Were you good at drawing or painting as a child? Perhaps you’re that right-brained person in class who’s artistically inclined and excelled at visual arts. If that’s the case, then you’re pretty much like a graphics processing unit (GPU).

A GPU is a computer component that excels in rendering graphical content. It allows a system to display visually intense videos, images, and animations on software or video games.

GPUs can handle the complex calculations a computer needs to show high-quality graphics outputs.
Some of the major GPU manufactures include Nvidia, AMD, and Intel. At present, Nvidia accounts for the leading graphics cards market share of 73%.

Other interesting terms…

A GPU is a type of programmable processor primarily used to render graphics. Devices with a display or image-rendering function, such as a smartphone, a computer, or a game console, use a GPU.

What’s the Difference between a CPU and a GPU?

GPUs feature more transistors than the average central processing unit (CPU). GPUs’ special features, such as built-in image-filtering techniques, vary depending on their model and manufacturer.

GPUs perform mathematical calculations faster than CPUs do. A regular GPU can execute 3,200 x 32-bit instructions per clock, five times faster than any CPU even with a higher number of cores. What’s excellent about GPUs is that they don’t consume much power, with the most energy-efficient ones running at 30–70 watts per second.

How Does a Graphics Processing Unit Work?

At its core, a GPU processes data from a CPU into pictures or graphics. It works the same way as an advertising agency whose creative team consists of copywriters, graphics designers, and web developers. Once the team comes up with an advertising concept for a client, the graphics designer comes up with a relevant image.

In the same way, a CPU transmits relevant data to the GPU. The GPU then processes the pixels to create the appropriate image and sends it to the user’s monitor. Of course, it’s not as straightforward as it sounds since creating an image out of the data transmitted requires a lot of processes. The GPU needs to add lighting, color, contrast, and texture, among other things. To put the process into perspective, a GPU would go through these processes 60 times per second for the most advanced games.

Watch this video to learn more about a GPU’s inner workings.


What Are the Parts of a Graphics Processing Unit?

A GPU has the following major components:

  • Graphics memory controller (GMC): The GMC manages the flow of data that goes in and out of the GPU’s memory.
  • Graphics and compute array (GCA): Also known as the “3D engine,” it is mainly responsible for rendering graphics in 3D.
  • Bus interface (BIF): The BIF is the communication system that transmits data between GPU components.
  • Power management unit (PMU): The PMU monitors and controls the power consumption of a GPU.
  • Video processing unit (VPU): The VPU is a microprocessor that takes video streams as input.
  • Display interface (DIF): The DIF is responsible for transmitting the processed data to the display.

What Are the Uses of a Graphics Processing Unit?

Below are some familiar and unfamiliar use cases of GPUs.

Image and Video Rendering

GPUs offer a wide variety of applications in general image and video processing. Top-end GPUs allow users to enjoy seamless playback of high-resolution videos. They also enable viewing devices to display pictures and videos with great attention to detail. Finally, they let users load and edit videos using power-hungry software like those included in the Adobe Creative Suite without slowing down their computers.

Cryptocurrency Mining

Some cryptocurrency miners prefer GPU mining systems even though they’re not as efficient and profitable as application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) devices. That’s because GPUs are most suitable for mining some forms of digital currencies like Ethereum.


Supercomputers in biophysics laboratories rely on GPUs to solve calculations involved in molecular dynamics (MD). To the uninitiated, MD is the study of molecular simulations that could lead to the discovery of new materials for industrial applications and drugs that can cure debilitating disorders.

How Much Does a Graphics Processing Unit Cost?

Budget GPUs could set users back by a little under US$100 to a whopping US$1,500. The cheaper ones are sufficient for 1,440-pixel gaming applications and decent enough to process games running at 60 frames per second. Many affordable GPUs are also a good fit for entry-level gaming rigs. Of course, prices could rise or fall, depending on the type of a GPU’s architecture and performance. However, newer models are not necessarily more expensive than older ones.


GPUs trace their origins back to arcade machines of the 1970s. Gun Fight (1975) and Space Invaders (1978) are two examples of arcade games that employed GPU prototypes.

Key Takeaways

  • A GPU is that part of a computer that renders graphical content, letting it display visually intense videos, images, and animations on software or video games.
  • GPUs have more transistors than the average CPU, along with special features like built-in image-filtering features.
  • GPUs can do mathematical calculations faster than CPUs without consuming much power. But they cost more than CPUs given their capabilities.
  • GPUs and CPUs work together. The GPU turns the graphic data a CPU processes into images or videos.
  • GPUs typically comprise a GMC, a GCA, a BIF, a PMU, a VPU, and a DIF.
  • GPUs are great tools for image and video rendering, cryptocurrency mining, and supercomputing.