What is a GPU? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is a GPU? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is a GPU?

Have you ever wondered how your computer or gaming console can display such stunning visuals? The secret lies in a powerful component called the graphics processing unit (GPU). These specialized processors have come a long way since their inception, playing a crucial role not only in rendering eye-catching graphics but also in numerous diverse applications.

Buckle up as we take you on a fascinating journey through the world of GPUs, exploring their origins, architecture, types, and the key players in the market.


  • The GPU is a specialized processor designed that can quickly render complex graphics for gaming and video editing applications.
  • Its parallel processing capabilities can speed up machine learning, render high-definition visuals, and create real-time 3D graphics.
  • Nvidia’s GPUs are at the center of the AI revolution, powering many of the data centers that handle ChatGPT-like applications.

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Understanding the GPU

A GPU, or graphics processing unit gpu, is a specialized processor designed to handle graphics-intensive tasks on computers, such as rendering images and videos. They come in various forms, from modular cards found in desktop PCs to integrated GPUs built into the processor chips of smaller devices like laptops.

GPUs can process data in parallel using thousands of cores, allowing them to handle multiple tasks simultaneously and significantly improve their performance in graphics-related tasks.

GPU architecture

General-purpose graphics processing units (GPGPUs) are a technology that enables GPUs to be used for a variety of tasks, such as scientific computing, data analysis, and machine learning. Nvidia, a major player in the GPU market, released their first GPU for personal computers, the GeForce 256, in 1999. Since then, GPUs have evolved to become more efficient and versatile, allowing them to manipulate computer graphics and image processing much more effectively than general-purpose Central Processing Units (CPUs).

Modern GPUs are mainly used for calculations related to 3D computer graphics, offering improved graphics performance compared to older GPUs. They can handle multiple calculations simultaneously, making them faster at rendering images than CPUs, which process data sequentially. This parallel structure makes GPUs more efficient and suitable for certain tasks, such as gaming and video editing.

Types of GPUs

There are two main types of GPUs: integrated and discrete. Integrated GPUs are built into the same chip as the CPU, sharing the same memory and resources, making them cost-effective and energy-efficient. However, they typically offer lower graphics performance compared to discrete GPUs, which is why some users might prefer a system with an integrated GPU for everyday tasks and a discrete GPU for more demanding applications.

Discrete GPUs, on the other hand, are separate graphics cards that have their own dedicated memory and processing power, providing better graphics performance for gaming and other graphically intensive tasks. Modern integrated graphics processing units, such as AMD Accelerated Processing Unit and Intel Graphics Technology, can easily handle 2D graphics or low-stress 3D graphics.

Discrete GPUs are more powerful and suitable for high-end gaming, video editing, and 3D animation, offering better resolution and faster frame rates. Depending on your specific needs and the device you’re using, you may choose between integrated or discrete GPUs to achieve the desired graphics performance.

GPU Applications: Beyond Graphics

GPUs are not limited to just rendering graphics. They are also used in various other fields, such as gaming, business software, video editing, and even training neural networks for machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) applications. Major GPU manufacturers like Nvidia and AMD have been continuously innovating and developing new GPUs that cater to these diverse applications, making them essential components in modern computing devices.

GPUs are now capable of performing complex tasks that were once thought to be impossible. They are used in a variety of applications, from medical to entertainment.

Gaming and video editing

In gaming and video editing, GPUs play a critical role in rendering high-quality graphics and improving the overall performance of the system. They are capable of rendering both 2D and 3D graphics, providing better resolution and faster frame rates for an enhanced visual experience.

GPUs offer parallel processing, which allows them to access AI capabilities and gain advanced acceleration. This reduces the time it takes to render video and graphics in higher-definition formats. This makes GPUs indispensable for gamers and video editors who demand top-notch graphics performance.

Machine learning and AI

The parallel processing capabilities of GPUs make them highly suitable for machine learning and AI applications. They can handle multiple calculations simultaneously, making them faster and more efficient at training neural networks and processing large amounts of data.

This has led to the increasing use of GPUs in various AI and machine learning applications, from image recognition and natural language processing to autonomous vehicles and robotics.

Cryptocurrency mining

Cryptocurrency mining is another area where GPUs have found significant use. Due to their parallel processing capabilities and ability to handle thousands of calculations simultaneously, GPUs are highly efficient at mining cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

This has led to a huge demand for GPUs in the cryptocurrency mining sector, causing a shortage of GPUs in the market and driving up prices for both mining and non-mining customers alike.

