Dedicated vs Integrated Graphics
Looking to build or buy a new PC or laptop but can’t decide what graphics card to use? Then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re sharing a comprehensive guide on dedicated vs integrated graphics. We’ll discuss:
- what dedicated graphics are,
- what integrated graphics are,
- the pros and cons of each,
- and the differences between them.
So, keep reading as we help you figure out which graphics processing option is right for your computing needs.
Also referred to as a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), a graphics card is what enables a laptop to create a series of images that are necessary for almost all tasks performed by the device. These tasks can include everything from simple word processing all the way to hardcore gaming.
If you’re a gamer – whether a casual or serious one – you can check the graphics card of your laptop before installing a game to see if your setup is capable of running the game’s software smoothly and at acceptable frame rates.
As you probably know, there are several components in a computer such as the RAM, processor, hard-disk, and so on. But the graphics card is the component that allows you to see what’s happening on your laptop.
Whatever is displayed on the screen is the result of the graphics card’s work. But not all graphics cards are made equal; they vary in performance to serve different purposes.
As such, there are two types of graphics cards: dedicated (or discrete) graphics card and integrated (or built-in) graphics card. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
What is a Dedicated Graphics Card?
Also known as a video card or a discrete graphics, a dedicated graphics card is a piece of hardware that’s separate from your CPU. It’s an extra chip component like your processor or RAM.
A dedicated graphics card houses its own GPU. It uses this unit to process graphics-related data and instructions independently from the CPU.
A dedicated graphics card also comes with its own source of RAM known as VRAM (video RAM or video random access memory), which grants the dedicated GPU uninterrupted access to imaging data. Since it has an independent source of video memory, a dedicated graphics card doesn’t consume any memory from the main RAM to perform tasks.
Imagine that you own a laptop with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card (you lucky dog!). It has 8GB of video memory (vRAM) and 16GB RAM. As you can see, the video memory is totally independent of your system memory.
To put this into clearer view, integrated graphic cards (as we’ll soon discuss) do not have their own memory to acquire image data from. Instead, they pull visual data from the system’s memory – which can be problematic for several reasons also as we’ll discuss momentarily.
There are many types of dedicated graphics cards, but they all include a GPU, some kind of vRAM, and a fan for cooling.
Nvidia and AMD are the two top companies when it comes to manufacturing dedicated graphics cards. Processors generally feature dual or quad cores; this is why a dedicated graphics card is equipped with a lot of cores for parallel processing of imaged data.
NVIDIA calls these cores CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) cores while AMD calls them Stream Processors. A GPU can contain hundreds or thousands of CUDA cores or Stream Processors.
What is an Integrated Graphics Card?
Also known as a built-in graphics card or a shared graphics card, an integrated graphics card is a piece of hardware that’s built into the motherboard or the CPU of the laptop computer.
The name “shared graphics card” comes from the concept that integrated graphics share resources with the system’s memory. This means that if your laptop has 8GB of RAM and 2GB is shared with the graphics processor, there’s only 6GB of memory available for general computing tasks, see the problem?
Shared graphics are often the sole option when compactness is a major priority as with laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
As we mentioned above, this type of graphics processing unit doesn’t have its own separate (dedicated) source of RAM. Instead, it relies on the system’s memory for pulling visual data and performing different tasks.
Imagine that your laptop comes with 4GB or 8GB of RAM. In most cases, the integrated GPU uses between 1% and 5% of the available free memory for processing data and instructions. This percentage varies depending on the task.
So, if you decide to do some multitasking or gaming. The graphics card will use more memory than if you’re just watching a video or viewing a picture.
Integrated graphics cards used to have a lousy reputation. But nowadays, they’re not as lacking in performance like back in the day. The latest ones can perform full HD and even 4K rendering without breaking a sweat.
In fact, most of the modern laptops that are powered by an Intel Core i-series processor feature an integrated Intel graphics card making them perfect for lightweight gaming. In computers that house a dedicated graphics card as well, the software will automatically switch between the two cards to provide a good balance between performance and efficiency.
