Hardware for beginners (III): what is it and how the GPU or graphics card work?

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The graphics processing unit is one of the most important components in modern computers. This is where the amazing graphics that we see in modern video games are built. This time in Hardware for beginners let’s talk about the GPU.


Another new week, another new addition to our section for beginners Hardware . And before we talked about the motherboard and central processing unit. This time we will touch a subject of much interest to graphic designers and adept at video games: the graphics processing unit or GPU .

As its name implies, this component is responsible for the graphics processing within the computing systems. However, we must bear in mind that with the growing rise of the graphic units, are now gaining more and more importance in other applications, such as network management and supercomputing.

What is a GPU

The graphics processing unit or GPU, in simple terms, is a coprocessor. It is a lot like the CPU component, only the type of processing that is dedicated to graphics. Thus, the GPU can lighten the load of information that must be processed by the CPU, and the latter can do their job more efficiently. A specialized graphics coprocessorBut then if both are essentially processors, only one is essentially dedicated to graphics to reduce the burden of one another what a difference a CPU to a GPU? Can replace a CPU to a GPU?

The difference is in the architecture of each of these two components. Although they are designed to operate in a very similar way GPUs are built so that they are much more efficient for the calculation of graphical information (in terms of hardware architecture). The latter makes them much more optimized than a conventional processor for the type of work they are based, however, are not so good when performing other tasks.

A little history

Early precursors of graphics processing units back to the 80s. These small chips controllers , very similar to those used today day for Ethernet, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity. These first protoGPUs were pretty basic and hardly met a handful of functions that while today might be considered too small to require a unit hand, given the processing capabilities of these processors, yes that might be needed.


One of the first graphics card was ISBX Intel 275 , which hit the market in 1983, and was based on the 82720 controller GDC signature. And would the legendary Commodore Amiga one of the first computers to have its own GPU in 1985. By 1986 Texas Instruments had managed to develop a processor with graphics processing capabilities including a precursor of SoC currently used in industry.

During the 90s, the functions performed by the GPU increased pace in growing their skills as well as the top was handled the graphics rendering 2D graphics, and subsequently acquired a key role in the rise of 3D graphics . It was around this time that the GPU began to be seen as a mandatory component of the consoles, especially after what accounted for graphics original PlayStation and Nintendo 64 .

From then until now, there has been a complex process of evolution and improvement of skills, standards were established OpenGL and Direct3D as APIs to facilitate the work of programmers, and today we see the GPU are becoming required components being most SoCs have an integrated GPU.

Types GPU

Currently there are three main types of graphics processing units. Rather than the architecture, these differ from each other by the way they are implemented the GPU.

  • Devoted Cards: This type of graphic units are those that provide more power. As the name implies, have a number of specifications and are specifically designed to meet their specific tasks, so they are much more efficient. You will generally understand that a dedicated card is one that is integrated into the motherboard through a separate port. The latter is not always necessary, and what really defines a dedicated graphics card is having separate RAM that can only be used by the GPU, and while complying with this requirement can be integrated into the motherboard or even the CPU.


  • Integrated graphics: Unlike dedicated units, integrated memory system used to perform their functions. These are the types of the most common solutions in modern computers, being up to 90% of computer equipment, including smartphones, tablet PCs and most often the core of these units used to be on the motherboard, but more recently things have changed, and both AMD and Intel are now often integrate their processors, and have termed Accelerated Processing Unit AMD and Intel HD Graphics respectively.
  • Hybrids: Designed to keep prices relatively low while ensuring adequate levels of power, graphics hybrid units also share the system memory, but to reduce the latency of the latter, form a limited amount of memory itself that is responsible to perform immediate tasks. This is usually the kind of graphics that we find in laptops that promise dedicated cards.

How works a GPU

Unlike the central processors designed with few cores but higher clock rates, the GPU typically have large amounts of processing cores at relatively low clock frequencies. At present, most of the processor cores are directed to two functions: processing pixel and vertex .


The vertex processing is relatively simple for modern graphics processing units, being of those who consume fewer resources. In simple terms it comes to getting the information of the vertices previously computed by the CPU, and process their spatial arrangement, rotation, and which segment is graphically visible vertex, and continue with the pixelated.

Then we proceed to process the pixels, or in other words, the graphics observable as such. This is the most complex process that requires more processing load, since all the required layers and apply effects to create complex textures and get the most realistic graphics possible.

Finally, after processing graphical information, this is taken to a digital or analog monitor (in the latter case, after passing through a converter), according to the needs of the computer.

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