The ABCs of Graphics Cards

Page 1 of 10

The ABCs of Graphics Cards
Press Ctrl+P to print this page.

Here’s a list of terms commonly used in the graphics industry and what they mean. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

-AAGP (Accelerated Graphics Port): An exclusive bus interface for graphics cards that enables graphics to be displayed quickly on personal computers. While most other devices in your computer use PCI slots, the AGP interface allows a faster transfer rate for the high demands of graphics display. AGP texturing: see Direct Memory Execute (DIME) mode Alpha-blending: Controls how an object or bitmap interacts visually with its surroundings. It can be used to simulate the translucency of glass, fog, water, or smoke. Analog: An analog signal is an unprocessed signal that represents a quantity that varies over any continuous range of values. Records and tapes, for example are analog while a CD is digital. The inherent friction involved in analog systems makes it impossible to correct the errors that inevitably arise when analog signals are repeatedly reproduced. Anti-aliasing: All computer images and text are created by the illumination, in different ways, of the thousands of individual pixels that are arranged in rows and columns on your computer screen. At higher resolutions, these individual pixels cannot be differentiated by the naked eye, which is why the images and text that you see appear to be smooth and well formed. A common problem encountered at lower resolutions however, is that jagged edges appear on the graphic elements on your screen as it begins to be obvious that these images are in fact formed of many different individual pixels. This undesired effect, called aliasing, is solved using a technique called anti-aliasing. There are many ways in which anti-aliasing is done but all of them are based on the fact that all of these different pixels involved in the formation of a graphic element need not be equally illuminated. The appearance of each pixel is defined by a combination of three different color signals, red, green, and blue, while its color depth is determined by the amount of information that is stored about it. Thus, by manipulating the brightness, intensity, and color depth with which each pixel is illuminated in a manner relative to its neighboring pixels, they can be made to visually blend in with each other to maintain the illusion of a smooth image. API (Application Program Interface): The set of routines, protocols, and tools used by programmers for building software applications. Aspect ratio scaling: Video signals are formatted with certain dimensions for width and height. A width:height ratio of 4:3, is used for a standard TV signal while a 16:9 ratio is used for wide screen TV signals. When importing a TV signal (or any other video signal) to your computer to be displayed on your monitor, all of the hardware involved (video card, monitor, DVD drive, etc) has to be able to support aspect ratio scaling so that the video's original ratio is respected. If the computer hardware does not support aspect ratio scaling, the video signal may be stretched or squished in the process of outputting it to the monitor. If this happens, circles will appear as ovals, etc. back to glossary index

-B-

file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht... 07/06/2013

This chip contains basic information about the graphics card. Cache: A special high-speed storage mechanism. A higher bandwidth means that more data can be transferred at a much faster rate. Buffer (T. back to glossary index -CCo-axial cable: The original Ethernet cable. the finer the color detail of the image. Color depth (also called bit depth): Each pixel's appearance is controlled by the intensity of three beams of light (red. An AGP interface improves overall system performance by isolating graphics operations and off-loading the PCI bus from all data-intensive graphics operations. and blue)..The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 2 of 10 Bandwidth: Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can travel through the bus system of your computer in a given amount of time. For example. The more bits that are used per pixel. BIOS: Like the Basic Input Output System (BIOS) found on the motherboard. CPU (Central Processing Unit): An older term for processor and microprocessor. However. it is up to the graphics manufacturer to optimize the use of bus mastering to increase performance. Unlike the PCI bus that operates primarily in slave mode. AGP provides the video card with fast access to large chunks of system memory to enable 3D software to use the large amounts of texture maps required to render landscapes and objects convincingly. the data rate for AGP 1X mode is twice as fast as that of PCI. that are used to measure a graphics card's performance against its competitors. insulated copper wire. thereby increasing performance. green. back to glossary index file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht. Many reviewers for example. which reduces the possible maximum refresh rate. increased color depths also require significantly more memory for storage of the image. the co-axial cable consists of a single. while AGP 2X mode is four times faster than PCI. an AGP graphics card provides full bus mastering capabilities. Bus interface: You need to determine whether the video card plugs into an AGP or PCI slot and which type your system supports. allowing the CPU to manipulate data before it’s transferred. both online and in print. Composite: A video signal that combines both color and brightness information into one signal. This gives the BIOS chip the flexibility to be updated. graphics cards have a BIOS chip that initializes the card when you start your computer. the central unit in a computer that performs calculations and the instructions in programs. but it also leaves it with the risk of being erased. meaning that a software program can be used to reprogram the BIOS. Some BIOS chips are 'flashable'. surrounded by a copper braid or foil and then coated with plastic. Z): The temporary storage area in RAM for data waiting to be processed. Benchmarks: Standard tests. 07/06/2013 . Bus mastering: Bus mastering allows the graphics device to work independently from the CPU. Operations such as 3D rendering are enhanced by a graphics chip designed as a bus master because it can fetch information directly from the system memory without having to wait for instructions from the CPU. However. and also more data for the video card to process. put new graphics cards through a set of benchmark tests to see how it performs and to compare it with existing graphics cards.. accepted industry-wide.

