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What Is a Video Card? - Function, Definition & Types

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:17 Functions
  • 1:57 Connections
  • 2:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

A video card is used to process images so they can be displayed on your monitor. A good video card can make a big difference in the quality of your graphics, so this is particularly important if you play games or work with photography and video.

Definition

A video card connects to the motherboard of a computer system and generates output images to display. Video cards are also referred to as graphics cards. Video cards include a processing unit, memory, a cooling mechanism and connections to a display device.

Functions

For relatively low-end computer systems, the ability to create output images can be integrated into the motherboard or central processing unit (also called CPU). However, if you want to watch movies or play games on your computer (and who doesn't, at least once in a while?), a dedicated video card greatly improves the quality of the graphics. For serious gamers, a high-quality video card may just be the most important part of the computer system - it's a must for rendering 3D graphics in particular.

A video card is a printed circuit board (like a motherboard) and contains its own processing unit and memory. It is like a kind of computer in itself. This essentially takes the load off the motherboard's CPU and memory to process images. The processing unit on a video card is referred to as a graphics processing unit (GPU). This is very similar to a CPU, but its design is optimized to work with images. The memory on a video card is very similar to the regular random-access memory (or RAM) on a motherboard. A video card connects to the motherboard of a computer system using a slot, typically an Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) or a Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) connection.

Video card with the major components labeled
video card

High-performance video cards generate a lot of heat. Video cards therefore need to employ heat sinks, which consist of metal strips to distribute the heat evenly and dissipate the heat into the surrounding air. A heat sink is often located right on top of the GPU. Sometimes a fan is added for additional cooling.

Video card with heat sink and cooling fan
video card with fan

Connections

Video cards connect to a display device, such as a monitor or television. Many different types of connections exist depending on the type of computer system and the nature of the display device. Here you can see some of the most common connection types. Video Graphics Array (VGA) and Digital Visual Interface (DVI) are used to connect to regular computer monitors. Increasingly, video cards also have connections for television and other video equipment. If you have ever tried to connect a DVD player, video camera or game console to a TV, you may have encountered some of these types of connections, and not having the right cable can be very frustrating.

Different types of video connections used in video cards
types of video card connections

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