So you read the specs for The Sims 3 and you found out that your current graphics card will not work or isn’t pumping out the best graphics for your standards.  Well, that’s not a problem now, as with this tutorial you should be able to replace or add a new video card to your system!

Introduction

This tutorial was designed to help simmers upgrade or add a new video card to their computers.  I’m going to try my best to help walk you through the steps of the process.  Please take some time to read all sections as they contain information you’ll need to know.  Keep in mind that there are so many possibilities and types when it comes to video cards…I might of left something out from this tutorial.  If you have any concerns or questions after reading this, then feel free to contact us.

What are the supported cards for The Sims 3?

The supported cards for The Sims 3 are as followed (I’m going by the minimum specs from TS3):

  • 128 MB Video Card with support for Pixel Shader 2.0

ATI Radeon™ series

  • 9500, 9600, 9800
  • X300, X600, X700, X800, X850
  • X1300, X1600, X1800, X1900, X1950
  • 2400, 2600, 2900
  • 3450, 3650, 3850, 3870,
  • 4850, 4870

NVIDIA GeForce series

  • FX 5900, FX 5950
  • 6200, 6500, 6600, 6800
  • 7200, 7300, 7600, 7800, 7900, 7950
  • 8400, 8500, 8600, 8800
  • 9600, 9800, GTX 260, GTX 280

Intel® Extreme Graphics (those without videocards or low-end laptops use integrated chips)

  • Intel 965 Chipset Family with GMA X3000 series and higher

Laptop versions of these chipsets may work, but may run comparatively slower. Standalone cards that are installed in vanilla PCI slots (not PCIe or PCIx or AGP), such as some GeForce FX variants, will perform poorly. Intel integrated chipsets featuring underclocked parts will not perform adequately.

Integrated chipsets such as the ATI Xpress and the NVIDIA TurboCache variants will have low settings selected, but should run satisfactorily.

Please note that attempting to play the game using video hardware that isn’t listed above may result in reduced performance, graphical issues or cause the game to not run at all.

The NVIDIA GeForce FX series is unsupported under Vista.

Do you own a card that is on the list?  Great!  You could either keep the current card or replace it if you see that the graphic settings on other games appear to run in low/medium settings (using Sims 2 as an example).  If you don’t own a card on that list…there is two possibilities…

One would be that either it truly isn’t supported and the other could be the fact that Maxis may of forgot to test it.  I’m going to go by assumptions here, but if you have a card that isn’t on the list and can run TS2 or other recent games on high settings, more than likely it should work with TS3.  If the card isn’t on the list and you can run TS2, Spore or other games on low settings…It’s possible that it might not either work or it’ll run like molasses.

Things to consider before picking out a new card

Before shopping around to find a new card, you might want to research a few things.  I’d hate it if you ended up purchasing a new video card only to find out it will not fit or work properly with your machine!  The next few sections below will help pinpoint what kind of card to aim for.

Integrated video chipsets on desktops/laptops

Integrated Graphics/Video chipsets are graphic processors that are built as a chip right onto the computer’s motherboard.  Most of the time they share the computer’s system RAM, but some chips do have their own dedicated memory.  Many computers that are priced in the $300 – $700 range often has integrated graphics.

Integrated graphics are usually not meant for extensive 3D gaming – they’re mostly used for watching movies and common uses.  They simply do not have enough power to for graphically intense games.

ATI, Nvidia and Intel have their own chipsets.  From what we know right now, The Sims 3 uses the Intel GMA X3000 or higher.  The X3000 is found on Intel’s 965 Chipset family.  As for ATI and Nvidia, there is no telling how well their integrated cards will perform with TS3 at the moment.

Don’t expect amazing graphics from integrated graphic chips.  If I had to guess, I would probably have to say the game would run on medium or even low settings.

If you own a desktop and have integrated graphics, your best bet would be to upgrade to a dedicated video card.  If you’re on a laptop, you’re pretty much out of luck…

PCI-E, AGP or PCI?

There are special expansion slots on your motherboard where the video card hooks in to.  Depending on how old your machine in will help determine what slot you have.

Current machines as well as computers from a couple years back should have a PCI-E slot.  PCI-E slots are for the latest video cards, and you can find many cards that support this type.  PCI-E (Express) is the latest of peripheral interconnections. It is destined to replace both PCI and AGP.  Most modern motherboards have PCI-Express built-in.

Important note about PCI-Express…

PCI-Express comes in two different slot sizes, that are used now.

1.PCI-Express x1. This slot is 36 pins long.
2.PCI-Express x16. This slot is 164 pins long.

Therefore if a graphics card is PCI-E 2.0, it won’t fit in a PCI-Express x1 slot.

PCI-Express x16, means it has 16 Lanes for Data communication.

There are two forms of PCI-Express used now.

