November 15, 2016
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Why GPUs should matter to you

The acronym “GPU” has been thrown around a lot in tech reviews for computers and mobile devices, which you only really read when you’re looking to buy a new unit. If you want a computer that can perform well under pressure, knowing a unit’s GPU specifications can help you a whole lot. 

GPU stands for Graphics Processing Unit. It’s the popular term for a specialized electronic circuit working in tandem with the central processing unit (CPU) to boost the unit’s graphic performance. Before moving images can go to the screen, the GPU rapidly manipulates and alters computer graphics and image processing to accelerate the creation of images in a frame buffer.

Now, what’s a frame buffer? We can better explain a frame buffer by mentioning its other name, a frame store. It’s called that because it’s where frames of data are stored on its way to the display screen. To be more specific, it’s a portion of the system’s random access memory (RAM) containing a bitmap (the image) that’s used to refresh a video display from a memory buffer containing a complete frame of data.

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Now, GPUs not only exist on laptop and desktop computers, they’re also in your smartphones, game consoles, and any device that puts out video. Depending on the make and model, a particular device is under pressure to perform well in the graphics department as screens demand more and more from them by packing a wide array of features in one device.

Multitasking in devices means being able to record and play video, and play games without sacrificing quality in both entertainment and practical value. These applications require processing large blocks of data all running at the same time, which is a little like looking at the left and the right at the same time. How does one ensure sharp image quality and keep churning them out one after the other at breakneck speeds without breaking the illusion of motion? GPUs help the computer by making sure that these two processes—keeping the images sharp while they flow properly—are all happening together in perfect unison.

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The GPU was born out of the growing demand for smoother video and gaming capability that the CPU alone can’t handle. It was popularized by Nvidia—the most popular brand in graphics drivers today—in 1999 when they marketed the release of the GeForce 256, which they dubbed the world’s first GPU. Now, the GPU market is expansive, with other players like AMD, Intel, and ARM.

So the next time you’re looking for the best deals in gaming consoles, laptops, desktops, monitors, and even phones, make sure you check their GPU specifications. Compare them with other brands so you can get a product that’s sure to perform well. If you’re still a little mystified by how GPU works and its difference with the CPU, you can watch Mythbusters Duo Jamie and Adam demonstrate through paintball the difference between the CPU and GPU and how they work.