CRTs. also known as AGP texturing. Direct Memory Access (DMA): DMA allows direct access to system memory without the involvement of the CPU. In a 3D application. Drivers: Tells the video accelerator how to use its hardware to accelerate particular graphical functions. Its stated objective is to deliver a robust industry specification based on Open IP that defines the digital interface between digital displays and high performance PCs.The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 3 of 10 -DDDWG: The Digital Display Working Group is an open industry group led by Compaq.. In other words. and Silicon Image that began in 1998 and that now has over a 100 members.. should sound the same no matter how many ever times you play it as opposed to a record or a tape (analog) that will become inaccurate after repeated use. Intel. IBM. A CD (digital) for example. Dual-display support: Support for two visual displays for one computer system. i. It is advisable to use the latest drivers to ensure the best performance and stability. Based on a technology called TMDS (Transition-Minimized Differential Signaling) from Silicon Image Inc. an open industry specification introduced by the Digital Display Working Group. DVI: Digital Visual Interface. Future 3D applications are sure to benefit from the larger amounts of texture memory available. Delivers industry leading 2D performance and accelerates data. it may be described as being digital in nature. or c) by installing one graphics card with a graphics chipset that is capable of managing multiple display outputs. eliminating the frame loss that occurs in moving textures through the bus connector. Before DirectX. programmers usually used the DOS environment. Dual-display support can be achieved a) by installing multiple graphics cards on the same computer. TVs. Direct Memory Execute (DIME) mode: While DMA is simply a way to use system memory as extra texture storage space. Direct3D (D3D): Microsoft’s graphics API for manipulating and displaying 3D objects. DirectX: A Microsoft Windows API designed to provide software developers with direct access to low-level functions on PC peripherals. Hewlett Packard. allows smooth. completely eliminating the need to store textures in off-screen graphics memory. 07/06/2013 . DualBus: A doubled engine bandwidth composed of two independent buses working in parallel inside the chip. and projectors. Fujitsu. that can be used in flat panels. allows texture transformations to be performed directly from system memory before the texture is mapped to the frame buffer. you have two monitors displaying images/text/programs from one computer. Most drivers are optimized for a particular card and chipset. DIME. Textures are 'swapped' back and forth between the system memory and local frame buffer as needed. Digital: When a value is represented by a group of discrete steps. back to glossary index file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht. high-performance interfacing solutions for high-resolution digital displays. Visual display outputs may be monitors. Different drivers are available to work with different operating systems and software. b) by installing one graphics card with multiple graphics chipsets integrated on the card. NEC. Digital data is much easier to accurately reproduce and digital reproduction sounds much better over time. your graphics chip can grab textures directly from the system memory. flat-panel displays.e. DMA is used to retrieve larger or infrequently used textures from system memory to be stored in the local frame buffer for display. DVI has been incorporated by more than 50 companies into their products and future product plans. etc. including 3D and video.

