Does a Computer Need a Graphics Card?
A graphics card is a great way to improve your computer’s performance, but not all PCs need one. For example, you may not need a graphics card if you’re a casual PC user who doesn’t do much gaming or video editing.
- What is an integrated GPU (iGPU)?
- Conditions that make a graphics card or video card necessary
- Benefits of a standalone graphics card for your computer
- When should you consider a dedicated GPU?
- The worst-case scenario for graphics requirements
- Graphics requirements when it comes to servers
- It’s a very similar situation for laptop computers
But a graphics card is a good investment if you want to get the most out of your PC. So, does your computer need a graphics card? The answer depends on what you plan to use your PC for.
A computer requires a graphics card when the CPU doesn’t contain an inbuilt GPU (an iGPU or Integrated Graphics Processing Unit), and the motherboard doesn’t support integrated graphics. After that, it’s down to the personal requirements needed from your PC.
Let’s take a look at more factors that may influence your decision about whether you require a graphics card.
What is an integrated GPU (iGPU)?
An iGPU or Integrated Graphics Processing Unit is a GPU built into the CPU. The motherboard provides the means for your computer monitor to connect to and use the integrated graphics.
Most motherboards support integrated graphics, but not all CPU models offer the integrated GPU feature.
Conditions that make a graphics card or video card necessary
There are factors that influence the need for a graphics card or video card. Apart from the ability of the hardware to work without one, here are some other things that come into play.
- When gaming is a priority: When you are a gamer, you need a certain level of performance for specific games.
- The computer is needed as a workstation: Certain jobs like 3D animation, for example, require extra graphical performance for rendering or smoother design area operation.
- Software requirements demand it: Certain software applications can be graphics-intensive enough to warrant a graphics card as it will relieve significant strain from the CPU.
- Multiple monitors: When you need to connect extra monitors, a graphics card makes it easier.
Benefits of a standalone graphics card for your computer
I’d like to take the time to mention a few benefits of installing graphics cards.
While adding a standalone graphics card does use some extra power from your power supply, as long as you have the extra headroom in the wattage output of the power supply, the power supply will last just fine.
Beyond that, a graphics card almost certainly improves frame rates for heavier tasks and gives you a smoother-performing machine.
Working with anything graphics-heavy will allow your PC to handle it more easily, resulting in a cooler CPU.
Graphics cards come in so many varieties that picking one for your budget is easier than ever. Even a lower-cost card out of the latest graphics card selections offers better performance in most cases than an integrated graphics processing unit.
This is because the GPU is a dedicated component with its own memory on the card, which is designed to deal with graphical data.
A graphics card also has a cooling fan and heatsink assembly for the GPU to keep it running at better temperatures under load.
I discuss how you can increase the speed of the graphics card fans in another article.
If you are thinking about purchasing a used graphics card, run some tests first. I also talk about how to check if a GPU is working properly.
When should you consider a dedicated GPU?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to invest in a dedicated graphics card. First, what kind of graphic-intensive activities will you be doing?
If you’re primarily just using your PC for email, web browsing, playing an occasional video, and word processing, you likely don’t need a graphics card. Your PC’s built-in graphics will suffice.
However, a graphics card can make a big difference if you’re into gaming, video editing, image editing, 3D graphics modeling, or CAD modeling.
Graphics cards process graphical data much more efficiently than a CPU, resulting in a smoother and more realistic graphical output.
It’s also important to consider the category of graphics card you need. A budget graphics card should suffice if you’re looking to do some light gaming.
However, if you’re looking to spend a good amount of time gaming and enjoy more serious gaming titles or video editing, you’ll need to invest in a higher-end level graphics card.
So it’s important that you spend the time and browse buying guides online to find the best trade-off between price and performance for your needs.
It ultimately comes down to what you need personally and what you’re willing to spend. Investing in a dedicated graphics card is worth considering if the graphical quality is important to you.
The worst-case scenario for graphics requirements
Let’s say the PC in question has an integrated GPU with a motherboard that supports integrated graphics.
If we could look at a common situation where you would use the PC for things like emails, viewing a video, video streaming, some basic photo and video editing, office programs, etc. Pretty much any of your common desktop tasks.
For most of these tasks, integrated graphics would probably work fine. Not all computers need a graphics card.
However, there could be little telltale signs that your computer is having a slightly harder time dealing with these jobs than one might initially think.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear black-and-white answer to determine exactly when you need to add a discrete graphics card.
But graphics card-intensive software like Photoshop or any other application that relies on accelerated video can push your integrated GPU beyond its limits without too much difficulty.
Is the PC running hotter?
One such sign would be the amount of heat your CPU throws out. You may notice the PC getting hot or running slightly higher-than-normal operating temperature than a PC should.
Just that alone isn’t really serious. It may simply mean that you could be shortening the lifespan of your computer by a small amount.
Frame drops for all types of uses (not just gaming)
But the other sign could be something called frame drops or frame skipping. This happens when the CPU does its best to keep up with demands.
As you already might know, the GPU draws or renders a complete frame to display on your monitor many times a second.
This gives the appearance that everything displays smoothly and makes everything look more natural.
In most cases, your screen would get drawn about 60 times per second as a minimum standard these days. When your GPU is feeling the pressure, it may leave out drawing a frame or two to help it cope.
That’s when you notice rougher transitions on your screen where things appear to be a bit choppy.
A graphic card and the impact on longevity
While this isn’t probably a huge concern for most, knowing that you may be compromising the lifespan of your PC because of the lack of a graphics card leaves you wondering if you shouldn’t simply add one.
Not only will components like your CPU run hotter, but your power supply will feel the load too.
So it stands to reason that if more than one component endures a harder life because no graphics card is present, why not add even an entry-level card?
It makes sense for a small investment to keep your system running with better performance. But adding a card will also increase the demands from your power supply straight out of the gate.
This leads us back to the question if you should add one to preserve the life of your computer or not.
I’d say if you don’t use many programs all that often, there’s probably not much in it.
However, a graphics card would be beneficial if you use the PC almost daily while performing several different types of tasks.
Graphics requirements when it comes to servers
Naturally, servers are totally different animals compared to a standard PC. This is even somewhat true for a home server.
Web servers mainly deliver content that isn’t very resource intensive. But application servers, on the other hand, may require graphics cards.
There is a clearer line in the sand when it comes to deciding about graphics cards for servers.
A dedicated graphics card will be paramount when applications are needed by the server that requires more powerful graphical processing.
It’s a very similar situation for laptop computers
Every desktop and laptop computer needs a GPU (graphics processing unit).
While laptops don’t actually have a graphics card that you can install, they operate on a similar premise.
Nowadays, you can purchase a laptop with dedicated graphics or without them. A dedicated GPU is similar to a graphics card, except it resides in an onboard chip on the motherboard.
This can significantly improve the performance of your laptop, especially for gaming.
Having no dedicated graphics card option means you are back to using an integrated graphics card that is integrated with the CPU or APU, just like a desktop PC.
You will probably find in most cases that it isn’t absolutely essential to have a graphics card installed into a computer, but there are many reasons to consider one down the road.
After all, who doesn’t enjoy a PC that performs well when it comes to everything visual?