Integrated Graphics vs Dedicated Video Card on laptops

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What are the main differences between machines using integrated graphics and dedicated video cards on laptops? When should I considering the one or the other?

I'm not sure if it's worth stating this but the primary use would be for programming (Java, Python, PHP) with several VMs (planning to use Sun VirtualBox with WinXP in it) as well. I'm only considering playing DoTA (rarely) on it and nothing else. Would also be watching movies on it.


Best Answer

The core differences of integrated graphics processors (IGPs) vs dedicated video cards (GPUs) are :

  1. IGPs uses significantly less power and generate less heat than GPUs
  2. IGPs uses/shares main system memory whereas GPUs have dedicated memory
  3. IGPs are performs significantly lower compared to GPUs (especially Intel IGP solutions)
  4. On a desktop, if an IGP breaks down, you can't replace it short of replacing the whole motherboard. However, if a GPU break down, you can replace just the GPU alone.

So when you should consider one or the other? I'll try to make your decision simple.

  1. Games/Performance > If your priority is in playing 3D games or high-performance computing, get a dedicated GPU.
  2. Battery Life/Heat > If you are more concerned about having a notebook that can stay away from the mains, and won't fry your lap with heat, get an IGP.
  3. Desktop/Notebook > If you are on a desktop, get a GPU (even a cheap one, such as the Nvidia 9400 or the ATI 4350). If you are looking to purchase a notebook, consider the above 2 points.

Personally, I predominantly game on consoles and my iPhone nowadays. If you are going to get a notebook, try to see if you can get one with the Nvidia 9400M chipset (IGP, but damn fine performance for an IGP solution). However, I do have a souped-up desktop rig for gaming, which is currently turned off 90% of the time... till Diablo 3 gets released. :)