What Is a GPU? Graphics Processing Units Explained (2023)

What Is a GPU? Graphics Processing Units Explained (1)

Computer graphics are an essential part of any modern computer system, even lightweight laptops. “GPU” stands for graphics processing unit, and it’s the part of the PC responsible for the on-screen images you see.

What the GPU Does

If you only use your computer for the basics—to browse the web, or use office software and desktop applications—there’s not much more you need to know about the GPU. It’s the part of the PC that’s responsible for what you see on your monitor, and that’s it.

However, for gamers or anyone who does work that can be GPU-accelerated, like 3D rendering, video encoding, and so on, the GPU does much more work. Those folks need to get a lot more out of their GPU, so let’s dive in further.

The Different Types of GPUs

There are two primary kinds of GPUs you can get for a modern PC: integrated and discrete. The latter has nothing to do with avoiding attention. Discrete in this sense means it’s separate or distinct.

What Is a GPU? Graphics Processing Units Explained (2)

Graphics cards are typically big, bulky drop-in components for desktop PCs that have one, two, or sometimes, three fans. These cards contain the actual graphics processor chip, as well as RAM to handle higher graphics loads, like video games. Fans keep the components cool.

Desktop graphics cards are some of the easiest components to upgrade. You just drop the card into a PCIe x16 slot, connect a cable to the power supply (if required), and then install the drivers.

(Video) Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

Laptops can also have discrete GPUs. Instead of a bulky card, though, a discreet laptop GPU is just a chip soldered on the motherboard. Unlike those on a desktop, these aren’t as easy to upgrade.

What Is a GPU? Graphics Processing Units Explained (3)

Then, there are integrated graphics, which are built right into the processor. Not all CPUs have this. AMD’s flagship desktop Ryzen CPUs, for example, are famous for lacking any integrated graphics at all. However, the company does make desktop processors with integrated graphics called Accelerated Processing Units (APUs.)

Intel’s desktop Core chips with model numbers that end in an “F” also lack graphics, as do the Core X-Series CPUs with model numbers that end with an “X.” Because these processors don’t have a GPU, they’re sold at a lower price.

A processor without graphics is only a concern for desktops. Again, laptops are sold as a package deal, so they require either a discrete GPU or integrated graphics built into the processor.

Modern processors with integrated graphics can be surprisingly powerful. Some are capable of running select older AAA titles at playable frame rates when the graphics settings are lowered.

They are a cost-effective choice for those who can’t yet afford the graphics card of their dreams. Anyone who wants to do some serious gaming, however, will need a separate GPU.

(Video) What is a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)? GPU vs. CPU

What a GPU Does

What Is a GPU? Graphics Processing Units Explained (4)

The easiest way to understand what a GPU does is to talk about video games. In a game, we might see a computer-generated image of a person, a landscape, or an intricately detailed model of a 3D object. Whatever it is we’re seeing, it’s all thanks to the graphics processing unit.

Video games are complex undertakings that require a lot of mathematical calculations happening in parallel to display images on-screen. A GPU is purpose-built to process graphics information including an image’s geometry, color, shading, and textures. Its RAM is also specialized to hold a large amount of information coming into the GPU and video data, known as the framebuffer, that’s headed to your screen.

The GPU gets all the instructions for drawing images on-screen from the CPU, and then it executes them. This process of going from instructions to the finished image is called the rendering or graphics pipeline.

The basic unit to start creating 3D graphics is the polygon. More specifically, triangles. Nearly everything you see in a typical video game starts as a massive collection of triangles. There can be other shapes used, as well, but the vast majority are triangles.

These basic shapes, in addition to other lines and points, are known as “primitives.” They’re built up to make recognizable objects, like a table, tree, or wizard holding a staff. The more polygons you use for an object, the more detailed your finished images can become.

Each object has its own set of coordinates to be set in a scene. If a human were drawing a picture of a dining room, for example, we’d use our own judgment as to where the table and chairs should be, or how close these objects should be to the wall.

(Video) What is a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)? Explained Simply for Beginners

A computer can’t make these judgment calls and requires coordinates for placement. That’s one reason why, sometimes, things will go very wrong in video games, and you’ll suddenly see an object in midair.

