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Thread: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

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    Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    I want something form photo (but not video) editing

    Image quality is very important, but speed less so

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    Registered User David Franklin's Avatar
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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    When it comes to visual quality, if you are using a DVI input (which you almost certainly should be), then the actual image data is sent in a digital format, which means that there shouldn't be any difference in image quality between cards.

    Any modern graphics card should be more than powerful enough to support basic photo operations (things like smooth dragging, highlight overlays).

    One thing to be aware of: photo software increasingly has options to use the graphics card for actual image processing (things like Gaussian Blurs, etc). A more powerful graphics card may therefore give you performance increases in some areas.

    I think ATI are generally slightly better value than NVidia right now, but Nvidia have a bit more traction with people like Photoshop when it comes to GPU accelerated processing.

    How much were you thinking of spending? Also, do you know what the wattage of your PSU is?

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    philsmove (20th-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Addendum: if you're looking at displays with > 8 bit colour, what I posted above is incorrect. On the other hand, the only such display I know of (HP DreamColor) costs around £2000, and if you're considering such a display, you should definitely check with the supplier about suitable graphics cards (and possibly OS I'm not sure many versions of Windows will be able to use > 8 bits per component).

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    philsmove (20th-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    It largely depends what you're using the card for. Modern, high-end graphics cards have more powerful processors than most pc chips. Any graphically intensive app can shift a lot of the processing off to the GPU, leaving the CPU for other work. This can produce notable improvements in Vista (with Aero enabled) or using any sort of complex graphics program. You notice a huge difference when dealing with any sort of compressed or encoded video (eg DivX); the card's processors do most of the decompression and decoding. But the real impact is with games, where the graphics processing is critical.

    So, the first question is, what sort of content will you be using it for. If it's just for messing around with photos, then you don't need anything particularly high-end (but a bigger card, with more on board ram will make your life happier). If you want to watch video content (especially blu-ray), then you should think a little higher end. If you want it for casual gaming, go to the middle of the range. If you want high-end gaming, you might start thinking about dual-cards.

    The first question is what sort of output do you need - this will be both the resolution and connection for your monitor (eg DVI, DVI-I) and other outputs (mostly HDMI for full 1080p output). Also worth thinking about dual output cards; this can be really useful for graphical editing (eg you can hold the active layer in one screen and the completed preview in another).

    The third question is about noise and cooling. Graphics cards can do a lot of work, so need a lot of cooling - which usually means a noisy fan. This doesn't bother some people, but it annoys me. If you're going for a really high-end card, then you need to worry about airflow in your case. You can get fanless cards, but these are generally more expensive and you can't get the real top-end cards without a fan.

    Anyway, the best reference site I found was Tom's Hardware. They publish a "best for price" list each month, as well as reviews of new cards, periodic roundups, and you can find big comparison charts as well.

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    philsmove (20th-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by geoff332 View Post
    Any graphically intensive app can shift a lot of the processing off to the GPU, leaving the CPU for other work.
    Depends what the graphics are. Rewriting graphics apps to use the GPU is still relatively new in the image processing world, so you may well find a particular operation doesn't support GPU acceleration. And some graphical operations are still more efficient on CPU than GPU anyhow. (I say this not to be pedantic, but because some people upgrade their GPU and then complain that some plugin doesn't actually run any faster).

    Anyway, the best reference site I found was Tom's Hardware. They publish a "best for price" list each month, as well as reviews of new cards, periodic roundups, and you can find big comparison charts as well.
    The problem with typical PC card reviews is that all the "image quality" discussion will actually be talking about "3d rendering quality", which I expect Philsmove isn't worried about. And 90% of the rest of the discussion is about 3D performance, which again, I expect Philsmove isn't worried about.

    Although HD playback is a potential factor to consider, I agree, even though Phil didn't mention it in his wants list.

