Integrated Graphics vs. Dedicated Graphics: What’s the Difference?

Integrated Graphics
Illustration: Gordon McAlpin

Whether you own a desktop PC or a laptop PC, the graphics hardware in your machine comes in two very distinct flavors. Integrated graphics hardware shares your PC’s memory with the rest of your PC. In other words, it has no RAM of its own. Dedicated graphics hardware has its own memory and can even have its own brain, called a GPU or graphics processing unit.

What does this mean to you? A PC with integrated graphics is limited by the amount of memory your whole PC has. Sharing memory means that you’re going to be bogged down a lot of the time, especially when you’ve got a lot of graphics on the screen. Other than the memory, integrated graphics (identified by usually being from Intel) usually have inferior hardware to their dedicated cousins. Even when you’re not playing games, integrated graphics and Windows don’t like each other. The Windows Aero user interface really suffers. And watching a movie on your PC while doing something else at the same time? Forget it!

A PC with dedicated graphics has its own memory, ranging from 512 megabytes on up to several gigabytes. In a desktop PC, dedicated graphics will be on its own card that plugs into the motherboard. On a laptop, it’s still part of the motherboard, but will have its own memory chips next to it. Dedicated graphics can still vary widely in quality, but in general, will outperform integrated graphics. Having its own RAM means your system is not fighting for memory with the graphics hardware. Dedicated graphics hardware with its own GPU means you’re not fighting your PC for CPU time, either. Some enthusiasts even have two dedicated graphics cards with a bridge between them for extra graphical power, and this method isn’t as expensive as you think.

Anyone who wants to multitask a lot, or watch movies on your PC, or do anything that has to do with 3D graphics (such as games) is going to want a good graphics card for their desktop, or a laptop that has an nVidia or ATI sticker on it. These are the two main graphics manufacturers, and such a sticker tells you the laptop has dedicated graphics onboard and will perform well.

Keep in mind that a graphics card upgrade can often require a new power supply. Check the label for minimum voltage requirements and check the top of your power supply when you first open up your case to see if your power supply is good enough.

One last thought: If you’ve got a sluggish PC, a new graphics card may not be the answer. Try running through our Nine Steps and see if you can fix the issue without having to upgrade. Good luck!

  • Brett Duncan

    Graphics cards are not always the answer, since you won’t need them 24/7. I personally would choose 16 GB RAM over 12 GB RAM + 2 GB VRAM (as an example) in a computer. However gamers who need 16 GB all the time should get a graphics card.

  • Agree with you here Brett. A RAM upgrade is always a great first place to go for an upgrade, especially considering how cheap it is.

  • maneesh

    my laptop contain intel hd graphic 4000 and amd radeon 8600 garaphics in this both graphic i dnt what is what .in my laptop specifications it was written i have 1 gb dedicated graphic iam aa video gamer i need to upgrade the the graphics to at least 2 gb or 3gb can i upgrade help me

  • VR

    Buying cheap 2or3or4 GB graphics card isn’t gonna benefit and the motto is,higher the cost,Better the card.and also look for the number like,for nvidia-gt610,gt620…gtx650gtx660….higher the last two nos, better the performance(if you have a desktop).

    In a laptop,it is mere impossible to upgrade your graphics and the better choice is to sell your old one and buy a new one with more specs.

  • Geraldine Grace Gabriel

    How about the AMD radeon HD? is it good or not?

  • VR

    Not all of them. The lower/ cheaper ones are crappy.But the higher ones (whch have been give new names under R series) awesome.A R7 can play most games with medium to ultra with not much fps drop. But still, higher the numbers, better the performance. ie; a R7 270 wont be a match to a R9 290X. So, if you budgets are tight, dont buy and HD series or nvidia gt series, instead get a little more money and buy atleast a R7 ( and if you are lucky, you may find a second hand R9 that someone havent used cause it wont work in their pc for the price of a R7, that’s how i got my R9 290X) And for those who wants to buy a gtx 690, think about R9, same performance, lower priced. Amd i doing a great jb with their cheap yet the most powerful ones and gfx cards that are also cheap and does the work it is made for. nb: Amd processors are way better than intel ones, just compare an i7 and any of the processor from Amd FX series.

  • animeboss

    im confused i have a gtx 970 is that an integrated gpu

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