Why Do Laptops Have Two Graphics Cards?

Although most people only consider desktop PCs as technological powerhouses, laptops have been evolving as well. Today’s laptops can do more than just quick work on the go, even sporting incredibly powerful hardware and software to perform several functions. But why do some laptops have two GPUs

Some laptops have two graphics cards for performance reasons, but they also use them to optimize your device’s battery life. The computer uses the less powerful onboard card for regular, low-GPU tasks and only switches to the high-performance, dedicated card when needed.

This entire process is controlled by application software in your laptop and ensures that the device continuously delivers optimal performance while offering power consumption management.

Are Two Graphics Cards Better Than One?

In a nutshell, two graphics cards are great for laptops and have various benefits for your computer. However, are two cards better than one? Or is the dual setup just a gimmick?

Having two graphics cards in a laptop is better because it improves the device’s performance without burning through its battery life

A laptop with GPUs placed in front of the screen.

This improved performance means users will enjoy an enhanced experience when using their laptops, particularly with graphics-intensive software.

Of course, this enhanced performance boils down to your computer sharing functionality between different cards at crucial times. 

Therefore, one of these cards is usually a low-spec card capable of basic image generation and processing.

This card, typically referred to as an integrated graphics card or integrated GPU, is in charge of simple image processing and works with applications that aren’t graphics-intensive.

The other card is usually a high-powered, high-spec chip that works in graphics-intensive situations or software. This card is referred to as a dedicated graphics card or dedicated GPU.

These two cards and crucial switching software work in synchronicity, allowing your laptop to function optimally while ensuring excellent battery life.

Now, it’s essential to understand the graphics cards you can find on laptops before we explore the benefits of a dual card setup over a computer with just one.

The next section of this article discusses the types of graphics cards you can find on laptop PCs.

Laptop Graphics Cards

While all graphics cards are in charge of image generation and display processing, not all are designed to operate in certain conditions or deliver the same operational quality.

Furthermore, these cards work slightly differently while providing the same function to computer devices for image generation and processing.

Their method of operation and efficiency depend on precisely what they’re doing in a device and how often you’ll use them.

We can classify the graphics cards found in laptops into:

  • Integrated graphics cards.
  • Dedicated graphics cards.

The next section of this article explores these cards in more detail.

Integrated Graphics Cards

A laptop CPU with an integrated GPU.

Integrated graphics cards are built into your device’s motherboard.

These chips don’t have their Central Processing Unit (CPU) for processing operations and rely on your laptop’s CPU for image generation and processing.

Therefore, they “share” processing power with your laptop’s CPU and are usually built on the processor, hence their name.

However, integrated graphics cards share more than just your laptop’s CPU for their operations. They also rely on the device’s RAM for their memory needs.

This relationship between an integrated graphics card and your laptop’s CPU and RAM means the chip can manage standard CPU and GPU tasks with no issues.

However, since an integrated graphics card typically occupies 1 to 5% of a laptop’s RAM, these cards are usually reserved for low-power operations and applications that aren’t graphically intensive.

Therefore, these kinds of cards are typically reserved for software used in:

  • Internet browsing.
  • Social networking.
  • Word processing.
  • Spreadsheets.
  • Project management.
  • 3D design operations.

Still, you can use them for slightly more graphics-intensive situations. Unfortunately, they might not work as well and lead to application crashes, lags, and inferior system performance.

Dedicated Graphics Cards

A laptop motherboard with a dedicated GPU.

Dedicated graphics cards are unique kinds of cards. They are similar to integrated graphics cards and do the same job of generating and processing visual data on your display device.

However, these GPUs are more than image generators and processors. They improve device efficiency and enhance program performance by streamlining visual data and relieving CPU stress.

In a nutshell, the core of their job is image optimization. Therefore, dedicated graphics cards and high-end laptops like gaming PCs are typically used for visually demanding tasks.

For this reason, they’re sometimes called GPUs or Graphical Processing Units (a misnomer) about the computer chip that controls their operations and forms the graphics card’s core.

Your dedicated graphics card is only as good as the currently installed GPU since the real computing and picture processing take place in the GPU chip, unlike in an integrated card.

Dedicated graphics cards use a special memory known as Video Random Access Memory (VRAM) to operate. This memory is almost like regular RAM but is exclusively used by the graphics card.

Therefore, a dedicated graphics card is more powerful and only limited by the available VRAM on your laptop instead of the installed RAM and CPU.

It’s for this reason that they’re typically reserved for graphics-intensive applications like:

  • Graphic design.
  • Data analysis.
  • Modeling and simulation.
  • Blockchain.

Several laptops combine dedicated and integrated graphics hardware so users can enjoy both benefits while increasing functionality and enhancing the user experience.

Pros of Using a Laptop With Two Graphics Cards

Using two graphics cards in a laptop is better than one, even if you’re not a gamer. Now, let’s explore the many pros a dual-card laptop will offer you compared to a device with just one.

