If you have just felt interested in the world of graphics cards, or particularly mobile graphics cards, then this article is for you. You can have a better overview and understanding before deciding to purchase a new multimedia or gaming laptop. And you should really know how video cards in desktop PCs different from laptops.
The GPU (short for Graphics Processing Unit) in modern computers is the heart of all graphics processing functions. Whatever you see on the screen right from window movement, transparency, and other visual effects seen in Windows 7, down to high-end 3D graphics seen in modern PC games–all of it is rendered by the GPU.
Although the graphic card serve the same purpose in desktops as well as laptops, there is quite a bit of difference between the desktop and laptop varieties, and they are not interchangeable. They are built in completely different formats–laptop graphics cards are built to fit into tight spaces and are therefore downgraded both in size, current consumption and performance.
Some mobile GPUs are known as integrated graphics cards IGPs (Integrated Graphics Processors) and are soldered onto the motherboard. Most of them come from Intel, but there are also some integrated varieties from AMD/ATI and Nvidia.
Whereas desktops have PCI-E expansion slots, allowing you to insert almost any add-on video card to upgrade when required, laptops do not have these slots. Some economy-class desktops have integrated video cards, but also an option of adding a highly capable gaming graphics card. With a laptop, on the other hand, you are pretty much stuck with the card that it came with.
Currently, there are 3 big GPU manufacturers – NVIDIA, ATI and Intel. In most cheap laptops, you get integrated graphics from Intel by default–especially if it is a small model like a netbook. Let us have a brief look at all of these three manufacturers:
Intel does not make any dedicated video cards but concentrates entirely on designing graphically weak but power-efficient integrated graphics. The mobile Core i7/i5/i3 platform offers improved graphics, but they are still not anywhere close to dedicated cards in terms of performance.
ATI is a big name in graphics, but it is not a separate legal entity anymore. ATI was acquired by AMD few years ago, but the ATI brand is still well-known in the market, so AMD have opted to keep the label for their graphics division. ATI cards range all the way from basic, integrated GPUs to powerful and dedicated gaming video cards.
NVIDIA is the other big player in the dedicated graphics industry. They have abandoned their motherboard chipset venture to concentrate on designing graphic cards and related products. ATI has been their biggest rival for several years, and continues to be their biggest competitor after being taken over by AMD.
Seeing as AMD and NVIDIA are both way ahead of Intel in the world of performance video cards, let us compare the two. Technically speaking, each video card model is unique; AMD as well as NVIDIA have manufactured countless top quality discrete video cards, and the choice entirely depends on your needs and your wallet.
After deciding on budget and basic specifications, you should primarily look for video cards from AMD or NVIDIA if you are planning on doing any form of gaming on your laptop. At present, it is a very narrow race between the two, and if you are looking at top tier cards, ATI’s Mobility Radeon HD 5800 series and Nvidia’s GTX series offer cards that are neck and neck. It is unlikely that you should be disappointed with either.
In a Nutshell: You cannot change the video card on a laptop (well, technically it is sometimes possible, but not without considerable know-how). Therefore you need to know what it is you are buying if you plan on gaming with it. After deciding on a budget, make sure to read some reviews of the laptops you are interested in and make a note of the video card benchmarks.
H.J. Berg is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to Best Gaming Laptop – a mobile gaming blog that focuses on the more detailed and geeky side of things. It has lots of laptop-related articles and guides, as well as reviews and previews of the latest gear for mobile gamers.