Once the scene is set, the GPU starts figuring out perspective based on where the “camera” is looking at the scene. A battle on a street, for example, is going to look very different if your character is standing on top of a parked bus looking out at the chaos versus stealing furtive glances while crouched behind an overturned taxi. Again, there’s a lot of math going on to figure out viewing angles.

After a little more refinement, the images get the textures, shadows, color, and shading that makes it all come to life.

All of this graphics processing is happening at lightning-fast speeds, requiring heavy calculations, which is why a separate processing unit is needed in the first place.

The GPU is built specifically for graphics processing, which requires a lot of math calculations that happen in parallel. That heavier focus on calculation and parallel operations is why early Bitcoin advocates turned to rigs filled with GPUs to generate the math required to mine cryptocurrency coins. CPUs, meanwhile, aren’t as specialized and are more general purpose.

You could, technically, rely on a CPU for the graphics, but it wouldn’t be efficient and the end result would never be as visually impressive. The CPU simply doesn’t have the resources for most games. It’s already running your operating system, other programs and background processes. It’s also helping to run the game with physics calculations, AI operations, and other tasks.

(Video) GPUs: Explained

Which GPU Do You Need?

What Is a GPU? Graphics Processing Units Explained (5)

Now you know the basics of what a GPU does and the different kinds that are out there. So, how do you know which one you need? If you’re playing games on a desktop, you need a graphics card, and there’s a whole world of reviews out there to help you choose the best one.

Generally, be sure to get a graphics card that’s appropriate for your monitor’s resolution, such as 1080p, 1440p, or 4K. Video game features are constantly advancing and requiring new hardware. This means graphics cards tend to become obsolete faster than other components. Desktop owners should purchase something released in the last two to three years.

For gaming on a laptop, be very, very careful. Many gaming laptops have discrete GPUs that are up to two generations old and cost just as much (or nearly as much) as a laptop with a newer GPU.

If you’re focused on enthusiast video editing, a powerful CPU is more important, but a discrete graphics card (even one that’s a few generations old) is also needed.

For everyone else, integrated graphics will do. There’s no need to get a graphics card for video streaming, basic web games, or even basic photo editing. Just make sure your CPU actually has an integrated GPU. Otherwise, you might be in for a frustrating surprise when you try to boot up that new desktop build.

If you’re curious, you can check which GPU you have in your Windows 10 PC.

(Video) PC Terms | All About Graphics Processing Units (GPUs)

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What is in a Graphics processing unit? ›

A Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is a chip or electronic circuit capable of rendering graphics for display on an electronic device. The GPU was introduced to the wider market in 1999 and is best known for its use in providing the smooth graphics that consumers expect in modern videos and games.

Is Graphics processing unit GPU really necessary for computer? ›

If you have neither a GPU nor an APU, your PC simply won't run. Your computer needs something to process the graphics. It won't even turn on and begin the boot process if you don't have either a dedicated GPU or an APU.

What are GPU execution units? ›

In computer engineering, an execution unit (E-unit or EU) is a part of the central processing unit (CPU) or graphics processing unit (GPU) that performs the operations and calculations forwarded from the instruction unit.

Is a GPU and graphics card the same thing? ›

A GPU, Graphics Card and Video Card are used interchangeably. To be exact, though, they mean different things. A GPU is the main chip on the Graphics Card. A Graphics Card is a fully functional piece of Hardware (including the GPU) with a PCB, VRAM, and other supporting hardware elements.

Why is there a need for graphics processing units? ›

The graphics processing unit (GPU) in your device helps handle graphics-related work like graphics, effects, and videos. Learn about the different types of GPUs and find the one that meets your needs. Integrated GPUs are built into your PC's motherboard, allowing laptops to be thin, lightweight, and power-efficient.

What is the purpose of the processing unit? ›

The central processing unit (CPU) guides the computer through the various steps of solving a problem. Data enters the computer through an input unit, is processed by the central processing unit, and is then made available to the user through an output unit.

Can a PC turn on without a GPU? ›

If your CPU doesn't have integrated graphics, then you will need a GPU to game or do anything else on your computer. You can't run a computer without a GPU of some sort, whether it be integrated or dedicated. Most likely, your computer won't even turn on without some kind of graphics processing unit.

What happens if GPU is better than CPU? ›

High Data Throughput: a GPU consist of hundreds of cores performing the same operation on multiple data items in parallel. Because of that, a GPU can push vast volumes of processed data through a workload, speeding up specific tasks beyond what a CPU can handle.

