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Integrated vs Dedicated Graphics Cards; How to Choose the Best GPU
The debate of integrated vs dedicated graphics cards (GPUs) is almost as old as modern PCs, but the argument has definitely changed over the years. In the past, integrated GPUs had a poor reputation related to a lack of power. But advances in technology have helped to close the gap between the two options.
In this guide, we’ll explain the differences between integrated and dedicated graphics cards, and who needs which type of GPU, so you can make the best purchasing decision for your needs.
How does a GPU work?
A GPU allows a computer to render images processed by the CPU. You can get a firm grasp on the GPU’s power when you run graphics-intensive processes, such as gaming, video editing, and 3D rendering.
How GPUs work in gaming
In particular, video game performance greatly depends on your computer’s GPU. When you play games, the CPU is constantly performing mathematical equations. This information is then sent to the GPU, which uses the information to render geometry, shading, textures, and color.
The GPU renders these 3D graphics from polygons, which are triangular in shape. The GPU then figures out where to place the polygons and renders viewing angles based on perspective, including how the player focuses the camera.
The two types of GPUs
GPUs come in two different types: integrated and dedicated. Dedicated GPUs are also sometimes referred to as discrete graphics cards. Both serve different functions, and it is up to you which type of graphics card you want in your PC.
What is an integrated graphics card?
An integrated graphics card shares power between the GPU and CPU, because the graphics card is built directly into the computer's processor. Integrated GPUs are best for typical PC processes like web browsing, social media, and resource-light work such as spreadsheets, editing documents, and project management software.
1. Newer tech closing the gap
Integrated graphics are standard with most PCs, especially laptops. While gamers once looked down on integrated graphics, newer technology has changed that viewpoint. This is particularly true with the AMD Ryzen™ processor, referred to as an APU. It combines both a CPU and GPU on the same die to achieve great results.
2. Plenty of games to play
You can also play plenty of games with a CPU with integrated graphics, just not massive, triple-A (AAA) titles. Most of these playable games, including indie classics Stardew Valley and Minecraft, use lower resolution graphics and pixels, so you can enjoy them with an integrated graphics card.
What is a dedicated graphics card?
A dedicated graphics card is a wholly separate processor from the CPU and has its own dedicated memory. Dedicated graphics cards deliver better performance but use more power, cost more money, and they’re found more commonly in desktops than laptops.
1. Separate memory and cooling
Also known as a discrete GPU, dedicated GPUs almost always have their own memory and cooling solution. This helps to free up resources for your CPU to process information, which helps to avoid frame rate issues when playing AAA games, editing video, and rendering 3D models.
2. You need an equally powerful CPU
When purchasing a dedicated graphics card, you also need a comparable CPU. This helps to more equitably distribute the load between your CPU and dedicated GPU. A good baseline is the 8th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor or equivalent. Anything with less processing power is not sufficient to use with a modern discrete GPU.
Choosing the right graphics card for you
There are different use cases for integrated graphics cards and dedicated graphics cards. Here's what you need to know when choosing between these two types of video cards.
1. What programs and applications will you use?
The first, and perhaps most important, consideration is how you plan to use your graphics card. You need a dedicated GPU for graphics-intensive gaming, editing video, and mining Bitcoin. However, for more general purpose use, such as web browsing, most work-from-home jobs, and more basic gaming, you can get by with CPUs with integrated graphics.
Most all-purpose PCs use an integrated GPU, but you will need to determine exactly how you will use your computer before making an informed decision.
If you think you'll use both more graphics-intensive and less graphics-intensive programs and applications, you have the option to purchase both. In this scenario, you will use a process called GPU switching, which allows you to switch between your integrated graphics card and dedicated graphics card.
This also allows you to maximise the graphics performance in your computer. Plus, if you own a laptop, it may help to prolong the battery life.
2. What's your budget?
Budget is another major factor when you decide if you want to invest in a dedicated graphics card or stick with a processor with integrated graphics. Dedicated graphics cards are more expensive and you need to pair them with a pricier CPU for top performance.
If you are buying a laptop, you will have limited GPU options. Most laptops under 15 inches have integrated graphics because they would need more space to fit a dedicated graphics card. And if you do buy a laptop with discrete graphics, you can expect to pay more for the extra power.
3. How important are graphics to you?
You can run many modern games and applications on low settings with an integrated graphics card. This includes popular titles such as Overwatch, Grand Theft Auto V, and Borderlands 3. If you think you’ll play these types of games, then you should consider the importance of playing them at higher graphics settings.
However, the conversation changes when we talk about newer titles such as Hitman 3 and New World and upcoming games like Far Cry 6. You cannot properly render the graphics in these games without a dedicated graphics card. If you’re a serious gamer who prefers these bigger titles – and those coming in the future – you'll want to invest in a dedicated graphics card.
4. Power consumption and battery life
A discrete graphics card uses more power and will drain your laptop's battery life faster. It will also cause your desktop PC to use more power, which can result in a bigger electric bill and decreased energy efficiency.
A dedicated graphics card may also increase your laptop’s temperature, which you’ll need to manage. This means you may want to use an external fan or cooling pad to continually cool it. For desktop users, you may want to invest in a better internal cooling fan to prevent heat damage in your machine.
Best accessories for gaming with a great GPU
Whether you choose to invest in a dedicated GPU or you simply use your PC’s integrated graphics card, you still have plenty of gaming options ahead of you as long as your CPU and other components are up to the task.
To make the most of these games, look no further than the HP OMEN line of gaming accessories, which includes top-tier mice, keyboards, and gaming headsets. It’s important to have the support you need to perform your best, whether you’re playing an immersive game on the highest settings like Cyberpunk 2077 or running through a few matches in Overwatch with your integrated graphics card.
Your gaming setup starts with the HP OMEN reactor mouse. It comes with lightning-fast optical-mechanical switches with .02 ms click response time and customizable macros. This allows you to easily create and assign different inputs to the mouse's different buttons. The mouse also boasts a 50-million-click lifespan, so you know it’ll last for years to come.
Gaming keyboard and headset
You can take your gameplay further with the HP OMEN sequencer keyboard and the HP OMEN Mindframe Prime headset. HP designed these accessories specifically with comfort in mind. You can see this in the keyboard’s optical-mechanical switch technology and the headset’s FrostCap feature and passive cooling ear cushions. These extra perks make even the longest sessions as comfortable as possible.
Thanks to ongoing strides in integrated CPU tech, you can do more than ever with a PC with this type of card. If you don’t care as much about graphics and you don’t need to run intensive programs, you can not only get by with an integrated solution, you can excel at everything you need to do on your computer.
However, if you are a serious gamer or you run 3D rendering and video editing software, you will be best served by a dedicated GPU. If you’re shopping for a new PC or laptop with dedicated graphics, be sure to check out the HP OMEN line and our list of the best gaming PCs from HP.
About the Author: Daniel Horowitz is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.