The President's Message

October 2009

Rick Curry

In addition to Oktoberfest and Halloween this month, the Highland games will be held once again on the 10th and 11th at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Make sure you get your yearly fill of haggis, bagpipe music, and men in plaid kilts.

Dr. Sexton certainly provided us with some interesting things to think about when we look at medical studies. He also left us a good number of links for reliable medical information that we plan on placing on our club Web site.

One of our members asked me if we could post a matrix of video cards. It turns out that I went researching video cards recently for one of my son’s games. I’m not sure that there are any handy video card matrices online, and even if there are, I can reasonably guarantee they would become dated rapidly. I can provide some things to look for that I learned about along the way.

First and foremost, you need to have a video card that will function in your machine. The primary difference in video cards is between AGP and PCI-Express (or PCIe). This is a function of the motherboard connectors you plug the card into, and these two types of cards are not interchangeable. Generally, PCIe will perform better than AGP. Within these categories of video cards there are other physical variations as well. There are AGP 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 3.3, and Pro variations with 8 to 64 bits of information they transfer per data cycle. Similarly, PCIe comes in 1.0 and 2.0 varieties with between 36 and 164 bits of information. And just for fun, some computers require a "low-profile" card, which might require that the person installing the card replace the metal piece of the card that holds the connector for your monitor.

Once you get past the basics of whether the card will work within your computer at all, you can start looking at standards and performance. Standards, such as pixel shader 2.0, will determine whether the card can run a given program. For the moment, if a card can run pixel shader 2.0, it is possible to use it with nearly all programs.

So now we have gotten to performance, presumably the thing most people are interested in. Card manufacturers will generally brag about the amount of memory in their cards. This is important, and it does affect performance. Something I have yet to see a manufacturer talk about on the box is the number of processors. It turns out that most cards have the equivalent of multiple computers on them and they can all be executing instructions at the same time. These multiple processors are called pipelines. I have seen cards with 1 to 16 pipelines, and this has a major impact on your card's performance.

One more consideration is that with great performance comes great power consumption. The card I ended up buying for my son required a larger power supply. The card also had two power connectors, exactly like you would see on an old IDE disk drive. A power supply usually has two or more strings of these power connectors. The video card wanted a connection from two different strings because of the tremendous current demand. And we all know where this power ends up after it has been used: heat. You might need to plan on getting a larger or an additional fan to keep your computer cool.

So, for the adventurous, there is plenty of adventure to be had in shopping for a video card. For the rest of us, it is certainly a wonderful thing to have people like Toby and Rick, whom we can trust to choose the best devices for our needs.

Until next month, happy computing!