Understanding Graphics Cards for Gaming Laptops

After the processor, the next most critical component for successful PC gaming is your graphics card. A fast, multi-core processor helps your laptop manage the rapid-fire computations and input/output cycles of multiplayer, streaming games. However, all that processing power is essentially worthless if your system’s graphics components can’t render the game scenes and imagery equally fast.

So, what makes a good graphics card for gaming? What should you look for when shopping for a new gaming laptop? Keep reading to learn more.

Do you really need a laptop with a graphics card?

Theoretically, no, a discrete graphics card is not required for PC gaming. You can play many PC games – though not the most advanced ones – using integrated graphics (that is, when graphics capabilities are built into or integrated within the main processor). Unfortunately, when the game’s visual demands become too much, you may experience choppy images, lag times in responding to commands, or sometimes even system crashes.

There are multiple advantages to investing in a gaming system with a dedicated or discrete graphics card. The graphics processing unit or GPU on the card manages the visuals while the processor (also called the central processing unit or CPU) focuses on running the game and any other software you might be using at the time. A graphics card also has its own video memory or VRAM, reducing reliance on the regular RAM the processor uses for its work.

With a dedicated graphics card in your laptop, high-demand game visuals are processed on the card rather than by the CPU. Gameplay is generally much smoother, even in complex scenes. You may also be able to play the game at a higher display resolution, making everything clearer and sharper to the eye.

Integrated vs. discrete graphics

As stated earlier, there are two types of laptop graphics – one integrated into the CPU and another provided by a discrete or dedicated graphics card. Within these categories, three major companies dominate the industry.

Lenovo sells laptops with integrated graphics processors from either Intel or AMD. One benefit of integrated graphics is lower overall system cost, since both processing and graphics activities share many resources (RAM, cache, etc.) But the shared-resource nature of integrated graphics means you won’t get the same performance as with a laptop equipped with a dedicated graphics card.

Lenovo also sells laptops with discrete graphics cards made by either AMD or NVIDIA®. If you recognize the words “Radeon” or “GeForce,” then you’re familiar with these companies’ products. Discrete graphics cards with their own video memory reduce the demand on shared resources, enhancing both processor and graphics performance – particularly for PC gaming. Some laptops with discrete graphics cards even include special dual-channel cooling that ensures optimal performance of both the CPU and GPU.

Simply put, serious PC gamers insist on dedicated graphics.

How to understand product series (NVIDIA and AMD)

It can be difficult for everyday consumers to understand the naming conventions that NVIDIA and AMD use to identify their different graphics cards. Here’s a quick, simplified guide:

NVIDIA graphics card names

NVIDIA's primary line of consumer graphics cards has long been the NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX Series. Models are identified by four-digit numbers, with higher numbers generally indicating better performance. Examples include NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050, GTX 1070 Ti, and so on. There's also a GeForce GTX MX series that's used in lower-priced systems.

Another, newer NVIDIA consumer brand is the RTX Series, including the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, RTX 2080, RTX 2080 Ti, etc. RTX cards include support for ray tracing, which the company says is a better way of simulating real-life light rays as they illuminate a scene.

There's also the more costly NVIDIA Titan brand of graphics cards, favored by tech enthusiasts. NVIDIA also makes Quadro® Series cards designed for high-powered workstations. Both of these brands include RTX versions.

AMD graphics card names

AMD's line of consumer graphics cards is dominated by its Radeon series.

Lower-end Radeon cards get just a two letter/number designation (AMD RadeonTM R4, for example), while the faster Radeon RX series uses three-number IDs (as in AMD Radeon RX 570 or RX 590). There's also a more advanced Radeon Vega series, with models such as AMD Radeon Vega8 and Vega10.

Lenovo gaming laptops

Our Lenovo Legion line of gaming laptops is designed for serious PC gamers, with some of the best hardware configurations on the market. You can also find – or custom-configure – game-ready ThinkPad laptops and ultraportable IdeaPad models.

No matter what Lenovo gaming laptop you select, it’s a great time to be an on-the-go gamer. Laptop graphics cards used to lag behind their desktop and tower counterparts. But no more. The latest laptop graphics options from NVIDIA and AMD are highly competitive – just like you.

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