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GPU vs Graphics card - What is the difference?

GPU vs Graphics card - What is the difference?

The first thing anyone who's looking to get into pc building needs to know is that there is a lot of technical jargon involved. Now, this may be overwhelming in and of itself in certain cases but what exacerbates this problem is the fact that sometimes the jargon gets meshed up. Sometimes two terms that aren't the same get thrown around as if there are synonyms.

As you might expect this can cause quite a confusion, especially when you're new to everything and just trying to figure stuff out for the first time. So we're going to talk about the most notable example of this that we've come across which has to do with GPUs and graphics cards.

These two terms get used interchangeably quite often, in fact, we've used them interchangeably ourselves at times but they're not the same. So let's see where the differences lie?

What Is a Graphics Processing Unit?

GPU vs Graphics card - What is the difference?

The graphics processing unit is underneath the heatsink. Generally, on all graphics cards, you'll notice that the heatsink is going to be larger and larger with the more expensive ones because they put out more heat. A GPU is just essentially the brain of a graphics card and a graphics card is a small computer dedicated only to processing 3d graphics. So the more GPU power that you have the more graphics processing power your computer has overall.

And even on some of the newer graphics cards you can take two different graphics cards together and make them operate as one. So you have two GPUs working on the same computer which makes it for a great gaming PC or video editing PC. So the GPU is measured in megahertz and quite possibly gigahertz very soon. The higher the gigahertz and megahertz, the greater processing power that the graphics card has.

Also, it has a front side bus which is how fast that process information gets to the rest of the graphics card and to the computer. And then it also has cores. Cores are how many different segments are on one particular graphics processing unit. So the highest number that they have are quad cores which are four different segmentations of one processor and those different segmentations can do different processing at the same time. So the more segmentation you have generally the better processing power that the GPU has.

GPU vs Graphics Card

The term GPU is an acronym that stands for the ''Graphics Processing Unit''. This is essentially a processor that's specialized to do graphics processing. Graphics processing requires that many smaller and less complex equations be done rapidly. Conversely, the CPU handles more complex stuff like Enemy AI.

So, when you're playing a game and your frame rate is low, this is typically the GPUs doing. But if you're playing a strategy game and the Ai needs forever to make a move, upgrading the GPU won't hasten this process since it's handled by the CPU. In general, most of the workload regarding in-game graphics is handled by the GPU.

So, if the GPU is the component that does all the heavy lifting when it comes to in-game graphics, where does that leave the graphics card?

Well, the graphics card enables the GPU to do its thing. So to speak, let's elaborate, the graphics card is comprised of several parts one of those parts is the GPU. So, referring to the graphics card as the GPU could be justified as a sort of metonymy.

In any case, the GPU is just one part of the graphics card but it isn't the only part. We also have the video memory, the PCB, the connectors, and the cooler, all of these things together make up the graphics card. So, while the GPU strictly speaking refers to the graphics chip manufactured by Nvidia and AMD.

The term graphics card refers to the finished product made by companies such as Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, Evga, and so on that, you can purchase off the shelf. We don't want to bug it down with too much information. Everything you may want to know about the other graphics card specs or manufacturers, you can find on my website.

What's inside a graphics card?

At the center of the graphics card lies the core chip or GPU chip which is responsible for all the actions and visuals that take place on your screen. The GPU chip looks similar to the CPU chip but is very different from the inside. They have different architecture designs, different input instructions, and different forms of output results.

GPU vs Graphics card - What is the difference?

GPU contains hundreds of small cores with small ALU and control modules. So that it can work on thousands of threads in a parallel manner. Around the GPU, there are multiple chips. These are the Video RAM or VRAM chips that determine how much data size your graphics card can hold. These chips looked similar to the RAM chips but a bit larger in size. These GPU VRAMs uses much faster VRAM technology than standard CPU RAMs.

Moreover, there are power chokes to deliver efficient power to VRAMs and large capacitors to charge them. On the bottom, this is a PCIe slot connection that connects your Graphics card to the motherboard and provides power to the GPU.

Coming to the front, there are different types of ports to provide display these are known as DP or display ports this one is a DVI port.

GPU vs Graphics card - What is the difference?

