There is an ongoing change in GPU availability vs. pricing climate. The argument between having integrated vs. dedicated graphics has become more prominent in recent years due to improvements in discrete graphics processors within CPUs.
Due to the versatility and benefits of GPUs, most gaming applications prefer dedicated graphics cards. Ryzen’s APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) line and Intel's support for integrated graphics have created an array of price-to-performance processors that function as great solutions for minimum game specs and power consumption.
Integrated vs. Dedicated Graphics
The difference between integrated and dedicated graphics is in the hardware. Integrated graphics rely on CPU cores dedicated to GPU tasks, while other cores to more CPU-oriented tasks. Dedicated graphics use a separate component in a GPU which splits these tasks into different hardware that work together for more performance at a significantly higher power draw.
Since 1999 when Nvidia released their first dedicated GPU to co-process with the CPU, the race between the two solutions and their use cases has given rise to efficient performance and higher-end display solutions.
What are Dedicated Graphics?
Dedicated graphics is a fancy way of saying “GPU” (Graphics processing unit). This is a separate piece of hardware in a PC which handles visual display elements of an application. Even to people unsavvy in tech, “GPU” is a pretty common term when classifying a PC on its graphical specs.
Let's look at the benefits and drawbacks of GPUs and the best course of action for wanting to game on systems using dedicated graphics vs. integrated graphics.
Wider Display Support
Part of a dedicated GPU’s appeal is the availability of more display adaptors. These display adaptors can range from VGA to Display Ports and are on a vast host of cards from the entry level to the enthusiast.
While most onboard graphics are limited to motherboard display ports, gaming-oriented graphics cards can have three to five display ports for monitors or other media devices.
With AIB (Add in Board) partners like MSI, ASUS, and others, a wave of modified designs are ushered in with every generation of GPUs. This variation in manufacturers generally allows prices and performance to stay competitive and inform consumers of industry-wide problems.
A good example is when the RTX 30 series launched, a portion of RTX 3080/3090 cards launched by partners saw crashing due to design flaws not considered a problem until release. Cards with one type of transistor caps, SP-Caps in red for the technical among you, saw performance hits and crashes if not placed in the proper configuration compared to other capacitor types like MLCC in green. An example of these designs done by an independent media source:
Image Source: Igor’s Lab.
The companies adjusted these designs, and production continued as usual.
Better Game Performance
With dedicated graphics, the performance vs. integrated graphics is staggering with the added power between two pieces of dedicated hardware. A dedicated GPU in your gaming PC can mean higher frame rates, resolution, and refresh rates.
A higher refresh rate becomes reflected in the GPUs effort, and an iGPU (Integrated GPU) seen on some CPU models will not be up to the task when pushing resolutions larger than 1080p.
While more performant, there are some software, power, and hardware-related cons to owning a graphics card.
Extended Power Draw
As each iteration of higher-end cards becomes released, a theme in recent years is to add more power phases and watts into the GPU. GPUs with higher transistor counts and power delivery systems require a larger PSU Watt capacity to run systems.
While this is a solution for those willing to eat that power bill, the overall performance and price are not practical for most users. Lower to mid-end cards like the 60 or 70 variants from Nvidia are suitable for gaming and content creation at a more cost-to-power price.
Requires Proper Airflow
With the added GPU in a system, the airflow acts differently depending on the fan orientation. Entry-level cards may not mind the indirect airflow received as their temperature-to-performance thresholds don’t need as much attention as the 70, 80, or 90 variants from Nvidia.
An airflow-oriented case aids in getting the best possible performance from a card due to its heat profile during a workload.
GPU sag has become an unavoidable turning point in GPU design to the “more heat, more displacement needed” style of manufacturing higher-end cards are experiencing.
What was once copper tubes and heatsinks have now become vapor tables and chambers, which have changed the weight of the cards significantly from the Founders Edition to AIB partners. These cooling designs often add weight to the design and must be properly supported for long-term use. Solutions like GPU support brackets and EVGA’s “e-leash” have been introduced to alleviate this weight issue with varying degrees of success.
Who Should Go With Dedicated Graphics?
Dedicated graphics are the way to go if you want great gaming and productivity experience. Having that ability to co-process workloads with the CPU offsets the initial price cost relating to the two pieces of hardware.
Modern-day games require most cards to have at least 2GB of video memory for the lowest rung of titles requiring specific hardware to run the minimum and recommended settings.
What are Integrated Graphics?
Integrated graphics refers to a graphic processing unit built within a CPU. You usually find these graphics processors in Intel variants with no letter and CPUs with no “F” designation. The AMD variants mark their integrated graphics line with “G” or call them APUs instead of CPUs*. For more information, check out our other blog explaining the differences.
*(Not applicable to Ryzen 7000 series)
Integrated graphics are an excellent addition to a system that plans not to use a graphics card due to GPU prices, system support for a GPU, or other reasons. That said, don't dismiss the potential for playing some games on an integrated CPU!
Lower Power Requirements
Integrated graphics are energy efficient over dedicated graphics due to the footprint inside the CPU. AMD’s APUs achieved as little as 80 watts in their Ryzen 5000 APUs aimed towards the lower-end consumer.
While Intel’s 12th series does offer onboard graphics, the price-to-performance metrics only make sense if you plan to add a dedicated GPU in the future.
While APUs are less performant than dedicated GPUs and CPUs, their cost is substantially better for gaming on integrated graphics than their counterpart CPU/GPU configurations.
CPU Bound Gaming and Productivity
Integrated graphics may be all you need for a performant 1080p gaming experience, depending on the engine a game runs on. Games like Valorant, CSGO, Fortnite, Dota 2, Rainbow 6 Siege, and many others are CPU-intensive games that don't rely on the GPU for graphics.
In addition to gaming, having a CPU/iGPU is excellent for web browsing and video playback for consumers. A dedicated GPU is recommended for 3D rendering or video editing due to the expanded VRAM capabilities compared to an iGPU.
DrawbacksThe Higher the Resolution, The Larger Demand
While integrated are great for budget systems, they do not scale in larger resolutions like 1440p and 4K for intensive workloads. Using a 1080p monitor is the recommended resolution for those looking for an integrated graphics option.
Single Point of Failure
In the rare occurrence of hardware failure on the GPU end, integrated graphics can act as a stop-gap for the games suggested above. However, if the CPU with integrated graphics stops functioning, the PC is entirely out of commission and requires an RMA of the CPU.
Who Should Go With Integrated Graphics?
Casual gamers or individuals who only play comparatively less intensive games can stick with integrated graphics.
If you want to stay with integrated graphics only, Intel’s latest generation of i3-12100 and i5-12400 CPUs is slightly better for the price than Ryzen’s 5000 series “g” variant CPUs.
For those looking to get integrated graphics initially and switch to a dedicated GPU/CPU combo going with the Intel 12th-gen series is an excellent tactic to space out the pricing.
Which is Better: Integrated Graphics or Dedicated Graphics?
Performance-wise, dedicated graphics are better than integrated graphics. Separating rendering and display tasks to a GPU improves performance as the CPU can focus on its tasks.
While dedicated graphics are superior to integrated graphics, splitting the workload between an entry-level graphics card and CPU/APU is possible in our Apex Bronze option assuring low to medium settings on most triple-A games in the past five years. Even with a lower-end graphics card, the workload becomes significantly reduced on the CPU, allowing more playable frame rates and better resolutions. Whatever hardware you choose, we hope to supply them at Apex!
Written by William Wilson