Getting the right graphics card

When you buy a new computer, there is nothing worse than sitting down to do something simple, like watch a video, only to find that it stutters more than Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A new computer may feel like a dud if the graphics capabilities are not up to scratch.

Monday, 13th July 2015, 8:51 am
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

To make things more confusing, it is not as simple as just buying a computer with a better graphics card these days. Yes you can buy dedicated graphics cards, but some motherboards come with graphics built in and so too do some CPUs!

Graphics cards and onboard graphics (which you will in laptops and some desktops) share these traits. Instead of a CPU, they have a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). This is turn is backed up by its own dedicated RAM. The GPU shares many of the traits of a CPU ( except it is dedicated to processing graphics. The RAM on a graphics card also shares similar traits to normal RAM you might find in a computer (, except that you will see it listed as GDDR instead of plain old DDR.

What about those CPUs that can handle graphics? Some processors from both Intel and AMD include a GPU inside the CPU. Instead of having their own dedicated RAM, they reserve a portion of the computer’s RAM for graphics processing. You can see this in action when you right click on your Computer folder (in Windows) and select Properties. It will list the total RAM available and then in brackets a lower amount of ‘useable’ RAM.

CPUs with built in GPUs will not deliver the same amount of processing power as a dedicated graphics card. If you want the best a computer can give you, make sure it has a dedicated card or even two! High end cards will often be listed as SLi or CrossFireX ready, which means you can use two in tandem for some truly astonishing performance. Games enthusiasts and 3D animators get very enthusiastic about these things.

Alan Stainer