Not too many years ago on the PC evolution timeline, only graphic designers, artists or gamers needed to have powerful graphics processors. Now the everyday PC user expects their PC to handle videos, photos, graphics, and multimedia Internet downloads – with speed and accuracy, plus the ability to run multiple applications simultaneously. And they want their PCs to do all of that and still be affordably priced.

Graphics Software Applications
It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s certainly one of the drivers of increased computer graphics usage. It’s so much easier to communicate ideas, concepts, information, facts, and analysis using images rather than words. The software to create and manipulate images and videos has come a long way. It’s now much easier to use, and is affordable enough for the average business or home PC user. That has created demand for PCs that can keep up with graphics software.

Who Uses Graphics Software?
Pick any industry or vertical market, and you will find graphics applications in routine use. Health care, forensics, law enforcement, entertainment, transportation, engineering, government, education, and consumers all use graphics and multimedia applications. When they buy new PCs, they look for processors that will run the programs they continue to rely on for day-to-day operations, at the performance level they have come to expect.

The Hardware Solutions
Standalone graphics (video) cards and integrated graphics processors are the two primary hardware solutions used to run graphics and multimedia applications. Ten or fifteen years ago, PC users with complex graphics apps had only one solution: to buy and install a high-performance video card into their PC that added several hundred dollars to the price.

Today, companies like Intel, AMD/ATI and NVIDIA offer CPUs with built-in integrated graphics processors.  The good news is that now there is a choice; users can purchase a standalone graphics card or buy a PC system that has an integrated graphics processor built in. The other good news is that both of these solutions have decreased in price, just as any type of processor has in the last few years.

The advantages of integrated graphics processors include: lower total system cost, lower power consumption, no need to install a separate card. The disadvantage: they may not be as powerful as standalone graphics cards for high-end graphics applications. In making an informed decision, users must evaluate the performance level required for their graphics software, the price difference and available budget, and the results of comparative performance and reliability tests.

How have your graphics processing needs changed over time? Will integrated graphics processors become the way of the future?