Pros of Using a Dedicated Graphics Card
- Dedicated graphics cards offer better graphics – recently-released dedicated graphics cards can deliver better graphics performance than any integrated configuration.
- One is enough – one dedicated graphics card is usually powerful enough to process any task. This usually means you won’t have to refrain from running certain programs or upgrade your graphics card if your computing needs become more demanding.
- They don’t share system memory – dedicated graphics cards come with their own GPU and VRAM. This is a huge plus because then video operations don’t limit the potential power of one or both of the laptop’s processors.
- They’re easy to upgrade – even when you do decide to upgrade your dedicated graphics card, it’s usually a fairly simple procedure in most systems.
- They’re better for gaming – if you’re a serious gamer, a dedicated graphics card will give you a superior gaming performance than integrated ones.
Cons of Using a Dedicated Graphics Card
- It produces a lot of heat – this is why you need a good cooling system for the GPU if you’re set on using a dedicated graphics card. Of course, this is to be expected from an external graphics card with higher performance capabilities.
- It can reduce battery life – as we said above, dedicated graphics cards produce a lot of heat. As a result, they also consume much more power compared to integrated graphics cards. This will eventually cause a decrease in battery life.
- It can be very expensive – it’s no secret that dedicated graphics cards can cost a lot of money. A flagship model nowadays can cost you well above a 1,000 dollars.
Moreover, buying a highly powerful dedicated graphics card alone can cost you as much as a laptop featuring an integrated graphics card.
- It’s also larger in size – if you’re looking for compactness, then dedicated graphics cards aren’t for you.
Pros of Using an Integrated Graphics Card
- It’s more affordable – integrated graphics cards are a lot cheaper than their dedicated counterparts. As a result, they make desktops and laptops more affordable. This is particularly great for users on a budget, and it can even free some cash for other features such as a bigger display or a faster processor.
- It uses less power – integrated graphics cards use significantly less power than their dedicated counterparts. The energy-efficiency helps maintain the longevity of a laptop’s battery life.
- It produces less heat – since they use less power, integrated graphics also generates less heat.
- It’s small in size – integrated graphics cards are all about compactness. If you’re also concerned about that aspect, then you may want to consider getting one. They can be particularly useful in laptops where space is limited by other more robust components.
Cons of Using an Integrated Graphics Card
- Limited processing power – perhaps the biggest drawback of integrated graphics cards is the inevitable restriction of the processing capacity. This is due to the presence of both a CPU and GPU on the same chip, which limits the maximum potential power of one or both of the processors. In most modern processors that feature an integrated graphics card, the integrated GPU is typically minimalized to reduce its effect on the CPU’s potential performance.
- Upgrading isn’t easy – since this type of graphics card is built-into the motherboard or CPU of the laptop, upgrading is quite a complicated task. Actually, many users just opt for a new CPU when their integrated graphics become outdated.
Who Should Get a Dedicated Graphics Card?
If you’re trying to figure out whether or not it’s a good idea for you to get a dedicated graphics card, ask yourself the following:
- What is my total budget for the system I want to get?
- What kinds of tasks and programs am I planning to run on the system?
Your answers to these two questions will be determining factors when it comes to buying a dedicated graphics card or a laptop with a dedicated graphics card. With that in mind, let’s see who can benefit the most from using this type of graphics processing:
1. Serious gamers with a desktop and a decent budget
If you’re a serious gamer and you’re looking for something that’ll let you play your favorite games on the highest possible graphics settings and with the highest possible framerate, then you’d want your setup to include a dedicated graphics card.
Whether you’re purchasing a pre-built gaming desktop or building a new computer from scratch, this kind of performance will require a dedicated graphics card. Sometimes, this means being ready to spend big bucks.
However, you can build a 1080P gaming computer for as low as around 400 dollars, featuring a dedicated graphics card that can outperform a high-performance system relying only on an integrated graphics card. You can even buy a pre-built gaming desktop for a bit more money and it’ll deliver similar performance.
