If your games aren't running as smoothly as you'd like, upgrading your graphics cards should give them a boost
You shouldn't worry about your graphics card unless you play games. The modern integrated graphics chips found on motherboards are more than capable of handling 2D graphics needs, and cheaper add-in cards are also well up to the task.
Unless you're a gamer, the only time you need to look at upgrading is if your current model develops a fault. If this is the case, passively cooled entry-level cards (like the Asus HD 4350) boast 256MB of onboard memory, will run Aero smoothly in Windows 7 and can be picked up for as little as £24. This new generation packs a healthy triumvirate of connection options, too, with the relatively new HDMI outputs being backed up by legacy DVI and VGA connectors.
If you do have a penchant for gaming, things get a little more complex, if only due to the sheer number of cards available. Upgrading gamers often find themselves plagued by the perennial problem of trying to work out which card offers the best performance at the most reasonable price point.
Benchmark its grunt
Performance is key for any such upgrade, and you should compare your current card against any upgrade using industry standard benchmarks in order to ascertain if it's worth the outlay. By way of example, the venerable 3DMark06 from Futuremark rates the Radeon HD 5850 at 19,670.
You can find out how your card compares by downloading the benchmark and testing your system. Ideally you should benchmark using your game of choice, but finding comparisons isn't always easy.
How to: Update video drivers properly
1. Out with the old
Driver updates are a regular occurrence for many gamers, but they can introduce problems if the detritus from one set is left over after the upgrade. The solution is to remove every last trace of the previous drivers before starting.
Grab a copy of Driver Sweeper. Uninstall your current graphics driver set and then run Driver Sweeper to scour your system for any left-over references. Select all of the files and Registry entries the utility finds and then hit the 'Clean' button to purge your system.
2. In with the new
Once you've done that, install them. If you have any problems with the new drivers then you should be able to roll back to the old ones – both manufacturers keep older drivers available. You should find that the new drivers will improve performance and stability in more recent games – especially if you run an SLI or CrossFire pairing.