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

Dedicated and integrated graphics cards are the two most popular graphics chips, which are in charge of outputting images to your display. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and there are a few things that you need to 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, 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 for the card’s processes.

Integrated Graphics Cards

Intel Integrated GPU

We also have 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 have to lean on system RAM. As such, conflicts can happen with the CPU, which also makes use of the same memory. Owing to their simplicity and low cost, most motherboards come with an integrated GPU.

Benefits Of A Dedicated Graphics Card

In the field of technology, if something is specialized (or, in this case, dedicated), it is generally a better option than something that is part of a multi-purpose system. The same 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 images.

As they’re specifically made to execute a lot of computations of very specific data, dedicated GPUs have the potential to produce 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, an integrated graphics card doesn’t stand a chance next to a dedicated one 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 a dedicated GPU can update your performance.

A dedicated graphics card with, for example, 4GB of VRAM, uses all that full memory and capacity for its needs. On the contrary, an integrated GPU with a system memory of 4GB will have to share that memory and will only be allowed to use a small percentage of the available RAM. This might be as little as 1% by default, although it 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. So, 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’s a big misconception regarding laptops and their inability to give their owners top-level gaming performance. This is untrue and has been so for at least ten years. Nowadays you can use GPUs in your laptop as well, so if you’re on the move or want to work and game on the same machine, you absolutely can.

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

An important thing to note about 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 they didn’t have some uses. So, what are their uses after all?

Well, it might not be about their uses specifically, as a discrete GPU can outperform an integrated one in basically all domains. Their advantage is related to other factors, namely price.

Integrated cards are miles 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 may be painting them in a poor light and 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 considered 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 at the level of many discrete GPUs while remaining a far more cost-efficient option.

Ryzen 7 vega apu

Besides the price point, their energy efficiency is something else that integrated graphics cards also have going for them. Modern, high-end discrete GPUs will oftentimes use up to 50% of your computer’s total energy, which makes the possibility to upgrade them without upgrading your PSU 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 that might not 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 be 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. Even in that case, you’d want to have your laptop either on the table or any other surface that isn’t your lap.

In short, if you’re not looking to play games and you simply plan on using your computer for work-related stuff (provided this doesn’t include GPU-intensive things like 3D modeling) or to browse the web, 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 pros and cons to getting either type of GPU. Although it’s your choice, there’s a collective wisdom that we’re obligated to pass on. 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. If gaming is not what you use your PC for, then an integrated graphics card is a far better option due to the large price difference.

Even still, if you’re looking to play less graphically 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.