Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

Definition - What does Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) mean?

A Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is a single-chip processor primarily used to manage and boost the performance of video and graphics. GPU features include

  • 2-D or 3-D graphics
  • Digital output to flat panel display monitors
  • Texture mapping
  • Application support for high-intensity graphics software such as AutoCAD
  • Rendering polygons
  • Support for YUV color space
  • Hardware overlays
  • MPEG decoding

These features are designed to lessen the work of the CPU and produce faster video and graphics.

A GPU is not only used in a PC on a video card or motherboard; it is also used in mobile phones, display adapters, workstations and game consoles.

This term is also known as a visual processing unit (VPU).


Techopedia explains Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

The first GPU was developed by NVidia in 1999 and called the GeForce 256. This GPU model could process 10 million polygons per second and had more than 22 million transistors. The GeForce 256 was a single-chip processor with integrated transform, drawing and BitBLT support, lighting effects, triangle setup/clipping and rendering engines.

GPUs became more popular as the demand for graphic applications increased. Eventually, they became not just an enhancement but a necessity for optimum performance of a PC. Specialized logic chips now allow fast graphic and video implementations. Generally the GPU is connected to the CPU and is completely separate from the motherboard. The random access memory (RAM) is connected through the accelerated graphics port (AGP) or the peripheral component interconnect express (PCI-Express) bus. Some GPUs are integrated into the northbridge on the motherboard and use the main memory as a digital storage area, but these GPUs are slower and have poorer performance.

Most GPUs use their transistors for 3-D computer graphics. However, some have accelerated memory for mapping vertices, such as geographic information system (GIS) applications. Some of the more modern GPU technology supports programmable shaders implementing textures, mathematical vertices and accurate color formats. Applications such as computer-aided design (CAD) can process over 200 billion operations per second and deliver up to 17 million polygons per second. Many scientists and engineers use GPUs for more in-depth calculated studies utilizing vector and matrix features.

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