PC Graphics System Overview – The Monitor and more - dummies

PC Graphics System Overview – The Monitor and more

By Dan Gookin

Knowing all the parts of the PC’s graphics system is an important first step to troubleshooting problems with it. The monitor is only one part of your PC’s graphics system. It’s what you see. What you don’t see, however, is the most important part: the display adapter.

Terms to describe what you see

When speaking about that TV-like thing connected to your computer, you use three words: monitor, screen, and display. Here’s how and when to use them:

Monitor: A monitor is a chunk of computer hardware. It’s the gizmo that displays images created by the computer’s display adapter, which is located inside the console.

Screen: The screen is the part of the monitor that displays an image: text, graphics, Windows desktop, games. All this information shows up on the screen part of the monitor.

Display: The display is the image you see on the screen. For example, the display may show you the Windows desktop, some icons, and a window with a picture of Megan Fox frolicking in the surf.

Here are some more points that may help clarify the differences:

  • When you clean the monitor, you’re cleaning the entire thing: base, back, top, and screen — unless you’re a teenage boy, in which case you clean only the top part.

  • Cleaning the screen doesn’t clean the display; by cleaning the screen, you’re removing dust, fingerprints, and sneeze globs.

  • When you clean the display, you’re basically clearing off windows, icons, and other graphical information. It’s a software thing.

  • Yes, the nerds like to say “Clear the screen.” They really mean “Clear the display.”

How parts of the graphical system fit together

The key to understanding, and therefore troubleshooting, computer graphics is to know that the brains of the operation lie in the display adapter, which is inside the computer console.


The image is generated inside the PC by using the display adapter hardware. The image is then sent to the monitor, which displays the image. Technically, all the action takes place inside the console, with the display adapter. That gizmo determines the graphics abilities of your computer.

The monitor’s main contribution to your PC’s graphics system is its screen size.

  • To do high-end graphics, the PC’s display adapter may be an expansion card. Most PCs, however, use a display adapter that’s built into the computer’s motherboard.

  • The display adapter might also be called the graphics adapter. This term hearkens back to an era when PC monitors displayed mostly text. To display graphics, you had to buy special graphics hardware: the graphics adapter.