A graphics card is the component of a computer that is responsible in displaying text and images in the monitor. This piece of hardware can also come with other features which includes advanced rendering of 3D and 2D graphics, FireWire, video capture, MPEG-2/MPEG-4 decoding, TV-tuner adapter, light pen, TV output, or the capability to connect several monitors (multi-monitor). There are also high performance graphics card that are used for more graphically demanding functions like photo editing and computer games.
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Graphics card basically serves as a gateway between the monitor and the motherboard. Video cards can normally connect to a motherboard using three different expansion slot standards, the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI), the Advanced Graphics Port (AGP) or the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCI Express or PCI-E). This connection allows the video card to access data and power from the motherboard. While connections such as the Video Graphics Array (VGA) connector, Digital Visual Interface (DVI), High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), DisplayPort, or any other connections connect this card to the monitor. This is then the final result of the video card’s translation of binary data which is seen on every computer screens.
Graphics cards were the solution to the slowing of CPUs because of keeping up with the complexities of graphic displays nowadays. This special circuit board has its own processing unit, the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) and own memory that is separate from the main computer memory. Other than these components, being thought as a secondary motherboard by some, graphics cards have their own BIOS and a cooling system.
The History of Graphics card
IBM released their first two video cards in 1981 with the IBM PC, the Monochrome Display Adapter (MDA) and Color Graphics Adapter (CGA). MDA works only in text mode which only prints ASCII characters and is able to represent 80 columns and 25 lines in the screen. This graphics card had only 4KB video memory and produces only the color green on black background. On the other hand, CGA was considered as IBM’s earliest color graphics card and earliest color computer display standard for IBM PC. CGA supported the same 80×20 text mode, 640-200 / 4 (resolution/ color) graphics mode and 16 KB of video memory. However, MDA became more popular in the market specifically for business purposes because of its higher resolution of text and the presence of printer port.
Van Suwannukul, founder of Hercules Computer Technology developed the first popular none IBM graphics card, the Hercules Graphics Card. Its difference from the MDA and CGA were its 720-348 / 2 (resolution/color) graphics mode and 64 KB video memory. What made it so popular was it both supported MDA compatible high resolution text mode and a monochrome graphics mode at the same time.
In the year 1984, Professional Graphics Controller (PGC) and Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA) were introduced by IBM. PGC was considered very advanced for its time with its capability of supporting 2D and 3D graphics acceleration for Computer Aided Design applications. This offered higher resolution and color depth than EGA.
Then by 1987, came Video Graphics Array (VGA) which offered 640-480 / 16 (resolution/color) graphics mode and 256 KB of video memory. Though its resolution was replaced in PC markets by 1990s, this is making fame on mobile devices. With its release, some corporations like Cirrus Logic, S3 and ATI decided in improving this video card’s number of colors used and its resolution. This interest led to what was called the Super VGA (SVGA). SVGA supported 2 MB of video memory and 1024×768 resolution at 256 color mode.
2D and 3D cards were first released to the public in 1995 which had the ability to illustrate multidimensional images which was not present during that time. These were mainly developed by Creative, Matrox and ATI. In 1997, the Voodoo graphics chip was released which was widely accepted in gaming. It is said to be more powerful than any other cards released having 3D effects like Z-buffering, mip mapping and anti aliasing. Following Voodoo, came more 3D video cards from NVIDIA which are Voodoo2, TNT and TNT2.
On the other hand, the AGP or Accelerated Graphics Port was developed by Intel to solve constrictions between the video card and microprocessor.
Graphics processor clock rate and 3D algorithms were mostly the focus of the continuous improvements of graphics cards from 1999 up to 2002 which were all from NVIDIA. This was the GeForce family which had until GeForce 4 version having the DDR technology and video memory of up to 128 MB.
By then since 2003, ATI video card market has been reined by ATI and NVIDIA with their Radeon and GeForce lines respectively.
With the more demanding evolution of video graphics today, graphics cards keeps on meeting these needs. With the size of a computer chip, this hardware are now applied in new micro applications which includes iPods, notebook computers, phones, digital cameras and many others.
Its Major Components
A modern graphics card consists mainly of the graphics processing unit, the video memory, the RAMDAC and the video BIOS.
Typically the largest component and the heart of the graphics card is its microprocessor called the graphics processing unit (GPU). The GPU is responsible for rendering images or graphics on the screen. Hence, the GPU performs a lot of complex instructions from the computer just to generate what we normally see on the screen. As a result, this microprocessor produces heat so much so it is usually located under a heat sink or a fan.
The video memory, commonly known as the Video Random Access Memory (VRAM), is another extremely essential feature of every graphics card. It is placed right next to the graphics processor. As the GPU creates images, the VRAM holds every bit of data as well as the attributes of these images until it is time to display them. The memory that temporarily stores the video image is sometimes called the frame buffer. This kind of memory significantly works faster and provides faster access to data than a typical RAM for the reason that this memory is capable of reading and writing data simultaneously.
The stored graphics information from the VRAM is sent to and read by the RAMDAC which stands for Random Access Memory Digital-to-Analog Converter. A RAMDAC has a static RAM that contains a color palette table where three values are obtained from the table, one for each primary color. In order to display the images or the graphics on the screen, the RAMDAC from the name itself converts digital image signals to analog form and sent it to the monitor through a cable. The quality of the output, its refresh rate and the number of pixels and colors to be displayed on the screen depends on the type and speed of the RAMDAC. However, due to technological advancements nowadays, plasma displays and some computers do not require RAMDAC anymore because they now run in the digital field.