So, if your main concern is gaming performance and you can spare at least about 400 – 500 dollars to spend on a desktop system, then you should definitely go for a dedicated graphics card.
2. Serious gamers looking for a gaming laptop on a moderate budget
On a pure specs-for-specs basis, laptops generally cost more than their desktop counterparts. The most affordable gaming laptops come with integrated graphics cards in them.
Such laptops are a great option if you’re a bit tight on money and you’re not bent on playing very demanding games.
But if you do need a laptop that can run your favorite games on higher graphics settings with higher frame rates, then you should get a gaming laptop that houses a dedicated graphics card.
The good news is that there are solid-performing gaming laptops priced at less than 1,000 dollars that feature a dedicated graphics card. These will allow you to play most of the current top games at least on medium settings with decent frame rates.
3. Professionals who do graphics-related work
If you’re a professional who does graphics design, animation, video editing, or any other graphics-related work, then you probably need a dedicated graphics card. Even if you just do those things as a hobby, a dedicated graphics card is a good choice because these kinds of programs and tasks can be overwhelming for an integrated graphics card to carry out.
Who Should Get an Integrated Graphics Card?
Integrated graphics cards can provide a powerful enough performance for certain users. Here are some cases in which an integrated graphics card makes sense:
1. Non-Gamers looking for a new system for casual computing
If you just need a desktop or laptop for things like browsing the internet, watching videos, or just writing and sending emails. Choosing a system with an integrated graphics card should be more than fine.
In fact, if casual use is all that you plan to put your system through, then we consider buying a system with a dedicated graphics card an unnecessary waste of money.
2. Gamers looking for a desktop on a modest budget
Being a gamer on a tight budget isn’t easy. But just because you can’t currently afford a new desktop system with a dedicated graphics card, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing out there for you.
Granted, you’ll have to settle for something with an integrated graphics card if you’re working with a modest budget.
Luckily, you can put together a system for about 300 – 400 dollars and include a processor that features an integrated graphics card. For example, if you’re okay with building your own system, such a setup should be powerful enough for entry-level/casual gaming.
So, games such as Rocket League, League of Legends, Dota 2, and more will run on medium settings without issues. You may even be able to play more demanding games on lower graphics settings.
However, if you’re not into the idea of building your own system, there are affordable pre-built computers that can give you a comparable level of integrated graphics.
3. Gamers in need of a laptop but have a less than moderate budget
If you’re a gamer in the market for a laptop but don’t have much money to spend, the only option for you is something with an integrated graphics card. In this case, you shouldn’t expect high gaming performance. But at least you’ll be able to game.
Gaming-wise, the best you can get out of a cheap laptop is the basic running of non-demanding games such as League of Legends, Rocket League, or Dota 2.
Dedicated vs Integrated Graphics – Comparison
Dedicated Graphics Card
Integrated Graphics Card
An external graphics card that’s connected to the motherboard
An internal graphics card that’s built into the motherboard or processor
Has its own GPU
Like the processor, the graphics system is built into the chip
Since a dedicated GPU can perform high graphical processes compared to an integrated GPU, it consumes much more power than an integrated GPU
An integrated GPU consumes far less power than a dedicated GPU
Produces a lot more heat
Produces less heat
Has its own memory
Uses the system’s memory.
Higher processing power than the integrated graphics card
Lower processing power than the dedicated graphics card
More expensive; a highly powerful dedicated GPU can cost as much as a laptop housing an integrated graphics card
The more affordable option for users on a budget
Ideal for serious gamers, professional graphics designers, or those who use software that requires sophisticated graphics
Ideal for casual users and gamers on a budget
Dedicated vs Integrated Graphics – Which One is Better?
There you have it, a detailed guide on dedicated vs integrated graphics. So, which one is better? Well, the answer depends on your specific performance requirements and budget. If you’re in the market for a high-level gaming or visual experience and don’t mind splurging a bit, then you should opt for a dedicated graphics card. But if you’re looking for an average user experience, then an integrated graphics card can be exactly what you need.