For those who are new to the world of PC building, there never seems to be a shortage of potentially confusing terms and acronyms that some people appear to be using completely interchangeably.
One of the most common examples of this is probably the confusion between the terms “graphics card” and “GPU.”
So, are a graphics card and a GPU the same thing?
Below, you’ll find the answer to that question, as well as a few others that you might find yourself asking, so read on!
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Graphics Card vs GPU
A GPU, short for Graphics Processing Unit, is a specialized processor dedicated to graphics processing tasks, as the name obviously suggests. Since it is a specialized chip designed and optimized specifically for these types of tasks, it is much more efficient at it than a CPU is and it handles most of the workload when it comes to in-game graphics.
Now, a graphics card isn’t comprised of just the GPU. Rather, in addition to the GPU, it also includes a number of other parts such as the video memory, the PCB, the connectors, and the cooler. That said, the graphics card is the piece of hardware dedicated to graphics processing and video output as a whole, rather than just a processor.
So, “GPU” refers specifically to the graphics chips manufactured by Nvidia and AMD, while “graphics card” refers to the final product that you’re buying off the shelf, usually made by partner companies such as Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, EVGA, and others.
A Few Other Potentially Confusing Terms
A graphics card is also sometimes referred to as a discrete or dedicated graphics card. This indicates that the graphics card is a separate piece of hardware that most commonly interfaces with the rest of the computer via a PCIe slot on the motherboard.
Meanwhile, the term external graphics card describes a regular dedicated graphics card that’s installed in an external enclosure and connected to a computer with the help of a cable, usually via a Thunderbolt 3 port. People most commonly use external graphics cards with laptops, as they help maintain a laptop’s portability while enhancing its gaming performance and bringing it to a near-desktop level.
Next, we have integrated GPUs or integrated graphics, and this refers to a GPU that is integrated with a CPU i.e. the processor has both CPU and GPU cores on the same die. These integrated GPUs don’t take up any space on the motherboard and are more power-efficient, but they also don’t have their own memory and have to utilize the system RAM instead.
As a result, integrated graphics are usually nowhere near as powerful as even the cheapest dedicated GPUs and are thus rarely a good fit for gaming. However, they are fully capable of taking care of basic graphics-related tasks, and considering that they help save space, power, and money, it’s obvious why they are good for casual everyday activities such as web browsing, watching videos, playing music, etc.
This is also where the term “accelerated processing unit”, or APU, comes in. Essentially, this is just a marketing term introduced by AMD and it simply denotes a line of CPUs that come with integrated graphics.
However, AMD’s Ryzen APUs actually offer some of the most powerful integrated graphics seen to date, and they are actually perfectly viable for gaming if you’re putting together an entry-level build and don’t mind playing games in a lower resolution and/or at lower settings.
And so, that would be it for this article. Hopefully, you’ve found it helpful and it has helped clear up the difference between a GPU and a graphics card, as well as some other related terms you may have had questions about.
On a final note, if you’re shopping for a new graphics card right now, we suggest checking out our selection of the best graphics cards of 2023, as you’re bound to find something that fits your needs!