Micwil Computer Consulting Presents the Canadian Computer Buying Guide

Canadian Computer Buying Guide - Video/Display Cards and Monitor Information

Video/Display Cards

For most people, an AGP video card with 8 MB of RAM is more than enough to run most common applications avaliable today. This should give you a 2D color depth (number of colors) of 16.7 million colors at 85Hz when running at practically any resolution (highest would normally be 1600x1200). At a resolution of 1024x768 your 3D color depth should be at least 64K.

If you are intending to use your machine to work on graphics or play full-screen action games, then you should get 32 MB or consider 64 MB of RAM on your video card to ensure that your graphics are rendered quickly without any significant delay. In addition, there are special chips and caches on most modern video cards to handle things like 3D rendering, texture mapping, and other specialized requirements of current software.

Many of the better cards offer special features on them now including the ability to capture video on your computer (a video or audio/video input port - usually RCA video yellow plug or SVHS port) or the ability to send output from your computer to a television through an RCA or SVHS port.

The most common and attractive use of this feature is to use your computer to watch DVD-ROMs and send the video and audio signal to your entertainment system (television and stereo). An excellent card which offers a full featured range of specifications at a reasonable cost is the 32 MB All-In-Wonder-Pro AGP video card from ATI Technologies.

There are always 'high performance' graphics chipsets for power gamers...the current offerings are the Radeon chipset cards from ATI, and Geforce from Asus, and Voodoo chipset from several manufacturers.

ATI Logo Micwil Computer Consulting highly recommends the complete line of video cards from ATI Technologies. The entry level Xpert 2000 with 32 MB RAM meets the needs of the vast majority of users.


Monitors are arguably the most conspicuous component in your computer system - you will spend the majority of the time you work on your computer looking at your monitor. Other components are used only intermittently and almost never viewed. As such, it is reasonable to consider investing more money into this component, and seek a monitor of high quality. Economy monitors tend to have a smaller viewing area, less vibrant and distinctive color depth and contrast.

14", 15", 17", 19", 20" ??? Be prepared for some confusing information on this distinction. All new monitors already have energy saving green features and are for the most part magnetically shielded (MPR II), ISO 9000 compliant and have anti-glare screens. This shielding is important, in order to protect your eyes from the glare of the monitor, and also from associated magnetic fields. The important figures are the viewable area, maximum resolution, dot pitch, and frequency supported at higher resolutions. The viewable area can vary as much as one full inch on the same 'size' monitor, so take this into account. All monitors should be able to handle 1024x768 resolution at 85 Hz, and high performance 15" monitors support a resolution of 1280x1024. High performance 17" monitors will support a maximum resolution of 1600x1280, and high performance 19" monitors can display at a resolution of 1800x1440. 'Resolution' refers to the number of dots or pixels the screen can display horizontally by the number it can display vertically.

Refresh rates are another major concern. Until recently, the VESA standard was 75 Hz, and this refresh rate was deemed sufficient for 'flicker-free' monitor output. However, after several years of ergonomic analysis, it has now been determined that 85 Hz is now the minimum required for a true 'flicker-free' monitor display. A good indicator of the quality of the monitor is that if it can display its second highest resolution mode at 85 Hz then it is more likely to be a monitor of quality. The effect of a higher refresh rate is most noticeable when displaying grids (such as spreadsheet applications) and full screen action sequences.

For many people, the old 75 Hz display may appear to be sufficient, however, if you are buying a new monitor, you should take this new standard into account. If your eyes are easily susceptible to strain, then you should ensure your monitor can run at an 85 Hz refresh rate to allow you to keep your work environment as ergonomic as possible.

Finally, .28 dp (dot pitch) is a reasonable minimum, and more expensive models can have a dot pitch as low as .20 dp. Unless you are doing advanced desktop publishing or digital video, a .28 dp monitor is more than sufficient for your needs. Older monitors will not usually have energy saving features, will have dot pitches as high as .51 dp and may not be able to handle more than 640 x 480 (basic VGA). In addition, monitors can fail at any time without warning, and as such it is a definite gamble whenever you purchase a used monitor.

As a result of all these factors, Micwil recommends that if you buy a used system, try to replace the monitor as soon as possible, and never feel the need to buy more than a 17" monitor unless you are a desktop publisher, a computer game enthusiast or your near vision is less than ideal. It is better to spend money on quality rather than size. A good quality 15" monitor will often cost more than a low quality 17" monitor. Keep in mind that performance does not equal quality, unlike in some other components.

INTERESTING FACT: Samsung manufactures 80% of the world's CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes) which puts them in an excellent position to ensure only the very best quality tubes are used in their display devices.

General Comments on Monitor Manufacturers

Note that each manufacturer is given ratings in three categories according to the feedback from clients and other companies in the computer industry, and industry magazines. These areas are speed/performance (image quality and resolution), quality/reliability (tube and monitor life) and cost and the ratings range from a high of 10 to a low of 1. Note that a 10 in each category would mean the fastest performance, most reliable and highest cost. The ideal ratings values would be 10,10,1.

Manufacturer/Comment Speed Quality Cost
Samsung 'B' and 'P' series monitors - High reliability, clean, sharp and clear image, high performance and fully featured. 10 9 7
Sony - Very bright, vibrant colors with no masking, high performance, fully featured. 10 8 9
Samsung 'S' or 'E' series monitors - Good reliability, clean, sharp and clear image, good performance. 8 8 5
NEC Japan/NEC Taiwan - Formerly one of the best names in computer monitor manufacturers, still a good monitor but often priced at a premium due to the name. In addition, there are two 'NEC' sources which have differing quality levels of product. 8/8 2/8 3/9
Daewoo - Average mid-range monitor. 6 6 5
Daytek - Very high failure rate both during and after warranty period, poor quality image ('fuzzy' and/or unstable at higher resolutions) 4 4 1
Acer, Hewett Packard, Compaq, Dell - Quality varies widely from month to month as they do not manufacture their own monitors, but rather stamp monitors manufactured by the lowest bidder from month to month. 6 1-5 2


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Micwil Computer Consulting
340 Ave. Q South S7M 2Y3
Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Phone: (306) 222-3203 Fax: (306) 382-4995

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This page last updated April 4, 2001.

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