Here are the pros of using a laptop with two graphics cards:

  • Performance gains: A computer with two graphics cards means users can switch between dedicated and integrated GPUs, providing higher performance for demanding workloads and efficient power management for less demanding activities.
  • Support for multiple external displays: Laptops with two graphics cards allow users to interface with more than one external monitor, granting greater screen space for gaming or productivity. This is quite unlike regular laptops, which only allow connections with one external display.
  • Quieter operation: A powerful graphics card offers excellent performance, usually resulting in more significant heat generation, and there’s usually an associated noise problem from the cooling fans. A computer with two cards can switch to the integrated card when running regular operations, resulting in less noise from the cooling fans.
  • Improved gaming experience: Laptops with two graphics cards are usually gaming PCs, and the extra card is usually a high-performing chip built to optimize gameplay. And with faster frame rates and more detailed visuals, a dedicated graphics card will offer a more immersive and fluid gaming experience.
  • Compatibility with resource-intensive software: The dedicated graphics in a dual graphics card laptop can help your device to run applications like graphic design software, data analysis programs, video editing software, modeling and scientific simulation, blockchain programming, and 3D modeling programs.

These pros come from your laptop’s ability to switch between graphics cards and are only as pronounced as how well your computer operates.

Cons of Using a Laptop With Two Graphics Cards

Still, dual graphics cards aren’t all pros, despite the improved functionality and productivity you’ll enjoy if you use a laptop of this kind.

However, while the drawbacks may not be tame compared to the advantages, it’s best you’re well-informed. 

Here are the cons of using a laptop with two graphics cards:

  • High power consumption: Graphics cards are power-hungry devices; running two on a single device will lead to increased energy consumption.
  • Imperceptible performance boost: Some programs might also not be worth the hassle of using a dual graphics card system as the benefits might not be noticeable.
  • High cost: Despite all their benefits, laptops with two graphics cards are typically more expensive than regular computers.

In summary, the advantages of using a dual-card laptop rely on the computer in question and your running applications.

Unsuitable components, particularly RAM and CPU, can affect how the computer switches between cards.

These can also limit data communication between crucial components, even if you’re using a high-spec dedicated card. 

Therefore, ensure your laptop is powerful enough (in terms of CPU and RAM performance) to run two graphics cards.

Do All Laptops Have Two Graphics Cards?

Now that we’ve explored the pros and cons of dual-card computers, we can answer a crucial question concerning the subject that most laptop users usually have. Do all laptops have two graphics cards?

All laptops don’t have two graphics cards. Some only have one card. However, some single-card laptops are upgradable to two cards to improve the system’s performance.

Of course, an upgrade is only possible if your laptop supports it. You can’t upgrade all computers, but most will allow users to swap out their integrated graphics cards for a more powerful one.

Unfortunately, not all laptops allow modifications like this, and you might have to purchase a new laptop if you need better specifications. 

Installing more than one graphics card is easy, but you must ensure your computer can use multiple cards.

You can check if your laptop has two graphics cards by following the steps below:

  1. Click the Windows button on your keyboard or the icon on your device toolbar.
  2. Go to System Settings.
  3. Select Display Settings on the screen.
  4. Check the Display Adapter or Graphics Properties.
  5. Browse through the listed adapters.

Your laptop most likely has two graphics cards if several display adapters are listed. It has only one card if only one display adapter is specified.

Can You Switch Between Graphics Cards on a Laptop?

The switch between your laptop’s integrated and dedicated graphics card is typically seamless, and you’ll probably not notice it when using your PC.

However, this switch is vital as it ensures optimal battery management and system performance. But can you manually switch between graphics cards on a laptop?

You can switch between graphics cards on a laptop, but only if you use an NVIDIA card as its dedicated card. NVIDIA cards have an option that allows users to configure many parts of their operations, including which card can serve as the default graphics processor.

Most laptops that are configurable in this way switch between their two cards dynamically using Nvidia Optimus technology.

This program monitors processes and programs on your computer and alternates between the integrated and dedicated graphics cards, depending on which is most appropriate.

How To Switch Between Graphics Cards on a Laptop

You don’t need any particular gadget to switch between graphics cards on a laptop, but you’ll have to use an NVIDIA graphics card as your dedicated card.

You must access the NVIDIA control panel and then tweak the GPU settings as much as you’d like.

Here’s how to switch between graphics cards on a laptop: 

  1. Open the NVIDIA Control Panel program. You can access this program by right-clicking on your desktop, selecting the option, or searching for the program after pressing the Windows button.
  2. Click on “3D Settings” and select “Manage 3D Settings” from the menu on the left-hand side of your screen. This process should open up the “Manage 3D Settings” menu on the main screen.
  3. Select the “Global Settings” option and check under the “Preferred Graphics Processor” option. You should see both graphics cards on your laptop as well as a third option to automatically switch between both devices.
  4. Select the graphics card you want to switch to on your laptop.

Choosing the integrated card would mean better power consumption but decreased performance, even with graphics-intensive programs.

If you don’t use your PC for high-spec programs, you should select this option and prefer a longer-lasting battery.

However, the integrated graphics card option will perform excellently for all programs but will cost your laptop’s battery life.

Still, I don’t recommend you switch graphics cards manually like this since your laptop automatically optimizes its operations. Ensure that you use this option only when it’s needed.