Is a better CPU or GPU more important? ›

Most of today's games ask a lot from the GPU, maybe even more than the CPU. Processing 2D and 3D graphics, rendering polygons, mapping textures, and more require powerful, fast GPUs. The faster your graphics/video card (GPU) can process information, the more frames you will get every second.

How many processors does a GPU have? ›

A CPU consists of four to eight CPU cores, while the GPU consists of hundreds of smaller cores. Together, they operate to crunch through the data in the application. This massively parallel architecture is what gives the GPU its high compute performance.

How to use GPU for processing? ›

To use a GPU to accelerate Media Server processing tasks, you must place the GPU in TCC mode. In this mode the graphics card is used for computation only and does not provide output for a display. Unless you use TCC mode, the GPU does not provide adequate performance and can be slower than using a CPU.

How much GPU do I need? ›

Based on recommendations from companies like Nvidia and Adobe, you'll want at least 4GB for light work, and finding a current-generation or older GPU with 4GB shouldn't be too hard.

What is GPU in simple words? ›

GPU stands for graphics processing unit. You'll also see GPUs commonly referred to as graphics cards or video cards. Every PC uses a GPU to render images, video and 2D or 3D animations for display. A GPU performs quick math calculations and frees up the CPU to do other things.

Do all computers have a GPU? ›

All computers have graphics hardware that handles everything from drawing your desktop and decoding videos to rendering demanding PC games. Most modern PCs have graphics processing units (GPUs) made by Intel, NVIDIA, or AMD.

Which is better graphics card or GPU? ›

Simply put, if you're building a PC to play games, then the GPU will be your most important purchase. Other components can also impact performance, such as the CPU, storage, and RAM, but the GPU has the most direct connection to what you see on screen when playing.

What is the role of Graphics processing unit in gaming? ›

GPUs for Gaming

GPUs are capable of rendering graphics in both 2D and 3D. With better graphics performance, games can be played at higher resolution, at faster frame rates, or both.

Why is GPU used instead of CPU? ›

While CPUs can perform sequential tasks on complex computations quickly and efficiently, they are less efficient at parallel processing across a wide range of tasks. GPUs are excellent at handling specialized computations and can have thousands of cores that can run operations in parallel on multiple data points.

Why is GPU programming important? ›

Why Use GPUs for Deep Learning? GPUs can perform multiple, simultaneous computations. This enables the distribution of training processes and can significantly speed machine learning operations. With GPUs, you can accumulate many cores that use fewer resources without sacrificing efficiency or power.

What is processing unit in simple words? ›

the part of a computer that performs logical and arithmetical operations on the data as specified in the instructions. Abbreviation: CPU.

What is an example of a processing unit? ›

Processing device examples

CPU (central processing unit)s. GPU (graphics processing unit) Motherboard. Network card.

How does a computer processing unit work? ›

The CPU performs calculations, makes logical comparisons and moves data up to billions of times per second. It works by executing simple instructions one at a time, triggered by a master timing signal that runs the whole computer.

What processor does not need GPU? ›

Whether you're using a Core i3, i5, i7, or i9, Intel's chips almost all feature an onboard GPU as well, so can run a system perfectly fine by themselves without a graphics card. The only caveat there is Intel's recent line of “F” processors. Those are typically called something like the Core i9-9900KF, or similar.

Do laptops have graphics cards? ›

If you are buying a laptop, you will have limited GPU options. Most laptops under 15 inches have integrated graphics because they would need more space to fit a dedicated graphics card. And if you do buy a laptop with discrete graphics, you can expect to pay more for the extra power.

How can I improve my computer's graphics without a graphics card? ›

Chances are your PC can run it just fine without the Nvidia or AMD GPU. Simply head into the game's graphics settings, turn on windowed mode, downscale your resolution, and you're good to go.

What is the current best GPU? ›

If you're looking for the best GPU, we recommend the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX. It's not the fastest GPU, but it's also not the most expensive. Then there's the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090, which is the most powerful GPU around. You'll also be paying an arm and leg for the luxury.

