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Would a separate PCI-E video card provide benefits to a user who currently uses onboard video?

The onboard video card is on an Intel DG35EC. The onboard video is Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3500. The shared memory is set in the BIOS and maxed at 256MB.

The usage scenario is:

  • basic desktop usage with Windows 7
  • outputting to a single LCD
  • office and development apps
  • some video playback
  • no 3D games or CAD
  • no dual monitor required (yet)

There are no real problems, but perhaps there's a benefit from using an external video card. Would you recommend an external video card given the conditions described here?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

It doesn't sound like you would benefit from adding a PCI-E video card. It may provide slight benefits, but most likely you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

If you were to do full screen video playback (DVD Quality), games (especially 3D) or CAD, then you would probably want an upgrade. Dual displays would also benefit, if you card supported that.

One place you might notice a difference is if you are running an LCD that supports DVI input and your on-board video card only has VGA output. I've noticed running a LCD off of VGA you will see slight flicker to the text occasionally.

Basically my advice would be unless you have something wrong with the display the way it is, then don't upgrade. There have been times when the on-board video card has been defective, so adding a new video card fixes the problem, but you didn't mention having any problems.

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Had no problems watching full-screen video at 1680×1050 resolution with my GMA 950 here. The X3500 is, to my knowledge, almost capable of handling BluRay. – Joey Aug 9 '09 at 8:22
@Johannes: Thanks for the confirmation. Then he most certainly doesn't need to upgrade for his usage scenario. – Jim McKeeth Aug 10 '09 at 17:23
At my office, we've had problems with Intel integrated graphics being fuzzy over the VGA output, as well as the occasional flickering. – rob Nov 25 '09 at 22:54

It's worth pointing out that a number of the affordable PCI-E graphics cards essentially give you the same performance and behavior (shared memory) as onboard video would. I recall a particular "turbo" line of cards that was nothing of the sort.

Sometimes, if you're often running out of memory, you want to get a card with dedicated memory just so that you have those couple of hundred megabytes for your programs. In this case I've found a $50 or so card to work, but not as well as adding $50 worth of memory.

Generally, if you're not running a program that is specifically telling you that it cannot find the hardware support it needs, or that is severely underperforming for your needs, you won't need a discrete graphics card. There are a couple of flourishes Windows 7 will do with a half decent card, but those might be supported in Intel's video. Here I'm referring to what happens when you press Start+Tab, and a couple other things.

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if 'some video playback' doesn't mean full hd video (1080p) then your Intel GMA is up to the task.

an 'external' video card would make matters rather worse.

if you want full HD capability and multi-monitor support, you'll get a ATI Radeon HD 4350 with 512 MB memory for around 30 dollar, a nice budget card which is running circles around the Intel GMA X3500.

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I would leave it up to your cash situation if you can spare the money get a decent pci-e card and its there for you if needed in the future.

If you can't spare the cash stick with what you got until the need for a more powerful comes up

in my experiance a pci-e card is ALOT better than the onboard.

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