The short answer is No! You DO NOT NEED to have a graphics card for photo editing. The integrated graphics card built into the CPU should suffice particularly if you are a beginner with a limited budget for your PC build.
However, there is no doubt that even an entry level basic dedicated graphics card can give you performance gains for certain tasks and filters.
As such, if you are an expert photo editor with a good budget for your photo editing build, then it is recommended to invest in a simple dedicated graphics card.
If you are short on budget, however, then it recommended that you maximize the portion of the budget for a good CPU as photo editing is more CPU dependent than GPU dependent.
As is the case with all PC builds. it is important to choose the right components for a build for Photo Editing as well. Since many of us have a limited budget, it is imperative that we put a higher portion of our budget in the right hardware.
In the following text I will attempt to answer in detail the question “Do you need a graphics card for photo editing?”.
Do You Need a Graphics Card for Photo Editing?
Fortunately, no. You do not need to have a dedicated graphics card on your PC in order to use Photo Editing software like Adobe Photoshop.
The integrated or built-in graphics card in your CPU should be more than sufficient to handle all essential Photo Editing tasks fairly easily.
However, that is not to say that you won’t see any kind of benefit should you choose to buy a dedicated GPU.
Pudget Systems has conducted a comprehensive study on the effects of a dedicated GPU on Adobe Photoshop – easily the most popular photo editing software out there.
The test above was conducted on Adobe Photoshop CC 2019 using an Intel Core i9-9900K.
When considering iGPU vs dedicated GPU for Photo Editing, the results are quite conclusive. Even a lower-mid range dedicated GPU, NVIDIA GTX 1060, is about 40% more powerful compared to the popular Intel UHD 630 iGPU.
Most of this has to do with the fact that even a cheap dedicated graphics card has far more VRAM compared to an integrated. In this case, the GeForce GTX 1060 has 6 GB of VRAM whereas the Intel UHD 630 caps at 1 GB of VRAM only.
Hence, the Intel UHD 630 would have a hard time loading up and rendering the assets and features in real-time particularly if the image is large.
The Difference in iGPU and Dedicated GPU Depends on the Tasks and Filters Used!
Note that the chart in the section above shows only the GENERAL performance score of the GPUs.
In actuality, the performance difference between the iGPU and a dedicated GPU depends upon what filters and features you use and what tasks you perform.
For example according to Pudget Systems, effects and filters that use GPU acceleration such as “Smart Sharpen”, “Field Blur”, “Iris Blur” and “Resizing” were much faster on a dedicated GPU as compared to an integrated graphics card.
On the other hand, for tasks and filters such as “Reduce Noise”, “File Save and Open”, “Gradient”, “Magic Wand Select”, “Rotate” etc there was almost no difference between an iGPU Intel UHD 630 and dedicated GPUs.
This chart sheds more light on how an integrated GPU and dedicated GPUs compare in terms of performance for specific tasks and effects.
List of Features that Require a GPU for Photoshop
According to the official Adobe Photoshop specs, the following are all the features that can benefit or require a GPU to work.
- Blur Gallery
- Camera Raw
- Image Size
- Lens Blur
- Neural Filters
- Select Focus
- Select and Mask
- Smart Sharpen
- Birds Eye View
- Flick Panning
- Oil Pain
- Perspective Wrap
- Scrubby Zoom
- Smooth Brush Resizing
This is an ever growing list of GPU accelerated features. You can check the list of all the GPU focused features for Photoshop here for more details.
Note I am referencing Photoshop here as it is the most popular photo editing software.
You Should Buy a Dedicated Graphics Card for Multiple Monitors Setup
Yes, it is recommended that you do so. The more screens you have, the more pixels you have. The more pixels you have, the more VRAM your GPU needs in order to cater to all the assets displayed on multiple screens SMOOTHLY.
Integrated graphics cards DO NOT have a high amount of VRAM. As explained above, Intel UHD 630, for instance, only has 1 TB of VRAM. Lower Mid Range dedicated GPU can easily feature 4-6 times as much VRAM.
While your iGPU will be able to support and run multiple monitors, but in order to have a smooth working experience, it is recommended that you use a dedicated GPU for a multiple monitor setup even if you have to choose a very basic dedicated GPU.
Should You Buy a High End Graphics Card for Photo Editing?
No, you do not need to buy a high end graphics card to reap the benefits of having a dedicated graphics card.
If you have decided to buy a dedicated graphics card for your photo editing build, then a low-mid to mid range dedicated graphics card should do just fine.
The key is to have a dedicated graphics card with a good amount of VRAM.
You can see from the chart above that a high-mid range graphics card i.e the RTX 3060Ti is only about 3% weaker than the profoundly expensive RTX 3090 dedicated GPU (127.4 vs 131.3 points). The former has an MSRP of $399 whereas the latter has an MSRP of $1,500. Of course, the real market price at the moment is more than twice as much for the mentioned GPUs.
As such, it is highly recommended that you stick with lower-mid range or mid range GPUs. High end GPUs will give you no significant benefit in performance.
CPU vs GPU for Photo Editing – Which is More Important?
CPU still remains as the most important consideration of Photo Editing.
Unlike with the GPUs where there was no significant benefit between a mid range and a high end GPU, with CPUs that is not the case.
For Photo Editing, the better the CPU you have the better the performance you can generally experience.
However, I would recommended that you stick with high performance grade Core i7s at best since workstation grade CPU such as the Core i9s or Ryzen 9s give only marginally better performance yet costing a lot higher.
It is, however, recommended that you stick with CPUs from the latest generation in order to reap the most benefit. While the cores and the clock speed is important, it is the generation and the overall architecture of the CPU that effectively shows performance gains.
Also Read: How is Processor Speed Measured?
To reiterate, the answer to the question “Do You Need a Graphics Card for Photo Editing?”, is a NO! You do not need to have a dedicated graphics card for photo editing.
However. having one can give you significant benefits for certain tasks, filters and effects.
Should you choose to procure a dedicated GPU, it is recommended that you stick with lower-mid to mid range GPUs at best since having a high end GPU will be super costly and would give you only marginally better results at best.
In the end, it is important that you maximize your budget for a good CPU as having a good CPU is more paramount than having a good GPU for photo editing.
Also Read: Does My Graphics Card Support 4K?