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

Dedicated and integrated graphics cards are the two most popular ways a graphics chip will be in charge of outputting images to your display. Each of them has their strengths and weaknesses, and there are a few things that you need to consider before making a choice.

It’s essential to know exactly what these things are, so that’s the first thing we’re going to cover.

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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, these are a separate piece of hardware that can interface with your motherboard and by extension, the rest of your PC. Most commonly, they are installed directly on the motherboard via the PCIe slot.

When you hear people saying GPU or graphics card, this is what they’re talking about. Dedicated GPUs will have their own dedicated memory also known as VRAM or video random access memory and a processor, both made specifically to be used by card’s processes.

Integrated Graphics Cards

Intel Integrated GPU

On the other hand, we have integrated graphics cards or iGPUs. As the name suggests, these are graphics chips that are integrated within the system, either directly on the motherboard or on the same die as the CPU like AMD’s APU or Intel’s HD Graphics.

These chips will have to lean on system RAM and as such can get into conflicts with the CPU who also has to use the same memory.

Due to the simplicity and low cost, most motherboards come with an integrated GPU.

Benefits Of A Dedicated Graphics Card

If something is specialized (or dedicated in this case) in the field of technology it’s generally better than something that might be a part of a multi-purpose system. The same applies to DGPUs. They can almost be called a micro system within the PC due to their components being dedicated solely to rendering the best possible images.

Due to being specifically made to execute a lot of computations of very specific data, dedicated GPUs can produce some tremendous visual results. It’s safe to say that if you’re looking to have nice visuals in your gaming time, a dedicated graphics card is a must.

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

As a matter of fact, it’s nearly incomparable putting a dedicated and integrated graphics card next to each other in terms of visual performance. Integrated GPUs have their uses, and we’ll get to that in a bit. But for now, it’s fundamental to stress how much of a performance upgrade the dedicated GPU really is.

A graphics card with, for example, 4GB of VRAM only uses that for its needs and always has the full capacity running for its needs, while on the other side, an integrated GPU with a system memory of 4GB will have to share that memory and will only be allowed a small percentage of available RAM to use.

It might be as little as 1% by default, although this can be adjusted via BIOS/UEFI.

Another good thing about DGPUs is that they are easily upgradeable. It’s as simple as physically removing the card and inserting the upgrade. However, this accessibility comes at a hefty price. Sometimes, a single GPU will cost as much as the rest of the PC components altogether, and if you’re on a tight budget, a discrete GPU might be out of your range.

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

There is a big misconception regarding laptop computers and their inability to give their owners top-level gaming performance. This is categorically untrue and hasn’t been true for at least ten or so years. Nowadays we have discrete GPUs in laptops as well, so if you’re on the move or want to both do work and game on the same machine, you absolutely can.

Of course, and this should not come at any surprise, but desktop gaming is just superior. GPUs made for desktop PCs are on average a lot better than laptop GPUs. However, there is an amusing way to circumvent this and that is via an external GPU, but that’s not today’s topic.

An important thing to note on the discrete laptop GPUs is that they rarely, if ever, come in the notebook versions, so they’re mostly available in the 15.6” and above laptops.

Why Use An Integrated GPU If Discrete Are Superior?

Intel HD Graphics

Integrated GPUs wouldn’t exist if there weren’t uses for them, that is clear. So, what are their uses?

Well, it may not come to their uses as a discrete GPU can outperform them in any use you might have for an integrated GPU, but it is related to other factors, namely price.

Integrated cards are miles cheaper, and as mentioned earlier, they commonly come with a motherboard due to the low cost and simplicity of tacking on.

To say that integrated GPUs are cheap may be painting them in a poor light, and thus, doing them a huge disservice. What both AMD and Intel have accomplished in recent years as far as iGPUs are concerned is nothing short of amazing and should be carefully regarded when making an integrated vs discrete GPU choice.

For example, AMD’s RX Vega 11, which usually comes with a Ryzen 7 processor, is a low-key powerhouse when it comes to portable gaming. Although billed as an integrated GPU, it can perform on the level of many discrete GPU while remaining a far more cost-efficient option.

Ryzen 7 vega apu

Besides the price point, the integrated graphics card also have going for them the fact that they are simply much more energy efficient. Modern, high-end discrete GPUs will oftentimes use up to 50% of your computer’s total energy making the possibility to upgrade them without upgrading your PSU as well an ungrateful task.

Another upside that builds upon the previous point is that iGPUs generate a lot less heat. Discrete graphics cards will come with their own fan (or fans) but in order to get that ultra-beautiful performance, sometimes not even that might be enough.

These high heat-generating discrete GPUs will definitely need to have a proper air circulation accounted for when building the PC, and might also need an additional fan on the case.

As far as laptop GPUs are concerned, it would dishonest to say that they won’t heat your lap when gaming, be it a discrete or an integrated GPU. If you’re specifically looking to game on your laptop, it would be best to grab a cooling pad, although even in that case, you’d want to have your laptop either on the table or any other surface that isn’t your lap.

Despite probably talking too much about gaming, it’s fair to say that if you’re not looking to play any games and simply use your computer for work-related stuff (provided they aren’t GPU-intensive like 3D modeling) or to browse the web and watch Netflix and such, an integrated graphics card is the correct choice for you.

Which One Is The Right One For You?

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

There are both pros and cons to getting either type of GPU. Although the choice is yours and no one can take that away from you, there is a collective wisdom that we’re obligated to deliver to you. The first thing that you should consider before even looking at a new graphics card should be your needs.

If you’re looking to do heavy gaming, then getting a discrete GPU is a no-brainer.

However, if gaming is not the thing you’re using your PC for, then an integrated graphics card is a far better option because of the large price difference.

Even still, if you’re looking to play graphically less intensive games, maybe of the simulation or 4X genre, it’s still a good 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.