A laptop graphics card has 3 main components: the GPU – that give its speed, the memory / resolution and card slot or connections type (PCI, AGP, PCI-E). I will cover in this article all important aspects related to laptop graphics cards in order to help you decide what you really need in this area when bying a notebook.

This topic is part of the "List of Computer Terminology - What to Look for When Buying a Laptop?" article. ~Protected by Copyscape~

Laptop Graphics Card - What is it?

The graphics card is known also as display adapter , video adapter, video card or graphics accelerator card. Mainly it generates output images to a video display. In the past usually the video hardware was part of the motherboard and it was referred to as a video driver or graphics driver. In this way the system's main RAM is reduced because the included graphics chip has usually a small quantity of embedded memory and thus taking the rest for its functioning from the computer's RAM. These so called on-board graphics or integrated graphics are totally useless for those who wish to run games or do video editing or for graphic and CAD designers.

A dedicated laptop graphics card on the other hand has its own RAM and GPU specifically for processing large and high end resolutions images, so that the CPU and system's RAM are no more solicited. It is important to know that a lot of these motherboards permit the disabling of the integrated graphics chip in BIOS, and have an AGP, PCI, or PCI Express slot for pluging a higher-performance graphics card in place.

When coming to laptop graphics cards there are a lot of terms to define and consider : resolution, color depth, video memory, 3D acceleration, geometry (scaling, rotation, translation), rendering, FSAA(full-screen anti-aliasing), digital cards, DVI, HDCP, HDMI, Display Port.

The most popular manufacturers of video adapters (mainly of the processors /GPUs) are NVIDIA, ATI Technologies, Matrox Graphics. Some of the most used technologies behind a laptop graphics card are: SLI (Scalable Link Interface= Nvidia's revolutionary approach to 3D graphics scalability), Nvidia - 3D Vision, OpenGL, PhysX, ATI - CrossFire , Direct3D (D3D)- the start of DirectX series- the latest being DirectX 11. DirectX® 11 is the newest generation of graphics technology that comes with Windows 7. The new incorporated features permit to game developers to create better characters and realistic surroundings.

The motherboard supports only a limited range of video card formats so be aware of this when consider buying a computer. And there is also the possibility of the GPUs being integrated directly onto the motherboard.

Laptop Graphics Card - Categories

Now that the main theoretical aspects of a laptop graphics card has been covered – look at this classification made by Notebookcheck. You can use it as a resource when selecting the desired model for your display adapter:

High End Laptop Graphics Cards

(for extreme HD gaming – DirectX 11 technology)

If you need the best 3D performance than this is the class to chose. Keep in mind that in order to enjoy the gaming experience of the latest games with high resolutions and detail settings you will need a powerful battery on your laptop since the power consumption of these GPUs is also significant.

Recommended laptop Graphics Cards ---> Approx. Equivalent /(updated in summer 2010)

GeForce GTX 460 < ===== > Radeon HD 5830
Radeon HD 5850< ====== > GeForce GTX 465 / GTX 470
Radeon HD 5870 < ====== > GeForce GTX 480
GeForce GTX 470 SLI < == >Radeon HD 5970
GeForce GTX 480 SLI <== > Radeon HD 5870 Crossfire

Laptop - Midrange Graphics Cards (for everyday gaming) – With them you should play fluently all current games but not all with high detail settings and the newest ones even only in low-medium detail settings. The laptops need good battery life.

Barely Games-Capable (for video editing and trans coding) - Low demanding modern games still can be handled and also the performance is good enough for office tasks or video viewing (for HD videos - better test it). The integrated cards offer the best battery runtime.

Laptop - Low End Graphics Cards (for everyday computing, image processing, and SD video editing) - On these graphics chips you can still play some older games pretty well – but that's all. And the advantage is that it produce less heat and have a longer battery runtimes assured.

Incompatible with Games – If you try to run games, they may run with a lot of errors and slowly. On the other part - they are still suitable for office tasks and internet browsing.

Laptop Graphics Card - List of Computer Terminology

GPU - Graphics Processing Unit
HD - High Definition (display resolutions: 1024×768,
1280×720 named 720p,
1280×1080 named 1080p/1080i,

1080p - horizontal resolution of HD content - the 'p' means that the signal is 'progressive,' which indicates that all 1080 lines are broadcast at once. The 'i' instead of a 'p' means that the signal is 'interlaced,' and is only showing half of the total horizontal lines of resolution at one time.
SD - Standard Definition (display resolutions: 640x480,
720×576 named 576i,
704×576 named 576p,
720×480 named 480i,
720×486 named 480i,
704×480 named 480p)

DVI - Digital Video Interface
HDCP - High Definition Content Protection
HDMI - High Definition Multimedia
PCI - Peripheral Component Interconnect
(old technology - PCI video cards = the slowest on the market)
AGP - Accelerated Graphics Port
PCI-E - PCI Express (the fastest and newest type of graphics cards)
SLI - Scalable Link Interface
FSAA - Full-Screen Anti-Aliasing

For other related articles see this list:

And remember to drop some thoughts in the comment section below related to this "Laptop Graphics Card - Comparison Guide" article and your experience with buying a notebooks.


Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia © 2001-2010 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_card)

Notebookcheck – "Comparison of Laptop Graphics Cards"