How to identify an expansion card
How to identify expansion card by just looking at it.
There are basically 3 ways to identify what piece of hardware you have in your hands:
- By looking at it's connectors (this helps in identifying what type of card it is)
- By looking at text printed on the PCB a.k.a. Printed Circuit Board (this is usually enough to identify the card and find it's drivers unless the card happens to be very obscure, old or when it's manufacturer has gone out of business)
- By looking at it's chips (on more modern cards not an option without removing it's HSF) and/or the layout of the chips (in case all other methods fail)
- Determining the type of expansion card by looking at it's connectors:
The connectors: An expansion card usually has 2 types of connectors: The connector used to plug the expansion card into the motherboard and the connectors that plug into the expansion card itself. The most important connector is the (usually big) connector that plugs into the motherboard expansion slot.
The more common known expansion slots sorted by approximate age:
- 8-bit ISA
- 16-bit ISA
- VLB (usually for graphics cards and multi i/o cards)
- AGP (only used for graphics cards)
The more uncommon expansion slots include (but are not limited to)
Then there are the connectors that determine what type of expansion board you have.
The usual external ones are: Graphics card (VGA DVI HDMI) Sound card NIC (or Network Interface Card) Parallel/serial ports USB ports
The usual internal ones are:
- Feature Connector
- Connector on a soundcard for connecting wavetable daughterboards
- Determining the type of expansion card by looking at text printed on the PCB
Looking for text printed on the PCB is a very good way to identify the expansion card, provided you have access to the internet
One little string of text thats almost always printed on the PCB is it's date code. Usually it's printed in 4 digits, for example 9833 (which means the year 1998, week 33). This can help to determine when the PCB was manufactured (very handy if access to the internet is unavailable)
Another important one is it's FCC code (often printed on older expansion cards). Tip:If a search using the cards FCC ID results in 0 search results, try to cut off part of the latter part of the FCC ID.
Basically any string of text printed on the PCB can help in determining what expansion board you have that needs identifying, but more helpfull are for instance it's manufacturer and the cards model number.
- Determining the type of expansion card by looking at it's chips
One way to determine what expansion board you have (particularly if searches with strings of text from the PCB itself result in 0 hits) is to look at the writings on the chips (also handy for helping to ID memory modules and CPU's). If no manufacturer can be determined, then at the very least a generic driver can be found that might still work with the expansion board. However, as more modern expansion boards often have heatsinks attached to the chips and because identifying the chip doesn't help in determining exactly what board one has, this is usually a last resort.
If all else fails and if the expansion board is very old (made before the year 2000) then there is one more option which is to search Total Hardware 99 (a.k.a. th99) for similar boards (this may be particularly helpfull for older motherboards).
If visual identification is not an option, then the expansion board may be identified using software (preferably with an OS that is newer then the manufacturing date of the PCB implies)
If everything fails in determining the board, then your best bet is to take a (clear!) picture of the board and post it on a forum such as Vogons, perhaps someone else can identify it for you. Experienced people may be able to identify a card on a picture simply by looking at it's layout.