If you’re building a computer or searching for a good laptop, you have probably heard of dedicated or discrete graphics cards. These two terms are often used interchangeably and they are used to describe the same component.
This article will explain what a discrete graphics card is and how it differs from an integrated graphics card.
The graphics card represents a key component of any PC. It communicates with the processor and RAM to gather data. It then converts that data into a signal that renders images on the computer’s monitor in real-time.
There are two types of graphics cards: integrated and discrete.
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Definition Of A Discrete Graphics Card
A discrete graphics card is a separate processing unit inside your computer. This hardware component is a standalone unit that is either connected to a special port on your motherboard or is itself part of the motherboard. The latter is usually the case with laptops.
The discrete graphics card is separately installed in one of the PCIe slots on the motherboard. It handles all the graphics processing on the computer. This term is an important one for PC-building enthusiasts who are learning about new terminology.
The two giants in the graphics card industry are AMD and NVIDIA. They collaborate with hardware-manufacturing companies including ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, and Zotac. Using their unique chips and architecture, these companies design their own discrete graphics cards.
Which Is Better – Discrete VS Integrated Graphics
In addition to dedicated graphics cards, there are also integrated graphics, which are often part of the CPU chip. There are some major differences between the two that are worth mentioning. We will start with integrated graphics cards as they have fewer features.
In the past, integrated GPUs were also part of the motherboard, but not in the same way as dedicated cards in laptops. Integrated graphics cards function as part of the processor and use its processing power, together with RAM, to convert data into a signal that can render images on a monitor.
This makes them significantly weaker when compared to discrete graphics cards, as they are far less efficient at rendering images.
Image rendering and displaying have higher processing costs, which causes several problems. Firstly, it occupies a certain percentage of your RAM. For a computer that has 8GB of RAM and 1GB of shared memory, the integrated GPU will reserve 1GB of RAM for the graphics, leaving the user to operate with 7GB.
It’s worth noting that this higher processing cost doesn’t refer to the processor’s clock speed. However, as the CPU and integrated graphics share the same RAM, graphical rendering tasks can occupy the processor’s bandwidth, resulting in slightly slower processing times.
Where energy is concerned, integrated graphics will demand less from your power supply unit. Additionally, paying for an Intel processor with Intel HD 600 series graphics, or an AMD Ryzen APU, is more affordable than spending on both a processor and a discrete graphics card.
On the other hand, discrete graphics cards are much pricier. As separate hardware units, they require more power from your PSU. Still, they have many other advantages.
Discrete graphics cards are far more effective at rendering complex images and scenes, including different lighting sources and shadows.
They are designed to be more durable and use their hardware for maximum performance without burdening the CPU and RAM with rendering tasks. The user from our previous example would be able to use 8GB of RAM if their system used discrete graphics.
Discrete graphics cards feature dedicated memory, known as VRAM. This is a special type of memory needed for graphics power.
Newer graphics cards usually possess anywhere from 6GB to 8GB of VRAM. NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 boasts an amazing 10GB. Meanwhile, the top-tier RTX 3090 is equipped with a staggering 24GB of VRAM, leading to even more enhanced performance.
Discrete graphics cards usually feature two or three fans. This means they have a better cooling system when compared to an integrated GPU that relies on the same heatsink as the CPU. Improved cooling leads to lower temperatures, which in turn improves the GPU’s lifespan.
Finally, NVIDIA’s and AMD’s discrete graphics cards include individual features characteristic of gaming systems. They add a level of customization where users can personalize their gaming experience and add a sleeker and more realistic look to their games.
Who Should Use Discrete Graphics Cards?
Integrated GPUs have become more advanced in recent years. Intel even claimed that its Intel HD units have caught up to the capability of discrete graphics cards, per a 2016 report in ExtremeTech.
While integrated graphics indeed became better and more durable, there’s still a lot of work to be done. They have reached a level of performance where they can easily stream 4K videos and handle more intensive games.
Still, they can’t compete with the technology that is Ray Tracing, nor the rendering methods of AMD’s dedicated cards. Discrete cards are meant for more graphically demanding tasks, which we have highlighted below.
So, who should use a discrete graphics card in their system?
- Gamers who keep up with the latest trends in the gaming industry and want to play demanding games.
- Professional and aspiring game designers and developers who use engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine.
- Graphic designers and illustrators who use Adobe bundle, including Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as other software for graphic manipulation.
- Video producers and editors.
To summarize, discrete graphics cards are standalone graphics processors connected to the motherboard via the PCIe slot. They provide cutting-edge rendering technology in real-time and a plethora of other features. Some of these include streaming 4K and 8K videos and games, as well as VR.
While integrated graphics have displayed major improvement in recent years, they are still better suited for light daily use. Discrete graphics cards have the power to make complex graphical tasks look sleek, making them a better option for gaming, video editing, and game development.