In the latest graphics card, you can find different and much more complicated and sophisticated PCB designs. There are graphics cards that require external power connectors directly from the power supply because power from the motherboard is not enough to light up all the components on the PCB of the graphics card. But in the end, the basic key elements to form a graphics card remains the same.

How does a graphics card work?

GPU vs Graphics card - What is the difference?

The computer has to do a ton of calculations very quickly to figure out which of your monitor's pixels should be, what color at what time on your screen within a matter of milliseconds. In modern computers, this is achieved through the graphics card. A word that many are familiar with but may not all understand well. A Graphics card is a smaller version of your entire computer. It is dedicated to the task of figuring out how to put or show images on your screen.

In particular, images that represent a three-dimensional world. Like your computer, the graphics card has its own processor inside it known as a GPU or graphics processing unit. The GPU is to your graphics card what the CPU is to your computer in general.

The primary difference between a GPU and a CPU is in what number of cores they have got. The cores of a processor are like small calculators that may right away do the calculations required for your computer to think.

GPU vs Graphics card - What is the difference?

A modern CPU generally has around 8 cores at least, while a modern graphics card has between 1,000 and 4,000 of them. Although a CPU has fewer cores, each core on the CPU is much more powerful than each on the graphics card. This is because CPUs are used for things like logic and instructions that can get very complicated, although these cores are more powerful, each can only do one task at a time.

Now when it comes to instructions, that's fine. But the individual tasks that are required for graphics rendering aren't really that complicated, there are just so many. Therefore, using a CPU to render graphics would result in wasting all the potentials of those cores. We end up with all the tasks waiting in line and processing slowly, which is not ideal for graphics. Now, the cores of a graphics processing unit are simple but very numerous and are perfect for this task.

So in short, a CPU can do 8 really complicated things at once, while a GPU can do thousands of very simple things at once.

Think of a person with 2 strong arms and another person with 10 very weak arms. If you need two big heavy things, the type with 2 arms is the best for that task. But if you need 10 light things lifting someone with 10 weak arms is better.

The ability to do a lot of calculations quickly is particularly important for rendering three-dimensional worlds. When computers create 3D worlds, they use something called vector graphics. This means that they plot the coordinates on a three-dimensional graph and then draw lines between them based on mathematical calculations similar to what you probably did in geometry class.

Every object in shape really comes down to where these points are in relation to each other and what is the curvature of the line between them, it all comes down to the math. Doing a lot of calculations really fast. This is also the reason why graphics cards are so helpful in the cryptocurrency acquisition process. The type of calculations required to participate in what is known as Bitcoin mining is much more suitable for a group of small cores than a very powerful few.

Now that your graphics card is like your own computer. It not only has its own CPU but it also has its own RAM. This is often referred to as Video RAM or VRAM and, as with your computer's main RAM. Your RAM and graphics card store small amounts of data that are very easily accessible. In the imaging process, some types of data are very important and should be used regularly.

So the RAM on your graphics card stores that data and sends it to the GPU as needed.

And that's pretty much it short and succinct, nothing more to add. At least, there's nothing more to add to this issue specifically, but before we close things off, we'd like to mention a couple of other potentially confusing graphics card related terms and shine some light on them as well. Starting with discrete or dedicated graphics cards.

Other Potentially Confusing Terms

A discreet or dedicated graphics card refers to most graphics cards as we know them. This means they're individual components that have all the things I've mentioned GPU, video memory, fans, and so on. In this case, the terms discrete and dedicated are wholly synonymous. In most cases, these discrete or dedicated graphics cards are plopped into the PCI express slot on the motherboard and that's why they interface with the rest of the computer.

However, we also have external graphics cards that don't interface with the motherboard. Now here's the thing, external graphics cards are still the very same dedicated or discrete graphics cards that can be inserted into the motherboard. We only refer to them as external graphics cards when they're installed in an external enclosure and connected to the pc via a thunderbolt 3 port.

The bottom line is that you can't go to a hardware store and look for an external graphics card. The graphics card itself is the same regardless of whether it interfaces with the motherboard through a PCI express slot or a thunderbolt 3 port.

What's external about it is the case that it's paired up with external graphics cards that are mostly used by laptop gamers who want to indulge in both portability and performance.