Comparing GPUs and CPUs

While both GPUs and CPUs function as processors, they differ in their approach to processing data. The central processing unit (CPU) is designed for general-purpose computing tasks and processes data serially, while GPUs can process data in parallel, making them more efficient for certain tasks.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the differences between GPUs and CPUs in terms of parallel and serial processing, as well as their performance and efficiency.

Parallel vs. serial processing

Parallel processing is a computing technique that splits a task into smaller parts that can be done simultaneously by different processors, resulting in faster and more efficient task completion. GPUs excel at parallel processing, thanks to their massive parallelism, which enables them to handle multiple tasks simultaneously and significantly improve their performance in graphics-related tasks.

Serial processing, on the other hand, is a technique where tasks are executed one step at a time, making it slower and less efficient compared to parallel processing. CPUs rely on serial processing, which is suitable for basic computing tasks but can be limiting when it comes to graphics-intensive workloads.

Performance and efficiency

GPUs offer superior performance and efficiency for graphics-intensive tasks due to their parallel processing capabilities and massive parallelism. However, CPUs are more versatile and can handle almost any type of calculation, making them better suited for basic computing tasks.

The key difference between GPUs and CPUs lies in their approach to processing data, with GPUs excelling at parallel processing and CPUs focusing on serial processing. This distinction makes each processor better suited for specific tasks and applications, depending on the requirements and desired performance.

Graphics Cards: Housing the GPU

Graphics cards are an essential component of modern computing devices, housing the GPU and providing the necessary processing power for graphics-intensive tasks. They come in various forms and include components such as memory, cooling systems, and power supply.

In this section, we will discuss the components of a graphics card and offer tips for selecting the right graphics card for your needs.

Components of a graphics card

A graphics card comprises several key components, including the GPU, video memory (VRAM), a random-access memory digital-to-analog converter (RAMDAC), motherboard interface, cooling system, and various ports. The GPU is the heart of the graphics card, responsible for processing graphical data and rendering images, videos, and animations. VRAM stores graphical data such as textures, images, and other information required by the GPU.

Other components, such as the RAMDAC, motherboard interface, cooling system, and ports, play crucial roles in the overall performance and functionality of the graphics card. The RAMDAC converts digital signals from the GPU into analog signals for display on a monitor, while the motherboard interface connects the graphics card to the computer.

The cooling system ensures that the GPU and other components remain within safe operating temperatures, and the various ports allow for connectivity with displays and other peripherals.

Selecting the right graphics card

When choosing a graphics card, it’s essential to consider factors such as price, value, performance, features, video memory, and availability. For gaming, it is crucial to take into account the power supply requirements, physical dimensions, and compatibility with your computer. For video editing, Nvidia cards are generally preferred, and you should pay attention to the amount of RAM and CUDA cores available on the card.

When selecting a graphics card, it’s essential to strike a balance between performance and cost. High-end graphics cards can be expensive, but they offer better performance and features. On the other hand, budget-friendly graphics cards may not deliver the same level of performance but can still provide satisfactory results for less demanding tasks. Ultimately, the right graphics card for you will depend on your specific needs and budget.

Major Players in the GPU Market

The GPU market is dominated by several major players, including Nvidia, AMD, Intel, and Arm. These companies design and manufacture GPUs for various applications and devices, ranging from gaming and video editing to machine learning and AI.

In this section, we will discuss the roles and market share of these companies, as well as the GPUs used in today’s smartphones.


Nvidia is a leading player in the GPU market, with a long history of innovation and development in GPU technology. The company is based in California and was founded in 1993. It designs nvidia gpus for gaming and professional markets, as well as system-on-chip units (SoCs) for mobile computing and automotive markets.

As of 2018, Nvidia holds a 66% market share in the GPU market thanks to their pioneering GPUs such as the GeForce 256, released in 1999.


AMD, also known as Advanced Micro Devices, is another major competitor in the GPU market, vying for market share with Nvidia. The company has faced challenges such as undershipment and a drop in market share, but it continues to innovate and develop new GPUs for various applications.

AMD’s GPUs are known for their competitive performance and pricing, making them a popular choice among gamers and content creators.

Intel and Arm

Intel and Arm are also key players in the GPU market, with both companies venturing into the development of discrete GPUs. Intel recently entered the market with their Arc products, while Arm has been working on discrete GPUs for several years.

