All about Graphics Cards
Computer graphics come in two flavors; integrated graphics and dedicated graphics processing units aka GPUs.
Integrated graphics are commonly found in less expensive and more basic computers. Integrated graphics refers to a small graphics chip co-located with the CPU. This method is cheaper and consumes less power, which is preferable for less graphic-intense applications and adequate for most uses. Integrated graphics are not nearly as capable as a dedicated graphics card; however still should likely be sufficient for most tasks. Surfing the web, word processing, e-mail, and music will work just fine with integrated graphics. In fact, you likely won’t notice a difference between the two with these activities.
A dedicated graphics card frees up the CPU from processing graphics and greatly improves computer speed in graphic-intensive applications. A card is usually required for gaming, high-definition movies, graphics editing and 3D modeling software. Any program which is graphics intensive is going to benefit from dedicated graphics as this reduces the load on the CPU and frees it up for solely processing calculations and not handling any of the graphics. Adding a graphics card is usually as simple as undoing a few screws and dropping it in however this greatly depends on what type of computer you’re using. If you’re using a laptop you are probably out of luck as most laptops are not designed to handle intensive graphics. Some laptops nowadays do come with dedicated graphics cards; however these are the exception not the rule and these notebooks are generally more expensive. If you are using a desktop computer you’re in luck because these are the type of computers that graphics cards are designed for.
Graphic cards plug directly into the PCI express slot on your motherboard. They are then usually held in place with a metal bracket on the back of your computer. AGP is an older graphics slot that can also accommodate a video card; however these are becoming obsolete.
Graphics cards usually come with their own fans as well, as they can get quite hot when operated for hours at a time. In fact, if you have a smaller computer case it is generally recommended to add an additional small fan to aid in airflow and cooling. Small cases have notoriously poor airflow and cooling efficiency.
One of the main advantages of a dedicated graphics card is the ability to choose the specific type of graphics output. Many video cards come with VGA, DVI, and HDMI outputs. The advantage of this is clear, as all three outputs give you several options. In this case you would have the ability to connect dual monitors if you wanted as well as a third HDMI output (video and audio) to a TV. This would give you the ability to re-purpose your main computer as a home theatre pc.
It is also relatively common to find video cards with dual DVI or VGA outputs. Two monitors are great for business or multi-tasking. VGA however is quietly being phased out, as it is the old analog standard; in lieu of DVI and HDMI which are both digital. Digital outputs offer a crisper picture and support higher resolution settings.
If you have the budget, dedicated graphics cards are great and offer increased flexibility; on the other hand if you are on a budget, you can probably get by with integrated graphics just fine.