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Troubleshooting Your Graphics Upgrade

Whether your video upgrade requires major (internal) surgery or just a plug-unplug of a video cable, if anything can go wrong, it will—sooner or later. Here's help.

Help! I've installed a new video card and now my system won't boot!

There are quite a few potential causes for this one. Check the following:

  • Check the obvious first—Did you reattach the display to power and to your new video card?

  • If your system was using built-in video, did you disable it correctly?—If you need to manually disable built-in video and didn't do so first, your old and new video are fighting over who's in charge. Guess what? You lose.

  • Make sure you don't have a bare wire or screw touching the motherboard or any cards—A short stops the system in its tracks.

  • Check again—If you had to move or unplug and reattach any power or data cables to perform the upgrade, make sure you properly reattached everything.

Help! I'm getting video card errors after I installed my new video card!

The most likely cause of this error is failing to remove the old video card from the Windows Device Manager before removing the card itself. Start the system in Safe Mode, remove all video cards listed, and restart the computer normally.

To start the system in Safe Mode, press the Ctrl or F8 key during bootup until the system displays the Windows startup menu. Select Safe Mode from the menu. With Windows XP, select VGA Mode instead.

Help! My system can't find the video card or display drivers!

Use the Browse button during the driver installation to look for the drivers yourself; the driver files end in .inf. Check all folders on the installation floppy drive or CD-ROM for updated drivers for your video card. With a display, see if it needs special drivers or uses a generic plug-and-play driver.

Help! I can't select high resolutions or color depths, even though I know my video card has plenty of video RAM!

Odds are really good that Windows has selected the wrong video card driver. Use the Advanced button on the Display properties sheet (accessed by right-clicking the desktop) to select the correct video driver from the installation CD or floppy disk, or to use an updated driver you've downloaded.

Help! My CRT's display looks like a funhouse mirror when I change resolutions or refresh rates!

Use the front-panel controls on your monitor to adjust the horizontal and vertical screen size and position and to remove distortions. Save the changes into the monitor's non-volatile memory; the next time you switch to that resolution, your picture should remain steady.

Help! I decided to reuse an old PCI graphics card instead of buying a new dual-display graphics card and I can't get my system to recognize the new card.

Try the following:

  1. It's easier to get good results with an AGP and a PCI graphics card. If you're trying to use two PCI cards, the computer can have problems determining which one is the primary card.

  2. If you're using an AGP and a PCI card, restart your computer, open the BIOS setup program, and look for an option called Primary VGA BIOS. If this is set to AGP as in Figure 13.12, change it to PCI, save the settings, and restart your computer.

  3. Figure 13.12Figure 13.12 The Primary VGA BIOS setting indicates which VGA card the computer will initialize first. Normally AGP should be initialized first, but if you can't get an AGP+PCI graphics card combination to work, switch this setting to PCI.

  4. Be sure to use the latest drivers available for both graphics cards. To obtain these, go to the card vendors' web sites.

  5. Check the database of dual-display card installations at the UltraMon web site (

  6. Consider buying a true dual-display card. Some AGP cards with VGA and DVI ports are available for as little as $100.

Help! I just went to the store to buy a new monitor and the salesperson recommends that I buy an extended service plan to go with it. Should I listen to the salesperson's recommendation?

As you know from Chapter 1, I'm not a big fan of extended warranties on computers because you can upgrade the components inside a computer and improve it if a component (such as a motherboard or video card) fails. A monitor is definitely not a user-serviceable component; touching the coils around the picture tube of a CRT-based monitor can kill you!

Getting an extended warranty make sense only in the following circumstances:

  • If the monitor vendor doesn't already provide an instant-exchange service during the first year or so, when most failures take place.

  • and

  • If you can go to the store and swap for a replacement on the spot.

  • and

  • If the cost of the extended service plan isn't more than 25% of the cost of the monitor when new.

That's a dream plan. What about reality?

Some monitor vendors offer instant exchange programs during at least part of the warranty period, so an extended warranty duplicates the vendor's warranty. Most extended warranties make you wait while the monitor is sent back to a central repair depot for testing. In the meantime, you can't use your PC! Finally, although some extended warranties seem reasonably priced (you can get a three-year plan for an $800 LCD panel for $120 from one national vendor, which beats my 25% guideline), what about future price drops on monitors? In a couple of years from now, $120 might go a long way toward replacing the panel outright with a better model, and in the meantime, you can spend your money elsewhere. It's your choice, but for me, most extended warranties are primarily designed to pump up store profits instead of helping you, no matter what the salesperson says.

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