Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a small commission if you make a purchase through our links, at no cost to you. For more information, please visit our Disclaimer Page.
The graphics processing unit of your personal computer is one of its most important components. It helps you navigate the basic display that you see when you open your computer and boot its operating system, but it also takes on the much harder task of rendering specific graphics for different apps. Each program you use on your computer almost certainly needs to run its own graphics.
This is particularly true for apps that have the main function of displaying or editing video, images, and other things. The tech community may say that such programs are intense, and the main resources that they use are graphics. In order to do this, a computer will usually need a good graphics processor.
That said, some users might wonder if the modern PC is able to run without any GPU at all. This is the topic we will explore in our article below. As we go about it, we will try to answer deeper, more specific questions about the use cases and natures of the graphics processors that you come across.
To do so, we will discuss whether you can use a computer but install its GPU at a later time, if it is safe to do so while the computer is in an active state, and how you might be able to test your graphics processor when you don’t have access to a computer.
As we get to the end, we can try to troubleshoot some issues users might have with their graphics displaying poorly, including reasons why this might be, and what you can do about it.
Can You Use a PC Without a GPU?
This is something that will apply to different sections of our article in various ways. For this part of the topic, the answer depends on what else your computer can offer in terms of graphics. We mentioned that the GPU is a crucial piece of tech.
However, there is another way to get basic display options or graphics to render successfully. Your central processor can help you with this task. But, in order for this avenue to be viable, the processor has to have particular specifications.
A computer’s central processor is just as important as its graphics one, but for different reasons. The CPU acts as the brain, sending and receiving data that it turns into commands for the rest of the hardware.
A more powerful central processor can make a greater number of these decisions at faster speeds, thus improving the overall performance of your system.
This sort of thing is the primary purpose of the central processor. However, some models can pull double duty by handling at least some graphics functions, too. For this sort of process to be feasible, your computer needs a specific type of central processor, though. Some of these units have their own graphics that integrate into the system by themselves.
This is in contrast to the traditional graphics processors, which are separate cards that have their own specifications. If your central processor sports integrated graphics, you should be able to use a PC without dedicated graphics on a separate processor. However, there are some limitations here:
1. Your integrated graphics run as part of the central processor. Therefore, the abilities of this chip have limits, the graphics can only do as much as the processing power of the CPU allows.
2. Similarly, integrated graphics tend to be weaker than standalone cards. That doesn’t mean that an integrated chip can’t do anything with your display or apps. It should still be able to run some lighter programs. However, most of these kinds of chips are not items that developers intend for the resource-intensive things that we referenced earlier.
3. Many high-end games will need dedicated GPU hardware to help them run to their fullest potential. In part, this is why many gaming communities online place great emphasis on which cards to get, although the power of your central processor also influences which games you can play.
4. Some integrated graphics can struggle just with video processing at high levels. However, you can find some that will even handle 4K streams.
Can I Install a GPU Later?
We’ll come at this question from the perspective of someone who wants to build their own computer, but it can apply in cases where you already have one. Although the graphics processor is an important piece of tech, it tends to be one of the final components that you’ll put inside your new build.
For this reason, you can usually install it later than you do many other components. However, we should also cover what the computer might be able to do without the GPU present, too.
The answer to this question depends on what else the device has available in terms of graphics. Your central processor may have its own integrated graphics chip, just as we went into greater detail about in our previous section. When we talk about the graphics processor, we are speaking about a separate card that is not part of the CPU. This card is something that you slot into a motherboard, and it is one of the primary ways that you can upgrade the graphics capabilities of your system.
If you have an integrated graphics chipset that is part of your central processor, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to install the GPU later. If you’re just building and testing the system, you may not even need to worry about an integrated graphics setup.
However, that would depend on how you’re running the tests you need in order to make sure that the system is functional. One possible caveat here is in keeping with the idea of building your own personal computer from scratch.
If you are going this route, it is usually easier to install the graphics processor before you try to install the operating system itself. Having the GPU in place can make it much easier to set up the OS and navigate through the proper settings for it. For the most part, you can install the graphics processor as the last thing you need to do, though.
