GPU vs Graphics Card – What Is The Difference?

You've probably heard the terms GPU and graphics card used interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. Let's find out the difference.

Many expressions in the English language have come to mean the identical thing as others. In the technology world, this is the circumstance with GPU and graphics card.

Still, there are some people who get offended when someone fails to differentiate them, so let’s take a closer look at what’s what.

Not that you need to justify your choice of words to anyone else.

However, it’s always advantageous to acquaint oneself with the technicalities, particularly in the GPU and technology realm. It’s also useful to understand how this bewilderment started and why it’s generally acceptable to interchangeably utilize these terms.

Let’s first look at what these terms mean.

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GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

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

We can only assume that if you have heard of a GPU, you have also heard of a CPU. You might also have wondered why these two names are so similar.

In fact, they are very much alike in terms of what they can do. 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 information from the entire PC, including the GPU. It essentially retrieves data and instructions on what to do with that data, does some complicated Boolean algebra, and delivers the requested result.

The GPU is very similar, other than its main purpose. The GPU is intended for graphics processors, so it is designed and optimized to work more effectively with video data.

Just as the CPU uses RAM (random-access memory), the GPU comes with VRAM (video random-access memory). Similarly, the motherboard connects the RAM and CPU, while the graphics card connects 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 perhaps the most perplexing part of the entire discussion. Even manufacturers call their iGPU (Integrated Graphics Card) an Integrated Graphics solution, further diluting the two terms.

Plot twist: The Integrated Graphics Unit is actually a GPU and not a graphics card. It utilizes the system memory alongside the CPU and is not highly proficient in producing high-quality graphics.

To be fair, some recent iGPUs are more powerful and are suitable for some modern games, even if they must be played at a lower resolution and texture quality.

Graphics Card

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

The main cause of the confusion surrounding the terms GPU and graphics card is that the graphics card is also known by several other names, including video card, video adapter, graphics adapter, and others.

Although technically, these terms all describe what the card does, the term graphics card is the most widely accepted one. However, it’s easy to see why people might get confused when discussing this hardware.

A graphics card can be seen as a separate computer as it possesses its own processing unit and exclusive memory. Although it lacks storage capacity, it does include ports for video output. Typically, it connects to the motherboard through a PCIe slot and receives power from the power supply unit (PSU) through power connectors.

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

Can GPU And Graphics Card Be Used Interchangeably?

ASUS ROG RTX 2080 Ti graphics cards

Of course!

Sure, some people insist on being pedantic, but the fact is that if you say “GPU” to refer to a “graphics card”, you will probably be understood by the vast majority of people.

Curiously, it doesn’t really work the other way around; you will probably never say “graphics card” and mean “GPU”. This is because the intricacies of the processing unit are rarely discussed in casual conversation.

Basically, if you’re talking to people who take their computer technology seriously and want to seem knowledgeable, it might be better to say “GPU” simply.

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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.