Integrated graphics (iGPU) refers to a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) built into the same chassis as the CPU (Central Processing Unit). The iGPU is often frowned upon in enthusiast circles, but this approach to GPU design has many important benefits.
The graphics integrated in the CPU (iGPU) explained
Modern computer graphics with high-resolution videos and detailed 3D rendering in video games and professional applications are a demanding task. Although a CPU can create (ie “render”) graphics, it does not provide the right architecture to do so quickly and efficiently. This is why there are graphics processing units (GPUs) that are designed from the ground up to do that kind of math to calculate the correct values of millions of pixels tens or even hundreds of times per second. Every computer device, from PCs to smartphones, now comes with a built-in graphics processor.
The only computers that do not carry GPUs are so-called “headless” servers, which are remotely controlled and only perform work that is suitable for CPUs. Every computer that broadcasts an image to a monitor these days almost certainly has a specialized GPU on board.
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When buying a laptop or desktop computer, the spec sheet often states that the computer comes with an “integrated” or “dedicated” graphics card. There is one major difference between these two approaches to integrating a GPU into a computer: a dedicated GPU means that this solution has its own independent processor package. It also has its own cooling solution. Dedicated GPUs also have their own hardware for power management and storage. So a dedicated GPU is like having your own standalone computer.
If you think about the Radeon graphics card here, you get an impression of the space you get with a PC that uses only integrated graphics (iGPU). However, this is far less powerful for graphics tasks.
In a desktop computer, dedicated GPUs are placed on their own printed circuit board, commonly referred to as a graphics card. The card is inserted into the computer’s motherboard and often requires more power than the card slot can provide. Therefore, it is usually connected to the computer’s power supply via its own power connection from the power supply unit.
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An integrated graphics processor, on the other hand, must share everything with the CPU. For this reason, the term onboard GPU is often used here. The graphics unit is located directly in the processor housing, is cooled by the same cooling plate and uses the same system memory as the desktop processor. The motherboard provides the monitor output hardware, which allows you to connect a monitor, but the entire brain of the GPU is housed in the CPU.
With the exception of advanced CPUs, virtually all computer CPUs today have an integrated graphics processor. This means that processor models with integrated graphics processor are the most common graphics processor types. There are good reasons for this: one of the most important is the price. Systems with an integrated graphics processor are much cheaper because no additional hardware is required.
Intel’s iGPU solution in the “Meteor Lake” generation CPUs is said to offer significantly more graphics performance thanks to a newly developed chip design – but discrete desktop GPUs will probably still not be definitively replaced.
The other important reason is complexity. This is especially true of notebooks, where every cubic millimeter of volume counts. By integrating the graphics processor into the CPU housing, laptops can be built significantly smaller because no additional hardware is required for cooling, powering, and connecting a separate chip pack.
The third pillar of integrated GPU design is power efficiency. It is much easier to control the power consumption of a single integrated chip than it is to balance the requirements of two separate chips. Since the GPU and the CPU are closely related, they can ensure that they fit into the TDP (Thermal Design Power) of the CPU case.
But if integrated graphics are such a good idea, why do we use dedicated graphics? The short answer is that dedicated cards have far greater potential for performance. A dedicated GPU can be larger, have a much larger power budget and can safely run at higher temperatures. In addition, it has access to high-performance memory designed specifically to meet the demands of graphics applications such as. gaming.
Integrated graphics are inexpensive, efficient and energy-saving and are now even suitable for casual gamers. However, it is still very different from the highly optimized, dedicated graphics solutions.
Integrated GPUs have long been synonymous with poor performance, only sufficient for basic productivity tasks and limited multimedia applications. For many years no one has thought about games here. But that all changed in 2022, as GPU technology has improved the built-in graphics performance to the point that most users – including casual gamers – do not necessarily need dedicated GPUs. However, it is still true that dedicated GPUs are much faster than iGPUs, which means they can run games with higher resolutions, better quality, and higher refresh rates.
If graphics performance is the most important thing for you, then you should definitely buy a desktop computer with a dedicated graphics card. If battery life, cost, heat and noise are critical factors for you, an integrated solution is probably the right choice for you. However, desktop users still have the option of adding a dedicated graphics processor to their system at a later date, provided your motherboard has the right slot and the power supply and housing are suitable for it. You can try your CPU’s built-in GPU to see if it’s enough for your needs.
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