Tutorial: How to install a new video card

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In this tutorial, we will discuss how to install a video card in a PCI Express slot, how to protect your computer and your video card from static electricity during installation, and how to find and install the perfect drivers for your new acquisition. After reading this tutorial, you will have the courage to install your video card and its drivers without the help of an IT specialist.

Physical Installation

The first part of installing a video card is the physical installation. First, open your computer's case so that you can have access to the motherboard. Always unplug it before you begin to remove the case.

Now, you must find the correct slot for your video card. In this tutorial, we are learning how to install a PCI Express video card, so you will need to locate the PCI Express slot (commonly abbreviated PCI-E or PCIe). The PCI Express (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) is a high performance standard implemented on all modern personal computers. Nowadays, it almost completely replaced the PCI, PCI-X, and AGP standards. The standard PCI Express slot size is x16 (there are also x1, x2, x4, x8, x12, x16, and x32 sizes, but this is not important to our tutorial). Here is how a PCI Express slot should look like:

Locate the PCI Express slot on your motherboard.

Always make sure you find it! If you are unable to find the slot, your motherboard might not support PCI Express. In this case, you cannot install a PCI Express video card. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO INSTALL THE CARD IN A DIFFERENT SLOT! It may permanently damage your hardware.

After you have the box with your PCI Express video card at hand, before opening it, make sure your work environment is not full of static electricity. Static electricity can destroy your new video card or any of the components in your computer. You should always have a pair of anti static gloves when you work with sensitive electronic components. An antistatic tablemat would also be an addition to security, but not necessarily required. Before you put your gloves on, touch a metallic surface to get rid of the static electricity. After you put your gloves on, open the box and extract the video card. It should look something like to one below (of course, the manufacturer and model number might be different):

Notice how the PCI Express interface your graphics card matches the motherboard.

Now that you know where to place it and you have the PCI Express video card n your hand, let's see exactly how you install it. On one side of the card, you will see the connector. This goes into the PCI Express slot. In the front of the video card, you will see the video adapters. These must fit in the back case's hole. Here how you hold the video card and you can see the connectors and video adapters:

Make sure the video card and the motherboard are properly aligned!

You must align the video card to the PCI Express slot. Make sure the card's connectors are perfectly aligned to the PCI Express slot's connectors. This is a very important part of the process because a wrong alignment can pose difficulties and can lead to hardware failure. Here is exactly how the connectors should be matched:

Insert the video card (Carefully!) in to the motherboard.

Lower the video card until its connectors touch the motherboard's connectors. Gently push the PCI Express graphics card into the slot. Do not force it. It should slide relatively easy. Keep pushing until you hear a click. The click means that your video card is in place and secured. Here is how it should look after the whole process is completed:

The video card is now physically installed!

Congratulations! You just physically installed your PCI Express video card in a professional manner, all by yourself! Your new video card is now fully functional and your system should see it. If your system does not see it, try to reinstall it again, pushing harder this time. If the problem persists, your PCI Express slot or even the video card might be damaged. Contact your vendor to obtain some information.

Driver installation

Now that we have our graphics card installed and ready to use, put your case back together, plug the computer, and start it. Windows should start normally. However once you see the desktop, you will notice that something is not right. The resolution is low, icons are large, and the overall image is of bad quality. Don't worry! This is because you don't have the hardware drivers installed. It is perfectly normal.

How do you install the drivers? It is quite a simple process and it should not take more than 10 minutes.

In case you still have your CD and documentation

Do you remember what came with your video card? If you don't, I'll tell you: a CD. This CD contains the hardware drivers you need. So, go ahead and insert it into the CD-ROM. An auto-setup window should appear, asking you what you want (in more complex terms). You just need to install the drivers, so go ahead and click that option. Windows should install the drivers and, after it finishes, ask you to reboot your computer. Allow it to reboot. After it restarts, the desktop is just the same as before – unfriendly! So right click on your desktop, choose Properties, go to Settings, and choose a larger resolution. This depends entirely on your monitor, so make sure you know what resolution is recommended for yours. Click Apply, and OK. Windows will change the resolution and ask you if you want to keep it. If you like it, click OK.

Want to make sure your drivers are in place and no errors have occurred? Simply go to Start, click Control Panel, choose Performance and Maintenance, and click System. In the window that appeared, click on the Hardware tab. Now click on Device Manager. Go to Display Adapters and click on the small "+”. You should see the model of your PCI Express graphic card there. If there is a problem with it, a yellow exclamation mark should appear besides it. If you don't see it, everything is OK and your card is working properly. If you want to further check it, double click on it. The Properties window should appear. In the General tab, you should see this:

If you are having problems with this device, click Troubleshoot to start the troubleshooter.''”

In the Driver tab, you should see the driver provider, driver date, and driver version filled (here you can also find the driver uninstall button). This means that your graphic card is completely installed, both hardware and software. Congratulations!

Keep in mind that drivers found on the graphic card's CD can be 6 months old. The drivers will work of course, but will lower your card's performance. We all want full performance don't we? To obtain it, we must update the drivers. The steps bellow apply to both updating and finding drivers.

In case you don't have the original CD or documentation

Lost the original driver CD? Don't have the documentation anymore? To make sure you still get the latest drivers installed, you must find an alternative way to get the newest version. If, for example, your PCI Express video card has an Nvidia chipset, you should go to Nvidia's website to find new drivers. Please note that Nvidia might not be the manufacturer – in my case, the manufacturer is Asus. The manufacturer does not usually keep drivers on his website. You should go to the chipset manufacturer's official website if you want to find the latest drivers. Here is where to go on the Nvidia website:

The NVIDIA driver website homepage.

Once in the download drivers section, choose your graphic card model, click search, and you should be able to find and download the driver:

Selecting the correct NVIDIA device.

You must now install the driver. Go where you downloaded it, double click on it, and the following window should appear:

The security warning that occurs when you run the NVIDIA driver.

Click Run because you can be sure that this driver is genuine, from Nvidia's own official website. Another window should appear:

The first screen of the installation process of the NVIDIA driver.

You must choose where to extract the files. Choose a drive where you have approximately 100-150 MB of free space. After extraction is completed, the setup should start. It looks something like the one below:

Completed extraction of the NVIDIA video driver.

Click Next, accept the Terms and Conditions, and click Yes. The drivers will be installed. After it finishes, you will be asked if you want to restart your system now or later. If you are working on something, save, and then click "Yes, I want to restart my computer now”:

Final step of the NVIDIA video driver installation.

Go to Device Manager, double click on your PCI Express video card and go to the Driver tab. You should see the driver date and driver version there. Notice that both fields are filled and up to date.

Some drivers have bugs and can cause errors. Don't blame the manufacturer, everybody makes mistakes! If you don't manage to find the right driver on the chipset manufacturer's website, you should try Google. For example, I googled "latest GeForce 8600 GT drivers” and found quite a large list of websites. You should pick a website that you can trust because anything you install on your computer can contain viruses, spyware, or adware. There are many websites that act like huge video driver databases. These websites offer both old and new drivers. Some of them require a paid membership, but you should be able to find some that are completely free.

If you don't find your driver anywhere, you should try the premium websites. If this does not fix the problem, try to email the chipset manufacturer and ask him about the drivers. Of course, you realize that this is the worst-case scenario! I didn't hear of any PCI Express graphic card without proper drivers. The technology is recent so drivers are abundant. You might have problems with older PCI or AGP video cards, but not with PCI Express ones.

Our tutorial ends here. I hope you had a good lecture and that it will help you when it comes to installing a PCI-E video card, both hardware and software. Good luck with your new card!