Q&A: Are Video Cards Important to Digital Photo Editing?
I am getting ready to build a new PC and need to decide what kind of graphics card to get. I have tried to find some information online about what kind of card is best for editing digital pictures, but I can't seem to find anything helpful. Is it more important to have lots of RAM or more memory on the card?
--Thom Doonan, Norfolk, Virginia
You won't find much information online about graphics cards and image editing, Thom, because it doesn't much matter. Any current graphics card will do, since the "muscle" in graphics cards is aimed at the ability to render 3D data. Although there are high-end products aimed specifically at 3D digital modeling and design applications, most powerhouse graphics cards are manufactured with avid gamers in mind.
For PC World's latest picks, see our "Top 5 Graphics Boards" chart.
Unless you're really into the latest and greatest PC games, I suggest you increase your system's memory instead of buying a high-end graphics card. I consider RAM to be the single most important component for image editing, even more so than having a fast processor. My computer has a gigabyte of memory, which keeps it performing well even when I have multiple, large images open simultaneously in Adobe Photoshop or Jasc's Paint Shop Pro.
Even if you're upgrading on a budget, I recommend stocking your computer with at least 512MB--these days, memory is so cheap that it's silly not to indulge. I found that at most online computer stores, for instance, you can upgrade a new PC from 256MB to 512MB for about $100. If you want a full gigabyte of RAM, you'll find that prices are about $150 more than that. Note that although adding system memory is relatively simple, you have to make sure you have the right type--and determine if you have the capacity and expansion sockets to handle it.
For good advice on adding memory to your computer, read "Step-By-Step: Add RAM for a Faster PC."