Does your computer need a graphics card? You might be surprised to find out that not all computers need graphics cards! Only some do, depending on a couple of variables.
At the end of the day, whether or not your computer needs a graphics card comes down to what you’ll be doing with it and more importantly the type of CPU that you’ll be running.
The No-GPU Path
Oftentimes, general-use computers can avoid spending on a graphics card by running the proper processor (CPU). These CPUs, often from Intel, will be loaded with what’s called an integrated graphics chip (iGPU). These chips work in a similar way to a dedicated graphics card, but they’re far less powerful. An iGPU is not the ideal solution for a gaming PC, but they work great for general-use computers.
It’s worth noting that gaming on an iGPU is possible, especially if you’re running a newer CPU. Modern iGPUs can be very powerful considering what they are. While 4k @ 60fps isn’t going to be possible, many are capable of easily gaming in 1080p.
Here are a series of benchmarks across 22 different games using an AMD R5 3400G’s Vega 11 iGPU. Although an iGPU won’t perform at the same level as a dedicated GPU, the performance is still passable if you have no other options.
When it comes to finding a processor that’s bundled with an iGPU, you’ll typically have to browse the specs. Generally speaking, most Intel CPUs will come with an iGPU unless they are an F-series such as the i5 9600F. The F simply tells you these CPUs do not come with an integrated GPU. On the AMD side, the vast majority of their CPUs will not come with an iGPU. Chances are, if you’re buying an AMD CPU, then you’re also going to have to buy a dedicated graphics card, but this isn’t always the case.
In short, we’ve already determined that not all computers need a graphics card. Your usage and CPU/APU are what matter most. A computer that’ll only be used for streaming Netflix won’t need a GPU with the right CPU, but one that’s meant for 4K 60fps gaming will.
CPUs that come with an iGPU
Finding a CPU with an iGPU isn’t super difficult. As I mentioned above, the vast majority of Intel CPUs will come loaded with an integrated graphics chip. On the other end, the vast majority of AMD processors will not.
As a general rule, you can determine whether or not a processor has integrated graphics by the model number. On Intel’s side, everything but the F-model CPUs will come with an iGPU. On AMD’s end, their processors with iGPUs are indicated by a G in their model name, such as the R5 5600G.
The Gaming Path
If you’re serious about gaming, it goes without saying that you’ll almost always need a dedicated graphics card. The keywords there being “almost always“.
If you’re only playing games like Among Us, CS:GO, DOTA, or any of those older/less graphically intensive games, modern iGPUs are more than capable of handling them without an issue.
But, if you’re into newer/more graphically intensive games like GTA 5, New World, or Battlefield 2042, you’re going to need a dedicated graphics cards to run these games with good performance. With the shortages right now, finding a good GPU might be difficult. Your options boil down to overpaying on new hardware, or overpaying on used hardware at this point in 2021.
With that in mind, newer GPUs are almost out of the question for most of us. Your best options in terms of price vs performance are going to be found 1-2 generations back. If you’re trying to keep your costs low, you’ll want to look for GPUs such as AMD’s RX 580 or Nvidia’s GTX 1060 on used markets such as eBay.
To bring it all around, your computer isn’t always going to need a graphics card and you can easily get away without running one under the right circumstances. If you’re building your PC from scratch as an HTPC, you can keep your costs low and avoid the GPU by opting for CPU loaded with an integrated graphics chip, or an iGPU.
But, if you’re building a dedicated gaming PC, you’ll almost always need a dedicated graphics card to support it.