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 one if you’re a casual PC user who doesn’t do much gaming or video editing.
- What is an integrated GPU?
- Does a Computer Need a Graphics Card?
- Benefits of a standalone graphics card
- When should you consider a dedicated GPU?
- The worst-case scenario for requiring one
- Graphics requirements when it comes to servers
- It’s a very similar situation for laptop computers
But all things considered, it is a good investment to get the most out of your PC.
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 look at more factors influencing your decision about whether you require a graphics card.
What is an integrated GPU?
Most motherboards support integrated graphics, but not all CPU models offer the integrated GPU feature.
Does a Computer Need a Graphics Card?
Some factors 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 card as it will relieve significant strain from the CPU.
- Multiple monitors: A graphics card makes it easier when you need to connect extra monitors.
Benefits of a standalone graphics card
I want 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, they almost certainly improve frame rates for heavier tasks and give you a smoother-performing machine.
Working with anything graphics-heavy will allow your PC to handle it more easily, resulting in a cooler CPU.
They come in so many varieties that picking one for your budget is easier than ever. Even a lower-cost card out of the latest selections offers better performance in most cases than an integrated graphics processing unit.
The GPU is a dedicated component with memory on the card that handles 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.
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?
You likely don’t need one if you primarily use your PC for email, web browsing, playing an occasional video, and word processing. Your PC’s built-in graphics will suffice.
However, they 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 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 card.
So you must 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 display quality is important.
The worst-case scenario for requiring one
Let’s say the PC has an integrated GPU with a motherboard supporting integrated graphics.
Suppose we could look at a common situation where you would use the PC for emails, video viewing, 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 one.
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 to add a discrete graphics card.
But GPU-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 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 makes everything appear smooth and makes everything look more natural.
In most cases, your screen would get drawn about 60 times per second as a minimum standard. 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.
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.
Components like your CPU will run hotter, and 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 whether you should add one to preserve the life of your computer or not.
If you don’t use many programs 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 tasks.
Graphics requirements when it comes to servers
Naturally, servers are 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 one.
A clearer line is drawn in the sand when deciding about server graphics cards.
A dedicated 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.
While laptops don’t have a graphics card you can install, they operate on a similar premise.
You can purchase a laptop with a dedicated GPU or without them. A dedicated GPU is similar to a graphics card, except it resides as a separate onboard chip on the motherboard.
This can significantly improve the performance of your laptop, especially for gaming.
No dedicated graphics card option means you are back to using integrated GPU with the CPU or APU, just like a desktop PC.
In most cases, You will probably find that having one installed into a computer isn’t essential, 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?