Installing a video card is generally straightforward, but there are a couple gotchas to watch out for:
- If you are installing an AGP card on a motherboard with a non-Intel chipset, you may need to install a GART driver before you physically install the video card or its drivers. Skipping this step can cause Windows to black-screen at boot. Follow the instructions supplied with the new video card to install the GART driver.
- The presence of old video drivers may cause problems with the installation of the new card. You may need to use Safe Mode (press F8 while the system boots and choose Safe Mode from the menu) to uninstall the old video drivers before installing the new video card or, if the current video adapter is dead, as the first step after installing the new video card.
SAFE MODE VERSUS VGA MODE
Pressing F8 during boot displays the Windows Advanced Options Menu, which offers several choices. The first option, Safe Mode, starts the system with everything disabled except the essentials no networking or sound, only a vanilla 640x480 VGA video driver, and so on. We use Safe Mode during troubleshooting to minimize the number of variables that may be causing the problem. If for some reason you prefer to start the system in what we call Safe Video Mode with all drivers loading normally except that the vanilla 640x480 video driver is used choose Enable VGA Mode instead of Safe Mode.
If you buy a retail-boxed video card, it will include a comprehensive manual. If you buy an OEM video card that arrives without a manual, your first step should be to download the PDF manual from the maker's web site. (You may also need to download drivers if no driver disc is provided.) The exact sequence of installation steps, including loading drivers, varies from card to card, so follow the instructions provided in the manual.
Here are the top mistakes to avoid when installing a new video card:
Most people don't bother to Read the Fine Manual (RTFM), which is a mistake. If you don't read the manual, you're likely to do something wrong; most commonly, people install drivers too early, too late, or the wrong way. That's best case. Worst case, you may destroy your expensive new video card instantly when you turn on the power. So, RTFM.
Video cards, both AGP and PCIe, may require significant pressure to seat fully. You may think the card is seated. You may even have heard it snap into place. That doesn't mean it's fully seated. Always verify visually that the card is seated fully in the connector and that the retention mechanism has latched the card in place. A partially seated video card may not work at all. Worse still, it may kinda, sorta work, leaving you with a difficult troubleshooting problem.
Many recent video cards, particularly high-performance models, require more power than the video slot can provide. These cards have a supplemental power connector designed to accept either a special PCIe power connector or a standard Molex hard drive power connector. Failing to connect supplemental power can have several results, none of them good. At best, the video card simply won't work, but nothing will be damaged. At worst, the card may attempt to draw too much power from the video connector, damaging the card and/or the motherboard. (If your card requires a PCIe power connector and your power supply doesn't provide one, there are adapter cables available with standard Molex hard drive power connectors on one end and PCIe power connectors on the other.)
Fast video cards generate a lot of heat. Instead of depending on a passive heatsink for cooling, many recent video cards use a small fan to cool the video processor. Failing to connect power to this fan will cause the video processor to overheat, perhaps catastrophically. Running a fast video adapter without its fan for even a few seconds can literally burn the video processor to a crisp. (We try to avoid using such cards, because fans fail unpredictably, and a failed fan can have the same result. If you do purchase such a card, be sure to clean it regularly. Not only does the fan motor have to work harder to spin dusty blades, but its cooling capacity is greatly diminished.)
To physically install a video card, proceed as follows (deferring to conflicting instructions in the manual):
- Disconnect the display and other external cables and move the system to a well-lit work area. Remove the case access panel(s) to gain access to the case interior. Now, as always when you have the case open, is a good time to clean the system.
- If you are replacing an existing video card, remove the screw that secures the video card to the chassis, release the retention mechanism, if any, and pull the video card. If you are upgrading integrated video, align the video card with the motherboard video slot to determine which slot cover you need to remove (it's not always obvious.)
- Remove the correct slot cover. You may also need to loosen the screw for the adjacent slot cover temporarily in order to free the slot cover you want to remove. Carefully slide the rear bracket of the video card into place, making sure that the external connectors on the bracket clear the edges of the slot. Carefully align the connector on the video card with the AGP or PCIe slot and use both thumbs to press the video card down until it snaps into the slot, as shown in Figure 10-10.
- Verify visually that the card contacts have fully penetrated the video slot, and that the base of the video card is parallel to the slot and in full contact with it. Verify that the retention mechanism, visible here as two brown tabs to the lower right of the heatsink, mates to the corresponding notch on the video card, snapping into place as the card is seated. If you need to remove the adapter later, remember to press those tabs to unlock the retaining bracket before you attempt to pull the card.
- After you are certain that the video adapter is fully seated, secure it by inserting a screw through the bracket into the chassis, as shown in Figure 10-11.
- Replace the access panel(s), move the system back to its original location, reconnect all the external cables, and turn on the power. Follow the instructions that came with the video card to install and configure the video drivers and any other software supplied with the adapter, such as a DVD-Video player or TV capture program. If you intend to view DVDs on your PC, the DVD-Video player is essential, because Windows cannot play DVDs without it (and in fact, the player software includes a decoder that even Windows Media Player relies on to play DVDs). You should be sure to visit the decoder software vendor's web site for updates, as they may not be automatically provided through Windows update or the video card manufacturer's periodic driver updates.
DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! If the video card has a supplemental power connector and/or a fan power connector, make certain to connect power to them before proceeding. It's always embarrassing to burn a new video card to a crisp, and it isn't covered by warranty.
Figure 10-10: Insert the video card and press down firmly to seat it
Figure 10-11: Secure the video card with a screw