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    philsmove (20th-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Thanks

    I am getting a better picture

    I am go back to profession photography but only part time, so I am on limited budget

    I am looking at abig lap top (desktop replacement)

    An all in one

    Or may be a smaller lap top with a separate monitor

    Budget UNDER £1,200 including VAT

    Yes I know the advantage of a separate tower but I need something I can move from room to room

    I am going to wait for windows 7 before buying

    Yes I know I should transfer to a Mac but I am so used to windows on donít want to change

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by philsmove View Post
    Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    I want something form photo (but not video) editing

    Image quality is very important, but speed less so
    If you are working with photographs what you need is a system that matches the image on the screen exactly with the image as captured and as will be printed. Beyond knowing that this is out of my zone of expertise. I would suggest joining a digital photography forum.

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    The big issue with laptops is that the displays generally suck for high fidelity colour reproduction.

    This review is probably worth looking at: http://www.anandtech.com/weblog/showpost.aspx?i=569

    My inclination would be to go for the "laptop with external screen" approach: for display quality I've heard very few complaints about the DELL Ultrasharp series, but they are fairly expensive. The cheaper panels generally use TN panels which aren't great for colour reproduction (I believe all laptops use TN displays).

    Although as a first step, just go to a computer shop and see what you think of the screens. Even though I work in computer graphics professionally (programming side), I'm fairly happy with my crappy DELL Vostro display for normal use, including looking at photographs. But then again, I'm not actually that fussy.

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    philsmove (20th-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Now posting on the laptop, and I realise the (slight) flaw in what I suggest above: in general, the external output on a laptop is going to be VGA rather than DVI, which might reduce the final output quality.

    Having said that, I used VGA output to a 1920x1200 monitor for years without being able to notice a difference, but as I said, I'm not that fussy.

    You might seriously want to consider getting a static desktop PC and a laptop. I doubt it will be any more expensive getting a fairly powerful PC and a cheap laptop than it would be to get a single fairly powerful laptop.

    [We have seven PCs/laptops at home, so you can probably tell I'm not great at single-PC solutions!]

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    philsmove (20th-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Franklin View Post
    .

    You might seriously want to consider getting a static desktop PC and a laptop. I doubt it will be any more expensive getting a fairly powerful PC and a cheap laptop than it would be to get a single fairly powerful laptop.
    Thanks

    I must have a reasonable quality lap top for checking and showing photographs away from home

    In the winter, it gets too cold to work in the office at home, so I want something I can move about the house

    How do check if my current desk top is VGA or DVI,

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by philsmove View Post
    Thanks

    I must have a reasonable quality lap top for checking and showing photographs away from home

    In the winter, it gets too cold to work in the office at home, so I want something I can move about the house

    How do check if my current desk top is VGA or DVI,


    Socket on the left (blue with 15 pin holes) is VGA, socket on the right (white with 24 pin holes and +) is DVI.

    I'm not sure all DVI socket have exactly the same arrangement of holes, but it should be pretty easy to distinguish VGA from DVI none the less.

    As far as "desktop v.s. laptop": the thing is that a RAW image from a DSLR may be something like 60MB in size, which is demanding both on disk and processor if you might want to do substantial image processing. Even a fairly high end laptop is easily outperformed by a moderately cheap PC - you can get a quad core desktop with 4gig of ram and 1TB hard drive for under £400. (PC hard drives are also faster than laptop ones - the motors spin faster).

    On the other hand, the most powerful PC in the world does you no good if it's in a room you don't want to use in the winter.

    My personal feeling is that you can get a "decent" laptop with dual-core processor for about £400 (probably less). I'm not sure you can get a significantly better laptop for under £1200 (it will be better, but maybe 20% better, while the desktop is more like 80% better). So to me, a quad core desktop and "decent" laptop might make more sense than an expensive laptop.

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    philsmove (20th-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    thanks

    I have two screens with my desktop, one turns out to be VGA, which as you say is OK, the other is DVI it's much better and the one i used for photo editing

    I had not realised, I could never get the quality I get on my DVI monitor, from a laptop

    so I my well take your cheap lap top option

    ( my friends refuse to believe me when I tell them, I get all my computer advice from a dance forum )

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by philsmove View Post
    I had not realised, I could never get the quality I get on my DVI monitor, from a laptop

    so I my well take your cheap lap top option
    I'm surprised you see that much difference - it might be more that the DVI monitor is a better one (it is likely to be newer). So don't read too much into that.