). In reality though. Frame: A film is either made of 25 images per second (PAL/SECAM). the Micro-ATX form factor.). PC motherboards are designed in various shapes and sizes. while bump mapping is still the best technique for introducing more complex surface detail. Fogging: Fogging refers to a process by which a fog -like effect is created by adding a fixed color to each pixel placing a haze over the graphic element on your screen. the better the performance.. Flat panel display: A thin display screen (widely used in portable computers. file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht. These include the Baby AT form factor. on an otherwise flat surface. The idea behind the implementation of Environment-Mapped Bump Mapping is to use a "bump map" to define the variation or distortion of reflected light on the surface to which it's being mapped. or 30 images per second (NTSC). Frame buffer: This is where the card stores an image of what is to appear on the video display. and the NLX form factor motherboards. surface animations with reflections (water waves.). surface animations and morphing (melting. Form factor: A term used to refer to the physical size and shape of the circuit boards. lens effects etc. The higher the number of frames playing per second. also referred to as frame rate: The number of frames or images that are projected or displayed per second. the smoother the 3D graphics or video playback appears to the user. 07/06/2013 . Video memory is used to store two types of information: display information (such as exactly what color each pixel should be) and texture information (used in 3D environments).The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 4 of 10 -EEnvironment-Mapped Bump Mapping (EMBM): DirectX Environment-Mapped Bump Mapping (EMBM) is a new technique in the graphics industry that adds visual realism to 3D textures and objects by creating the illusion of bumps. both classes of memory can be made up of the same kind of chips. For example. Extra geometry is better used to create more complex objects. While some of these effects can be simulated using extra geometry on the objects. Footage: A term used to refer to your original video or film.) that uses LCD technology.. environment/ atmospheric distortion (heat shimmering. There are different types of memory and the performance of your graphics card can depend on what type of memory is being used. This may also be referred to as video memory so that it can be differentiated from the computer’s system memory. Each of these images is called a frame. that are either impossible or impractical to achieve using extra geometry or other bump mapping techniques. A technique that has been a Direct3D standard since the release of DirectX 6 in Q3’98. skin regeneration etc. These effects include: surface bumps (tree barks.). engraving etc. measured in millions of pixels per second. The amount of memory also determines the maximum display resolution and color depth that the graphics card can support. This technique is used to achieve a wide variety of 3D graphics effects that range from creating clouds in a game to achieving different kinds of fadein/fade-out transitions. the camcorder tape contains your footage. the LPX form factor. back to glossary index -FFill rate: The speed at which the graphics card can render pixels onto the computer screen. the amount of work required to model these effects with extra triangles would make it highly impractical for a developer. the ATX form factor. Frames per second (fps). The higher the fill rate. EMBM enhances image quality by enabling four distinct new classes of visual effects (for example in 3D games). or variations in surface depth. ripples etc. if you've recorded a scene with your camcorder.

