Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

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

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

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

GPUs are faster in performing mathematical calculations than CPUs. A regular GPU can execute 3,200 x 32-bit instructions per clock, five times faster than CPUs 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 to 70 watts per second.

How Does a GPU 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 copywriting, graphic design, and web development. Once the team comes up with an advertising concept for a client, the graphics designer is tasked to come up with a relevant image.

In the same way, a CPU transmits relevant data to the GPU. The GPU would then process the pixels to create the appropriate image and then send it to the user’s monitor. Of course, it’s not as straightforward as it sounds since creating an image out of the transmitted data 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.

What Does a GPU Consist Of?

A GPU has the following major components:

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

Uses of Graphics Processing Units

Below are some familiar (and unfamiliar) use cases of GPUs.

Image/Video Rendering

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

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 focuses on 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 Do GPUs 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 GPU architecture and performance. However, newer models are not necessarily more expensive than older ones.


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

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