competing enthusiasms for iOS and Android in its furor and stupidity. Both make good products, and whichever happens to be faster or a better value varies on product cycle. Many companies make cards based on the GPUs of NVIDIA and AMD.
Right now, in the mid-range category, NVIDIA's 560 Ti chip is a great value. Faster in most cases than AMD's chip of a similar price. If you're reading this any other day than the day this was posted, there might be a different answer.
For that, I highly recommend Tom's Hardware. This site tests video cards (and everything else) and compiles charts that go back several generations. So you can see how slow your card is compared to the expensive new stuff. In my case, the card I was replacing was too slow to even make the chart. Well derrr, there's yur problem.
Replacing a video card is easy, and even if you've never worked on your computer before, you can probably figure it out. If you've never cracked the case, though, I'd recommend finding a more elaborate checklist than here. If you know a bit from a byte, you should be able to figure it all out from the steps below.
A word of caution. Make sure your motherboard can handle a new card. PCIe is the latest and greatest slot. Old AGP and PCI slots aren't worth anything when it comes to graphics. Also, make sure your computer's power supply can handle it. Most new graphics cards require supplemental power, and lots of it.