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GPU vs. CPU: What’s the Difference?

GPU vs. CPU

GPU vs. CPU: What’s the Difference?

The GPU and CPU are the two most important hardware components of your PC or laptop. Both are capable of the phenomenal processing power that makes modern computing possible. However, despite both the GPU and CPU being semiconductor components, they have significant differences in function. Accordingly, they need to be evaluated separately if you’re buying a new computer. In this article, we take a closer look at GPU vs. CPU. What’s the difference, and what is each processor used for? 

GPU vs. CPU: Side-By-Side Comparison

GPUCPU
What it is:A graphic processing unit for computing. Also known as a graphics card if supplied with an expansion card. A central processing unit for a computer.
Primary use:Acceleration of the rendering and packaging of images that are sent to a frame buffer for display on a device. Data processing logic and control.
Initial release:The 1970s (the video shifter)1955
Influential developers:Namco, Atari Inc., NEC,
Number 9 Visual Technology,
Intel, Hitachi, Texas Instruments,
Microsoft, IBM, Sharp, Nvidia
John von Neumann, J. Presper Eckert, John William Mauchly, Intel Corporation, IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)
Typical clock rate1.5 GHz3.2 GHz
CoresMultiple small and specialized core4 to 8 main cores
AttachmentPCI Express busPin Grid Array (PGA), Land Grid Array (LGA
High Efficiency
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090
$2,491.98
  • Has 16,384 NVIDIA CUDA Cores
  • Supports 4K 120Hz HDR, 8K 60Hz HDR
  • Up to 2x performance and power efficiency
  • Fourth-Gen Tensor Cores that offer 2x AI performance
  • Third-Gen RT Cores
  • AI-Accelerated Performance: NVIDIA DLSS 3
  • NVIDIA Reflex low-latency platform
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 11:29 pm GMT

GPU vs. CPU: What’s the Difference?

GPUs and CPUs are both computer processors but there is an important difference: The GPU is a specialized co-processor handling just one aspect of computing, while the CPU is the primary processor of the computer and has to handle everything! Here is a summary of the main differences between these two microprocessors: 

Role

Though GPUs are playing a much more prominent role in the overall performance of a computer than they were 50 years ago, the CPU remains the workhorse of a computer. As a generalist component, the CPU stays on top of primary processing tasks, drawing data as required from the hard drive to execute specific instructions. 

Architecture

GPUs and CPUs also have different architectures. While a CPU is made up of a limited number of cores and threads, GPUs can have thousands of them! The numerous cores of a GPU are smaller and designed to handle thousands of threads simultaneously for a smooth, responsive, and high-resolution graphics output. This means that while a CPU competently executes a few hundred tasks at once, a GPU will be breaking down thousands of tasks simultaneously. 

Parallel vs. Serial Processing

A major difference between a GPU and a CPU is that GPUs use parallel computing. Parallel computing is a format where multiple processes and calculations are carried out in parallel rather than one after the other in the more conventional serial computing. By working in parallel a GPU can break down big tasks into thousands of small tasks that are processed simultaneously for massive increases in speed and performance. Parallel computing can also save energy and reduce heat generation. 

Task Size

CPUs are better suited to handling fewer, larger tasks at any given time while contemporary GPUs are prepared to deal with thousands of individual operations at once. CPUs put a lot of their energy into processing tasks with very low latency, but GPUs take advantage of their parallel computing for high throughput. 

What is a GPU?

Basically, the graphics processing unit is a semiconductor component that processes image data. The purpose is to render frames of images for a device’s graphic display. By having the electronic circuits of a dedicated processor available specifically for computer graphics, the creation of images is more sophisticated and accelerated. This leads to a better viewing experience, as well as more responsive function. 

GPUs are computer hardware components installed alongside the CPU in devices that include PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and game consoles. They may be directly attached to the motherboard or CPU, or they may also be installed as part of a graphics or video card. 

The History of the GPU

GPUs emerged in the 1970s in response to the demand for faster and more efficient video-shifting solutions for arcade games. In essence, the development of graphics processors was almost entirely driven by the gaming industry. Many Japanese companies designed video shifters, as well as graphics display processors and accelerator cards. 

Contemporary GPUs

Modern GPUs are used for the following applications:

  • Rendering 3D computer graphics
  • Accelerating 2D images (often emulated by 3D hardware)
  • Texture mapping
  • Rendering polygons
  • Completion of geometric calculations
  • Shading, ray tracing, and path tracing 
  • Rendering high-precision color spaces

GPU performance at these tasks depends on its specification. Three key factors that affect GPU performance include: 

  1. The clock signal frequency 
  2. The number of memory caches available to the GPU (and their size)
  3. The number of CUDA cores the GPU has (increases the number of calculations that can be performed simultaneously)

What is a CPU?

