What Is a Discrete Graphics Card and Do You Need One?

A graphics card is the part of your computer responsible for processing the images that appear on your screen. For tasks that rely heavily on images, a good graphics card is a must-have. Most laptops and cheap PCs come with an integrated graphics card, a card placed on the motherboard that uses the same chip as the processor. This means that your graphics card must share the same system memory (aka RAM) as your CPU.  Pretty much all modern motherboards come with integrated graphics, but it’s usually very low performance.

A discrete graphics card is likely what you think of when you hear graphics card or GPU. It’s the large card with built-in fans that usually plugs into a PCIe slot on your motherboard. It has dedicated RAM to give your computer extra image processing power and is much more powerful than integrated graphics. This is why you typically see a graphics card advertised with a gigabyte number after the tier number.

The naming conventions and features of discrete graphics cards can get confusing to new gamers. Let’s break it down in simple terms on this ASUS ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2080TI-O11G on Amazon:

  • Tier Level: 2080Ti (this tiering system represents the processing speed. AMD and Nvidia have their own versions)
  • Overclocked: Yes, denoted by O (a complicated topic we’ll save for another day, but basically offering extra speed at the risk of damage)
  • Ram: 11g (the dedicated onboard RAM that the card comes with)

If you play a lot of games, work with images and 3D rendering often, or even want to mine cryptocurrency, then you absolutely need a discrete graphics card. Below we’ll cover a selection of the best discrete graphics cards for these different uses.

Discrete Graphics Cards for Gaming

One of the main reasons why people buy a discrete graphics card is to improve the functionality of their computer for gaming. Without a decent graphics card, your computer processing unit (CPU) won’t be capable of rendering the gaming environment smoothly and with all the painstaking detail that the game studio has put into it. If you’re looking to improve the gaming performance of your PC, then you may want to consider buying one of the following discrete graphics cards.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the most expensive of the graphics cards on this list but, if you want the absolute best option for gaming, then this is it. Its 11GB of GDDR6 SDRAM (Graphics Double Data Rate type six Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory), gives you 11GB of dedicated graphics processing power for your game rather than using your computer’s built-in RAM.

nvidia geforce rtx 2080 ti image

Meanwhile, its 68 RT (Ray Tracing) cores enable the card to render realistic lighting, and its 4,352 CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) cores allow your CPU to share the load of processing mathematical calculations with the graphics card, resulting in faster game performance. If you have the money to invest in this graphics card, then you’ll definitely see the benefits.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super

4K resolution is the current gold standard in screen resolution and will enable you to play games with cinema-quality graphics. While the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is powerful, it will still struggle to perform in 4K. The best discrete graphics card for this is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super.

nvidia geforce rtx 2070 super image

While less expensive than the RTX 2080 Ti, the RTX 2070 Super has the same Turing TU104 GPU and DLSS 2.0 upscaling technology, which means that you can run your game at a lower resolution setting. Your screen will automatically upscale to its native resolution.

With an RTX 2070 Super graphics card and a 4K screen, you’ll be able to play games at a high resolution without a noticeable difference in quality to the RTX 2080 Ti to justify the extra cost.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super

nvidia geforce gtx 1650 super image

If you’re on more of a budget, then the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super could be the best discrete graphics card for you. For a much lower price than the RTX 2080 Ti or the RTX 2070 Super, the GTX 1650 Super will enable you to run your games smoothly at 1080p resolution, or even 1440p. This makes it the best value graphics card out there for gaming that you’ll find for this low a price.

Discrete Graphics Cards for Design/Engineering

Another use for discrete graphics cards is for people regularly running heavy-duty graphics applications. If you’re a professional designer or engineer, then you may need to supplement your computer’s integrated GPU with a discrete graphics card to give you the processing power that you need for 3D modeling, 3D rendering, etc. The type of graphics card best for this is also known as a professional or workstation graphics card. We’ll cover some of the best options for this below.

These cards are typically much cheaper than gaming cards, you can think of them as the bare minimum cards to do the task. As long as you have the budget, I’d go for the gaming cards above instead.

Nvidia Quadro K420

nvidia quadro k420 image

The Nvidia Quadro K420 is a low-priced, entry-level workstation graphics card. With 1GB of DDR3 SDRAM (Double Data Rate type 3 Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory), it comes with enough processing power to enable you to smoothly run the 3D CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software that you need for your work. But, if you want to work in 4K resolution, this may not be the best graphics card for you.

Nvidia Quadro K620

nvidia quadro k620 image

If you’re looking for a workstation graphics card that supports 4K displays, then the Nvidia Quadro K620 could be a good option. It comes with 384 CUDA cores in comparison to the Quadro K420’s 192, making it twice as powerful. With 2GB of DDR3 SDRAM, it also has twice the random-access memory of the Quadro K420.

Discrete Graphics Cards for Mining Cryptocurrency

For those of you choosing to invest in cryptocurrency, you’ll need a GPU that is cost-effective as you won’t be mining high yields when you first start. Find something that doesn’t cost too much or use too much power. One of the other most important factors to look at is the hash rate; the higher the hash rate, the faster you can mine. We’ve summed up a couple of the best options in terms of cost and efficiency below.

AMD Radeon VII

amd radeon vii image

At 90 megahertz per second (MH/s), the AMD Radeon VII is among the fastest discrete graphics cards out there for mining cryptocurrency. With a power draw of 300 watts (W), it does take up more power than others, but it could be worth it for the extra yield that you’ll be able to get. If you’re contributing more in a pool, you’ll get more.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070

nvidia geforce gtx 1070 image

For a more affordable option, you could try the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070. SInce it’s the last-gen of Nvidia, you can typically find them at a cheaper price than a 2070. It has a lower hash rate at around 30 MH/s but requires just 150W of power. This could be a great discrete graphics card for you if you’re looking to start mining currency, but don’t have the funds for a large upfront investment.


Whether you’re a gamer, a designer, or a cryptocurrency miner, there’s an ideal discrete graphics card out there for you. We hope that this article has helped you find it!