Graphics performance has become more important as PCs have evolved from functional machines used almost entirely for business and number-crunching into gadgetry for entertainment and leisure.
A whole category of PCs is designed to meet those entertainment needs.
Unfortunately, such highly capable beasts come with high price tags. And not all of us have £2,000 to spare on a PC.
Fortunately, you don't need to earmark that sort of sum to significantly improve your onscreen experience. Trading up from integrated (or onboard) graphics to a standalone card need only cost £50 to £100 and will make a world of difference.
You'll need to know the make and model of your motherboard; some work only with ATI or nVidia graphics cards. The card will plug into a PCI Express card slot and you should also establish whether the card requires a separate fan and/or a more potent power supply. This is less likely to be an issue for graphics cards at the lower end of the price scale, but it's a serious consideration if you're looking to turn your machine into a gaming or video-editing powerhouse.
You'll also need to consider whether features such as a TV tuner are important. Many graphics cards support television playback - it's a good way to add free-to-air digital TV channels to your viewing options. You will probably also want your card to offer HD video support, including Blu-ray video decoding (sometimes referred to as unified video decoding 2).
Buy a card with as much dedicated graphics memory as possible. Go no lower than 256MB; 512MB is about right for enjoying smooth video playback and should enable you to play the latest games. If you're serious about gaming, you'll be looking for a dual-card setup based around a pair of ATI Crossfire graphics cards or an nVidia scaleable link interface (SLI) duo. If you can push the graphics memory up to 1GB, so much the better.
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