A graphics card or video card is a component of a computer which is designed to convert a logical representation of an image stored in memory to a signal that can be used as input for a display medium, most often a monitor utilising a variety of display standards. Typically, it also provides functionality to manipulate the logical image in memory.
Increasingly, however, the graphics card is no longer a "card" in the strictest sense, but is an integrated section of the motherboard dedicated to the same purpose. Integrated-graphics-displays usually have inferior 3D performance compared with dedicated graphics cards (due to using cheaper chipsets and sharing system memory rather than using dedicated memory); those who require high performance still prefer non-integrated solutions. Integrated graphics displays have gradually become more common since the mid 1990s as advancing technology makes them more practical. Anyone using their computer for office tasks, web browsing, email and such things will be fine with an integrated graphics chip.
The most powerful graphics hardware, usually geared towards 3D graphics for games, is still card-based. Their processing engines are sometimes called GPUs (graphics processing units). The longterm goal of graphics cards manufacturers (and game developers) appears to be realtime photorealistic rendering. New products and technologies are often touted to provide "Hollywood quality" - 3dfx used claims of movie-quality effects to promote their Voodoo 5 cards with T-Buffer technology, allowing motion blur, depth of field and full screen anti-aliasing effects. nVidia talked about "The dawn of cinematic computing" when introducing its GeForce FX chip with the Dawn technology demo. Others use the new technology for more impressive, but unrealistic rendering, such as cel shading.
Conversely, sometimes 3D-graphics capabilities are not relevant to the choice of high-performance graphics card; 2D graphics and fine visual-quality fill specialised niches in areas such as medical imaging.
The original hardware accelerated 3D renderers come on a board that was used in conjunction with a normal graphics card. The card would add 3D graphics to the 2D rendering from the graphics card via a pass-through cable. The first consumer-level 3D hardware was the Voodoo by the now defunct 3dfx.
When choosing your own graphics solution, consider what you will use it for. 3D cards for model rendering in art and animation use different cards than those used for games. nVidia's "Quadro" series, which can cost upwards of a thousand dollars, is geared toward rendering and 3D animation, while the GeForce series is meant for gaming and actually performs much better at a lower price. A digital or analog monitor may be connected to the graphics card via a DVI connector or VGA connector respectively.
Major chipset producers and products
Specialty graphics card producers and products
Minor chipset producers and products
Also see the list of defunct graphics chips and card companies.