The video BIOS is the memory chip that allows and controls how the video card interfaces with other components of the computer and its operating system. A set of instructions and functions contained in this chip control the speed of the image processing and the voltage passed through the VRAM and the graphics processor.
How graphics card works?
Graphics card has a very essential role in the applications of computer for the main fact that it translates binary data from the CPU then processes it into a picture to be visually seen by the computer user.
The Central Processing Unit (CPU) sends information to the graphics card about the texts or images used by the different computer programs. The graphics card has the task of creating those things using the pixels on the computer screen. Afterwards, the processed information will turn into texts or images and is sent to the monitor using a cable.
In order to create a 3D image, the graphics card initially makes a wire frame image using straight lines. Then, it fills the remaining pixels and adds color, texture, shading and the lighting of the image. If games that require fast speed rate are played, 60 times per second the computer has to undergo the said process.
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The tasks of the graphics card will not be completed without the help of the four major components of computer. These are the motherboard for the data and power, processor on what to do with each pixel in the screen, memory to handle processed information as well as for partial storage of the picture and finally the monitor where the finalized picture is seen.
How to choose graphics card blablabla?
How graphics card maintained in the market?
Nowadays graphics card are still in demand in market for the reason that many PC users still need the best quality on the contents of their computers. Other than calculations, telecommunications and other related stuffs, computer is also used for entertainment like gaming and watching movies. The fact that we are currently facing the advances of technologies there comes also the production of various movies and games with high definition and with stunning visual effects. These effects are portrayed in good quality because of the graphics card. In connection to this, consumers use graphics card for they understand and realized that they can be satisfied in their PC viewing by the enhancement and image quality the graphics card can offer.
Other reason why graphics cards are growing in market is because Graphics designers and other designing enthusiasts uses Adobe Photoshop, Corel, Avid or Flash that entails the use of graphics cards to be able to improve 3-D effects and other special features. Web conferencing, streaming videos, tele-presence solutions and other computer applications that require high quality of images and effects helps also in the progress of graphic cards in the market.
Improvements in graphics card, today and tomorrow
Innovations in graphics cards are also prevalent just like any other products of technology. Few years after the development of computers, the graphics card was invented for the basic purpose of displaying images on the screen. Nowadays, this device does not only have the power in doing this job but it also contributes to the acceleration in processing when it comes to graphics by helping the processor. In addition, graphics card is used not only for computers’ graphics display but as well as for video console such as Play Station and Game Boy.
Graphics cards’ characteristic in assessing graphics process was essential in three-dimensional imaging in computers, since CPU alone cannot handle the speed needed to calculate the frames for image display and process the codes for the application to work. In order to support 3D effects and have a far more detailed picture, graphics card has now built-in instruction logic for added things such as textures lighting effects, fog effects and bump mapping. Its speed is also improved to utilize these effects without experiencing the problem of frame rate drop.
Advancements in graphics card are growing and will continue to be enhanced to the extent that our computer screens would also support holographic display. This device would be able to compute the data needed to create a hologram that would be used to project 3D images; thus, improving its virtual computing capacity.
Impact of Graphics Card
Like any other technology innovations, the advancement of computer graphics brought about by the development of graphics card lead some changes in the society.
People today are much more enjoying in computer generated effects in movies. Computer arts are also utilize by artist as a tool in creating and exploring significant works. Like what science fictions in movies, there are predictions that virtual reality would invade the whole world. Another issue is with regards to pornography which is very prevalent in the Internet nowadays and is provided with techniques enhanced by the computer’s graphics technology.
In some trials, attorneys use graphics simulation in re-enactment of some crimes to provide better explanation to juries. But the question now, is it really accurate? Do some parts have been controlled and enhanced to show the point of view of the defender?
Computer graphics help military to prepare and defend against war. For some countries, modern machineries and weaponries are designed with the help of images generated by graphics card. The inherent nature of some graphics games which sometimes show violence influences adults and youngsters leading to criminal acts.
Computer graphics are also used in the advancement of science and engineering. It has a great contribution in making us realize and aware in the world we are living and in the faster accumulation of information. Moreover, computer graphics assisted scientific visualization by providing pictures, images and animations that illustrate events which are exposed through scientific simulation.
These are some of visible effects of graphics card applications observed in the world today. May we not be blinded by the beauty and enjoyment brought about by this advancement; thus, stopping those that will degrade the humanities.
Will the game be over for graphics card?
For many years, AMD and NVIDIA were striking to each other to get the superiority in graphics card manufacturing. Both were thinking that they have distinct and have higher graphics processing quality. But according to research, Intel introduces Larrabee – a co-processor that establishes a new approach in graphics processing. It is an integration of multi-core processor and a GPU or graphics processing unit. This new product of Intel has the possibility to tear up the rulebook of third-party graphics card and even cannibalize Intel’s very own CPU.
Though Larrabee would be more programmable than any graphics chips before, it does not guaranteed that it would be faster. In addition, there are some who do not believe that Intel would beat these two giants when it comes to graphics because both have hybrid technology which focuses on graphics display are continuing to develop their GPU technique to introduce and support new trends of computer graphics.
But let us not judge this graphics card potential alternative and let us wait for its full release. At that time, we can compare the performance of graphics projection of two different technology innovations.
Without graphics card today, applications imaging especially those that are three-dimensional would simply crawl at a slow pace. In the future, these applications would not just look realistic but will feel and sound realistic as well. Scientists are looking for more advancement in computer graphics whether using graphics cards or its potential alternatives. However, we must not just disregard all the facets of its ethical issues which may lead to harm to the next generations. Though computer graphics definitely look good, it does not mean we must also do it.
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