Dedicated vs. Integrated Graphics Cards – Which Is Best For You?

Dedicated and integrated graphics cards are the two most popular types of graphics chips, which are responsible for outputting images to your display. Both types have strengths and weaknesses, and there are a few things that you should consider before buying one.

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Dedicated Graphics Cards

RTX 2070
NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 2070 – a discrete graphics card

Not to be confused with external graphics cards, this is a distinct piece of hardware that can interface with your motherboard and, by extension, the rest of your PC. They are most commonly installed directly on the motherboard via the PCIe slot.

When you hear people mentioning a GPU or graphics card, this is what they’re referring to. Dedicated GPUs have their own dedicated memory, also known as VRAM or video random access memory, and a processor, both created specifically to be used for the card’s processes.

Integrated Graphics Cards

Intel Integrated GPU

There are also integrated graphics cards or iGPUs. As the name suggests, these graphics chips are integrated within the system, either directly on the motherboard or on the same die as the CPU, as is the case with AMD’s APU or Intel’s HD Graphics.

These chips need to rely on system RAM. As such, they can conflict with the CPU, with which they share the same memory. Due to their simplicity and low cost, most motherboards come with an integrated GPU.

Benefits Of A Dedicated Graphics Card

In the world of technology, if something is specialized (or, in this case, dedicated), it is usually a better option than something that forms part of a multi-purpose system. This strongly applies to dGPUs. They can almost be considered a micro system within the PC due to their components being dedicated solely to rendering the best possible image quality.

As they are made specifically to execute a lot of computations of very specific data, dedicated GPUs have the power to produce tremendous visual results. If you are looking to enjoy beautiful visuals during your gaming time, a dedicated graphics card is essential.

Fallout 4
Example of the high-quality graphics that a dedicated GPU can deliver – Fallout 4

An integrated graphics card simply doesn’t stand a chance next to a dedicated one in terms of visual performance. Integrated GPUs do have their uses, and we will look at them soon but, for now, it’s important to stress how much a dedicated GPU can improve your performance.

Dedicated VRAM

A dedicated graphics card with, for example, 4GB of VRAM, uses all of that memory and capacity for its needs. In contrast, an integrated GPU with a system memory of 4GB will need to share that memory and will only be allowed to use a small percentage of the available RAM. This could be as little as 1% by default, though that can be adjusted via BIOS/UEFI.

Upgradeability

Another positive aspect of dGPUs is that they are easily upgradeable. This is as simple as physically removing the card and inserting the upgrade. However, this accessibility comes at a hefty price.

A high-end GPU will often cost as much as the rest of your PC components combined. If you’re on a tight budget, a dedicated GPU might be beyond your means.

Dedicated Graphics Card Inside A PC
It’s very easy to replace a dedicated graphics card. Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

Laptop dGPUs

There’s a widespread misconception surrounding laptops and their inability to provide their owners with top-level gaming performance. This is untrue and has been so for at least a decade. Nowadays you can also use GPUs in your laptop, so if you’re on the move or want to work and game on the same machine, you absolutely can.

With that said, and this probably won’t come as a surprise, desktop gaming is still superior. GPUs designed for desktop PCs are far better on average than laptop GPUs. There is an amusing way to circumvent this via an external GPU, but that isn’t the topic of this article.

An important thing to note about the dedicated laptop GPUs is that they rarely, if ever, come in the notebook versions. They are mostly available in the 15.6” and above laptops.

Why Use An Integrated GPU If Dedicated Are Superior?

Intel HD Graphics

Integrated GPUs wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have at least some uses. So, what are their uses?

This isn’t necessarily a matter of how they perform tasks in comparison to a dGPU, as a dedicated GPU can outperform an integrated one in effectively every way.

Their advantages are related to other factors, particularly their price.

Pricing

Integrated cards are far cheaper and, as mentioned earlier, they often come with a motherboard thanks to their low cost and simplicity.

To say that integrated GPUs are cheap might be painting them in a negative light and doing them a great disservice. What both AMD and Intel have accomplished in recent years with iGPUs is nothing short of amazing and should be considered when making an ‘integrated vs dedicated GPU’ choice.

For example, AMD’s RX Vega 11, which usually comes with Ryzen APU processors, is a low-key powerhouse when it comes to portable gaming. Although it is billed as an integrated GPU, it can perform at the level of many dedicated GPUs while remaining a far more cost-effective option.

Ryzen 7 vega apu

Energy Efficient

In addition to the price point, energy efficiency is something else that integrated graphics cards have going for them. Modern, high-end dedicated GPUs will often use as much as 50% of your computer’s total energy, which makes it far less likely that you will be able to upgrade them without also upgrading your PSU.

Another upside that builds on the previous point is that iGPUs generate far less heat. Dedicated graphics cards will come with their own fan (or fans) but, in order to see the most beautiful visuals possible, that might not be enough.

These heat-generating dedicated GPUs will need to have proper air circulation taken into consideration when building the PC, and might also need an additional fan on the case.

As far as laptop GPUs are concerned, they are very likely to heat your lap when gaming, whether you use a discrete or integrated GPU. If you intend to regularly game on your laptop, it would be best to grab a cooling pad. Even then, you will want to have your laptop on a desk, table, or any other surface that isn’t your lap.

If you aren’t looking to play games and simply plan on using your computer for work-related tasks (provided this doesn’t include GPU-intensive things like 3D modeling) or to browse the web, watch Netflix, etc, an integrated graphics card is probably the right choice for you.

Which One Is Right For You?

Dedicated vs Integrated GPU
This chart should help you choose which GPU type is the right for you.

There are pros and cons to choosing either type of GPU. Although it’s your choice, there is advice that we feel we should pass on. The first thing that you should consider before even looking at a new graphics card is your individual needs.

If you’re looking to do heavy gaming, then getting a dedicated GPU is a no-brainer. If gaming is not a priority when using your PC, an integrated graphics card is a better option due to the vast price difference.

If you’re looking to play less graphically intensive games, such as many in the simulation or 4X genres, it’s might be a better option to get a PC or a laptop with an integrated GPU.

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Aleksandar Cosic
Aleksandar Cosic

Alex is a Computer Science student and a former game designer. That has enabled him to develop skills in critical thinking and fair analysis. As a CS student, Aleksandar has very in-depth technical knowledge about computers, and he also likes to stay current with new technologies.