What Is A Discrete Graphics Card?

So what exactly is a discrete graphics card and how does it differ from an integrated graphics card? Which should you choose? Here's the answer.

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 guide will clarify a separate graphics card and how it varies 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

ASUS ROG RTX 2080 Ti graphics cards

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. These companies design their own discrete graphics cards using their unique chips and architecture.

Which Is Better – Discrete VS Integrated Graphics

Dedicated vs Integrated Graphics Card
AMD’s Ryzen APUs feature some decent integrated graphics. For higher-end systems, you will need a dedicated graphics card.

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.

Integrated Graphics

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 and 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 with 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.

Integrated graphics require less power from your power supply. It’s also more economical to purchase an Intel processor with Intel HD 600 graphics or an AMD Ryzen APU than both a processor and a separate graphics card.

how to choose a graphics card

Discrete Graphics

Conversely, separate graphic cards cost more. They need extra power from your power unit. Nonetheless, they offer various benefits.

Discrete graphics cards are far more effective at rendering complex images and scenes, including different lighting sources and shadows.

They are created to be extra long-lasting and utilize their equipment for optimal output without overloading the CPU and RAM with displaying tasks. The user from our earlier illustration would be able to employ 8GB of RAM if their setup employed independent 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 sophisticated 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?

  1. Gamers who keep up with the latest trends in the gaming industry and want to play demanding games.
  2. Professional and aspiring game designers and developers who use engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine.
  3. Graphic designers and illustrators who use Adobe bundle, including Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as other software for graphic manipulation.
  4. 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 and VR.

While integrated graphics have significantly improved 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.

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Branko Gapo

Keeping up with the incredibly fast evolution of computer technology is impossible. That is why Branko will be using his knowledge on this matter to share news and information on all the latest essential technological innovations and advancements.