for example.The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 5 of 10 back to glossary index -GGraphics card: The graphics card is a peripheral that plugs into the motherboard. In GDI bypassing. back to glossary index -HHeat sinks/Fans: They can be used on certain components of the graphics card to cool those components that generate considerable amounts of heat due to the number of computations they perform. The graphics chip is responsible for most of what the card does for your PC. The IRQ also functions as a numeric value that denotes the priority that each hardware accessory has with the CPU-the lower the value of the IRQ. it becomes aware that that the device has a request that needs processing. IRQ: The Interrupt Request Number (IRQ) is essentially a signal that a hardware accessory on your computer (like a keyboard. The signal is in the form of a specific number that is pre-assigned to each hardware accessory when you boot up your PC. The functions are device independent and can be used on any graphics card as long as Windows is installed. GDI bypassing: A controversial optimization technique that boosts 2-D performance on benchmark tests. of your graphics card. Graphics chip: Uniquely engineered for graphics operations. a printer. a scanner. a graphics card vendor modifies its driver code so that code intercepts graphics operations that are normally processed by the Windows GDI (Graphics Device Interface) subsystem. processing graphical tasks on your PC and unloading a tremendous burden from your PC. as well as manages the information transfer throughout the card. The goal is to intercept a graphics operation (such as drawing text or filling a rectangle) before it is passed to GDI for processing. or a graphics card. The chip enables all of the graphics acceleration.. 07/06/2013 . the more priority assigned by the CPU to its requests. When the device sends this number to the CPU. It sends signals out to the monitor to represent what should be shown on the screen. thus avoiding latencies in the Windows subsystem and boosting performance. A graphics card is critical for processing the huge amounts of data that today’s complex graphics tasks demand.) sends to the CPU asking for a specific task to be processed. Not all operations are bypassed. back to glossary index -IIndustry Standard Adapter (ISA): This refers to the 8. Graphics device interface (GDI): This refers to a standard set of programming functions provided by Microsoft for the production of graphic output in Windows. file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht. These run at a bus speed of 8 MHz and ISA expansion cards can be plugged into an ISA slot.. like requesting it to move the cursor as you move the mouse.and 16-bit original connectors used in PCs. both 2D and 3D. only a select few that the graphics board designer feels are important for overall application performance. the graphics chip is the brain. or the CPU.

The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 6 of 10 IRQ conflict: A common error that results when two hardware accessories both attempt to use the same IRQ. back to glossary index -MMegabytes (MB): One megabyte equals approximately one million bytes. This API can be implemented as an extension to an operating system. MPEG-4. back to glossary index -PP&D: Plug-and-Display (P&D) refers to a digital standard introduced by the Video Electronics Standards Association in 1997. A byte is a group of binary data that the computer views as one unit. MPEG: MPEG refers to “Motion Picture Experts Group”. Inc. leaving the CPU unable to decide which device the IRQ really belongs to. resulting in an unwieldy. one byte is equal to an 8-bit grouping and represents either one alphanumeric character (data) or two decimal digits. the values of future frames can be anticipated. If a graphics card supports hardware motion compensation. MJPEG (Motion-Joint Photographic Expert Group): A standard of video for capturing and playback that preserves much of the image quality compared to MPEG compression. Motion compensation: Technology that is used to predict the pixel values (colours) of your display in succeeding frames. The specifications proved unpopular.an international body that develops standards for the compression of video (moving pictures and audio signals). unused one. MPEG-2. There are different MPEG standards such as MPEG-1... commonly used in game programming. back to glossary index -OOpenGL (Open Graphics Library): A standardized 2D and 3D graphics library developed by Silicon Graphics. A bit is the smallest unit of information in a digital computer system and equals either 1 or 0. By analyzing the past and current frames being displayed.. the task no longer has to be performed by the CPU. expensive digital file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht. In a lot of computers. You may need to replace the IRQ assigned to one of the devices involved with a new. A bit is also known as binary digit. back to glossary index -NNLX form factor: (see form factor) A new form factor designed by Intel that featured a number of improvements over the earlier LPX form factor including support for the newest microprocessors like Pentium II using SEC packaging. An IRQ conflict can freeze your computer. and MPEG-7. 07/06/2013 . as well as support for AGP graphics cards.

