The answer is not so clear — all because a lot has changed in recent years. We tell you when the “build-in” is enough, and in which cases you should still fork out for a separate video card.
It’s no secret that buying a video card has long been an unaffordable burden for a considerable number of users. The cost of flagship graphics accelerators easily exceeded the psychological mark.
Against this background, many users either postponed the purchase of a fresh video card in a long box, or preferred to invest in upgrading other components of their PC. Moreover, many of them remembered integrated graphics, which in some cases can become a worthy alternative to conventional video cards. What is embedded graphics? What are the differences between it and a video card? When will its capabilities be sufficient? Let’s get this straight.
Embedded graphics, or iGPU, is part of a hybrid processor (APU). Combining the central and graphics processors on a single chip not only reduces their total cost, but also reduces power consumption, unifies the technologies used, and trivially simplifies the design and assembly of a computer.
Before, let’s not be afraid of this word, the AMD revolution, integrated graphics dragged out a rather pathetic existence. Its capabilities were only enough for office work, and full-fledged gaming was out of the question. That all changed with the introduction of AMD’s first hybrid processors with integrated Vega graphics. Over time, they became more and more perfect. And modern iGPUs of hybrid processors like the AMD Ryzen 5 3400G with Vega 11 graphics are roughly on par with the discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 1030 video card. But this is not the fastest APU in the range of AMD.
And, for example, the AMD Ryzen 7 5700G graphics are more than twice as fast as the GeForce GT 1030.
Looking at AMD, Intel also took over the development of integrated graphics. Its new Intel Xe iGPUs have already found application in the 11th-generation Intel Core mobile processors. Progress with previous generations of iGPUs from Intel is evident, but they still do not reach the built-in AMD Vega graphics.
In simple terms, the integrated graphics of AMD Vega produces more than 30 fps in Cyberpunk 2077 at the minimum graphics settings and at HD resolution, and in older projects like the Witcher 3, you will get the same 30 fps already at Full HD resolution.
But those who want to bet on integrated graphics should understand the key feature of such solutions. The iGPU does not have its own video memory. Graphics work uses the resources of the computer’s RAM, and all the features of its use follow from this.
In order to unlock the full potential of the built-in graphics, it is not enough to install as much RAM as possible in the computer. There may not be much of it, but it must be fast and work in two-channel mode without fail. In other words, you will need two RAM strips, preferably from the same set.
If you do not follow this recommendation, RAM will become the bottleneck in the computer’s graphics subsystem and will noticeably slow down its operation. For example, if you install only one RAM module, the iGPU speed may drop by 40%.
Discrete graphics card
In recent years, integrated graphics has taken a big step forward. It already allows you to play fairly heavy modern AAA titles, but you can’t call such gaming comfortable. More precisely, it will not be called such by a person who has ever sat at a computer with a video card of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 level or higher.
In simple terms, a discrete graphics card is a separate board that connects to a computer. It has its own graphics processor and a set of memory with a high-speed bus access to it. For example, the GeForce RTX 3060 we mentioned above uses a GA106 GPU with 3584 stream processors, combined with 12 GB of GDDR6 memory on a 192-bit bus.
With all their advantages, discrete video cards are characterized by increased power consumption, rather large size and quite a considerable price. Therefore, and only for this reason, it is often more profitable for some users to buy an APU with its integrated graphics.
When integrated graphics will suit you
You should not pay too much for a discrete graphics card if you use your computer to work in office programs, watch movies, listen to music, and from time to time allow yourself to drive an hour or two in Call of Duty, WoW, or even Cyberpunk 2077. At the same time, it is worth remembering that in addition to a good APU, you will need fast RAM that works in dual-channel mode.
When you can’t do without a discrete graphics card
You can’t do without buying a discrete graphics card if you’re designing or rendering video. In general, when your profession or hobby is inextricably linked with computer graphics. And, of course, a video card is worth buying for avid gamers who love to test new games and are ready to break the monitor at the slightest frieze or artifact.
Built-in graphics can make you sacrifice settings or resolution. If you bought a 4K monitor with an increased refresh rate, you’ll definitely want to play 4K with high settings and decent fps. In this case, you can’t do without a discrete card either. Moreover, it is advisable to look at real map tests in the games you are going to play before choosing. For example, although the Geforce RTX 2060 is theoretically suitable for 4K gaming, in most modern AAA projects it does not stretch to a comfortable 60 fps — especially with ray tracing enabled.
One more thing
There are solutions that combine the capabilities of embedded and discrete graphics. Many laptop manufacturers often equip their devices with a discrete graphics card, but they also allow you to use integrated APU graphics.
Why is this necessary? Everything is simple. A full-fledged video card consumes a lot of energy, literally draining the laptop battery in hours. But such power is not always needed. With watching YouTube and surfing the Internet, much more economical integrated graphics can also cope, and your mobile computer will get additional hours of life without recharging.