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Are Graphics Cards And GPU The Same?


PC terminology can be pretty tricky, primarily when the terms are used interchangeably, even when they don’t quite mean the same thing. I was just as confused as to the difference until I discovered this.

Are graphics cards and GPUs the same? Graphics cards and GPUs are not the same. GPUs are the graphics processing chip, and graphics cards are a separate component that contains one or two GPUs, dedicated RAM, a cooling system, and a dedicated source of power.

Let’s dive deeper into why these often get confused and why they are not the same thing.

Are Graphics Cards And GPU The Same?

People often use these two terms interchangeably, which is perfectly fine since usually everyone can understand under the context of the conversation. However, these are two different things.

A graphics card is the actual separate component that you would plug into your motherboard with all the tech needed to process graphics built-into its daughterboard.

You would know graphics cards like the NVIDIA 3090 or the Radeon 6800XT.

The GPU, however, is the small chip located inside the graphics card that does all the computing for the graphics-related tasks such as rendering or drawing.

In the past, there have been some graphics cards that have more than one GPU built into the daughterboard of the graphics card.

To further drive the point home, GPUs can also technically be inside of your CPU. A CPU with integrated graphics is a CPU with a GPU built to fit in that tiny space next to all the cores and memory needed by the CPU.

So, although used interchangeably, a GPU is only one part of a graphics card, whereas a graphics card is a complete component that can be bought and used by consumers with easy installation.

You may be asking how GPUs can be fit into CPUs and how are graphics cards so big if the main component can be fit in a tiny enclosure such as the CPU?

That’s what we’ll answer in the next question as we talk about the difference between integrated graphics and dedicated graphics.

What’s The Difference Between Integrated Graphics And Dedicated Graphics?

We’ve already discussed how integrated graphics are a GPU fit into a CPU and that dedicated graphics cards are made of multiple components, including the GPU, but what else is built into a graphics card to make it that big and more powerful?

Graphics cards have, in addition to the GPU, dedicated memory (known as VRAM), a cooling system that includes a heatsink and fans typically, and its own power source.

All this combined makes graphics cards capable of reaching much greater power than integrated graphics could ever hope to achieve.

You may be wondering where the integrated graphics get their memory, and that would be from the system’s RAM.

Not only does this mean a fair amount of RAM will now get used by the GPU, but system RAM isn’t going to be as fast as the VRAM found on a graphics card.

VRAM is made for graphics-related tasks instead of general system tasks, so it’s much faster at completing them.

In addition to taking up space in the CPU and sharing its power, the GPU will also pull from the same power source as the CPU!

This is what makes integrated graphics inferior to dedicated graphics. Although they both have a GPU, the dedicated graphics card has all the supporting components that run much faster.

Of course, usually, the GPU itself is also of better quality.

The other drawback is that since you are using space in your CPU to place a GPU, you will likely have a less powerful CPU as a result.

You may have fewer cores or have to make some other sacrifice to fit the GPU in there, which is why many CPUs with integrated graphics are also not as powerful.

The benefit of integrated graphics over a graphics card is they will use less power and won’t run as hot.

Dedicated graphics cards use much more power and have their power source, so they tend to shed off much more heat, leading to the need for their own cooling system.

Integrated graphics cards are also much cheaper on average, especially if you factor in the cost saved by combining both a CPU and GPU.

Not to mention, many regular laptops are going to use integrated graphics because of their lower heat dispersion and power requirements that allow the battery life to last longer.

However, if you get a gaming laptop, you will likely be getting a dedicated graphics card within the laptop.

The difference is usually, even if you have a more powerful graphics card built into your laptop, it will be modified to fit the form factor of a laptop and is usually soldered in never to be removed.

If you decide to go in the direction of an integrated graphics card, you should go with AMD because they have much better performance on their IGPUs than Intel.

What Do GPUs Do?

As we’ve mentioned earlier, GPUs are the fast computing chip for all things graphics-related. They complete tasks like rendering or creating images within a game at super-fast speeds.

They also improve the image quality in resolution, color, and even refresh rate. Every PC needs some GPU to function correctly, but the one you pick can dictate how good the image is.

RAM has to temporarily store its files for the GPU to do its job, similar to how the CPU functions.

There needs to be a unique chip specifically for graphics-intensive tasks and why you can’t use the same CPU framework because GPUs are made to have hundreds of cores where CPUs only have up to 12.

GPUs are also made to handle graphics related tasks at speeds much greater than that of a CPU. The GPU can only do things like rendering 3D objects because of how intensive it is.

If you tried to render a 3D image without a GPU, it would not go well. That’s why most technology with displays have a GPU in them, from PCs’ beefiest to the simplest of smartphones.

Do Integrated Graphics Work With Graphics Cards?

You can install a CPU with integrated graphics and have a dedicated graphics card installed simultaneously.

However, you can only use one at a time, and they won’t help each other, nor will they hurt each other.

Many people with Intel CPUs have Intel HD Graphics built-in, which can be inconvenient for a straightforward reason.

If you are a beginner, it is very easy to use the wrong graphics processor accidentally.

Many people will plug their HDMI cable into their motherboard and default to the integrated graphics when they may have 2080 they should be using.

To avoid this, make sure you plug your cable into your graphics card and ensure that you use the correct graphics processor in your graphics card’s control panel.

Here is how you can do this through the NVIDIA Control Panel for NVIDIA graphics cards.

Are Graphics Cards And Video Cards The Same?

Video cards and graphics cards are the same and are often used as two terms that mean the same thing but are used interchangeably.

People may also call graphics cards:

  • graphics adapters,
  • display adapters,
  • dedicated graphics,
  • discrete graphics
  • display cards,
  • or even GPUs, although technically incorrect in this case.

Wrap Up

So GPUs and graphics cards are two different things, but they are within the same ballpark as far as PC building.

Most people know what you mean when you say GPU, but if you are ever in a situation where you need to make a clear distinction between the processor your graphics is using and the actual component itself, remember this.

The GPU is the processing chip that handles the calculations needed to create and render 3D objects in a game. 

Still, it is one part of a graphics card, which is the name of the dedicated component you plug into your motherboard with all the other stuff your GPU needs to do its job.

Tom

I've been a PC gamer and builder for around 3 years now but my love for gaming spans many years all the way back to the Nintendo 64! Getting into PC gaming there was a lot of information that was hard to understand so I made it my mission to make PC gaming easy!

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