Which GPU is good for gaming? ›

Best Graphics Cards for Gaming in 2022
Graphics CardValue — Online (MSRP)Performance
GeForce RTX 30609 — $350 ($330)10 — 76.0
Radeon RX 66003 — $250 ($330)11 — 71.3
GeForce RTX 20604 — $220 ($350)12 — 59.1
Intel Arc A3808 — $140 ($140)13 — 31.1
9 more rows
Jan 6, 2023

What processor do I need for gaming? ›

For ideal results, a machine running an Intel® Core™ i7 processor or better with at least 8GB of RAM is sufficient for playing games and streaming at the same time. If you're hoping for less impact on your gaming performance, an Intel® Core™ i9 processor makes for an even smoother experience.

Is 16 GB RAM good for gaming? ›

16GB is the recommended amount of RAM for playing most games and will provide a noticeable increase in performance from 8GB. You will also be able to run applications in the background without affecting gameplay.

How does GPU affect computer performance? ›

CPU and GPU rendering video — The graphics card helps transcode video from one graphics format to another faster than relying on a CPU. Accelerating data — A GPU has advanced calculation ability that accelerates the amount of data a CPU can process in a given amount of time.

What should I upgrade my computer first? ›

When you're deciding the best things to upgrade on your PC, we recommend RAM, SSDs, and graphics cards as the main areas to focus on. Ideally, you should always tailor your upgrades to your precise needs.

What is the difference between a CPU and a GPU? ›

The primary difference between a CPU and GPU is that a CPU handles all the main functions of a computer, whereas the GPU is a specialized component that excels at running many smaller tasks at once. The CPU and GPU are both essential, silicon-based microprocessors in modern computers.

What does a 32 core GPU mean? ›

The Apple M1 Max 32-Core-GPU is an integrated graphics card by Apple offering all 32 cores in the M1 Max Chip. The 4,096 ALUs offer a theoretical performance of up to 10.4 Teraflops. The graphics card has no dedicated graphics memory but can use the fast LPDDR5-6400 unified memory with a 512 bit bus (up to 400 GBit/s).

What does a 5 core GPU mean? ›

The Apple A15 Bionic 5-core GPU is an integrated graphics card in the higher end versions of the A15 Bionic SoCs. It is used e.g., in the iPhone 13 Pro. It uses all 5 cores in the chip (contrary to the 4-core variant) in the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini.

Is A GPU a processor? ›

What Is a GPU? The GPU is a processor that is made up of many smaller and more specialized cores.

Which GPU is best for image processing? ›

NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti

The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is a PC GPU designed for enthusiasts. It is based on the TU102 graphics processor.

Is GPU general purpose? ›

A general-purpose GPU (GPGPU) is a graphics processing unit (GPU) that performs non-specialized calculations that would typically be conducted by the CPU (central processing unit). Ordinarily, the GPU is dedicated to graphics rendering.

How many GB is a good GPU? ›

Get a card with at least 6GB, and preferably 8GB or more for gaming at 1080p. You'll need more memory if you play with all the settings turned up or you install high-resolution texture packs. And if you're gaming at very high resolutions such as 4K, more than 8GB is ideal.

Is GPU memory the same as RAM? ›

GDDR and DDR RAM are both short-term desktop memories, with the major difference being their primary functions. GDDR RAM is integrated within the GPU for graphics-related tasks, while system RAM is connected to the CPU for regular computer tasks. However, the CPU and GPU communicate via the PCI express bus.

How important is RAM in a GPU? ›

Graphics card memory size matters because it affects GPU's performance. Not having enough memory on your graphics card limits the resolution size, textures, shadows, and other graphics settings.

What is an example of a GPU? ›

Some of its well-known GPUs include the GeForce RTX 3080, Nvidia Titan V, and the Nvidia RTX A6000. Right now, due to a worldwide shortage of graphic cards, it can be tricky to get your hands on one of its GPUs, especially its GeForce RTX 3070 cards.

What are the features of a GPU? ›

Features included:
  • Tast rendering of polygons in 2-D and 3-D graphics.
  • Digital output to flat panel display monitors.
  • Texture mapping.
  • Application support for high-intensity graphics software such as AutoCAD.
  • Support for YUV color space.
  • Hardware overlays.
  • MPEG decoding.
Nov 9, 2021

How do I know if my computer has a GPU? ›

In your PC's Start menu, type "Device Manager," and press Enter to launch the Control Panel's Device Manager. Click the drop-down arrow next to Display adapters, and it should list your GPU right there. (In the screenshot below, you can see that I have a Radeon RX 580.)

