It is more commonly referred to as a graphics card, because in desktop computers it comes in the form of an interchangeable board that can be replaced and upgraded by removing it from a socket on the computer’s motherboard.
Some desktop computers have graphics processors directly built into the motherboard, as do most laptop computers. This is normally referred to as an integrated graphics card.
For photographers, most graphics processors should be sufficient for their needs, as even the cheapest cards on the market and the standard, integrated graphics processors can render 2D images quickly.
The expensive top-end processors are designed to deal with far more complex image tasks, such as the display and rendering of 3D graphics for games, or for showing HD videos. These tasks require a lot of processing power, as well as random access memory (RAM), which allows data to be loaded and retrieved quickly.
For photographers, RAM is perhaps the most important feature of a graphics card – but it is not only the RAM that is built into the card that is important. Many cheaper cards use ‘shared RAM’, which means that the graphics card is actually using the main RAM of your computer, rather than its own. By using the main RAM, the graphics card is taking resources that the computer could be using for other tasks.
With this in mind, look for a graphics processor that has integrated RAM as this helps photographic processing run smoothly, particularly when dealing with a number of images.
Also look out for cards that offer dual monitor support. These have not one but two sockets on the back, allowing the use of two monitors and, therefore, twice the space for editing your images.
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