Is a Graphics Card needed for a Computer?

There’s always questions when it comes to graphics cards. The main one, is a graphics card needed for a computer is so common that I feel it needs to be answered. They are ever evolving and changing to add to the next level of a gaming experience. However it isn’t always clear if there is a need to having a graphics card for a computer. For instance, there is a large variety of Graphics Cards, and it is never clear what you need. You could require an expensive one or a cheap one. But to be able to identify the varied uses while also finding out if a graphics card is needed for a computer.

The Difference Between Integrated and Dedicated Graphics Cards

The initial idea behind this article is to think about the possibilities on what a Graphics Card can do. Every desktop and laptop computer needs a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) of some sort. Without the Graphics Card, there would be no way for an image to appear on the screen of a computer. The real problem of the inquiry for today isn’t whether or not a Graphics Card is needed.

But recognizing and finding out whether or not a dedicated (or discrete) Graphics Card should be used. 

The significant differences between the two is the way the image is perceived on screen. For example, the integrated graphics card is already in a motherboard. This will be explained in detail later, but to put it briefly you are saving money. You save money by having a lesser quality on graphics when gaming. That is the main difference when it comes to purchasing a dedicated graphics card. In addition of getting premium images it allows computers to really push the boundaries of graphics. 

Integrated Graphics Card: The Free Graphics Card

Most motherboards these days come with a GPU integrated into the motherboard or even the CPU itself. For decades now, it’s been common for motherboard manufacturers to add a serviceable GPU built right into the chipset of the motherboard.

In other words this grants the ability to produce images on the screen while not spending any extra money. So it’s feasible to go out and buy a motherboard, and get a simple built-in GPU. However, within the last six years or so, that integrated graphics card have been integrated into the CPU(processor) instead.

Integrated graphics cards are great because they’re free as well as being time efficient. This is because it will not take as much time as it normally would when installing a graphics card. Following the idea of needing an integrated graphics card for a computer.

The next step would be looking into a cheaper prebuilt computer. This will get it going as some have prebuilt graphics cards are already in most computers. Notably there will be savings in not only time but money as well. Which I might add is a very big plus! 

Integrated graphics are also very power efficient, since they use very little power beyond what the CPU was already using in the first place. And, thanks to their standardization, there will rarely be any issues with drivers or compatibility. On a computer in todays age, a typical computer with windows will just be taken care of ahead of time.

Downside to Integrated Graphics

Of course, integrated graphics have their downsides too. First, they’re very poor. They’re intended for the demands of a desktop user who reads email, browses the web, and drafts documents. Not users who do more demanding things like graphic design for photography or games. Throw a modern game at an integrated graphics card and it might stutter through it or, worse, just outright fail to load the game.

In addition, an integrated GPU shares all the resources the CPU shares, including the pool of RAM. This means any graphics or tasks that could be thrown at the integrated system could make it struggle.

This includes things like rendering video, playing a current generation 3D video game and it will consume a lot of the system resources and at the end result there might not be enough to go around.

Dedicated Graphics Card: The Pricey Visual Upgrade

On the opposite side of the graphics card spectrum, in terms of both price and quality performance, there you’ll find dedicated graphics cards. Dedicated graphics cards, are essentially separate pieces of hardware devoted exclusively to handling graphic processing. As stated above the main focus of a dedicated graphics card is about the aesthetics or visuals on screen and the biggest benefit is the performance.

Not only does a dedicated graphics card have a sophisticated computer chip design. But it is explicitly for the task of processing video. It also has dedicated RAM for the task (which is typically faster and better optimized for the task than your general system RAM). This increase in power benefits not only the obvious tasks (like playing video games) but also makes tasks like processing images in Photoshop smoother and faster.

In addition to the improved performance increase, dedicated graphics cards also typically offer a wider and more modern variety of video ports than a motherboard. A motherboard has only have a VGA and a DVI port. But a dedicated Graphics card has those ports along with a HDMI port. It can even have duplicate ports (like two DVI ports, which allows it to be easily hooked up to multiple monitors).

Sounds good, right? Way better performance, ports, ports, and more ports, what could be better? While all those things are awesome, there’s always a price to be paid. First and foremost, there’s the matter of cost. A midrange graphics card can run anywhere from $300-600, and cutting edge models can be up to $1000.

Things to Consider for a Dedicated Graphics Card

The more you spend, the better the graphics. You do get the amount of power for the price, usually. If you needed something simple like running two monitors, graphics cards based off older designs would be around $100.

