Integrated GPUs – From Utter Crap to Top-Notch Gaming Gear

What does the average user do on the average computer? Most of them use their computers for work, various office-type tasks like editing documents and spreadsheets, perhaps browsing the web or checking out the latest odds at Superbet. Most people use their computers for gaming as well – but here, PCs have competitors: dedicated gaming consoles, both “desktop” ones like the Xbox and the PlayStation, and portable ones like Nintendo’s Switch or the upcoming Steam Deck. And this is where things get a bit complicated: all of these use GPUs integrated with the CPU.

Integrated GPUs have, for ages, been the equivalent of “crappy GPUs”, unsuitable for playing anything but online poker and Minesweeper League of Legends. For more “serious” games, integrated GPUs were simply not good enough. Truth to be told, they were never meant to be gaming GPUs – they were invented as a low-cost feature for office PCs. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What is an integrated GPU?

An integrated GPU (iGPU) or integrated graphics processor (IGP) is basically a GPU integrated into the motherboard’s chipset (usually the northbridge) or the CPU. They have a series of advantages – they’re much cheaper than a “dedicated” graphics card – but they also come with many disadvantages. Among them, there’s their low performance and the fact that they have no dedicated VRAM – they “steal” a portion of the system’s RAM, further reducing its performance.

This means that an iGPU is not suitable for memory-intensive computations (and gaming).

Ubiquitous technology

For those into more serious gaming and graphics, it may seem strange to even consider an IGP-powered PC. For the rest of the world, the technology was ubiquitous: in the mid-to-late 2000s, about 90% of all PCs available on the market came with an integrated graphics solution. The most widely used IGP was Intel’s HD Graphics – pretty much every Intel chipset had a low-cost IGP integrated with it. It had its competitors, of course – AMD and even Nvidia built their own chipsets with IGPs but these never became widespread. Nvidia ultimately gave up its mainboard business, and AMD moved on to a new approach that ultimately beat Intel at its own game.

Top-notch integrated gaming

The first AMD APUs (Accelerated Processing Units, formerly known as “Fusion”) were announced by the chipmaker in 2011. Their trick: integrating the GPU with the CPU, on the same die. These paved the way for Ryzen, the APU line that truly put AMD back on the market – and quickly pushed it to the top.

The first-generation Zen chips were already capable of impressive performance with their Vega-based GPUs, but the later models truly turned things up a notch. Today’s Ryzen APUs can run triple-A games like Borderlands 3, Control, and such with few limitations when it comes to performance and quality. Of course, you can’t expect them to do ray-tracing or similar goodies – even though we’ll probably see them in later iterations – but for general (as in not hardcore) gaming, they are currently the perfect choice.

Their power and versatility are perhaps best shown by the upcoming Steam Deck. This portable gaming PC is built around a custom AMD APU and promises to run pretty much every game available on Steam at a comfortable 60FPS.

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