What Is the Difference between Integrated & Discrete Graphics?

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Integrated and discrete graphics are often mentioned in the context of laptop computers. Integrated graphics are most commonly found in cheaper laptops, though they are also found in budget desktop computers. Discrete -- or dedicated -- graphics are found in mid- to high-end laptops and all but the cheapest desktop computers. A dedicated graphics card is a separate add-in card, whereas an integrated one is part of the motherboard, sharing system RAM for graphics rendering rather than supplying its own. The difference between the two is very significant, especially for those who use their computers for graphics-intensive games.

Performance

  • The most significant difference between integrated and discrete graphics is performance in 3D video games and rendering. Integrated graphics share system resources, such as processing power and memory, whereas a discrete graphics card provides its own graphics processor and memory which are entirely dedicated to graphics, such as rendering 3D scenes. In short, playing anything other than the oldest and least demanding video games is extremely problematic on a machine with integrated graphics.

Features

  • Dedicated graphics cards typically provide more features, such as connectivity options, than integrated graphics. For example, a high-end dedicated graphics card for a desktop computer may provide 2 DVI monitor ports and an HDMI port for a high-definition flat screen.

Battery Life

  • Integrated graphics are common in laptop computers -- even some of the higher-end ones. If battery life is a major concern, integrated graphics are generally preferable since they use far less power than a discrete card does. Since a dedicated graphics card is rather like a computer within a computer itself -- with its own CPU and memory -- it uses a great deal of extra power.

Price

  • Discrete graphics cards are expensive; accordingly, laptop computers with dedicated graphics cards are often far more expensive than those with integrated graphics. With desktop computers, integrated graphics cards are part of the motherboard, meaning that you don't have to spend anything extra to have a functioning computer.

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