PCI-Express 1.1, and PCI-Express 2.0

There was PCI-Express 1.0, but it had inherent problems, hence the 1.1 version came out. PCI-E 2.0 is backward compatible with a PCI-E 1.0 slot also, but some PCI-E 2.0 cards may not work.

A PCI-Express 2.0 graphics card will work in a motherboard that has a PCI-Express 1.1 version slot. Again, this has to be the PCI-Express x16 slot with 164 pins. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PCI-Express (Scroll down, and read under the PCI-Express 2.0 heading.)

AGP slots are for older machines from years back.  AGP stands for ‘Accelerated Graphics Port’.  Data transfer speed for video cards became to slow and thus the AGP was created.  AGP data transfer is faster than PCI, but it is slower than PCI-Express.  If you own a computer with an AGP slot, your selection is pretty limited, but it’s still possible to find cards.

If your computer does not support PCI-E or AGP, then it will use the standard PCI slot.   PCI stands for ‘Peripheral Component Interconnect’.  It’s a connector that has been used since the early 90’s.  These slots are used for many components – sound cards, video cards, network cards and so on.  They are still used today, but usually not for graphics.  Sorry to have to say this…but if you can only use a regular PCI card…your computer is old as dirt and I wouldn’t even bother upgrading it – get a new one. 😛

These slots are located on the bottom to the middle of the back of your computer on the motherboard.  See picture for reference.

What is SLI / CrossFire?

For the most part, simmers shouldn’t even have to consider this option.  SLI (from Nvidia) and Crossfire (ATI) is the process of connecting two videocards together to share the process of rendering graphics.  These are mostly used for highly extensive 3D games, and it doesn’t apply to The Sims 3.  If you’re not a hardcore PC gamer, you shouldn’t ever have to worry about considering this.

Is your power supply capable?

One of the most important parts of upgrading to a better video card is the power supply unit.  Before you pick up a new card, you have to make sure if your power supply unit (PSU) can put out enough power to handle it.  In case you didn’t know, the PSU is that big box in the top part of the computer where the power cord plugs in to.  The PSU’s job is to distribute power to each component in the machine.

Power is determined by Watts.  Usually it lists the amount on the back of the computer’s power supply.  If you cannot find it, then it’ll either be listed in the manual that came with your power supply or on the inside of the computer (see image below).  Most current store bought computers (from $399 – $799) come with PSU’s that pump out 300W – 400W.  High-end expensive computer’s ($900 and up) come with 400W and higher to support the graphics card in the machine.

You need to be careful when your purchase a video card…you don’t want to purchase a high end expensive card ($100 and up) for a computer that has a 300W power supply…You are generally asking for trouble.  If you install a card that requires a lot of power…it’s possible that your machine will end up rebooting randomly or even not work at all.  See the next section below for a breakdown of what card you should get for different PSU’s wattage output.

Also, a note is that certain videocards come with various connectors – 4 pin, 6 pin, 8 pin and more.  The more connectors it comes with, the more power it will need.  If you find out that you do want a high end graphics card and you don’t have a powerful enough PSU, it’s always possible to swap them out.  Most computers come with standard power supplys, but it is best to refer to your manual to double-check.  It’s possible that if it isn’t a standard size, you’ll have to order a new one from the manufacture.

I won’t be able to cover the tutorial to swap out your power supply, but if you are interested, you can read more from these sites:

What cards should I look for and where to buy?

Picking the right card for your computer is important.  The power supply wattage and the type of card (PCI-E, AGP, PCI) are the two main things that you have to look for in which I already covered above.

I’m going to give you links to Newegg’s site for the types of video cards that are available:

To help you find out how much power you will need for the card you selected, visit Newegg’s Power Supply Calculator and input your systems information.  It should give you a rough estimate and will let you know if you can run the card with no problems or if you need to swap the PSU out.

The general rule of thumb is this…The more you pay for the card, the more powerful it will be.  Cards that average about $20-$80 should be able to run using the standard power supply that came with your computer (300W, 400W, etc).  The more you pay however, the more power it will need to run.

Cards that should work fine on standard power supplies (300W to 400W) are the following.  I cannot guarantee that I’m 100% positive on these as I’m using the Power Supply Calculator to determine what the cards will pump out:

Nvidia

  • FX 5900
  • FX 5950
  • 6200, 6500, 6600, 6800
  • 7200, 7300, 7600, 7800, 7900, 7950
  • 8400, 8500, 8600

ATI Radeon

  • 9500, 9600, 9800
  • X300, X600, X700, X800, X850
  • X1300, X1600, X1800, X1900, X1950
  • 2400, 2600
  • 3450, 3650

One last note…Watch out for the size of the card, especially the more expensive ones.. They can be up to 10″ long and might not even fit in your case…so always look at the size/measurements when you buy!

Removing your current video card drivers (the software)

Now that you did your homework and picked out a suitable card, it’s time to start the process of replacing it.  First, you will want to remove the video card’s drivers (software) from your PC.  If you leave it on there and just replace the card, it could conflict with your new drivers that you have to install and cause chaos on your computer.  It’s recommend that you should always uninstall drives from your computer when installing new drivers – even if they are from the same manufacture.