So, external graphics cards aren't the opposite of discrete or dedicated graphics cards. They're just a subtype if you will.

The opposite of discrete or dedicated graphics cards are integrated graphics. Integrated graphics or integrated GPUs refer to a GPU that is integrated with a CPU. This is where making a distinction between the GPU and the graphics card is important. With integrated graphics both GPU and CPU cores are on the same die.

As such they aren't privy to all of the non-GPU-related parts of the graphics card that I've mentioned like: The video memory, PCB, and the cooling system. Instead, its own VRAM integrated GPUs have to rely on system RAM. All of this helps to make integrated GPUs significantly more power-efficient than discrete graphics cards.

In terms of performance, however, they pale in comparison to even the most basic dedicated models.

Lastly, we should mention APUs.

I've made a whole article where we discuss the differences between GPUs, CPUs, and APUs in-depth. So you should refer If you'd like a more comprehensive explanation. But basically, APUs are CPUs with integrated graphics made by AMD.

The acronym stands for ''Accelerated Processing Unit'' but really it's more of a marketing tool than anything else. Accelerated processing units or an APU which is a CPU that comes with integrated graphics. AMD's APUs offer some of the most powerful integrated graphics seen to date on the market. They are actually perfectly viable for gaming if you are putting together an entry-level build. And don't mind playing games in a low resolution and lower settings.

That said AMD has managed to push the boundaries of integrated graphics far beyond their previous limits, so if you're looking to build a pc that uses integrated graphics you should strongly consider getting an APU.

They still can't compete with discrete graphics cards not even entry-level ones if you'd like to game without a dedicated graphics card, it doesn't get any better than this.


The GPU is the chip manufactured by Nvidia or AMD that graphics cards are built around. While it is technically the most essential part of a graphics card, it most certainly isn't the only one.

The term graphics card refers to the whole piece of hardware including video memory, PCB, connectors, and fans, as well as the GPU. In any case, I hope you found this article helpful, you can let me know if you have by sharing it with friends and leaving a comment.


Q. Difference between GPU and VRAM?

A. VRAM, or video random access memory, is the component of a graphics card that stores video data and is faster for saving and processing graphical tasks, and has a higher capacity. The size of the VRAM affects the quality of graphics displayed on the screen. For example, if a VRAM is not large enough, the graphics card will have to swap data from the VRAM to the system memory in order to keep up with the demands of displaying images on the screen.

Q. What does integrated GPU mean?

A. An integrated GPU is a graphics processing unit that is built into the processor. Integrated GPU doesn't have the memory it uses RAM as a memory.

Q. Difference between the graphics card and integrated graphics?

A. Integrated graphics is a set of graphics processing units (GPUs) that are built into the computer processor. Integrated graphics do not have dedicated graphics memory, and cannot use as much video memory as a discrete graphics card. Integrated graphics cannot run graphically intensive games or applications, but they are a good choice for everyday tasks. 

A graphics card is a separate piece of hardware that is installed into a computer. Graphics cards are not required for most computer tasks, but they are needed for gaming and other graphically intensive tasks. Graphics cards are also helpful for editing videos and rendering 3D models.

The graphics card has its own memory and connects to the motherboard via a PCI-Express or AGP slot. The graphics card will be able to display higher resolutions and framerates than integrated graphics. Integrated graphics are found on low-end or budget-friendly motherboards. Integrated graphics are generally less powerful than a graphics card and can display only a limited number of resolutions.

Q. Do I need a GPU and a graphics card?

A. If you have integrated GPU or Intel's HD Graphics or AMD's APU processor, then you don't need to have a graphics card. They are capable of handling the most common graphics tasks. But if you build a gaming pc to play the latest gaming titles the graphics card is essential.

Q. Is a dedicated graphics card better than integrated graphics card?

A. A dedicated graphics card is better than integrated graphics for gaming, for doing more complex graphics work, and for other demanding applications. It will be able to handle 3D modeling, animation, and more. it has its own memory and is capable of delivering high-quality graphics.

Q. Are graphics and video cards the same?

A. Graphics cards, also known as video cards, are often used interchangeably and are a type of hardware that allows the computer to display video output, which is typically in the form of a graphical user interface.

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