07/06/2013 .. Higher refresh rates reduce flicker because they light the pixels more frequently. Adds realism by adding 3D qualities (shadows. Computers have several such boards (often also referred to as cards). memory. Printed Circuit Board (PCB): A thin insulating plastic board or rectangular device onto chips and other electronic components are placed. are all examples of peripherals. for picture elements. On a PC. or can be placed on the graphics card as a separate component. for example. such as the motherboard. Peripheral: A peripheral is any extra device that is not part of your computer’s motherboard. the RAMDAC is bypassed since the flat panel can receive digital information directly. PCI slots are essentially compact 32-bit slots on your PC. that no manufacturer wanted to invest in. that is. digital graphics use tiny points of color that are placed so closely together that they look like they are joined. Resolution: The number of pixels per unit of area determines the sharpness and clarity of an image. Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI): This is an interface that provides a standard slot in a reduced size into which high-speed computer peripherals can be fitted in. Various chemical elements and substrates are laid on this board so that wiring can be applied to form circuits. Rendering: Relates to the virtual representation of a real-world object user computer technology as it actually appears. and each pixel will be lit up with a specific color. Polygon: As used in the graphics industry. back to glossary index -RRAM (Random Access Memory): Computer memory that can be accessed randomly.. Pipelining: Found in more recent AGP graphics cards. sound cards. and so on. besides your PC’s memory and Central Processing Unit. but in fact they are separate. The RAMDAC can be included within the graphics chip. such as a triangle. If the pixels are tiny enough you won’t even notice that they are individual points of light. These tiny points are called pixels.The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 7 of 10 connector. The RAMDAC converts and transfers the information stored on the graphics card’s memory (digital) to the monitor (analog). The motherboard is the computer's primary board and contains the CPU. Refresh rates: The number of fields written to the screen every second expressed in Hertz (Hz). the motherboard is also known as the system board or simply the mainboard. Each pixel is defined in the digital binary language of one’s and zero’s. reducing the dimming that causes flicker. By allowing the AGP card to effectively multitask. a polygon refers to a sequence of straight lines that enclose an area and together form a multi-sided figure. any byte of memory can be accessed without touching the preceding bytes. painted or etched onto the board. and shading). A file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht. connectors for attaching devices to the bus. In the case of graphics cards that support digital flat panel displays. not analog. Graphics cards. These circuits are formed of components connected by conductive strips. variations in color. etc. the colors from one area of the image blend completely into the next. Analog images are continuous. On the other hand. pipelining reduces the time taken for data transfer on the bus connector. pipelining allows the graphics card to issue several requests/commands to the CPU without having to wait for actual data to be sent back from the CPU each time before making the next request. RAMDAC: RAMDAC stands for “Random Access Memory Digital-to-Analog Converter”. Pixels: Computer graphics differ from photographs and eyesight because they are digital. modems..

32-bit precision is primarily used in the creation of high quality graphics.The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 8 of 10 display with more pixels has a higher resolution and is capable of producing more detail in an image. which represents depth values. a dedicated 8-bit side band signal allows new commands to be sent by the AGP device even as data is being received by the host. 32-bit precision is unlikely to be surpassed in the near future because the human eye cannot distinguish between that many colors. The cockpit of an airplane in a flight simulator is a very simple example of how a stencil is used. unlike the Z-buffer. generating more than 4 billion colors. More of an image can be seen. Sub-picture blending: The incorporation of sub-titles. Stencil buffering: Stencil buffering determines whether a particular pixel should be rendered or not. specular highlights can be programmed to change in synchrony with a change in your view of the image. and in color scanners. In a 3D game for example. As the system is busy transferring textures from system memory to the local frame buffer. Using specular highlights. reducing the need for scrolling or panning. S-video has a sharper picture. a stencil buffer represents a stencil or mask on the frame being rendered. file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht.. in computer games. a substantial increase over 24-bit precision. back to glossary index -SSDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM) : Low cost memory type suited for mid-range performance needs. This means that in contrast to composite video. graphics artists or game developers can specify exactly how light needs to reflect off the image to achieve their desired effect. faster than SDRAM. Currently. 07/06/2013 . captions for the hearing impaired. Specular highlights: A lighting feature used to achieve added realism in creating three-dimensional graphic images. the 3D engine need only update the scenery in the windshield. (Single-ported memory. S-video: Super-video is a video cabling standard that allows video information to be split into two separate signals—one for brightness and the other for color information. The inside of the cockpit acts as a stencil and masks complex scenes so that external scenery is only visible in the areas specified by the stencil mask. which generates only about 17 million colors. In addition to the 32 bits of the bus connector. back to glossary index -T32-bit rendering precision: Refers to the use of 32-bits of information per pixel when rendering an image.. especially for graphics needs. S-video may be seen in many electronic products today. SGRAM (Synchronous Graphics RAM) : Low cost memory type suited for mid-high range performance. side band signaling could be used by the AGP device to request the next set of textures. karaoke lyrics. animations or other similar effects to a video stream. It can also synchronize itself with the clock speed of the microprocessor's data bus.) Side band signaling: Refers to the use of dedicated circuitry added to the AGP bus that enables two-way communication. for example. However. This is currently the highest quality of color precision available. Instead of rendering all of the scenery and then doing an overlay of the cockpit. ranging from camcorders to DVD players as well as by graphics cards with TV functions.