    But yeah - unless you have particular needs, it's hard to justify spending £££ on a laptop. We have some "monster" laptops at work for when we need to do demos on the move. They cost a bomb, weigh a tonne, run hot enough to cook your thighs if you really do use them on your lap, and the battery lasts less than an hour on full load. (And they're still a lot better than last years' laptop model)!

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Franklin View Post
    I'm surprised you see that much difference - it might be more that the DVI monitor is a better one (it is likely to be newer). So don't read too much into that.
    Not a big surprise. VGA is analogue; DVI is digital. VGA caries the whole screen image as an analogue signal; DVI carries each pixel as a digital bit. See here for more details.

    About 18 month ago, I built an almost top of the line desk-top for about £600 (including OS). That's about twice as powerful as a £600 laptop I bought a year ago. Personally, I'd look at a lightweight 15" laptop and a big desktop with at least a 21" monitor (which you may already have). In the desktop, I'd consider a disk array (or at the very least a good back-up system). Assuming you're using photoshop, you really need ram. A lot of it: at least 4GB of DDR3; I'd make sure you get 2GB sticks, so you can expand it if you need more kick. This won't be cheap and you'll have to hunt for it in prebuilt systems. It's well worth looking pretty carefully at the motherboard as well; they make a huge difference to internal data speeds (especially memory latency). For what you need, I'd get a GPU with plenty of onboard ram (again, look for DDR3 ram), but you don't need the fastest around. For Photoshop, there's little benefit in going to 64bit at this stage.

    This is all getting really technical... there are a lot of things to think about. In reality, you could get a cheapish off-the-shelf desk-top and it would be more than adequate for your needs. But there are better options out there, if you want to look into it.

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    philsmove (21st-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by geoff332 View Post
    . A lot of it: at least 4GB of DDR3; I'd make sure you get 2GB sticks, so you can expand it if you need more kick. ...... For Photoshop, there's little benefit in going to 64bit at this stage.

    .
    thanks Geoff

    its becoming clear I am not going to get away with one machine

    so will I probably buy a small lap top and upgrade my desk top later

    most of the books i have read, agree photoshop is happy with 4GB but if I want more at a future date, i was told i would need a 64 bit thingy

    PS I am using lightroom, rather than photoshop

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by geoff332 View Post
    Not a big surprise. VGA is analogue; DVI is digital. VGA caries the whole screen image as an analogue signal; DVI carries each pixel as a digital bit. See here for more details.
    In my experience, that article overstates the differences. As I said before, I saw no differences swapping between VGA and DVI on a 1920x1200 Dell Ultrasharp; although I'm less discerning than many, I'm still surprised anyone would see a big difference. My guess is it's more likely to be a difference in the actual monitor setup (or quality).

    It's worth noting that the film industry was perfectly happy to use 24" SGI monitors with only analog (VGA and DB13W3) connectors (and they were more fussy about image fidelity then anyone I've encountered elsewhere).

    About 18 month ago, I built an almost top of the line desk-top for about £600 (including OS). That's about twice as powerful as a £600 laptop I bought a year ago. Personally, I'd look at a lightweight 15" laptop and a big desktop with at least a 21" monitor (which you may already have). In the desktop, I'd consider a disk array (or at the very least a good back-up system).
    A disk array is no substitute for a good backup system (aka "RAID is not backup")

    Assuming you're using photoshop, you really need ram. A lot of it: at least 4GB of DDR3; I'd make sure you get 2GB sticks, so you can expand it if you need more kick. This won't be cheap and you'll have to hunt for it in prebuilt systems. It's well worth looking pretty carefully at the motherboard as well; they make a huge difference to internal data speeds (especially memory latency). For what you need, I'd get a GPU with plenty of onboard ram (again, look for DDR3 ram), but you don't need the fastest around. For Photoshop, there's little benefit in going to 64bit at this stage.
    If you don't go 64 bit, the most memory Photoshop can access is 1.7GB: http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/404/kb404901.html

    In addition, if you don't have a 64 bit OS, your machine can't see more than 4GB of RAM, and you also "lose" RAM equal to the size of your graphics card memory (because they share address space). So, if you put in dual graphics cards with 1GB of RAM each, you'll be down to 2GB of RAM whatever you do.

