A GPU or video card helps run graphics-intensive gaming and content creation applications on your computer. It shoulders a good portion of the CPU’s burden and carries out intensive tasks efficiently.
Graphics cards are usually supported by video output ports, such as HDMI outputs — be it on video cards embedded into a computer or an external GPU. The latest HDMI 2.1 standard supports ultra-high refresh rates and resolutions that the most advanced GPUs can offload from the CPU.
The question, however, is, “Can you use HDMI ports without a graphics card?”. In other words, “Is it possible to use your motherboard’s HDMI port by turning off the GPU?”.
The short answer is “You cannot”. To learn why it is not a possibility and gather a lot more pertinent information, keep reading.
- Do I Need a GPU for HDMI Ports to Work?
- Can I Use My Motherboard HDMI without Integrated Graphics?
Do I Need a GPU for HDMI Ports to Work?
Yes, you need a GPU for the HDMI ports on your input device to work. The graphics could be CPU-integrated or discrete but should be sorted onto the computer’s motherboard.
Pretty much no modern computer comes without graphics rendering capabilities (except for some Ryzen devices). Most modern computing devices have graphics, at least in an integrated graphics processing unit (iGPU).
The HDMI port on your laptop or any source device transmits audio and video data to a connected/output device using the built-in GPU.
Besides video, the built-in graphics have an onboard sound chip, which enables HDMI to output video and audio simultaneously to your output device.
Older GPUs partially supported audio output and required a S/PDIF link to the sound card’s header on the motherboard.
Graphics Card Power Determines Output Quality
While you can connect multiple monitors or one monitor and an HDTV to your laptop using the built-in graphics, how well the connection performs would vary depending on the type of GPU.
A discrete GPU, for instance, would be a lot more capable and reliable than integrated graphics. The limited capabilities of the integrated chip will especially come to the fore during gaming.
VGA Should Be Your Last Video Output Choice
If you want to connect two external monitors to your computer with embedded graphics and the motherboard has just one HDMI port, you could make do with a DVI-D or VGA port — if your device has those video ports.
VGA is analog, and HDMI is digital, making the latter a lot more reliable and capable of better picture quality.
The quality difference may be easy to distinguish if you’ve used HDMI and DisplayPort for video output before. Moreover, you would notice the enhanced color depth and higher resolution with HDMI.
VGA must be used only as a last resort or when you don’t have any more ports on your computer to use.
Also, VGA doesn’t transmit sound. You would require a separate cable from the computer’s audio output port to your TV’s audio input jack.
If that sounds cumbersome, use a VGA to HDMI converter, such as this FOINNEX VGA to HDMI Adapter Converter . The adapter comes with an audio port and cable to boot, just in case.
A converter box, such as the GANA VGA to HDMI Converter Adapter Box , does the same but requires an additional cable.
Can I Use My Motherboard HDMI without Integrated Graphics?
You cannot use your motherboard HDMI without integrated graphics because mainboards do not come with onboard video processing chips.
The graphics chip powers HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, or any other output port you use on your device.
Therefore, if your computer has an HDMI out, it is implied it has integrated or dedicated graphics supporting the functions of the port.
1. Does HDMI offer the best quality when connecting a computer to an external display?
DisplayPort is usually the ideal route if you connect your laptop or computer to an external monitor and seek optimal performance. HDMI is not far behind, but it usually trails DP by a generation.
For instance, DP 1.4 is better compared to HDMI 2.0. But HDMI 2.1 improves upon v2.0 significantly and beats DP 1.4. DisplayPort 2.0, which is slated to release sometime in 2021, will likely trounce HDMI 2.1.
DVI and HDMI, on the other hand, are quite similar in performance.
2. Do all external GPUs support multiple displays?
Multiple-monitor support varies across video cards. Some work with just one monitor, while others could back two or more. Dual-monitor support is quite common. As mentioned earlier, built-in graphics also support two monitors at the same time.
Some cards have two ports to support dual monitors. Single-port GPUs could support two monitors with the help of an HDMI splitter, like this StarTech USB 3 to Dual HDMI Adapter .
Kindly note, the number of HDMI or other video-out ports on an external video card doesn’t automatically mean you could use them all at once. Some graphics cards may have three video ports but may not allow simultaneous use of them all.
3. Can I use eGPU to power an external device bypassing iGPU?
Your laptop will use its onboard graphics to power an external monitor even when linked to a discrete video card as a default setting. You may, however, alter that setting in the BIOS of your computer if it supports switching GPUs.
Laptops are generally wired to their integrated or dedicated onboard graphics to drive their HDMI and other video ports. Therefore, the likelihood of your computer letting you use your eGPU solely may be slim.
When connected to two monitors with your desktop computer, the displays would use the external GPU if both were connected to it. You cannot have one display connected to integrated graphics and offload graphics duties for the other screen to a separate GPU.
If you can make the switch on your laptop, be aware that your laptop’s battery will drain quicker than the power drain that happens when it uses its onboard graphics.
The HDMI port on your laptop computer’s motherboard exists to output audio/video signals to an external device. But for it to do its job, it requires the backing of a graphics chip — either an integrated solution or a discrete one.
Some computers come without separate graphics cards or CPUs without a video card embedded into them. If your computer has no HDMI or any other video output port, it’s safe to assume the device has no graphics capabilities.
The computer certainly can output video natively, thanks to the prowess of its CPU. But you cannot use it for outputting video to an external device — even if you employ a USB to HDMI adapter.
A graphics card or chip is, therefore, essential to use the HDMI port on your computer.
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.