GPU vs Graphics Card – What Is The Difference?

Many terms in the English language have evolved to mean the same thing; it is the case with the terms GPU and graphics card in the technology world. Still, there is a group of people who still get offended when someone fails to differentiate them, so let’s get into what’s what.

Not that you need to justify your word choice to anyone, but especially in the GPU and technology world, there is no such thing as too many technicalities. It’s also useful to know how this confusion began and why it is okay to use these terms with the same meaning.

First, let’s discuss what these terms mean.

Table of ContentsShow

GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

NVIDIA Titan V
The NVIDIA Titan V, a top tier GPU

It’s only fair to assume that if you heard about the GPU, you’ve heard about the CPU as well, and chances are you wondered why these names are so similar. In fact, they’re very much alike in regard to their capabilities. It could be said that they are two sides of the same coin.

Generally speaking, the CPU or Central Processing Unit is in charge of processing the information from the entire PC, including the GPU. It basically retrieves data and instructions on what to do with it, does some complicated Boolean algebra, and delivers the requested result.

The GPU is very similar, with the exception of its function. Quite self-explanatory, the GPU is intended for graphics processors, so it’s built and optimized to work better with video data.

Just like the CPU has RAM (random-access memory), so does the GPU come with VRAM (video random-access memory). Similarly, just like the motherboard connects RAM and CPU, so does the graphics card with the GPU and VRAM.

iGPU

Ryzen 7 vega apu
Many of AMD’s Ryzen APUs include integrated Vega graphics (those with a “G” suffix in the product name)

We’ve reached what is probably the most confusing part of the whole discussion. Even the manufacturers themselves call their iGPU (Integrated Graphics Card) solutions an Integrated Graphics solution, which further dilutes these two terms.

Plot twist: an Integrated Graphics Card is in fact a GPU and not a graphics card. It shares the system memory with the CPU and is not very capable of high fidelity graphics. Actually, some recent iGPUs have slightly more potency and are suitable for some modern games, even if at a lower resolution and texture quality.

Graphics Card

AMD Graphics Card
An MSI Gaming X graphics card with dual-fans

The main reason for the confusion concerning the terms GPU and graphics card is that the graphics card is also known by several other names such as video card, video adapted, graphics adapter, among others.

Although technically all these terms describe what the actual card does, the term graphics card is the most widely accepted one. However, due to not being colloquially used, the reason for the confusion is clear.

A graphics card can be considered its own computer because it has an independent processing unit and dedicated memory. Of course, there’s no storage available on it, but it does have video output ports. It usually interfaces with the motherboard through a PCIe slot and is powered by the PSU (power supply unit) via power connectors.

This microsystem within a system of microprocessors is capped off with its own cooling solution, usually in the form of the heatsink and a dedicated fan. There are also other cooling options, such as water cooling, but those are usually made on the system level.

Can A GPU And Graphics Card Be Used Interchangeably?

ASUS ROG RTX 2080 Ti graphics cards

Of course!

Sure, there will be people who will insist on being pedantic, but the fact of the matter is that if you say ‘GPU’ and mean ‘graphics card’, chances are you’ll be understood by the vast majority of people.

Curiously, it doesn’t really work the other way around: you’ll probably never say ‘graphics card’ and mean ‘GPU’. This is simply because the intricacy of the processing unit is not often discussed in casual conversation.

Basically, if you’re talking to people who take their computer science seriously and you want to come off as knowledgable, you might want to say ‘GPU’.

You Might Like These Too

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.