Is GPU only for gaming? ›

Is a GPU only for gaming? Although GPUs are primarily used for gaming, that's not their only purpose. Graphics cards can accelerate any video-intensive task, including video editing, 3D rendering and animation, and CAD drawings.

Can a computer run with just GPU? ›

Although a GPU is capable of processing many complex tasks, it cannot be used in place of a CPU. This is because a GPU is not built to run operating systems and everyday computational functions. They are designed to process tasks relating to graphics, videos and content instead.

Is RAM or graphics card more important? ›

Both are important. Without graphics card your game would not run except your processor doesn't have integrated graphics. RAM is used to open the game and provide memory to access the components of game whereas GRAPHICS CARD takes up the load of a processor and processes the graphics.

Is more memory on a GPU better? ›

Greater functionality is contingent on GPU memory availability. Larger GPU memory allows users to run more applications simultaneously, use more plug-ins and tools, run higher fidelity calculations and work with higher-resolution models and images.

Do you need a GPU and a graphics card? ›

Every desktop and laptop computer needs a GPU (graphics processing unit). While laptops don't actually have a graphics card that you can install, they operate on a similar premise. Nowadays, you can purchase a laptop with dedicated graphics or without them.

What elements are in a GPU? ›

GPUs are silicon layered with tantalum and palladium transistors and capacitors for better storage on a smaller chip, which is perhaps the most interesting of the materials used for a GPU and RAM cards are made from a mind-boggling array of chemicals and copper, boron, cobalt, tungsten, for starters.

What is inside a GPU box? ›

Usually has a driver disk, a sticker to put on pc, and maybe some molex to 6 pin converters.

What are the parts inside of a GPU? ›

The modern PC graphics card consists of four main components: the graphics processor. the video memory. the random access memory digital-to-analogue converter (RAMDAC)

What is difference between CPU and GPU? ›

CPU (central processing unit) is a generalized processor that is designed to carry out a wide variety of tasks. GPU (graphics processing unit) is a specialized processing unit with enhanced mathematical computation capability, ideal for computer graphics and machine-learning tasks.

What are the 2 types of GPU? ›

GPUs come in two different types: integrated and dedicated. Dedicated GPUs are also sometimes referred to as discrete graphics cards. Both serve different functions, and it is up to you which type of graphics card you want in your PC.

What makes a GPU more powerful? ›

Generally, the more memory, the better the card can perform. However, there are other factors, such as memory speed, that also affect PC performance. Memory Speed. Bandwidth or memory speed tells you how fast the RAM in your graphics card can function.

What was the original purpose of the GPU? ›

Although they're best known for their capabilities in gaming, GPUs are becoming more popular for use in creative production and artificial intelligence (AI). GPUs were originally designed to accelerate the rendering of 3D graphics. Over time, they became more flexible and programmable, enhancing their capabilities.

What can damage a GPU? ›

What Causes a GPU to Fail?
  • GPU components failing prematurely due to faulty manufacturing.
  • Incompatible installation of the graphics card.
  • Static overload while installing the graphics card.
  • Moisture buildup on the card causing component damage.
  • Overheating caused by too much dirt or debris stuck on the cooling-components.

Is anything stored on GPU? ›

There is no personal data ever placed in the video RAM. No, a GPU doesn't retain any information ran through the card. It would be read only throughput. Best to resell if they're of any value or recycle, trash.

What matters most in a GPU? ›

Graphics card memory amount: Critical. Get a card with at least 6GB, and preferably 8GB or more for gaming at 1080p. You'll need more memory if you play with all the settings turned up or you install high-resolution texture packs. And if you're gaming at very high resolutions such as 4K, more than 8GB is ideal.

What is a GPU and where is it located? ›

Where is the GPU located? On most computers, the GPU is located on a graphics card or embedded on the motherboard on PCIe slots or riser cards. (A graphics card is an expansion card for your computer than renders images to the display. These contain GPUs, and they can also be plugged into PCIe slots.)

What is the core of a GPU? ›

CUDA, which stands for Compute Unified Device Architecture, Cores are the Nvidia GPU equivalent of CPU cores that have been designed to take on multiple calculations at the same time, which is significant when you're playing a graphically demanding game. One CUDA Core is very similar to a CPU Core.


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