To uninstall the drivers, follow these steps:

  1. Right Click on the My Computer icon and select Properties
  2. Under the Hardware tab, look for a button called Device Manager and click it (in Vista, it will just be in the sidebar)
  3. Look for a section called Display Adapters, click it to show your video card.
  4. Select your video card and right click it.  You want to remove the drivers, so click the Uninstall option.  Another way to see that option is to double click the name of the card and in the properties box that pops up, select the Drivers tab then hit the Uninstall button.

Removing your current video card

If you have a video card in your machine, then follow these directions.  If you don’t, then skip them and go straight to installing the new card.  So now that you uninstalled your drivers, it’s time to remove the card!

  1. Turn off your computer
  2. Unplug the cord from the back of your computer, along with the monitor cord.  The other cables can be unhooked too if you don’t want them in the way (recommended)
  3. Depending on the brand of your computer, you will either have to find a latch or get a screwdriver to remove the side panel.  Refer to your manual if you are unsure how to do so.
  4. Once it is open, either wear an Anti-static ground strap or touch the metal of the computer case. This will get rid of any static you might be carrying, you don’t want to ruin any of your computer’s components with a static shock!
  5. Turn the computer on it’s side for easier access.
  6. On the very back on the inside of the computer, you should see expansion ports.  You should see your video card in one of them.  Find the slot that your card is in and use the screwdriver to remove the slot cover that keeps your card in place.

  7. After removing the slot cover, inspect the card and remove any connectors that may be connected to it.
  8. Most slots usually have a little latch or lock at the bottom on the motherboard.  Look for that latch and left it up to unlock the card.
  9. Once you unlocked it, grab on the edges of the card and pull up, rocking it back and forth if you have to.  Don’t bend it or twist it.

  10. Once pulled, set it on the side somewhere.  You can either wrap it up and discard it or sell it on Ebay for a cheap buck.

Installing the new video card card

Now it’s time to put in your new card!

  1. Make sure you are grounded and that you touched the metal of your case – This will get rid of any static you might be carrying, you don’t want to ruin any of your computer’s components with a static shock!
  2. Take your new card out of the box and it’s anti-static bag.  Try not to touch the connectors and circuits on the card if you can help it – hold it by the edge (and don’t touch the pins either!)
  3. If you skipped the removing process and you are putting in a fresh card, make sure you remove the slot cover.
  4. Gently insert the video card into it’s appropriate slot (PCI-E, AGP, PCI).  Make sure you are lined up with the slot.  Push down on the card until it firmly sits within its slot, then push the little tab up at the bottom (if it has one) to lock it in place.  Don’t be afraid to use a little force if it is needed (the force is with you!).  Sometimes it can be a pain to insert.

  5. If the card requires any power cables, make sure you hook them to the card!  Some might require 4-pin, 6-pin or even 8-pin adaptor slots.  Most cards come with cables to convert regular power connectors to these types of pins.  Some power supplies though already have those kind of cables built in with them.
  6. Screw the slot cover back on to hold the card into place.  Check to see if the card cannot move…also look for any cables that could get caught in the video card’s fan if it has one.
  7. Before you put the computer’s side cover on, hook up all of the cables, plug the computer in and start it.
  8. If you installed it correctly, you should see the monitor display.  If you are not seeing any display, first make sure the monitor is on.  If it is and you still don’t see anything, power down the computer and check the video card.  It might not be fully inserted.
  9. Put the cover back on, you are done!

Installing the new video card drivers (the software)

Once your machine has booted up and appears to be working properly, it’s time to install the drivers for your new card.  Your new card should of came with a CD that contains the new drivers.  Pull that out and put it in your computer.  When you turn on your computer, Windows will automatically try to find and install your video cards drivers.  Most of the time this turns out to be useless and you’ll have to install from the CD.

Once you put the CD in your computer, it should autoplay and you’ll see a place to install the new drivers.  After you follow the installation process, you can remove the CD from your drive as you won’t need it anymore.

Even though you installed the drivers from the CD, it is wise to visit the manufacture’s website to update them.  You have to remember the fact that since the CD is in the package, it could of became outdated over time.  Keeping your drivers up-to-date will correct any bug fixes and optimize the card’s performance.

Just visit the manufacture’s site and select the card that you have from the list.  Install the program and your drivers should now be up to date!

Now you can adjust and play with the video card settings.  You’re going to have to refer to your manual for that!

Conclusion

Well, that wraps things up for this tutorial!  I do apologize if it seemed a little long…I tend to ramble a lot 🙂  I’m surprised it’s not a whole lot longer…I don’t know if I covered everything there is to know!  If you happen to have any questions or concerns, then feel free to contact us.

Until then, happy Simming!