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Graphics cards for beginners

Everything you need to know before buying


If you're confused by the wealth of choice when it comes to graphics cards, then fear not. We've looked at the common issues, and our guide should help you decide which card is right for you.

CUDA and ATI Stream

For the past several years, both nVidia and ATI have been working on using the GPU for general computing tasks. It's hard to launch a new software industry. Each company has its own proprietary means of programming its graphics products.

nVidia's is called CUDA, ATI's is called ATI Stream. CUDA is more popular, but it's still mostly stuck in the ‘big iron' high performance computing and academic fields, with only a handful of real consumer apps.

New programming models, such as using the GPU for general computing tasks, tend to take off when standards emerge, so the real action will probably be in OpenCL and DirectX 11 Compute Shaders. Don't let CUDA or ATI Stream influence your buying decisions too much.
Future Hardware: nVidia, ATI, and Intel's Larrabee

Both ATI and nVidia are getting their new DirectX 11 class graphics products ready to roll. ATI appears to be a few months ahead of nVidia on their rollout. If the rumors are to be believed, the company should have a top-to-bottom lineup in the next month or two. nVidia may only have high-end chips at first, at then only at the end of the year or possibly early next year.

Unfortunately, we can't tell you which one is the better buy because we don't really know about their price, performance, power utilisation, or any of that other stuff. But if you don't desperately need a new graphics card right now, you might want to wait a few months and see how this new generation of products looks.

Meanwhile, Intel is preparing a novel new product with the code-name Larrabee. This will be a GPU first appearing in a high-end discrete graphics card rather than the typical integrated graphics stuff we see from Intel.

It doesn't follow the traditional graphics chip architecture, but is rather a chip full of lots of very compact x86 CPUs (like the Atom chip for netbooks) that have very wide vector processing units and a specialised set of programming instructions.

This makes the chip very flexible, and it should be great for GPU compute type applications, but will it be a fast graphics chip? Nobody knows. What we do know is that Intel is a year ahead of everyone else on chip manufacturing technology and should never be underestimated.

Laptop buying advice

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NEXT PAGE: SLI and Crossfire

  1. The issues you need to consider when purchasing
  2. What happens when you're not on Windows
  3. CUDA and ATI Stream
  4. SLI and Crossfire


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