the Z-axis is used to measure the distance from a vertex to the screen. and passes it on to another program in a kind of pipeline. Choosing an AGP card can help solve this problem it allows the 2D/3D card to access your computer's main memory for the Z-buffer.. either partially or completely. Video capture card: An adapter that plugs into the computer's expansion bus (or into the graphics card itself) and enables you to control a video camera or VCR and manipulate its output. VGA connector: The VGA connector is used to attach the display device you are using (the monitor.. while the X-axis and the Y-axis define the 2D plane (in which your computer screen is included). In general. creating a 3D effect. back to glossary index -ZZ-buffer: In creating a 3D image. the Z-axis is used to measure the third dimension. back to glossary index -VVGA: Video Graphics Array refers to a video standard that enables resolutions of up to 640 x 480 with up to 16 colors at a time and also 320 x 200 resolution with 256 colors. that is.axis. back to glossary index file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht.The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 9 of 10 Texel (TEXtured ELement): A textured picture element. Each polygon is made up of a group of vertices (points). with three rows of five pins (which explains why they are also known as 15-pin connectors!). It usually compresses the video input to a manageable size and is useful for developing multimedia presentations. A filter is "pass-through" code that takes input data. The Z-buffer refers to that part of the memory where the depth value of a pixel is stored. 07/06/2013 . Trilinear filtering: A filter is a program or section of code that is designed to examine each input or output request for certain qualifying criteria and then process or forward it accordingly. a dedicated Z-buffer increases frame rates but more expensive since it requires more memory. a TV tuner allows you to use your computer monitor as a television set. The live broadcast can be stopped and restarted at a later time without losing any parts of the program. it is that portion of memory that is used to store the coordinate on the Z-axis. In each polygon. flat panel. This is what enables some polygons to be located behind others. Monitor VGA connectors are usually blue. makes some specific decision about it and possible transformation to it. the polygons actually have depth. In other words. Timeshifting: The process of being able to watch live TV with the option of pausing it. A 3D image is created (rendered) using a combination of many polygons. Timeshifting requires a simultaneous encoding (capture) and decoding (playback) of the incoming TV signal. the depth of an object. or even TV) to your graphics card. TV tuner: A piece of hardware that is able to receive a television signal and convert it into digital information that can be displayed on your computer system. VGA compatibility remains a significant factor in most graphics cards. the basic unit of measurement when dealing with texture-mapped 3D objects. Basically. in a 3D image. It is the value of the Z-axis that allows a card to determine whether a pixel is visible or not. for each value of the X-axis and the Y. While the polygons in a 2D image would just be flat.

. Copyright © 1998 Matrox Graphics Inc.. 07/06/2013 . All rights reserved. Close file://C:\Program Files (x86)\DT-WS-FUND_00027415 WBT\course###BOT_TEXT###02_hw_tech0_ht.The ABCs of Graphics Cards Page 10 of 10 "The ABCs of Graphics Cards" – brought to you by Matrox Graphics Inc.