In addition to their efforts in the discrete GPU market, Arm-based notebooks are expected to almost double their market share to 25% by 2027, highlighting the growing importance of these companies in the GPU landscape.

The Evolution of GPU Technology

Specialized graphics processing chips have existed since the 1970s, but the evolution of GPU technology has seen incredible advancements over the years. From their humble beginnings as specialized graphics circuits in arcade system boards and early video game hardware, GPUs have evolved to become integrated into CPUs and used for non-graphical tasks such as AI and machine learning.

In this section, we will explore the history and evolution of GPU technology, highlighting the major milestones and innovations.

Pioneering graphics chips

Graphics processing chips first appeared during the 1970s. Arcade system boards such as Sega Model 1, Namco System 22 and Sega Model 2, and video game consoles like Saturn, PlayStation and Nintendo 64 made use of these chips. These early graphics chips were specialized circuits designed to handle specific graphical tasks, such as rendering images and animations, and were not as versatile as the GPUs we know today.

The first widely available GPU, the Nvidia GeForce 256, was introduced in 1999, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of GPU technology. This pioneering GPU paved the way for the development of more powerful and versatile GPUs, capable of handling a wide range of tasks beyond just graphics rendering.

Today, GPUs are integrated into CPUs and are used for various applications, including AI, machine learning, and cryptocurrency mining.

Emergence of programmable shaders

Programmable shaders emerged as an important innovation in GPU technology, allowing developers to write custom code that controls how the GPU renders graphics. This was made possible through the use of shader languages such as HLSL, GLSL, and Cg. Programmable shaders enabled more intricate graphics and simulations, contributing to the growing capabilities and versatility of GPUs.

The first chip capable of programmable shading was the GeForce 3 (NV20), marking another significant milestone in the evolution of GPU technology.

Modern trends and innovations

The latest trends and innovations in GPU technology include the growing utilization of AI and machine learning, as well as the advancement of ray tracing technology. AI and machine learning have boosted GPU performance and enabled more intricate graphics and simulations, while ray tracing technology has revolutionized the way light and shadows are rendered in 3D graphics, creating highly realistic images.

The GPU market continues to evolve, with major players like Nvidia, AMD, Intel, and Arm driving innovation and development. As GPUs become more powerful and versatile, they will play an increasingly important role in a wide range of applications, from gaming and video editing to AI and machine learning.

The future of GPU technology promises exciting advancements and possibilities, as we continue to push the boundaries of computing and graphics capabilities.


Throughout this blog post, we have explored the fascinating world of GPUs, from their origins as specialized graphics chips to their modern roles in gaming, video editing, AI, and machine learning. We have also discussed the key players in the GPU market, including Nvidia, AMD, Intel, and Arm, and touched upon the various trends and innovations shaping the future of GPU technology. As GPUs continue to evolve and push the limits of computing and graphics capabilities, one thing is certain: the power and versatility of these remarkable processors will continue to impact and transform the way we live, work, and play.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is a GPU in a computer?

A GPU, or Graphics Processing Unit, is a specialized processor that helps to render graphics and images for both professional and personal computing. It utilizes rapid mathematical calculations to help process large amounts of data simultaneously, making it useful for applications like machine learning, video editing, and gaming.

Is A GPU the same as a graphics card?

They are often used interchangeably. But a GPU is a chip inside the graphics card which processes graphical data and displays it on the monitor or device. While a graphics card is the physical component that houses the GPU.

Is A GPU better than a CPU?

Overall, GPUs are better than CPUs for certain specific tasks, such as deep learning and graphically intense operations. However, CPUs offer more versatility and are faster for other tasks like data processing in RAM, I/O operations, and operating system administration. Thus, depending on the task, either type of processor can be better than the other.

What does the GPU actually do?

The GPU is a specialized processor designed to perform rapid calculations, enabling the speedy rendering of complex graphics for gaming and video editing applications. Its parallel processing capabilities can speed up machine learning, rendering of high-definition visuals, and the creation of real-time 3D graphics.

What is in a graphics processing unit?

A GPU is a specialized electronic circuit designed to rapidly process graphical data. GPUs are used in embedded systems, mobile phones, personal computers, workstations, and game consoles to generate realistic images for display. They can contain more transistors than a CPU, use parallel processing, and have their own RAM to store data on the images they process.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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