Should you choose a dedicated graphics card or a processor with integrated graphics on it? In this guide, we’ll go over the differences between both options so that you’ll have a better idea of which option will work best for you.
If you’ve noticed in this post’s title, I capitalized YOU. That wasn’t a typo and that wasn’t in an attempt to make it look like I was shouting the word ‘you’. Rather, it was to place emphasis on the fact that the biggest determining factor in whether or not you should get a dedicated graphics card or integrated graphics will all come down to you and your own needs and your budget.
Sure, dedicated GPUs are typically more powerful than integrated graphics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a dedicated GPU will be a better option for you.
So, in this guide, we’ll discuss what dedicated graphics are, what integrated graphics are, the differences between them, and who both GPU options make sense for.
So, whether you’re looking to build or buy a new PC or laptop, this guide will help you determine whether or not you should be looking at ‘discrete’ graphics cards (another name for ‘dedicated’ graphics cards) or graphics that are integrated onto the processor (CPU).
A CPU (or central processing unit) in a computer is responsible for executing the processes (through calculations) that are necessary to make your computer work.
A GPU (or graphics processing unit) works similarly to a CPU, except it mainly handles the processing of graphics-related data and instructions.
Integrated graphics refers to the scenario in which you find both a CPU and a GPU included on the same chip. So, for instance, if you choose a processor that has integrated graphics on it, that processor will be able to handle both normal CPU processes and GPU processes.
A dedicated graphics card comes completely separate from your CPU. The graphics card houses the GPU which then can be used to process graphics-related data and instructions separate from your CPU.
Discrete graphics cards also come with their own memory in the form of VRAM (video RAM, or video random access memory), which gives the dedicated GPU quick access to relevant image data. As a comparison, integrated graphics do not have a dedicated set of memory to pull image data from, but, rather, use the system’s memory to pull image data from.
The biggest drawback of integrated graphics is that, by placing both a CPU and GPU on the same chip, one (or both) of the processors will be limited. Or, in other words, you cannot place both a CPU and GPU on the same chip without limiting one (or both) of their potential processing power.
And, while most modern processors come with integrated graphics on them, it is usually the integrated GPU that is minimalized so as to not affect the CPU’s potential performance.
However, a dedicated graphics card has its own PCB, memory (VRAM), and cooling solution, and, as a result, is not as limited in its potential power. And, moving the responsibility of computing graphics-related data from the integrated graphics on your processor to a dedicated GPU will help free up resources for your CPU to use.
So, a dedicated graphics card—depending on how powerful of a GPU it has on it—will not only provide more GPU power, but it will also reduce the workload on your main processor as well. And, both of those things will help your computer perform better.
Of course, just because a dedicated graphics card will help a computer perform better doesn’t necessarily mean that every computer user should opt for a system with a dedicated GPU in it. In fact, integrated graphics are becoming more powerful and, for basic computing, they can offer more than enough power to accommodate the average user.
So, in the next two sections, we’ll discuss who dedicated graphics cards make sense for and who integrated graphics makes sense for.
The two main determining factors on whether or not you should get a dedicated graphics card are:
- What your total budget is for the system you are looking to buy
- The kinds of tasks and programs you are looking to run on your system
So, with those two factors in mind, let’s take a look at who a dedicated graphics card would make sense for…
1. Serious Gamers Who Want A Desktop (Either to Buy One or Build One) And Who Have A Decent-Sized Budget
If you’re a serious gamer and you want to play your favorite games on the highest settings possible with as high of a framerate as possible, then you’ll likely want to either purchase a pre-built gaming desktop that has a dedicated graphics card inside of it, or build a new computer and include a dedicated graphics card in your part list.
The good news is that, for 1080P gaming, you can build a gaming computer for as low as $400-$500 that can accommodate a dedicated graphics card and that will outperform a system that relies on integrated graphics.
Or, you can buy a pre-built gaming desktop for about ~$500-$600 (or higher) that will offer similar performance.
The bottom line, though, is that if gaming performance is your main concern and you have at least $400-$500 to spend on a system, you should probably be going with a dedicated graphics card.
2. Serious Gamers Who Want A Gaming Laptop and Who Have A Moderate Budget
As laptops are more expensive on a spec-for-spec basis than their desktop counterparts, most cheap gaming laptops come with integrated graphics in them. And, if you don’t have a lot of money to spend and you aren’t playing more demanding games, integrated graphics on a laptop can be serviceable.
However, if you need a laptop and you want it to be able to handle your favorite games on higher settings with higher framerates, you’re going to want to choose a gaming laptop that has a dedicated graphics card in it.
Fortunately, you can find a solid gaming laptop under $1,000 that will come with a dedicated graphics card in it and that will be able to play most of today’s top games at at least medium settings with a solid framerate.
3. Professionals Who Do Graphics-Related Work
If you’re a professional that does graphics-related work (graphics design, animation, video editing, etc.), or, if you’re just some who does those things for fun, you’ll likely want to ensure that you get a dedicated graphics card, as well, because those types of tasks and programs can be difficult to carry out on integrated graphics.
Nowadays, integrated graphics can be powerful enough for certain users. The scenarios and use-cases where integrated graphics makes sense are as follows:
1. Non-Gamers Who Are Looking for A New System for Basic Computing
If all you want is a computer or laptop that can handle things like browsing the internet, sending emails, or watching videos, going with a system that opts for integrated graphics is not a bad idea. In fact, if that is all you want out of your system, you would end up spending more money than is necessary by choosing a system that has a dedicated graphics card in it.
2. Budget-Oriented Gamers Who Want A Desktop and Who Have A Tight Budget
If you are a gamer, but you have a really tight budget to work with to get a new desktop system, you may not be able to afford a dedicated graphics card, in which case, you’ll be forced to use the integrated graphics that come on your processor.
Fortunately, if you’re willing to build your own computer, you can put together a system for around ~$300-$400 that comes with a processor that has integrated graphics that are powerful enough for entry-level gaming. That means you’ll be able to play games like Leauge of Legends, Dota 2, Rocket League, etc. with no problems. And, for more demanding games, you will at least be able to play some of them on lower settings.
If you don’t want to build your own computer, you can still find an affordable pre-built desktop that will feature a similar level of integrated graphics.
3. Gamers Who Want A Laptop, But Who Don’t Have At Least A Moderate Budget
For gamers who require a laptop, but who don’t have a large budget, integrated graphics will be your only option. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t expect great gaming performance out of a cheap laptop that utilizes integrated graphics.
However, if all you really want to do is play non-demanding games like League of Legends, Dota 2, or Rocket League, you can probably get by with an extreme budget laptop with integrated graphics on it until you can afford a higher-end option.
Are Integrated Graphics or A Dedicated Graphics Card the Better Option for You?
The bottom line is that, while a dedicated graphics card will typically provide more GPU power than integrated graphics will, the reality is that some users will be better off with integrated graphics if A) they don’t have the budget to accommodate a dedicated graphics card, or B) they will only be using their system for tasks that don’t require the extra GPU power that a dedicated graphics card will provide.
Ultimately, if you’re on the fence between whether you need a dedicated graphics card, or you can get by with integrated graphics card, the points outlined in this post should help you determine which option is best for your needs and budget.