Here’s why your laptop has two graphics cards:
There are two likely reasons why a laptop would have more than one graphics card.
The first is that there is an integrated GPU and a dedicated graphics card because it was the cheapest way for a manufacturer to meet specifications.
The second is so the cards can work together for a dramatic performance upgrade.
So if you want to learn all about why your laptop has two graphics cards, then this article is for you.
- Intel Graphics Card: Safe to Disable?
- 1920×1080 vs. 1600×900: The Better Resolution?
- Graphics Card Fan Spinning, No Display: How to Fix?
- 1366×768 vs. 1920×1080: The Better Resolution?
What Is a Laptop Graphics Card?
If you’re asking a question about a graphics card, you probably already know what the technology does, but just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s define what a graphics card is and what it does for your laptop.
We can also cover some tech acronyms for the purpose of this article.
(It’s also worth noting that graphics cards do not just exist in laptops, they are integrated into desktops too.)
Graphics cards, in a nutshell, are responsible for displaying the images you see on your screen.
A laptop graphics card looks very similar to a motherboard and is installed on laptops, both Mac and PC alike.
Graphics cards have a component called a Graphics Processing Unit or GPU, which is basically a graphics renderer.
Let’s take a second to clarify something.
Many resources will use the term “graphics card” and “GPU” interchangeably.
These are the technical distinctions, but even in this article, you’ll probably see that interchangeability comes into play.
Ok, back to the explanation.
Without a GPU, you would not be able to see images displayed on your laptop.
In addition to the GPU, graphics cards have their own cooling solutions, processing speed or clock speed, random access memory (or RAM), dedicated connection adapters, and power regulators (all of which fully integrate the card into your laptop computer’s hardware setup).
Not only are graphics cards needed for 2D graphics to display on your device (like a Word Document), but they also generate 3D graphics like photos and videos.
Graphics cards can be super-advanced, and you can install a powerful card on your laptop to ensure maximum enhancement of the quality of the images you see.
Essentially, they take over most of the computations related to creating video.
By increasing the raw resources available for this task, they can produce higher-definition and higher-quality images and videos.
While graphics cards benefit any laptop (or desktop) user’s experience, if you are a computer video gamer or designer, graphics producer, photographer or video editor, or just someone who wants to enjoy the highest levels of video available, graphics cards can be your best friend.
Depending on the type of laptop (or desktop) you buy, your device might already have multiple graphics cards built-in.
Or, you can purchase and install additional graphics cards on your device.
Mac vs. PC Laptop Graphics Cards
If you are noticing that your laptop has two graphics cards, there’s a fair chance you’re operating on a PC.
It’s a more common occurrence with PC laptop designs, although there are MacBooks that use multiple cards too.
PCs boast being more modifiable when it comes to hardware additions than Macs, and the level of customization is pretty impressive.
They allow for a range of hardware adjustments and additions independent of the motherboard (as in no soldering is required), and because of this, they are extremely popular with gamers.
PC users can easily add, replace, upgrade, etc., their graphics cards for maximum image display (depending on the laptop design).
It’s worth noting that many laptops have their graphics card embedded into the motherboard, which means upgrades cannot easily happen without replacing the motherboard (or investing in difficult and expensive soldering solutions).
The MacBook Pro from Apple is an example.
Keep in mind that this is still referring to a dedicated graphics card and not simply a GPU.
MacBook Pros still offer a lot in terms of graphics processing, but the card is not removable or replaceable.
Other PC laptops, typically on the less expensive end, do not even have a graphics card.
Instead, a GPU is built into the motherboard’s technology.
These laptops usually do not have the highest video quality, though, as you can probably guess.
Is 1366×768 Pixels or 1920×1080 Pixels the Better Resolution for Your Laptop?
Before I continue, what is the difference between 1366×768 pixels and 1920×1080 pixels as resolution for you laptop?
Which resolution should you choose?
In general, 1920×1080 provides better image clarity because it has a higher resolution. There are a number of reasons to choose a lower resolution, such as saving computational power.
Displays can often be adjusted below their maximum resolution, so having a higher maximum resolution gives you more control.
Learn all about whether you should opt for 1366×768 pixels or 1920×1080 pixels for your laptop.
So, Two Graphics Cards in Your Laptop? (Step-by-Step)
While all laptops have graphics hardware, if your laptop has two graphics cards, it’s set up to handle the more challenging graphics presentations that exist in today’s insanely impressive visual gamer world.
