Card Tricks


Q: When I’ve tried playing some PC game demos recently, the graphics are all herky-jerky. My guess is that it might have something to do with my video card, which is getting on in years. What to do?

The downside to humankind’s technological prowess, aside from the inevitable robot coup d’état of 2018, is that hardware gets outdated real, real fast. The video card that came with your system is probably a dinosaur by now, too weak for the latest shoot-’em-ups and their flashy 3D graphics. An upgrade’s not too big a deal, so long as you’ve got the chops to pop open your central processing unit. You’re not afraid of a few screws and motherboards, are you?

Before you go shopping for a replacement, make sure it’s not a software problem that’s mucking up your gameplay. Try updating the drivers that power your video card; the latest and greatest can be downloaded for free from the Guru of 3D Web site (

But memory, or rather lack thereof, is more likely your gaming albatross. Lots of top titles now require video cards boasting a minimum of 32 megabytes of memory, with 64 to 128 megs recommended. Yes, Mr. Roboto realizes that the Best Buy salesman promised the 16-meg ATI Radeon in your PC was the spiffiest thing since sprayable cheese. But that was, what, 19 months ago? Graphics have passed you by, dear reader.

Fortunately, stepping into the future is a relatively low-cost, hassle-free affair. Unless you’re hardcore enough to have “I * Jedi Knight II” tattooed on your buttocks—and may the Mighty Robot help you if that’s the case—$150 will be ample to score you a cracking good card. Bargain hunters should scan for cards bearing the nVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 chip, which Mr. Roboto prefers over the similarly priced ATI Radeon 7500. For roughly another $100, you can step up to the 4600 model, which offers a succulent 128 megs of memory.

All of the aforementioned cards fit into a PC’s accelerated graphics port (AGP). If your computer’s more than five years old—or just certifiably lame—there’s a chance it lacks an AGP slot, which means you’ll have to make do with a card tailored for the slower PCI interface. Mr. Roboto’s condolences if this is the case, as PCI cards blow. Quite hard, in fact.

You may also notice that video cards bear numbers like 1x, 2x, 4x, and so forth. If you guessed that the higher the number, the better the drawing speed, reward yourself with a Fudgsicle. Trouble is, your AGP slot will max out at a certain point, so don’t go investing in an 8x card if your PC’s only designed to take on 2x. Check the specs list in your owner’s manual.

Making the swap from an old card doesn’t require a surgeon’s touch, but Mr. Roboto would recommend against imbibing beforehand. The process isn’t too different from upgrading your RAM—you’ll have to pop open your CPU with a screwdriver and snap the new card into place. Computer DIY guru Rob Williams offers a marvelous step-by-step guide, with pictures, at the aptly named Among Williams’s finest tips: Install Mr. Roboto fave Roxio GoBack ( prior to doing any work. The utility will allow you to restore your system to its pre-upgrade splendor should something go amiss.

Williams also sagely recommends donning an anti-static wrist strap, which’ll prevent you from frying your motherboard accidentally. Let Mr. Roboto also inveigh against wearing rubber-soled shoes while trying to reach graphics nirvana, especially if you’ve got wall-to-wall carpeting. A shuffle of the feet here and there and you’ll build up enough static electricity to zap your CPU into the Great Beyond.

An unabashed canine lover, Mr. Roboto’s always been intrigued by the notion of free-range pooches—could they survive without human-served bowls of kibble? The brains behind Dog Island ( seem to think so, and have set up a dog utopia off the coast of Florida. Er, make that “ostensibly set up,” as this one’s got the whiff of hoax about it. Sounds awfully akin to that Internet favorite, Perhaps the recent headline “75 Dog Translators Donated by Takara Co. Ltd.” was the ultimate tip-off. Sigh.

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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 15, 2003

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