What Is a Discrete Graphics Card?

Image Credit: skyNext/iStock/GettyImages

In many of today's demanding computer applications, powerful graphics processing can make the difference between an excellent user experience and dysfunctional software. In order to improve overall computer performance, a discrete graphics card can be installed. These sophisticated hardware units include a GPU and memory unit that is separate from those found on the motherboard. By incorporating an independent processor and memory, a discrete graphics card can deliver outstanding performance that complements the operations of the motherboard. Understanding how a discrete graphics card works and how it can be used in the context of modern computer functionality is important for individuals who would like to use their hardware to the fullest extent possible.

Discrete Graphics Card Basics

As mentioned previously, the two primary elements of a discrete graphics card are the graphics processing unit (GPU) and the memory unit. The GPU includes a unique microprocessor that has been specifically created for the purpose of interpreting machine code and converting it into signals for the monitor. Although this process could easily be completed by the primary CPU, the GPU is utilized in order to free up any potential burden placed on the CPU and ensure optimal performance. By allocating these tasks to the GPU, the CPU is then free to commit to a variety of other processes totally independent of graphics processing.

Discrete Graphics Card Memory

The primary purpose of onboard graphics card memory is to distribute information to the GPU as efficiently as possible. All graphics card memory is identified by its "clock speed," which describes the speed at which information is sent to the GPU. Depending upon the discrete graphics card in question, it's entirely possible that the clock speed of the card is actually faster than the computer itself. The clock speed of a GPU is measured in megahertz, identical to the measurement system for CPUs.

Discrete and Integrated Graphics Cards

Generally speaking, a discrete graphics card should be used for any high-performance application, such as video games, 3D modeling and so on. While integrated graphics processors are perfectly suited for everyday tasks such as browsing the internet or creating documents, a discrete graphics card is an absolute must for any high-performance task that relies heavily on sophisticated visuals. If you've noticed significant performance issues in your application, this could be due in part to subpar performance of your graphics card. But, before you take the next step and purchase a discrete graphics card, discuss your needs with a computer technician to ensure that your problems really are related to a graphics card and not some other performance issue, such as an aging CPU.

references