Simply stated, video game graphics and experiences just keep getting better and better.
Not only are the graphics becoming more realistic and the level of detail absolutely insane, but the amount of special effects and high player counts use up a huge amount of data and power.
To ensure laptops can operate these games at peak performance and visual depiction, two graphics cards are better than one.
And, you can install more than two (although this is rare in laptops).
This gets into the idea of collaborative graphics cards.
Depending on the manufacturer, there are ways to link two (or more) graphics cards in order to garner better performance.
As the old saying goes, two heads are better than one.
Graphics cards can work together, but only when connected appropriately, and it can get complicated.
Each manufacturer uses proprietary designs that don’t inherently work together.
Even when you connect two graphics cards from the same manufacturer, you can run into compatibility issues.
Even when all of that works, something has to tell the graphics cards how to split the workload, and optimization in that regard can be a long trial and error process.
On a completely different note, there’s a chance that your laptop has an integrated GPU and a discrete graphics card.
I’ll cover those differences in a bit, but here’s the reason why you have two.
Sometimes, a laptop manufacturer will order a bunch of motherboards that already include an integrated GPU.
Then, for specific higher-end models, they’ll add a discrete graphics card to that same motherboard. In this case, you have a GPU and a graphics card.
Since some people use these terms interchangeably, they might say they have two graphics cards.
The thing to understand here is that, in this case, the GPU and graphics card are not collaborating.
Instead, they work independently, and you can use computer settings to determine which one you want to use at any given time.
Intel Processor Graphics for Laptops
The most common way you will see the above scenario is with Intel Processor Graphics.
Laptops designed to use Intel processors (especially the Core series) will often take advantage of the integrated GPU that works with the processor and motherboard.
Laptops that use this technology will report the graphics card according to names set by Intel.
If you look at your hardware in your Windows settings, you might see something like “Intel® UHD Graphics 630.”
There are many different graphics cards in the series. These are cards that integrate with the processor and motherboard, as discussed in the previous section.
These are cards that integrate with the processor and motherboard, as discussed in the previous section.
If your Windows settings report two graphics cards, there’s a very good chance that one is an Intel Processor Graphics card while the other is a dedicated, discrete card (more on that in a bit).
These cards are not working together, but they do both function independently.
In fact, you can select which one you want to use. The Intel card will likely use less powerful and produce lower-quality video.
So, you can choose between video performance and battery performance.
Integrated vs. Discrete Laptop Graphics Cards
There are also two types of graphics cards—discreet (or dedicated) and integrated.
Discrete graphics cards are inserted directly into the motherboard via a slot, not embedded.
They have their own memory (RAM, technically VRAM or video random access memory) and their own processor.
They also typically have their own dedicated cooling solution.
This design allows discrete graphics cards to operate independently, and their components are streamlined to provide the maximum performance and image resolution based on their specs.
Because discrete graphics cards are connected via a slot (typically a PCIe slot), they can also be physically removed with ease (depending on how easy it is to open up the laptop).
New graphics cards can be purchased and then replaced without affecting any part of the motherboard; it is completely stand-alone.
Integrated graphics cards, on the other hand, are embedded within your laptop’s motherboard and are part of the overall system.
These cards do not have their own memory and share the RAM of the laptop.
So, for example, a typical discrete graphics card can have 4 GB of VRAM of its own to dedicate to a video gamer’s experience.
Still, an integrated graphics card will need to use memory from the overall availability of the laptop it is on. It will not have the same amount by a long-shot in comparison.
Because integrated graphics cards are embedded or attached to the motherboard via soldering, it’s a lot more difficult to replace and upgrade this technology, and it’s suggested to get the help of a computer professional.
Generally speaking, you replace an integrated graphics card by replacing the entire motherboard.
While most gamers prefer discrete graphics cards and appreciate their independent memory source, these cards get hot and use a lot of power.
Because of this, having the correct cooling system or fan setup is essential to keeping your laptop from overheating and causing bigger problems.
Integrated graphics cards do not use anywhere near the amount of heat or power and can save on battery life, but due to their shared memory functionality, they will not maximize your game’s graphic settings, especially if you do not have a dedicated gaming laptop.
Gamers that have a laptop with limited memory being allotted to their graphic experience will find that they will want to adjust their resolution settings to compensate for the memory limitations or they will risk things like game slowdowns.
