Integrated graphics card vs. dedicated graphics card, advantages and disadvantages

We all need to have a graphics card to be able to use our PC, or our laptop. This component is essential because, as many of our readers will know, it is in charge of converting all the data and information it receives from the processor into visual information which will be sent to the monitor, an output device that will allow us to see the computer interface and all the interactions we make with it.

So, for example, when we do something as simple as turning on the PC it is the graphics card that generates all the visual information that appears in front of our monitorand the same goes for any other task that requires GPU-level processing, including from the simplest application to the most complex game. If you do not know what a GPU is, I invite you to review this article we published about a year ago, where you will find all the information you need.

If we didn’t have a graphics card we would simply we would not have an image sourceso we would see nothing on our monitor screen. That is why this component is so important. Nowadays all graphics cards have a set of basic features that we can consider as common even to the lowest ranges, but it is clear that not all are equal. There are graphics cards that have a very basic power and are not suitable for gaming, there are also more powerful ones that can run current games, and there are also models specialized in the professional sector.

Within this variety of graphics solutions that we can find today there are also two main categories, dedicated graphics cards and integrated graphics cards. Both offer a different set of features, disparate performance values, are assembled in very different ways and have their own advantages and disadvantages. Although they have been available for many years, they still generate a lot of doubts among users. For this reason, we have decided to write this article, where we will take a closer look at each of them, and where we will show you their advantages and disadvantages.

Integrated GPU

 What are integrated graphics cards and dedicated graphics cards?

First of all we must be clear about what they are, and what differences they have, as this will give us the basis to better understand all the advantages and disadvantages that we will tell you later. An integrated graphics card, or Integrated GPU, a more correct name since this type of solutions do not use the card format, usually share packaging with the processorwhich means that it is integrated into the CPU. Years ago it was possible to find motherboards that integrated a GPU, and therefore could be used without the need to mount a CPU with integrated GPU, or a dedicated GPU, but that practice fell into disuse and today has almost completely disappeared.

An integrated GPU lacks its own video outputswhich means that uses the ones on the motherboardalthough it may not be compatible with all of them, and only includes a small amount of graphics memorywhich forces it to resort to the RAM memory to use it as graphic memory when necessary. It communicates with this memory through the bus that we have configured, 64 bits or 128 bits, depending on whether we have enabled the dual channel.

By contrast, a dedicated graphics card, or dedicated GPU, comes mounted on its own PCB, is inserted into a PCIe slot on the motherboardit has its own video outputs and its own cooling system, and comes with a certain amount of graphics memory that it communicates with via its own bus. It does not have to draw on system RAM to convert it to graphics memory.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of dedicated GPUs and integrated GPUs?

Just from the description given in the previous section I am sure you have already been able to deduce some of the advantages, and disadvantages, offered by these types of graphics solutions, but here are some of them we are going to analyze them in depth so that you are completely clear about them, and so that you have no doubts whatsoever.

Advantages of dedicated GPUs

  • By not sharing packaging with the GPU, and having their own PCB, can be much more complex and much more powerful.
  • They use their own memory and data bus. This memory is much faster than RAMand can connect to more than 128 bits.
  • They offer superior performance in both gaming and professional applications, and feature specialized hardware that is not viable today in integrated graphics solutions.
  • They can be upgrade without having to change the processoras they use their own connector to the motherboard.
  • In some cases they may have a better driver support. This is no longer the norm, but neither is it something that has been completely overcome.
  • Your useful life is usually longerthanks to their higher performance and dedicated graphics memory.
  • Support exclusive technologies that are not typically available in integrated graphics solutions, resulting in a better user experience.
  • They feature their own video connectors.

Disadvantages of dedicated GPUs

  • They take up a lot of space more space inside the equipment.
  • They need more powerful cooling solutions, as they generate more heat.
  • They consume more energyand in many cases require additional power connectors.
  • To move them we will need a fairly powerful power supply.
  • They have a higher selling price than that of integrated GPUs.
  • They require a certain balance of components to perform well.

As we can appreciate, the most important advantage that dedicated graphics cards have is their higher performance. This is precisely the most important key to take as a starting point when choosing between one option and another, as the performance difference between these and integrated GPUs is huge. However, we should not neglect those disadvantages that we have indicated, as they can also make a significant difference and tip the balance in favor of integrated GPUs in some scenarios.