    Other than a hassle with Cisco VPN (which was them being greedy about forcing upgrades), I've had remarkably little trouble with Vista 64, so if you want to use lots of memory, a 64-bit OS is definitely the way to go.

    Moving on to "DDR3 RAM". The RAM you get is determined by your motherboard - this is one of those things where you have to get it right. DDR3 won't work on a DDR2 motherboard and vice versa. On the positive side, both are pretty cheap these days, and 2GB sticks are actually cheaper (per GB) than 1GB sticks.

    As far as RAM on the graphics card goes, you probably won't find a card that uses DDR3. The two types used at the minute are GDDR3 and GDDR5. IMHO, the best "bang for buck" systems currently are the ATI 48x0 series, and they use GDDR5.

    This is all getting really technical... there are a lot of things to think about. In reality, you could get a cheapish off-the-shelf desk-top and it would be more than adequate for your needs. But there are better options out there, if you want to look into it.
    I largely agree, but the one big hassle with "off-the-shelf" desktops is that the PSU often gives you little headroom for expansion. And this can be one of the more painful things to upgrade (particularly if the supplier has put in a small PSU and not left room for a larger one, or used a PSU/motherboard with non-standard connections *cough* DELL *cough*).

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    philsmove (21st-July-2009)

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Franklin View Post
    As I said before, I saw no differences swapping between VGA and DVI on a 1920x1200 Dell Ultrasharp;
    the "good" monitor I have is a Dell 1280x 1024 so how to test it on VGA

    Quote Originally Posted by David Franklin View Post
    And this can be one of the more painful things to upgrade (particularly if the supplier has put in a small PSU and not left room for a larger one, or used a PSU/motherboard with non-standard connections *cough* DELL *cough*).


    my Dell Dimension 9150 cannot be upgraded from 2 to 4 thingy whatnot's

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by philsmove View Post
    the "good" monitor I have is a Dell 1280x 1024 so how to test it on VGA
    Unplug the DVI cable and plug in the VGA one. (Assuming it has a VGA socket; 99% of monitors do).

    If the "difference" is a brightness/contrast issue, you can usually adjust for this, either in the monitor or in the control panel for the graphics card.

    My overall advice for monitors would be to see if there's a decent computer store nearby and ask their advice. Not so much because their advice will be better, but because you will get to see a few monitors and see what you like, or don't like. It's quite a personal thing what tradeoffs you are willing to make.

    One of the more interesting displays I've used was 1920 x 1200 on a 17" laptop. The dots are really, really tiny, and it means you are much less aware that the picture is made of dots. Looked pretty stunning. On the other hand, it's still a TN display (which is only 6 bits per pixel, + dithering), so colour reproduction probably wasn't spot on. Can't say I noticed though.

    Also, if you're doing photo work, a monitor that can be rotated 90 degrees for portrait work is pretty awesome. Realistically, you probably want a dual monitor system at that point though.

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Franklin View Post
    Now posting on the laptop, and I realise the (slight) flaw in what I suggest above: in general, the external output on a laptop is going to be VGA rather than DVI, which might reduce the final output quality.
    ...
    Just last month a developer from a local software company came in with a laptop with a DVI port!!! Which I (and he) had not seen before!! I think it was a DELL ... but not sure, and quite possibly very expensive.

    Further web searching found me this Laptop DVI adapter.

    I'm promising nothing, but it might be worth looking into, if you want to go the laptop option. It looks like a USB adapter for a DVI monitor.

    Good Luck!!

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    Re: Does any one know of a guide to choosing a graphics card?

    With windows 7 about be released I am about to part with some hard earned cash

    I am looking at

    Acer Aspire 8935G-904G50Bn Laptop

    64 bit watnot

    ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670 (With my limited buget I seem to be stuck with
    VGA )

    The Dell equivalent is at least £650 more

    and a Mac, more than twice the price

    when funds allow I intend to add a Del 30 inch (2,560x1,600) monitor

    But I cannot work out if the HD 4670 will work on this

    I know I should get a desk top, with something like a Nvidia 7800 GTX but at the moment, I can only afford one new computer and has to be a laptop

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