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How Graphics Adapters Work

Drawing an image on a computer screen takes a lot of computational power; so much so that if a computer relied on the CPU to do it, there wouldn't be any headroom left to run software. Video cards take the load off the CPU, by providing a second processor to do the heavy lifting on the graphics side.

How Do Graphics Cards Work?

A graphics adapter has two main components. The processor, or GPU, and the framebuffer, or graphics memory. Each fulfills a separate but equally important part in making sure your computer can draw the latest level on your screen:

  • GPU: There are three main manufacturers of graphics processors; Intel, AMD, and Nvidia. Of the three, only AMD and Nvidia make standalone chips for companies such as MSI to offer in graphics cards. Both companies make different ranges of GPUs and motherboards, and while one may dominate at the high end, the other may provide better performance with mainstream or entry-level cards.
  • Framebuffer: The framebuffer holds the information necessary for the GPU to draw the scene. The larger the framebuffer, the more complex the image. A 256 MB memory capacity offers enough fast local storage for entry-level GPUs to draw an image directly from the device's memory.

What About Shared Memory?

One of the biggest questions in computer graphics is whether integrated video solutions can ever compete with a dedicated graphics adapter. Despite recent progress with shared graphics, there is still a strong market for discrete graphics adapters with dedicated memory. There are three areas to consider:

  • Capacity: The big advantage of shared architectures is capacity: They can use as much DDR4 as the system will allow, and that can be quite a bit more than the framebuffer on many discrete adapters.
  • Bandwidth: Discrete architectures can move data faster because they have wider pathways running at higher speeds than regular DDR4. It really helps keep data-hungry GPUs fed.
  • Latency: Less of an issue than bandwidth, latency has to do with responsiveness. Shared graphics have to go through the system processor and memory controller to get to the RAM, while discrete graphics solutions have the RAM directly connected to the processor, so it can respond more quickly.

Choosing a Graphics Adapter

Choosing the right MSI graphics adapter is a matter of understanding your needs and then making a choice to meet them. The choice between graphics processor architectures is largely one of personal preference. They can all handle games and graphics, and many also do media decoding. As for framebuffer size, that really only matters for gaming. Most other users are fine with a relatively small framebuffer, though a discrete adapter is preferable purely because it doesn't take any RAM away from the CPU.