All that said, another thing to watch out for is the age of the central processor. Most CPUs should, on balance, last longer than their GPU counterparts. However, you may have a central processor on your hands that is too old to keep up with the newer model of graphics processor that you might be planning to install later.
Always check the specs of both of these components before you purchase a new graphics processor. This tech may work fine even with a very old central processor, but you may not get the full capabilities out of it. This is why, although you can install a GPU later, it may be prudent for you to upgrade other components before you purchase and install a new GPU at a later date.
Can I Install the Graphics Card While the PC Is On?
Technically, you can sometimes install things inside a computer when it is running. You must take care, but manufacturers design some components to be hot swappable, meaning that you can plug or unplug them quickly. Furthermore, the computer should recognize almost instantly when such new devices connect to it.
However, this doesn’t mean that all components have this capability. Even if many of them did, you would need to be careful in how you go about getting inside of the casing and removing or adding things to that space. Many PCI ports on different motherboards have express capabilities. These versions of the ports tend to allow you to hot swap graphics cards like this.
However, even if you do have this option, you should be careful when touching, moving, or seating components inside the case while power is flowing through everything. While there should be no danger as long as you take care, there is always the risk of shorting something out, too. If you cause a short, you may damage the GPU or other parts of the system in ways that are difficult to fix.
In many scenarios like this, however, the situation should not be as drastic. Some users may find that their computers shut down when they try to swap out the GPU. If this happens, you’ll usually just need to turn the system back on and wait for it to boot.
Similarly, the computer may not shut off, but it could fail to recognize when a new GPU is present. If this is the case, you can try shutting down the computer completely, reseating the GPU, and turning it back on. The PC should recognize the new processor when it starts everything.
Can You Test a GPU Without a PC?
In most cases, you would need a computer in order to test the graphics processor fully. However, there are a couple of tests you can run without the help of an actual PC. These are manual tests that can determine at least some of the viability of the processor.
We should note, though, that these tests can only help you decide whether the processor runs at all. For more technical data on how the device performs under a load, you would need a functioning computer running various diagnostic tools in the background.
Much like the CPU, the GPU gets hot as it works harder. For this reason, graphics processors come with fans or other cooling components to help take heat away from the unit. One of the tests you can run without a computer is how the fans are doing.
All you need to do is inspect them to see if there is any debris or obstacles preventing them from spinning. Remove anything that you see, then try using your finger to check on how smoothly the fans will rotate. If everything seems fine, this test was clearly successful.
Thermal paste is another part of the cooling mechanism for a graphics processor. It helps the heatsink transfer warmth away from the device. If you are not sure of the age of your processor, or if you know it is quite old, it may be worth it to check to see if the paste dried out over time. If so, this is another thing that you can replace manually without needing to use the processor in a PC first.
Why Are My PC Graphics Bad?
As this topic deals with the GPU, we can start there for this question. If your graphics processor is old or not particularly advanced, it can impact what kinds of graphics you get to experience on your PC.
Each processor on the market has ratings from manufacturers that can tell you what kinds of graphics they can run. If you’re trying to use a game or program that has higher minimum specifications than your card, things may run poorly or not display themselves properly.
However, you can also check for updates to the display drivers, change video settings, or lower the specs of the program you are using. Any of these things might make the graphics look better on the computer, and you can do it without replacing the graphics card itself.
How Can I Improve My Computer’s Graphics Card Quality?
If you want to get the most out of your graphics card, you can try some of the following things:
- Accelerate the hardware to push it to its limits.
- Put your computer in Gaming Mode, should it have one available to activate.
- Change the power settings for the whole system to optimize the resources for the graphics.
- Make sure your machine is operating at the proper refresh rate.
Graphics processors can enhance the performance of many aspects of a good computer. However, they are not strictly necessary for the desktop to function, especially with so many central processors having some form of integrated graphics. If you want to check your graphics processor, or if you need to improve its abilities instead of getting an upgrade, you can use some of our tips here.