CPU stands for central processing unit (CPU). This semiconductor component is the central, or main processor of a computer. CPUs contain tiny electronic circuits, capable of executing the complex simultaneous computations required for modern computing. Overall, the key executions of a CPU are: 

  • Input/output (I/O) operations
  • Logic
  • Arithmetic
  • Controlling

Calculations are primarily completed by the arithmetic–logic unit (ALU) in conjunction with processor registers, as well as a control unit. The control unit of the CPU decodes and executes instructions, fetching data from the memory as required. Similarly, a memory management unit manages memory and caching functions.

Modern CPUs are complex integrated circuit (IC) microprocessors made up of multiple smaller CPUs. Each “mini”-CPU/IC is known as a “core,” and multi-core processors deliver faster and more powerful computing. Things get even more complex with the introduction of threads, which are virtual subdivisions of CPU functionality that multiply CPU processing power. 

In addition, other CPU arrangements include integrated memory caches and interfaces for peripheral components to create what is called a system on a chip (SoC).

New Intel 13th Gen Raptor Lake Core i7-13700K CPU Upto 5.4GHz Boost Speed Best Gaming CPU with Enhanced Overclocking Features for Z790 MB RTX 4090 Card BX8071513700K
$409.00
  • 13th Gen Intel Core i7 unlocked desktop processor Beyond performance.
  • Chipset Compatability Intel 700 Series Chipset an Intel 600 Series Chipset
  • Intel Smart Cache (L3) Size 36 MB
  • Processor Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 770
  • Processor Cores (P-cores + E-cores) 24 (8P+16E)
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 11:17 am GMT

GPU vs. CPU: Must-Know Facts

  • GPUs are not just for computer graphics. GPU technology is also driving Deep Learning, AI, encryption, supercomputers, and hyperscale data centers
  • Current CPUs can process between one and five billion operations each second!
  • GPUs are also being used in the development of novel image-recognition technologies that are needed for self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles.  
  • CPUs contain millions of microscopic transistors. Basically, they function as tiny on-off switches, to direct the flow of current through the IC and translate tasks into a binary output.
  • Overall, the CPU determines how fast a computer will run. 
  • The CPU and GPU of a computer are connected via a PCI Express bus.

GPU vs. CPU: Final Thoughts

The CPU and GPU are the engine room of a contemporary computer. The graphics card, in particular, is becoming essential, not only for advanced applications like graphic and computer-aided design and gaming, but also for the development of powerful supercomputers that take advantage of the multi-core, multi-threaded, parallel computing architecture that was developed through GPUs. 

  1. NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090
    $2,491.98
    • Has 16,384 NVIDIA CUDA Cores
    • Supports 4K 120Hz HDR, 8K 60Hz HDR
    • Up to 2x performance and power efficiency
    • Fourth-Gen Tensor Cores that offer 2x AI performance
    • Third-Gen RT Cores
    • AI-Accelerated Performance: NVIDIA DLSS 3
    • NVIDIA Reflex low-latency platform
    Buy on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 11:29 pm GMT
  2. New Intel 13th Gen Raptor Lake Core i7-13700K CPU Upto 5.4GHz Boost Speed Best Gaming CPU with Enhanced Overclocking Features for Z790 MB RTX 4090 Card BX8071513700K
    $409.00
    • 13th Gen Intel Core i7 unlocked desktop processor Beyond performance.
    • Chipset Compatability Intel 700 Series Chipset an Intel 600 Series Chipset
    • Intel Smart Cache (L3) Size 36 MB
    • Processor Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 770
    • Processor Cores (P-cores + E-cores) 24 (8P+16E)
    Buy on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 11:17 am GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the CPU "Fetch" function?

Fetch is where the CPU directs the RAM to a specific address for the retrieval of a specific piece of data that can then be processed. The data may be in the form of an address, numbers, or letters.

What is "Decode?"

Decode is a stage of the CPU’s instruction cycle where it determines what the instruction it has received is and the operands that will be necessary to execute it.

What is the "Execute" function of a CPU?

This is where the CPU’s control unit converts decoded information into a set of electrical signals that are sent to various parts of the CPU.

What are integrated graphics?

Integrated graphics describes an arrangement where the GPU and CPU are together on the same chip and share cache memory. This is a common arrangement in laptops where space may be limited. Shared graphics also save on cost and energy. An example is Intel UHD Graphics introduced in 2017.

Can you use a GPU for cryptocurrency mining?

Yes! An emerging application of powerful GPUs is the mining of cryptocurrencies. This is because they have higher processing power and lower energy consumption than CPUs.

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