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How Graphics Cards Works


The images you see on your computer monitor are made of tiny dots called pixels. At most common resolution settings, a screen displays more than 2 million pixels, and the computer has to decide what to do with each one in order to create an image. To do this, it needs a translator — something to take binary data from the CPU and turn it into a picture you can see. This translator is known as a graphics processor, or GPU.

Most entry-level consumer laptops and desktops now come with a secondary GPU built into their main processor, known as integrated graphics. Pro-level or custom machines, however, will often also have space for a dedicated graphics card. The advantage of a graphics card is that it can typically render more complex visuals much faster than an integrated chip.

A graphics card’s job is complex, but its principles and components are easy to understand. In this article, we will look at the basic parts of a video card and what they do. We’ll also examine the factors that work together to make a fast, efficient graphics card.

Think of a computer as a company with its own art department. When people in the company want a piece of artwork, they send a request to the art department. The art department decides how to create the image and then puts it on paper. The end result is that someone’s idea becomes an actual, viewable picture.

A graphics card works along the same principles. The CPU, working in conjunction with software applications, sends information about the image to the graphics card. The graphics card decides how to use the pixels on the screen to create the image. It then sends that information to the monitor through a cable.

Creating an image out of binary data is a demanding process. To make a 3-D image, the graphics card first creates a wire frame out of straight lines. Then, it rasterizes the image (fills in the remaining pixels). It also adds lighting, texture and color. For fast-paced games, the computer has to go through this process about 60 to 120 times per second. Without a graphics card to perform the necessary calculations, the workload would be too much for the computer to handle.

The graphics card accomplishes this task using four main components:

  • A motherboard connection for data and power
  • A graphics processor (GPU) to decide what to do with each pixel on the screen
  • Video memory (VRAM) to hold information about each pixel and to temporarily store completed pictures
  • A monitor connection so you can see the final result

Next, we’ll look at the processor and memory in more detail.



Like a motherboard, a graphics card is a printed circuit board that houses a processor and VRAM. It also has an input/output system (BIOS) chip that stores the card’s settings and performs diagnostics on the memory, input and output at startup.

A graphics card’s processor, called a graphics processing unit (GPU), is similar to a computer’s CPU. A GPU, however, is designed specifically for performing the complex mathematical and geometric calculations that are necessary for graphics rendering. Some of the fastest GPUs have more transistors than the average CPU.

A GPU produces a lot of heat, so it is usually located under a heat sink or a fan. Integrated chips differ slightly, in that they don’t have their own VRAM, and have to pull from the same RAM stockpile as the CPU. This distinction may cause your system to run short on memory while gaming with an integrated GPU.

In addition to its processing power, a GPU uses special programming to help it analyze and use data. AMD and nVidia produce the vast majority of GPUs on the market, and both companies have developed their own enhancements for GPU performance. Today’s video processors can provide:

  • Full scene anti-aliasing (FSAA), which smooths the edges of 3-D objects
  • Anisotropic filtering (AF), which makes images look crisper
  • Real-time physics and particle effects
  • Multiscreen displays
  • High frame rate video output
  • Ultra high-definition video with many millions of pixels
  • GPU-accelerated calculations

Each company has also developed specific techniques to help the GPU apply colors, shading, textures and patterns.

As the GPU creates images, it needs somewhere to hold information and completed pictures. It uses the card’s RAM for this purpose, storing data about each pixel, its color and its location on the screen. Part of the VRAM can also act as a frame buffer, meaning that it holds completed images until it is time to display them. Typically, video RAM operates at very high speeds and is dual ported, meaning that the system can read from it and write to it at the same time.

Modern video cards plug into a PCIe x16 expansion slot. Small form-factor computers with integrated graphics, such as laptops and mini desktops, may not come with such a slot. Graphics cards can still be connected, however, using a costly workaround device called an external GPU.

The Evolution of Graphics Cards

Graphics cards have come a long way since IBM introduced the first one in 1981. Called a Monochrome Display Adapter (MDA), the card provided text-only displays of green or white text on a black screen. Now, both graphics cards and integrated chips can easily send out an HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) signal through an HDMI or DisplayPort cable. Standalone cards often put out Ultra HD 4K (3,840 x 2,160) video, with even higher resolutions available on higher spec GPUs.

Choosing a Good Graphics Card

Graphics Card FAQ

What does a graphics card do?

A graphics processing unit or GPU is also known as a graphics card. It’s an electronics circuit that accelerates the processing required for creating and rendering images, animations and video.

Is GTX or RTX better?

The GeForce RTX 2060 is considered to be the faster option compared to the GeForce GTX 1070. However, neither of the two have the power to support 4k ultra gameplay.

Which graphics card is best for gaming?

There are many options when it comes to the best graphics card for gaming. It ultimately boils down to personal preference and requirements. The GeForce RTX 3090, 3090 Ti and 3070, along with the Radeon Rx 6800, are all considered to be top tier options for heavy gaming.

Which graphics card is the best from the NVIDIA lineup?

The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 DirectX 12.00 is considered to be the best graphics card from the NVIDIA lineup, which is cloesly followed by the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080.

Can you put a graphics card in a laptop?

Most laptops come with built-in graphics cards that are permanently attached to the motherboard. However, for laptops that come with the Thunderbolt 3 port, attaching an external graphics card is possible.

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