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How to Safely Change a Video Card

You might be staring at your television or watching a gaming demo online when you see the newest lineup of PC games coming your way. The visuals look spectacular, the frames per second (FPS) are smooth, and several games take advantage of technology like 4K.

It’s likely at that moment you’ll turn toward the location of your computer and ask yourself “Can I put a new graphics card in my old computer?”

Can I Just Change My Graphics Card?

The short answer is yes, as long as you have a free PCI/PCI-e slot available. If your computer doesn’t have one of these slots, you should probably be reading an article about upgrading computers, not changing video cards.

Assuming your new graphics card will work in your aged system, you’ll want to prep the machine first. This involves removing the software/drivers for the current graphics adapter.

To do so, search for/click on the Add or remove programs app.

Find the old video card’s software, click on it and select Uninstall.

Once that’s completed, you can go into the Device Manager (by searching the same way) and determine if the video adapter’s driver is still installed. If so, right-click on it and choose Uninstall device.

Afterward, you’ll want to power down the machine, unplug the cables and (using a screwdriver if needed) open the computer’s case. You’ll want to discharge any static electricity on you before handling the insides of your system.

Carefully find the video card you want to replace and remove it from its slot. You’ll likely have to unscrew it or unfasten it in some way.

Once the old card is out, you can reverse your steps to add the new card, ensuring everything is secure and back together before powering up your computer. Beyond that, you’ll need to install the new software that came with your upgraded video card.

Reasons to Upgrade Your Graphics

If you haven’t purchased a new graphics card yet, you may be wondering if it’s even worth the investment. Before doing so, consider the reasons why you would.

Current Video Card not Optimal

Nothing is worse than trying to play the newest graphically intense game and seeing lag or choppy frames. You could turn the graphics all the way down, but it may ruin the whole reason you want to play that game in the first place.

If your current choice of games requires more power, then you may want to just dive in with the investment.

Good Deals on New Video Cards

It’s always good to shop around and find the best deals. If you have been on the fence about whether to upgrade that video card or not, all it may take is the right sale.

That’s not to say you should go out and buy something you don’t need. However, if you find a deal you cannot pass on, it may be time to make the investment.

4K Gaming

Television isn’t the only thing going 4K resolution. Games that take advantage of 4K are on the rise. To take advantage of the technology, you’ll need the latest video cards. Just don’t forget that a video with 4K capability doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have a 4K monitor to go with it.

Reasons Not to Invest in a New Graphics Card

It’s tempting to want to take the easiest route to improve your graphics performance. That said, the perception of what seems easier may not always be the best path to take. There are other variables to consider when optimizing anything on your computer.

Bottlenecking Concerns

With as much performance as new graphics cards can output–particularly ones that seem to provide 2x, 4x or more boost–it’s not always as simple as replacing one piece of the equation.

Although a new graphics card may improve stats, it may be limited based on the rest of the hardware.

Every machine has some component(s) that will be the bottleneck, or the piece(s) that slow(s) everything else down. In other words, the RAM, CPU or motherboard can offset many of the advantages provided by a faster GPU.

If that is the scenario, you may consider upgrading other hardware on your computer, if not the entire machine itself.

Other Performance Alternatives

If you have a decent graphics card already and are worried about the aforementioned bottleneck effect of upgrading to one faster, you have other options.

You already know that you can upgrade the RAM, CPU, and motherboard. These could very well boost performance, though how much depends on various factors. You could also consider upgrading your hard drive (HDD) to an SSD drive, which can be much faster at read/write processing.

Another item that isn’t considered often in these scenarios is the driver for your graphics card. It (or other device drivers) may not be optimal. Updating the hardware’s drivers can provide smoother operation, if not better performance.

Keeping Drivers Updated

Every device, including your graphics card, requires drivers. This specialized software is what allows communication between your hardware and the operating system.

When a new device comes out, it should be shipped with the best driver for the latest operating systems. As time progresses, however, your system will change – thus drivers can end up outdated, if not obsolete.

Device drivers must be kept up to date like anything else on the system. When they aren’t, hardware can suffer performance issues, become unstable or stop working altogether.

To minimize hardware issues, you must keep drivers current. You can allow Windows to do it, but the operating system won’t always find the best driver for any given device.

Manually Update Device Drivers

You can search the manufacturer’s website for the latest drivers, but there is usually a ton of drivers to choose from. You’ll need to know the exact model (and perhaps other information) about your device before you find the correct one. Once you do, download and unzip the driver to a location easily found later.

Then, using the taskbar’s search box, type in Device Manager and click on the app.

Find your device (let’s say your graphics card), right-click on it and choose Update driver.

There will be two options. You can choose the first one to let Windows find the driver or just select the second one: “Browse my computer for driver software.” With the latter option, you can drill down to where you recently downloaded the driver and select it.

Automate the Task of Driver Updates

If Windows or the hardware’s installed apps (where applicable) don’t update devices to your liking, and you don’t care to update all the devices yourself manually, there’s another option.

Software, like Driver Support, specializes in automating the task for you. Instead of wondering or (worse) discovering the hard way that a device isn’t using the most optimal drivers, you can let specialized software/services handle the burden for you.

Trust Driver Support to Keep Drivers Current

Driver Support software/service will inventory your computer for all supported device types, then update any drivers that are missing or outdated.

You can stop worrying about which drivers to update and when, and start wondering which graphics card you’ll need for that new game.