What is a GPU?

A GPU is defined as a graphics processing unit and is a processor designed to enhance 3D graphics and video rendering.

What is a GPU?

Your computer’s Central Processing Unit (CPU) interprets and processes the instructions from your software, generating output like desktop applications, word processing, or web browsing. Alongside your computer’s operating system (OS), the CPU is like the brains of the operation. But while the CPU can manage various tasks, including video, it’s not designed to manage graphics quickly. This is where the GPU comes in. 

What exactly is a GPU?

The GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is a specialized processor designed to accelerate the creation of 3D graphics and video rendering. It carries hundreds of cores and can process thousands of threads simultaneously. There are two types of GPUs.

  • Integrated GPU: Most computers have integrated GPUs. These processors are fully integrated into CPUs. While not as powerful as the discrete variety, modern integrated GPUs can pack a punch and run many demanding video games at lower settings.
  • Discrete GPU: Discrete GPUs are typically more potent than integrated GPUs and help satisfy resource-hungry programs. Although the discrete variety is more capable, it also consumes more energy, creates more heat, and is an added expense. People who play video games, create content, edit videos, or need to complete other demanding tasks need discrete GPUs.

Is a graphics card a GPU?

No, a graphics card is not a GPU, much like a motherboard is not a CPU. A graphics card is an expansion card that fits on a motherboard. It may even look like a small but thick motherboard. It typically carries a GPU, RAM, heat sink, fan, and power connectors.

GPU vs CPU

A GPU eases the CPU’s workload by rapidly rendering high-resolution images and video. It’s powered by hundreds of processor cores that run simultaneously for parallel processing, allowing it to manage thousands of threads simultaneously. On the other hand, a CPU's cores are faster but fewer, making it more suitable for serial processing.

In other words, a CPU is better at managing just a handful of operations at once, while a GPU is more adept at managing thousands. It’s vaguely like comparing a sports car to a bus. The sports car is the better choice in most situations unless dozens of passengers need transportation. In order to move more passengers than its capacity, the car will need to make multiple trips. Ultimately, it may take all day going back and forth. Meanwhile, a bus's top speed may be slower than that of a sports car, but it can carry all passengers in one trip.

Is GPU only for gaming?

For years, GPUs were only used to accelerate 3D graphics rendering in games and videos. During the last few years, they’ve become more adaptable to suit other tasks. Many industries have taken advantage of this flexibility to use GPUs for applications beyond gaming.

  • Cryptomining: Mining cryptocurrency involves solving large blocks of mathematical puzzles in repetition, a task that GPUs are more suitable for than CPUs. The demand from cryptominers played a role in the rising prices of graphics cards. However, miners are now turning to specialized mining hardware for greater efficiency.
  • Content creation: Content creators and video editors can leverage a GPU's parallel processing abilities to render high-definition content quickly.
  • Deep learning: Deep learning is an advanced subset of machine learning. It allows computation models to learn from vast sums of data. GPUs working in harmony with CPUs have become a critical component of deep learning.
  • Automotive: GPUs are powering artificial intelligence applications in the automotive industry like self-driving cars, helping them learn from different situations and adapt.
  • Healthcare: The pattern recognizing capabilities of GPUs help the healthcare industry analyze images, crunch data, and more.

Do laptops have GPU?

Earlier laptops did not have GPUs, but the trend changed as these processors became more energy and heat efficient. Most modern laptops have some type of basic integrated GPUs, which are built into the processor. Both AMD and NVIDIA also offer mobile versions of their graphics chips, though the performances are usually slower than their desktop counterparts.

Do I need a GPU if I don’t game?

You probably don’t need a GPU if you don’t play games. Modern computers have integrated graphics components that can manage the demands of regular users. Top integrated graphics solutions can also run some new games at lower settings. However, if you’re a data scientist or video editor, a GPU can be useful even if you don’t play video games.   

What started as a special component designed to help users play video games has evolved to serve several more functions. Your GPU will help you watch films, edit videos, and more. But the primary functions remain the same—rendering 3D graphics to make virtual worlds look as aesthetically pleasing as possible.

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