The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU, or “Graphics Card” colloquially) is usually the most expensive part of any PC build. This is especially true with the world of tech experiencing a major shortage of circuit chips.
Some people have found themselves wondering if it’s possible to run a computer without a GPU, and it’s not really possible as, without something to process the graphics on your computer, you just won’t have any graphics at all.
However, you can cut the cost by using an Integrated GPU that is built into your Central Processing Unit (CPU.)
Dedicated Graphics: the Basics
When a computer uses an independent GPU—that is, one that is independent of the other components in the build—they get access to dedicated processing power and video RAM (VRAM) for graphics. This can be a great boon for gamers, the primary market for high-end graphics cards, whose games would otherwise clog their existing RAM and put extreme processing pressure on their CPUs.
However, a dedicated graphics card is not a necessary component of your computer. You just need something that can process graphics, and some CPUs now come with processors designed to process graphics. The catch is that CPUs with integrated graphics will be borrowing against the CPU’s power when processing graphics.
When the CPU borrows its own power to display graphics, there’s less remaining power for the CPU to handle the rest of the processing tasks, like opening windows, loading page information, and running background processes.
If you’re only using your PC for things like word processing, browsing Amazon, and social media, you probably don’t need a dedicated graphics card; a CPU with integrated graphics will likely be powerful enough for you. These kinds of daily tasks don’t require an exceptionally large amount of graphics processing.
Integrated Graphics: the Basics
In short, integrated graphics are just a CPU that contains components that allow it to process graphics. CPUs with integrated graphics processors use their cores to act as both the Central and Graphics Processing Units, allowing you to run your computer without a dedicated GPU installed.
A CPU with a graphics processor built into it is called an Accelerated Processing Unit or APU. But don’t be fooled; they aren’t a different product and they slot into any motherboard compatible with their CPU socket.
Integrated graphics processors draw power from the CPU to process the graphics your computer needs to turn. However, for people who do graphically intensive tasks like digital art, video editing, gaming, or 3D modelling, an APU is generally not enough power as the APU will not have dedicated RAM or cores for processing graphics, resulting in lower-quality graphics.
APUs also suck power from the CPU, resulting in tasks lagging because the APU can’t process both the graphics and the computing tasks at the same time with a lower-power APU. Still, the only people who are really going to notice this difference in power are people who work with computers and do relatively intensive tasks all day. For people doing light intensity tasks, an APU is a perfectly serviceable processor for both graphics and computing.
How to Decide Between Integrated and Dedicated Graphics
The key to understanding whether you should buy an APU or a dedicated GPU really lies in the tasks you plan to do. Here are some potentially graphically intensive tasks that you’ll want to considered a dedicated GPU for:
- Digital Art
- Video Editing
- Photo Editing
- 3D Modelling
- Programming Using Video Assets (Gaming, Virtual Reality, Photography, Videography, etc.)
- Video Effects Rendering
If you’re planning to do any of these activities, you’ll want to spring for a dedicated GPU as this will allow you to do these activities more fluidly and with fewer interruptions.
Here are some less intensive tasks that may not require a dedicated GPU:
- Word Processing
- Video Streaming
- General Computing
These activities and other light activities don’t require a dedicated GPU, and if these are your main tasks, you probably don’t need a dedicated GPU to do them without interruption or error.
Can You Game without a GPU?
It is technically possible to game without a GPU. If you’re only playing older or less graphically intensive games like MapleStory or Undertale, you may never even notice that you don’t have a dedicated GPU.
However, players who want to play games like Genshin Impact, Call of Duty, PUBG, or other games with higher-end graphics will want to get a dedicated GPU.
Without a dedicated GPU, these more intensive games will need to have their graphics settings turned down and they won’t look as good. Even with the graphics turned down, some of them may still experience graphical lag, frequent interruptions, low framerates, and poor performance from the lack of dedicated GPU and video RAM.
Whether or not you need a dedicated GPU for gaming really relies on what kind of experience you’re looking for when gaming.
If you want to game with 60+ frames per second in full HD or better, you’ll probably want to grab a dedicated GPU since an APU is probably not going to be powerful enough to both run the computing tasks needed to run the game while also processing the graphics. For the most stable and interruption-free experience, get a dedicated GPU whether you really “need” one for your games or not.
Is a Graphics Card Necessary for Programming?
If you’re only doing back-end coding, you probably don’t need a graphics card to do this. It may be helpful to take some pressure off of your CPU which will be busy compiling and executing code, but for the back-end code writing side, this is no more stressful to the CPU than word processing.
However, if your project is related to or includes graphically intensive processes, you’ll want to grab a graphics card since you’ll probably need the graphics card to test your software for bugs and errors. Without the graphics card, you may run into extraneous errors and bugs caused by lack of graphics processing power.
Advantages of Running a PC without a Dedicated Graphics Card
While there are obvious situations where a graphics card may not be necessary there are obvious advantages to having one. So, are there any advantages to using an integrated graphics setup?
Let’s take a look at some compelling reasons to choose integrated graphics.
Less Power Consumption
If you’re trying to scrimp on power consumption, or maybe you’re just thrifty and want to cut down on your power bill, using an integrated graphics chipset can reduce your computer’s power consumption.
This has a few benefits to the user. One is the obvious lessened power consumption from your electrical supplier. The other is that you can run your computer with a less expensive power supply.
Computers use a power supply to plug into your wall and power your PC components. Each component has a wattage requirement and if you plug more things into your power supply than its wattage allotment can handle, you’ll break your power supply over time.
Since integrated graphics are built into your CPU chipset, the power supply only needs to be able to support the CPU and other necessary components; there’s no need to budget power for a GPU and you can get a less expensive PSU.
It’s also cheaper to build a computer without a graphics card. As we’ve mentioned, the graphics card is usually, if not always, the most costly component in any build.
Integrated graphics are rolled into the price of your APU. So, you get the GPU and CPU bundled for the cost of just the CPU. This can be a great option for anyone who has a tight budget that they need to adhere to.
What Happens If You Try to Run Your Computer without a GPU?
If you have neither a GPU nor an APU, your PC simply won’t run.
Your computer needs something to process the graphics. It won’t even turn on and begin the boot process if you don’t have either a dedicated GPU or an APU. Your Motherboard will play the POST code for “no graphics” if you have a motherboard speaker plugged in.
Running a computer without a GPU can be tempting for many reasons and it’s a good thing that the introduction of widespread integrated graphics has made these budget builds more accessible.
Integrated graphics can be an excellent option for people who are not handling intensive projects that saves them money!