Why Do Laptops Have Two Graphics Cards?

Often laptops have two graphics cards for performance and power consumption management.

In this configuration, one of the graphics card is used for light applications and thus conserves power, whereas, the second graphics card is used when heavier applications are being run.

The graphics card intended for low-key tasks, like word processing, and for battery conservation is called the integrated graphics card, whereas, the graphics card intended for demanding tasks, like gaming, is called the dedicated graphics card.

Dedicated graphics cards have a much better graphics processing performance as compared to integrated graphics cards, but they consume more power. 

Also, you MUST note that NOT ALL laptops have dual graphics card. In the following text I will talk in detail about “why do laptops have two graphics cards?”.

Integrated vs Dedicated Graphics Cards on Laptops

Essentially, there are two types of graphics cards that you can find on a PC, integrated and dedicated graphics cards.

Integrated graphics, as the name suggests, are graphics processing units that are built INTO the CPU chip itself. They cannot be removed or upgraded. Integrated graphics are weak and offer very limited graphics processing capability but they consume far less power.

Do I Need Integrated Graphics
CPU die chart showing iGPU built into the CPU

Dedicated graphics cards on laptops, on the other hand, are separate standalone chips soldered onto the laptop’s motherboard itself.

The image below shows two chips on a motherboard. The one on the left is the CPU and the one on the right the dedicated graphics.

GPU soldered onto the motherboard 2
Shows both CPU and GPU soldered onto the motherboard.

Performance Difference Between Integrated and Dedicated GPUs

There is a huge performance difference between integrated graphics and dedicated graphics cards.

Depending upon what model you have, dedicated graphics cards can be multiple fold more powerful as compared to iGPUs for graphics processing.

The following table and graph shows how the integrated graphics compared with the dedicated graphics cards. The scores are taken from G3D Mark benchmark.

GPU G3D
Mark
Notes
Intel UHD 630 1395 As found on 8-10th Gen
Intel CPUs
Nvidia GeForce
GT 740
1543 Dedicated GPU
Basic
Intel UHD 750 1684 As found on 11th Gen+
Intel CPUs
AMD Radeon
Vega 8
(2018 Version)
1704 AMD 2000 Series APU
Intel UHD 770 1928 As Found on 12th Gen Intel CPUs.
Intel Iris Pro 580 2044 Found on premium laptops.
Nvidia GeForce
GT 1030
2613 Dedicated GPU
Entry Level
AMD Ryzen 5
5600G
Vega 7 Graphics
2639 Integrated as found on the Ryzen 5600G
AMD Ryzen 7
5700G
Vega 8 Graphics
2708 Integrated as found on the Ryzen 5700G
AMD Radeon
RX 550
2764 Dedicated GPU
Entry Level
NVIDIA
GeForce
GTX 1060
9875 Dedicated GPU
Lower-Mid Range
NVIDIA
GeForce
GTX 1060
10879 Dedicated GPU
Mid Range
NVIDIA
GeForce
RTX 2080
18652 Dedicated GPU
High End
NVIDIA
GeForce
RTX 3080Ti
26429 Dedicated GPU
High End
Why Do Laptops Have Two Graphics Cards
iGPU vs Dedicated Graphics Card. Source: G3DMark

As you can see above, even the best iGPUs as found on the AMD Ryzen 5700G are nowhere close the mid range NVIDIA GTX 1660 let alone the top of the line NVIDIA RTX 3080Ti graphics cards.

The point of this discussion is that dedicated graphics cards are intended for brute force graphics processing. They are more powerful than iGPUs and hence if you intend on gaming and doing editing or designing work on your PC, then the dedicated graphics card will help tremendously.

Also a key point to note

Not all laptops have two graphics cards. While all laptops have an integrated graphics, it may or may not have a dedicated GPU.

Hence if your laptop comes with a dedicated graphics card, consider yourself lucky.

So Why Do Laptops Have Two Graphics Cards?

Often laptops have both the integrated as well as a dedicated graphics cards for power and performance management. Essentially, the reasons for having two graphics cards include:

  1. Conserving Battery Power
  2. Limiting Heat Generation from Dedicated GPU
  3. High Performance Graphics Rendering When in Need

1. Conserving Battery Power

Having an integrated graphics card helps in conserving the essential battery charge of the laptop.

As such, when you remove the laptop from the wall socket, the integrated graphics card takes over and the dedicated graphics card generally gets disabled.

Integrated graphics card consumes a fraction of the power as needed by the dedicated graphics card.

2. Limiting Heat Generation

Dedicated graphics card generate a lot of heat when running. 

Therefore, in order to manage the heat dissipation and to keep things cool, integrated graphics card kicks in when the task is menial. 

For instance, when running simple programs or tasks like MS Word, YouTube, or simply surfing on Chrome, the integrated graphics takes to limit the heat generation (as well as to conserve the power used).

When running heavier tasks like games or professional editing and designing applications, the dedicated graphics card takes over.

3. High Performance Graphics Rendering When in Need

Th purpose of having a dedicated graphics card, as explain above, is to provide graphics processing power when in need.

Since dedicated GPUs are far more powerful compared to iGPUs, they are used when performing heavier tasks like gaming.

The Switching is Done Automatically

It should be noted that the switching between the integrated and dedicated graphics card is done automatically.

The OS is smart enough to realize which application is low demanding and which is high demanding.

You Can Check Which GPU is Being Used for What Task

As a side note, you can also check which graphics is being used for what task.

The video below explains this:

Basically, you can check what graphics card is being used through the task manager, in the Processes tab and in the GPU Engine column.

how to check graphics card is being used
Task Manager showing the GPU Engine Column

Read in Detail: How to Check Which Graphics Card is Being Used?

How to Figure Out Which One is Integrated or Dedicated GPU?

For the uninitiated it can be a bit difficult to figure out which of the two graphics card on your laptop is integrated and which one is dedicated. 

Take for instance the screenshot from my deice manager below:

device manager display adapters

I can see that I have two graphics card (aka display adapters) on my laptop:

  • Intel HD 630
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050Ti

So which one of the two is integrated graphics and which is dedicated? To understand, you need to become a bit familiar with the GPU market.

Basically, there are three major graphics chipset manufacturers out there for Windows PCs:

  • Intel
  • NVIDIA
  • AMD

As a rule of thumb, know that ALL intel graphics card integrated GPUs. As such, Intel HD 630, Intel UHD 750 etc are all integrated graphics.

Additionally, as a rule of thumb, know that ALL NVIDIA graphics cards are dedicated graphics cards. So NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti, NVIDIA RTX 3070, and even the weaker NVIDIA MX series graphics cards are all dedicated graphics cards

When it comes to AMD, however, things get a bit confusing since AMD makes both integrated and dedicated graphics. You will need to get a slight grasp of the AMD market.

Basically, if a graphics card reads as AMD VEGA RX series GPU, then there are high chances that it is an integrated graphics. The likes of AMD Radeon RX 4000, RX 5000 and RX 6000 series GPU are dedicated graphics cards.

Final Words

The simple answer to the question “why do laptops have two graphics cards?” is to offer power and performance management. 

The two graphics card on laptops are different in nature. One if integrated graphics and the other is dedicated, with the latter being the more powerful of the two.

Your laptops switches between the two depending upon which task or application is being run.

Categories GPU
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Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

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