External Laptop Graphics Card
Actually, now that we are getting into it, there are THREE types of graphics cards. Discreet, integrated, and EXTERNAL.
External graphics cards, or eGPUs, allow laptop users to connect to an external hardware dock in order to maximize their visual experience.
When you use an external graphics card, you won’t remove anything already in the laptop, so you very likely will have two graphics cards at this point (or at least two GPUs).
How Do Different Laptop Graphics Cards Compare? (4 Points)
As the picture becomes more clear, we can expand on our understanding by looking at some of the ways graphics cards compare in terms of performance and expectations.
Pushing these metrics is why a laptop would need more than one graphics card.
#1 Resolution Numbers
Resolution refers to the number of pixels that are displayed per inch of an image.
You have an image resolution for any laptop, desktop, Smart TV, Apple or Android cellular device, and even on digital camera displays.
Pixels are the small dots or squares of color that make up an image.
Pixels are measured horizontally (width) and vertically (height) and are represented as Pixels Per Inch or PPI.
The higher the resolution, the higher the PPI and thus the higher quality the image appears.
The lower the resolution, the lower the PPI, and you will probably notice images on your display being pixelated or cloudy.
Resolution describes the sharpness and clarity of an image, and it also serves as a measurement for the quality and capacity of a display.
Entertainment media across the board advertises using resolution specifics. On your laptop, you see resolution represented by this width x height calculation.
1920 pixels x 1080 pixels is considered “High Definition” (also known as 1080p). These days, it’s considered standard for most laptops.
Most graphics cards support 1920 pixels x 1080 pixels resolution, and high-end cards can go far beyond those numbers.
High definition starts at around 1920×1080 pixels. A 4k resolution starts at 3849×2160 pixels.
You’re looking at doubling the number of pixels in each direction, resulting in image saturation that is a multiple of older high-definition standards.
In order to maintain 4k graphics without making sacrifices to video performance, you need a fair amount of graphics processing power. This is where having two graphics cards really starts to make a visual difference.
#3 Ray Tracing
We’ve established that video game designers and programmers are pushing the limits of graphics in every possible way and one of the coolest light effects that graphics cards enhance is ray tracing.
Ray tracing is seen in games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Control and simulates the physical behavior of light.
Light in these games is reflecting, refracting, bouncing, blocking, and illuminating like …wait for it… REAL light. This is taking video game photorealism to new levels.
Ray tracing involves a very large number of calculations, and it puts a burden on computer hardware. It’s another example of how doubling your graphics processing power enables enhanced visual imaging.
#4 Frame Rates
The frame rate refers to how quickly images are updated on a screen. For older film-based movies, the frame rate was 24 frames per second (FPS). That’s how quickly the individual images would roll through the projector.
For TV, frame rates have been standardized at 60 FPS. This leads to a smoother video image, and 60 FPS is the baseline for most computer rendering.
For a long time, it was believed that the human eye could not distinguish images at faster framerates, but recent studies suggest otherwise.
So, higher framerates tend to produce better, smoother videos. But, when you get into powerful graphics demands, frame rates can drop, and that leads to a choppy video.
As you push the limits of hardware, frame rates can get well above 200 FPS, and extremely competitive gamers prefer these high frame rates.
As mentioned above, the higher framerates render smoother video, which enables competitive gamers to more easily see important details in the game’s video. The smoother video can also improve control of the game.
Imagine a first-person shooter game where you aim by moving your mouse. Whenever you move the mouse, the video changes accordingly.
If you’re trying to aim a cursor at something with extreme precision, smoother video gives you more control.
Here’s how it all comes together.
If you want very high resolutions for your images, advanced ray tracing, and a high frame rate, you need a lot of graphics processing power.
Even the best graphics cards can struggle to render it all on their own. That’s the essential reason why a laptop will have two graphics cards.
It’s necessary to keep up with demand.
What Happens if You Disable Your Intel Graphics Card?
Now you know that your second graphics card is probably an Intel graphics card built into your CPU.
Is it safe to disable the second graphics card?
There are a lot of ways this can go, and they depend on how your computer is built and set up.
If you have another graphics card, you won’t notice a difference.
If you don’t have another card, disabling the Intel card kills your video.
Ultimately, it doesn’t damage the computer, but it can make things complicated.
Learn all about the effects of disabling your Intel graphics card here.