Advantages of integrated GPUs

  • No footprint additional space on the equipment.
  • They do not require additional cooling solution, beyond that of the processor itself with which they are integrated.
  • They have improved greatly in recent years, and some offer acceptable gaming performance.
  • Represent a very low additional cost.
  • They have a very low power consumption and generate little heat.
  • They allow you to create very small, thin and light equipment that would not be possible with a dedicated graphics card.
  • They improve mobility in laptops and the autonomy.

Disadvantages of integrated GPUs

  • Much lower performance than dedicated graphics cards.
  • They lack state-of-the-art technologies and dedicated hardware. Some, such as the Radeon 680M, have cores for accelerating ray tracing, but they are not capable of working with that technology while maintaining good fluidity due to lack of power, so it is not really useful.
  • They consume a significant portion of the RAM to use it as graphic memory, which implies that we need to have at least 16 GB of RAM for an optimal gaming experience.
  • They lose a lot of performance when used with slow RAM and/or configured in single channel (64-bit bus).
  • Depend on the video connections on the motherboard. If our motherboard does not have HDMI we may have to change the monitor, to give an example of how problematic this can be.
  • By sharing packaging with the processor its performance may be affected by thermal issues, especially in tasks where the CPU is heavily loaded and generates a lot of heat.

Dedicated graphics card or integrated GPU, which is better for me?

The truth is that there is no single answer, this will depend on the needs of each userand the type of equipment he/she wants to buy. Thus, for a user who has a very low budgetan integrated GPU can be an excellent choice, as it will allow you to enjoy acceptable performance without having to make a major investment.

Integrated graphics are also a good choice for users who are only going to perform office work, multimedia playback and light gaming. In case we need a very light laptop with a high autonomy, this type of GPUs will undoubtedly be the best choice, since in ultralight laptops they make a big difference thanks to their low power consumption.

An integrated GPU can also be used as a sa temporary solution for upgrading or assembling a PC in two phases. For example, if we do not have enough money to build a complete PC with a dedicated graphics card, but cannot wait any longer, we could choose to run it for a while with the integrated GPU, and add the dedicated graphics card later.

If we want to play games or work with lightweight applications that make modest use of the GPU, an integrated can also meet our needsin fact, AMD’s Radeon 680M, integrated in the new Ryzen 6000 APUs, has proven to deliver surprisingly good performance even on demanding titles, thanks to its advanced architecture, LPDDR5 memory support and good driver support.

By contrast, if what we need is a computer capable of to run current games in high resolutions and high qualitiesor if we are going to use it for work with GPU-intensive applicationsfor us, a dedicated graphics card will be ideal. It is not a trivial issue, keep in mind that for many professionals the graphics card is a work tool, and that there are also users who choose to assemble equipment that allows them to unify work and leisure.

A high-performance dedicated graphics card is usually capable of delivering a good experience in games and professional applications, but we must be careful as will not always be optimal for working with certain tools. For example, a GeForce GTX 1660 Super can run games smoothly in 1080p with maximum qualities, and moves very well in 1440p, but if we want to use it to edit video in high resolutions or to render complex models, its 6 GB of graphics memory will fall short.

Returning to the integrated GPUs, it is also important to note that these offer very different performances, and that choosing one or the other can greatly limit our user experience. Typically the most powerful processors tend to integrate the highest performance graphics as well. For example, the Ryzen 9 6900HS has an 8-core, 16-threaded CPU, and comes with a Radeon 680M GPU, which is the most powerful integrated GPU available on the general consumer market today.

By contrast, the Ryzen 5 6600H has a 6-core, 12-threaded CPU, and comes with an inferior graphics solution, the Radeon 660M. It is also quite powerful for an integrated, but it is not at the same level as the previous one. If we look at the Intel side, today we can find a wide variety of solutions based on the Xe architecture (Gen12), although there are still processors with integrated GPUs from previous generations that have lower performance.

For a person who is going to use his computer for office, web browsing and multimedia, choose a low-performance integrated GPU will not be a problemas you will not really need more power. However, for a person who aspires to more intensive use and who wants to play games occasionally, or even wants to be able to play some triple-A titles in acceptable conditions, the Intel Xe integrated GPUs would no longer be an option, and you should opt for a Radeon M660 or higher.

As we can see, in the end it is all about our needs and our budget Some may think that integrated GPUs are something to avoidbut the truth is that the opposite is truethis type of solution offers great value for money, although it is true that they are aimed at very specific user profiles, as is also the case with dedicated graphics cards.

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