Can you game without a graphics card?

(Pocket-lint) – It has been notoriously difficult to get various components over the last few years and graphics cards have been especially problematic. If you’ve been trying to buy or build a gaming PC, then you’ve probably been put off by the lack of availability or the massively inflated costs.

Nvidia, Intel and others have said that the supply shortage that has been pleading us for a while will ease soon, but you still may be holding out for prices to drop.

If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to build a gaming PC without a graphics card and still play games, then we’ve done just that to bring you the answer. The idea here is to see if you can buy and build something that’ll work until you can afford a good graphics card.

Integrated graphics

There are a number of CPUs from both Intel and AMD which offer integrated graphics. That’s a graphics chip specifically built into the CPU which can be used to play certain games and carry out graphically intensive tasks. Generally, these aren’t good enough to fully replace a dedicated graphics card but they can give enough power to play some games.



You can find onboard graphics on a range of high-end and even budget CPUs. Intel’s i9-12900K, for example, has Intel UHD Graphics 770. Even lesser CPUs offer some graphics processing power too.

So we set out to build a reasonable budget PC to see if it was possible to play games now without a GPU and then upgrade the PC in the future.

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The specs of the PC

We built a budget PC using the following specs:

This is a mix of specs with some older components and affordable ones too. The motherboard is an 11th generation Intel motherboard (LGA 1200) so it’s not the latest spec, but it still supports PCIe gen 4 which means it can be combined with a fast NVMe SSD for super-quick load speeds.

The NZXT case is affordable but we’ve also added some other things including RGB fans which obviously aren’t essential for a gaming PC. Unless you believe that more RGB equals more FPS of course.

The important part is the Intel Core i5-11600K CPU. That’s the brains of the operation. It’s not terribly expensive but still packs enough power to do a fair few things.

The bonus of this setup is it’s not excessively expensive but can be upgraded in future. Not just with a graphics card, but you could swap out the CPU for something more powerful like a Core i9-11900K (or buy that first if you have the money) and the NVMe for gen 4 for even faster speeds.

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Can it run games?

Obviously, once you’ve put a machine like this together, there’s a massive gap where the graphics card should go. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

There are a number of games out there which will work with a CPU. These games are more CPU intensive than others and are able to run without a graphics card. The list of games might even surprise you:

Naturally, you won’t be playing any big triple-A titles but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. Dive into older games and less intensive indie games and you can still play.

We played a number of these games – including Rainbow Six Siege, Rise of the Tomb Raider and CS:Go on a 1080p display. The experience was as you’d expect without a graphics card. You have to run everything on low settings if you want good performance but we managed to get a smidge under 30 FPS with these games and it was good enough to play.

Obviously, this isn’t going to blow your socks off in terms of performance, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy stop-gap until you get a graphics card at a later date.

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Writing by Adrian Willings.

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