Understand PC Graphics Display Adapters - dummies

By Dan Gookin

If you ever have to troubleshoot issues with your computer’s monitor, it is helpful to know a little about the adapters the computer uses to talk to the monitor. There are different connectors, processors, and memory levels to take into account.

Digital and analog display adapters

The two common types of video connectors are VGA and DVI.


Other information about the display adapter must be gathered from within Windows. You can look in two places: the Adapter’s Properties dialog box and the Device Manager.

  • The best way to prevent problems with your PC’s display adapter is to keep its device driver up-to-date.

  • DVI stands for Digital Visual Interface.

  • The DVI connector is a female connector. The male connector (found on the video cable) may not have a pin for every hole in the female connector. No, the pins aren’t missing: There are several types of DVI connector, by design. The female connector accepts every type of DVI male connector and uses the differences to help the hardware identify and properly use the monitor.

  • A mini-DVI connector is also often found on laptop computers.

  • Some monitors accept a signal by using an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) connector. These monitors also double as TV sets and are typically large and expensive.

  • Adapters are available for connecting VGA and DVI monitors to DVI and VGA adapters, respectively.

Video performance depends on the processor and memory

Video performance is based on two factors: the graphics processor and the amount of dedicated video memory. A display adapter with 256MB of video memory is a good baseline for computer games. More memory makes things better, but is expensive, and unless your PC has a beefy graphics processing unit (GPU) and a 3D physics engine to help out, more memory isn’t worth it.

Sadly, both the GPU and video memory are factors you cannot change after buying the graphics card. You can replace a graphics card, but rarely can you upgrade an existing card the way you can, say, add memory to your PC.

View the display adapter’s Properties dialog box to find out more about it.

In Windows 7, view the display adapter’s information by following these steps:

  1. Right-click the desktop.

  2. Choose Screen Resolution.

  3. In the Screen Resolution window, click the link Advanced Settings.

Information about the display adapter is shown in the Properties dialog box.


In Vista, abide by these steps:

  1. Right-click the desktop and choose Personalize from the shortcut menu.

  2. Choose Display Settings in the Personalization window.

  3. Click the Advanced Settings button.

  4. If necessary, click the Adapter tab.

For XP, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the desktop and choose Properties from the pop-up menu.

  2. In the Display Properties dialog box, click the Settings tab.

  3. Click the Advanced button.

  4. In the display adapter’s Properties dialog box, click the Adapter tab.

  • You see the least measure of performance from a video adapter that shares all its memory with the computer’s main memory. For basic computer use, like e-mail, word processing, and the Internet, that’s ok.

  • In Windows XP, a display adapter that shows 0MB or another low value is doubtlessly sharing main memory. If you want better video, you need to upgrade with a new display adapter.

  • A great improvement in the visual presentation of video games can be had by replacing the PC’s display adapter with a newer model that sports at least 256MB of video memory. (More memory is better.)