One of the most important components of your computer is the graphics processor. You can choose between integrated graphics and a standalone graphics card, which offers more image processing power. Many laptops that have graphics cards come with switchable graphics, which means the laptop uses the integrated graphics most of the time and the graphics card as needed.
When your laptop has integrated graphics, the video is being handled by video architecture on the motherboard. The video output abilities are much lower than those on laptops with a separate graphics card and switchable graphics. Integrated graphics are good for basic computer users. Some newer chipsets come with integrated graphics that are capable of more performance than before -- but they still aren't as powerful as graphics cards.
Graphics cards in most laptops don't function like graphics cards in desktop computers. They're often built into the computer itself, though they are a separate module, unlike integrated graphics chips. It's important to consider whether your computer activities will require a graphics card before you purchase the laptop, because it's much more expensive and difficult to add a video card to a laptop than it is to add one to a desktop computer.
Using the Computer
To decide whether you should use integrated graphics or a graphics card, consider how you'll use the computer. If you're using it for word processing, Internet browsing and communication, integrated graphics is a fine choice. If you plan to use it to use modelling programs, perform video editing or play video games, especially graphically intensive games, you need a video card. Attempting to run demanding video programs without a graphics card will result in lagging and stuttering.
Effects on the Computer
Whether the laptop has integrated graphics or a graphics card will affect how the computer runs. While graphics will be rendered more smoothly with a graphics card, the extra heat generated will cause your laptop to run hotter and to need additional ventilation or heat management. Laptops with graphics cards are also often larger, because they're meant for entertainment or work. They're usually less portable than laptops designed for Web surfing and word processing.
- Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images