What is a GPU? The Beginner’s Guide to Graphics Cards
Here’s the simple guide to GPUs, whether you’ve just bought a PC or want to better understand your mobile phone, we’ve got everything you need to know.
We’ve compiled this guide to explain all the basics around GPUs, so you know what to look out for in a new laptop, graphics card, smartphone, or gaming console.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know and be sure to send us a message at Twitter if you have other questions that we don’t cover here.
What is a GPU?
A GPU, or graphics processing unit, is a computer component capable of creating images. Any device that creates images on a screen (like a laptop, tablet, or smartphone) will have a GPU.
Without a GPU, a device would be unable to create images on screen, rendering it as useless as a door stopper.
What is a GPU used for?
GPUs are responsible for creating images, scenes, and animations on a device, but having a more powerful GPU will make 3D graphics render faster, making them useful for many different workloads.
Although every smartphone, tablet, and laptop features a GPU in one form or another, they are primarily associated with gaming. This is because you usually need a powerful GPU to run games with smooth performance as the PC component is responsible for creating lots of animations within milliseconds.
GPUs are needed to render multiple complex animations at the same time, which is handy not only for gaming, but also for creatives looking to render 3D models or edit video. For example, the MacBook Pro has a more powerful GPU than most laptops because it was created especially for digital artists and designers.
GPUs are also used in data centers, enabling cloud gaming, video encoding and video streaming, and bitcoin mining.
Essentially, a GPU has a massive influence on everything you see on your screen, and the quality of a GPU is one of the biggest differentiators between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.
What is an iGPU?
There are two types of GPUs, with an iGPU (or Integrated Graphics Processing Unit) built inside the main processor.
These types of GPUs are generally less powerful than discrete GPUs and are typically developed for basic rendering tasks and generic productivity work, rather than gaming and 3D animation.
That being said, companies such as AMD and Intel are working on improving the performance power of their iGPUs. Apple has also surprised many with its Apple Silicon chips, including the M1 Max which boasts an iGPU so powerful it can compete with high-end graphics cards.
It’s also worth noting that anyone looking to buy a new PC without a dedicated graphics card should check that it has an integrated GPU, as sometimes it doesn’t. You will usually need an iGPU or a dGPU to run your PC.
What is a dGPU?
The second variant is the dGPU, also known as the Discrete Graphics Processing Unit. A dGPU is usually found inside a graphics card for a desktop system, although it can also be a dedicated chipset in high-end laptops.
A discrete GPU is usually much more powerful than an iGPU because it specializes in rendering advanced graphics for content creation or gaming.
If you’re looking to build a gaming PC, a powerful dGPU is essential for rendering high-quality images and scenes. At present, the biggest names in the dGPU industry are AMD and Nvidia, although Intel has recently launched its own laptop GPUs in the form of Intel Arc and plans to start shipping cards as well. graphics for desktop computers.
Discrete GPUs have a catch though, as they require a dedicated cooling system to prevent overheating and maximize their performance, which is usually why gaming laptops are much heavier than traditional laptops.
dGPUs also have higher power consumption, which means gaming laptops will generally need to be charged more often than iGPU-equipped devices.
Additionally, discrete GPUs can significantly increase the price of a laptop, which is why they’re generally only recommended if you’re going to be gaming or creating content. Someone looking to build a PC might have noticed how expensive GPUs can be, with ongoing stock issues also driving up prices.
What is a graphics card?
Although the terms GPU and graphics card are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing.
A GPU is the chip that does all the heavy lifting and sits inside a graphics card.
The graphics card is an “extension card” that allows the GPU to connect to the motherboard. Graphics cards will also have fans to help cool the GPU under stress, as well as their own dedicated RAM.
Essentially, the graphics card is the house that a GPU lives in, helping the GPU connect to the rest of the computer, in a similar relationship to a CPU and motherboard – the former providing all the processing power, while the second organizes the logistics.