What Is a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)?

And how it's related to graphics cards

A GPU - also known as a graphics processing unit - is one of the core components of a computer. All computers offer a GPU in some form, whether as an integrated solution built into the system's motherboard or as a dedicated piece of hardware that must be installed separately. 

What Exactly Is a GPU?

A GPU is a processor that is specifically designed to handle graphics rendering tasks. Basically, it's a component that can create images on the screen. Whether you're looking at your smartphone, tablet or computer, being able to see an image is down to the device's GPU; without one, your device would not be able to create any images.

Basic computers solely render images and animations such as what you're looking at right now. However, more advanced computers such as gaming PCs offer more powerful GPUs that are able to accelerate the rendering of 3D graphics. While a computer with a basic GPU is capable of showing 3D graphics, a dedicated GPU can process them much faster and with much better levels of detail. 

Video editors also benefit from GPUs, which can render multiple complex animations at once, including when editing videos or rendering 3D models. 

Are a GPU and a Graphics Card the Same?

The terms GPU and graphics card are often used interchangeably. To be exact, the GPU is the processing chip that is located on the graphics card. 

That means that in some cases, the GPU is actually built into the motherboard, embedded alongside the CPU or processor, while a dedicated graphics card means the GPU is placed on this card before being slotted into the motherboard. Basically, a graphics card is the home of a GPU meaning you can move such a device between other computers if you wish, as well as upgrade to different graphics cards as needed.

Ultimately though, it's fine to use the two terms to discuss the graphical power side of a computer. 

What is Difference Between a GPU and a CPU?

A CPU or central processing unit is a general processor. It deals with the core parts of a computer. Able to process logical tasks such as being able to complete basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, and input/output operations, it can also process graphics but in a much less specialist manner than a GPU.

Instead, a GPU is solely focused on completing graphical tasks. It can't complete the tasks of a CPU but it can focus on rendering graphics effectively and much faster than if you relied solely on a CPU. 

What Is an iGPU?

An iGPU - or integrated graphics processing unit - is one of the types of GPUs. These GPUs are less powerful than discrete or dedicated graphic cards or GPUs. They are often designed for basic rendering tasks rather than gaming, video editing or animation work. 

iGPUs are often built into the processor or motherboard meaning they are always available to use. However, for anyone looking to play games on their computer, they will almost always need to add a dedicated graphics card to be able to render images far more effectively.

  • How do I overclock a GPU?

    Not all GPUs support overclocking, so you should first check to see if yours can do it; trying to overclock a chip that can't handle the load can stop it from working completely. Once you're sure you can do it, upgrade the drivers and download an app to walk you through overclocking. One popular choice is MSI Afterburner.

  • What GPU do I have?

    You can see the make and model of your GPU in Windows settings. First, open the Task Manager by right-clicking your toolbar and selecting it from the menu. Then, click the Performance tab. Select the GPU to learn more information about it, including the manufacturer, model number, and how much memory it has.

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