When people think of a graphics card, they often think of a large unit with multiple fans that sit alone in the PC and connect to the motherboard.
That’s only one of the two main kinds of graphics cards: Integrated and Dedicated. Both have advantages and disadvantages, depending on how you plan to use them.
Ultimately, the main difference is whether the GPU is a standalone component or whether it’s part of another component.
What Are Dedicated Graphics Cards?
Dedicated graphics cards are what most people picture when they picture a graphics card. It’s a piece of hardware designed to display images on your screen.
Not all dedicated graphics cards are large and expensive. Many are smaller and more affordable but might not provide the same quality experience. Any graphics cards that are standalone units are dedicated cards.
What Are Integrated Graphics Cards?
Integrated graphics cards are built into a motherboard as part of the total unit. You do not purchase them separately, and they are simply a feature of that motherboard.
Integrated graphics cards vary in power, depending on your unit. As with dedicated graphics cards, you need to keep an eye on the specifications before you purchase it, especially if you plan to use it as your only card.
What’s the Difference Between Integrated and Dedicated Cards?
The only actual difference between integrated and dedicated GPUs is that the integrated ones are built into the motherboard, and the dedicated ones are separate components.
While dedicated graphics cards will always be more powerful at the far end of the price spectrum, that doesn’t mean integrated graphics cards aren’t helpful and won’t keep up with current programs and games. Choosing a card is all about your budget, needs, and priorities.
Integrated graphics cards are usually less expensive because they’re part of another unit and often have fewer components. It’s difficult to determine their exact price since you can’t know how much the integrated GPU contributed to the cost of the motherboard. However, since an integrated graphics card is part of the motherboard and is widely available on motherboards at different prices, you can find them for almost any budget.
Dedicated graphics cards are often more expensive. However, you can get less powerful ones for much less money if needed. Swapping one powerful dedicated GPU that plays ARK: Survival on high settings in crisp dinosaur clarity for a very inexpensive placeholder led to the game looking like I was taming blobs instead of dinosaurs. The price of one GPU was $150. The other was $2000.
It’s difficult to say whether an integrated card will always do better than a dedicated card. Many integrated GPUs would outperform the $150 dedicated GPU mentioned above. However, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find an integrated GPU that could outperform a GTX 3090.
Ultimately, dedicated and integrated cards with the same specs will perform the same. Whether it’s attached to the motherboard shouldn’t change its abilities.
Heat management is one area where a dedicated graphics card often outperforms an integrated one, at least until you start using custom cooling solutions. The motherboard’s heat could make the integrated GPU heat up more quickly. It typically will also have less powerful onboard cooling to keep temperatures at an ideal level.
Dedicated graphics cards, especially high-end ones, come with fans built into the unit. They often include optional management software to help you adjust the unit’s temperature too, which you might not have access to with an integrated card.
There are also AIO water-cooling solutions available for both if desired.
Dedicated cards are usually easier to manage, adjust, overclock, undervolt, and otherwise customize. The software that lets you control the temperature also offers other options to manage and adjust your card. If you’re playing a game that pushes it too high, you can turn down its performance a bit to control its power levels and temps.
Integrated graphics cards are less likely to come with these options.
One place where dedicated graphics cards shine is how they use memory. Since they aren’t sharing resources with a motherboard, every component included in the dedicated GPU is used to make your graphics experience better.
Integrated cards share their resources with the motherboard. They often won’t have as much available memory, limiting their effectiveness.
|Integrated Cards||Dedicated Cards|
|Price||Less expensive because it’s bundled into the price of the motherboard||More expensive than integrated graphics cards by far|
|Upgradibility||Cannot be upgraded alone because it’s part of the motherboard||Very replaceable because you can remove it and put another one in place without disturbing other components|
|Energy Usage||Lower energy usage means your laptop battery will last longer and your power bill will be lower||Requires high energy usage to work its hardest|
|Performance||Less powerful and will not work with some graphically intense programs||More powerful and suitable for the most costly programs, depending on which you choose|
|Cooling||Generates less heat and generally doesn’t require an additional cooler||Requires lots of extra cooling and generates more heat|
|Customization||Cannot be customized to the extent that a standalone card can||Often adjustable with software so you can change the fan speed, power usage, and performance|
Can I Use Integrated and Dedicated Graphics Cards Together?
Many people run systems that include a motherboard with integrated graphics alongside a dedicated GPU. Generally, your computer will only use one at a time, depending on what you’re doing. More intense applications will use the dedicated card, while less demanding ones will use integrated graphics.
Systems like this also generally include a software option to choose your graphics card. You can switch back and forth as needed or just use one rather than the other.
What Are the Benefits of Systems With Integrated and Dedicated Graphics Cards?
One significant benefit is troubleshooting. When your dedicated GPU isn’t working, you can still view images on your monitor. If you don’t have an integrated graphics card, you can’t see any content from your computer until a graphics card is hooked up.
Having two cards can also split the load between the cards. You may put more minor wear and tear on the more expensive dedicated card by offloading some applications to the integrated card.
What Are the Drawbacks of a System With an Integrated and Dedicated Card?
One downside is that some programs struggle to deal with computers with two graphics cards. For example, some VR users found they had to turn off their integrated graphics card in the Device Manager to make the headset recognize their dedicated graphics card.
It pays to know how to switch between the integrated and dedicated graphics card in situations like this.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Integrated or Dedicated Graphics Better for Gaming?
Dedicated graphics cards are better for gaming because high-end ones can deliver a better experience. They will give you higher frames and let you use higher graphics settings.
What Are the Benefits of an Integrated Graphics Card?
Integrated graphics cards run cooler in and of themselves. This is often useful in laptops because you don’t want to generate much heat. They also use less power, which means they extend your laptop’s battery life.
Is Integrated Graphics Good Enough?
Integrated graphics are definitely good enough for some users. Dedicated graphics should work for you if you’re playing lower impact games like Stardew Valley, watching streaming video, using word processing programs, and web browsing. Higher-end gaming rigs will include dedicated graphics cards and be able to run more visually demanding games.