What is a GPU?

The GPU is an integral part of the modern PC or laptop with NVIDIA and AMD fighting it out for supremacy, but what exactly does the GPU do.

what is a gpu

What is a GPU? This integral hardware component continues to garner attention as more and more machines look to make use of a powerful graphics processing unit. Typically seen as something only gamers should care about, there’s actually far more to be said for having a good GPU in your PC or laptop and it’s a component you can’t afford to overlook. 

It can be easy to look at systems with integrated graphics options and see no issue, which may be the case, but the GPU is slowly becoming just as important as a CPU when looking at the specifications of new gear. You probably already know that the best laptops and PCs tend to have the biggest and best graphics cards, but the humble GPU is often overlooked. Courtesy of our team here at Gear Nuke, this is everything you need to know about GPUs and why they’re so important to your hardware.

 what is a gpu - a closeup image of a graphics chip

What exactly does a GPU do?

A GPU, or graphics processing unit, is the central chip used to process a range of applications that require video or graphical rendering.

They’re commonly associated with gaming but their importance to creativity (video, animation etc.) and artificial intelligence is coming to the forefront. 

The GPU is comparable to the CPU in that it acts as the brains behind any process that requires graphical rendering. This is where the connection between GPUs and gaming was born, despite it overlooking how crucial GPUs are in general computing.  

Like any component in a PC or laptop, the GPU is only as good as the hardware surrounding it. This means that sticking a $2,000 unit into a $300 machine won’t get you very far. While GPUs are integral to gaming and creative programs, without the appropriate CPU power and memory, you’ll find it hard to accomplish anything at all. 

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Is a GPU a graphics card?

No, a GPU and a graphics card are not the same thing. Every graphics card will contain a GPU but they are defined by the additional hardware they offer such as additional memory, built-in fans, the output interface, and more.

Integrated graphics run solely off a GPU built into the motherboard, a graphics card is much easier to change and upgrade with time, especially in a desktop PC. Typically, in laptops, the GPU is far more complex and still relies on additional memory called VRAM, as well as an intricate cooling system. However, due to space constraints, there isn’t a way to build a full graphics card into a laptop, hence why they still use just a GPU with extra components linked up.