Understanding Graphics Cards for Gaming Laptops

After the processor, the next most critical component for successful PC gaming is your laptop GPU, or 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. But what is GPU you may be asking, or what does GPU stand for? It stands for graphics processing unit. But more importantly, what does a GPU do? It 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 GPU offering utilize. Here’s a quick, simplified guide:

NVIDIA graphics card names

NVIDIA's primary line of consumer graphics cards has long been the NVIDIA® GeForce® series. Models are identified by four-digit numbers, with higher numbers generally indicating better performance. An example would be the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650.

Another, newer NVIDIA consumer brand is the RTX Series, including the NVIDIA® GeForce RTXTM 3060, RTX 3070, RTX 3080, 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 GPUs get just a two letter/number designation (the AMD RadeonTM R4 GPU, for example), while the most recent Radeon RX series uses four-number IDs (as in AMD Radeon RX 6500 or RX 6700). There's also an integrated graphics option on AMD Ryzen CPUs under the Radeon GraphicsTM series name, and these models are differentiated in the GPU name by their number of graphics cores.

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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