Today we’re discussing graphics cards and what to look for if you plan on purchasing a new system. There are two main variances in graphics cards to look for, integrated and dedicated. Many manufacturers will try to trick you into one or the other using terminology that can be rather confusing.

Let’s start by breaking down exactly how the two are different. Integrated cards are built in to the motherboard of the computer. This means that in addition to having your processor, your memory, and possibly your sound and network adapters, your system also has your graphics processing unit, or GPU for short, built right in. As a result, the GPU will not have its own memory to work with, except in very few exceptions. It will sacrifice features and performance and rely on your systems main memory to operate. This means your system will, if even for a tiny amount, suffer overall performance decrease as the graphics are taking away from your systems primary resources. The result is bad performance, and a cheap integrated setup will hurt your overall experience. Windows Vista Aero is a great example of this, as a good integrated setup will allow you to switch between windows just fine, a cheap integrated setup will cause slow, choppy performance with even the simplest of tasks.

In the case of a dedicated GPU, the graphics processor has its own board, and runs independently of the main system. This usually comes with the bonus of having its own memory, keeping in mind that some dedicated cards have hyper threading and Turbo Cache features that allow it to borrow some of the system resources in addition to built-in memory. You’re going to find, in general, better performance and reliability. The downside to this is that you can expect less battery life as it has to power an extra card, processor, and memory.

Bottom line is this, when shopping for a notebook or a budget PC, take the time to look at the video card. Many people stop at the processor and believe that is the best way to determine a computer’s capabilities. When it comes to gaming, your video card is more important than the processor these days. If you get stuck with integrated video, you can expect a machine that will work for playing DVDs, solitaire, and day-to-day tasks. Dedicated graphics cards will give you the performance you need to enjoy 3d graphics-intensive games and grant you an overall better experience. Just remember to keep an outlet handy.