On top of that, a free expansion slot on your computer’s motherboard will be needed. Not just any old slot would do, but a PCI-Express x16 slot (seen above) for the vast majority of cards, as well as a Power Supply Unit with both enough wattage to spare and the proper power connectors for a graphics card.

Speaking of power, increased power can draw in electronics which means increased heat. There’s a reason high end graphics cards have huge fans to keep them cool. Be prepared for more noise and more heat that might include an upgrade for a case and/or case fans in order to keep things cooler.

Even if an upgraded case isn’t necessary for airflow another case might be vital just for space. It could lead to a graphics card just barley fitting in a smaller PC case and even the smallest inch of the length on the graphics card a heat sink would have demanded an upgrade.

Can Your Current Graphics Card Handle the Games and Graphics?

The first reason people get a dedicated GPU is primarily for gaming. For instance a dedicated GPU is not needed for watching videos (even the highest quality HD videos). Besides videos a dedicated GPU is not essential for email, word processing, or any Office suite type apps. Also, playing older games does not require a GPU. Integrated graphics are far better than the dedicated video cards of decades past.

Alternatively, a dedicated GPU is mandatory for playing triple A title games that usually have higher graphics requirements. Want to play Skyrim with dozens of mods and add-ons while still enjoying the travel through the fantasy realm? Well guess what? You get to buy a dedicated GPU!  As much as saving money is a priority, figuring out what is vital to personal goals comes into play first and foremost.

Graphics cards are useful for some non-gamers, too. Such as photo editing done regularly (not just cropping and fixing the white balance type stuff, but intense Photoshop work), video editing, or any kind of rendering (3D art, design, etc.), then a dedicated GPU should be on a personal check list somewhere. Because tasks in Photoshop like filter application, warping/transforming, and so on, all benefit from the extra boost and power a GPU provides. 

Can Your Current Graphics Card Support the Number of Monitors You Want?

Although most people buy a GPU for gaming, there’s also a sizable amount of people who buy a dedicated graphics card in order to expand how many monitors their computer will support. This could be amazing for someone aspiring to have the famous 3 monitor computer setup!

Without a dedicated graphics card, adding extra monitors to a computer is kind of a crapshoot. Some motherboards support using multiple video ports. The motherboard has a VGA and a DVI port and there is a way to toggle a setting in the BIOS to use both of them, but most motherboards don’t.

Notably, other motherboards will allow to keeping the integrated graphics turned on and add in a lower end dedicated GPU. This would be great as it can have an extra port, but unfortunately many don’t. 

This makes things extremely difficult when attempting to try something unique. Such as having a lower dedicated GPU and an integrated GPU at the same time. In my experience, it is best to focus on a using a solid dedicated GPU.
In todays age, it’s possible to get away with lower style graphics by tuning down the graphics within the game.

It might not have the smoothest and crisp graphics, but enjoying the game won’t deter anyone from playing! 

Solution To Having Multi Monitors

The solution for the multi-monitor lovers is a dedicated GPU that supplies enough video ports for the number of monitors they wish to use. In the case of my own desktop setup, as an example, I wanted three 1080p monitors, and not wanting any of those monitors connected via old analog VGA connections. For this reason, I needed a dedicated GPU with three or more digital (DVI, HDMI, etc.) connections.

If you want to run two or more monitors without taxing your computer, fiddling with BIOS settings, or resorting spending tons of money to make your monitor dreams a reality, the easiest way to do so is to simply buy a card that supports your monitor setup right out of the box. It doesn’t need to be an expensive one, just one that has the number and type of ports you need.

So Is A Dedicated Graphics Card Needed?

So now you know how a dedicated GPU compares to its integrated cousin. But when is a graphics card needed in a computer? Should you make the jump to a dedicated graphics card or not?

To sum up the process of picking a specific graphics card over any other graphics card is fairly complex. It might even force you to spend quite a bit of time comparing stats. The process of deciding whether a dedicated GPU is needed in the first place is pretty darn simple. After going over the main reason on the why of wanting a dedicated graphics card. 

Need or Want a Graphics Card?

Now ask yourself, and really hammer down on the reason you are here, is a graphics card needed for a computer? Is it because you want multiple monitors? Also, do you want higher quality graphics for gaming or working with video editing? Maybe you want to stream in better quality and have your computer handle the video requirement. 

I hope reading is a graphics card needed for a computer will make you more equipped to find a graphics card that best suites you. However if you are in need of a little push, you are in luck! When it comes to seeing prices that are out there for a graphics card it can be overwhelming. Especially to see 600$ for just one part.