There is such a configuration: MSI A320M PRO-M2 V2 + AMD Ryzen 5 1400 BOX and there isn't any separate video card. When the PC is switched on, the monitor shows nothing. The MSI tech support said:

There is no GPU in the CPU Ryzen 5 1400, and the onboard VGA port cannot work with this CPU. It is necessary to install a PCIe graphics card.

And added that

Whether it is Intel motherboard or AMD motherboard, the onboard integrated GPU is in the CPU, not in motherboard. The motherboard only provides the display port. There is no GPU in the Ryzen Summit Ridge CPU; only Raven Ridge and Bristol Ridge CPUs support a GPU.

What I don't understand is that I have another configuration, ASRock 960GC-GS FX + AMD Phenom(tm) II X4 810. Again there is no separate video card. As I found out, AMD Phenom(tm) II X4 810 doesn't have any GPU. But the video works and this question I post using this configuration. How can this be explained?

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    Your Ryzen system probably could boot headless, as a server with no graphics output. (i.e. not having any graphics hardware at all probably doesn't stop it from booting. But it makes it hard to configure the BIOS.) – Peter Cordes Jun 11 at 17:25
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    FWIW, the specs of the motherboards seem to be rather clearly written on this. The 960GC-GS FX says "Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon 3000 graphics" while the A320M PRO-M2 V2 says "Onboard graphics: (...) Only support when using Ryzen ™ with Radeon ™ Vega Graphics/ Athlon ™ with Radeon ™ Vega Graphics and A-series processors." – ilkkachu Jun 11 at 17:43
  • <pedant>CPUs and GPUs are different components, AFAIK; neither contains the other, but they may both be present on the same board.</pedant> – Agi Hammerthief Jun 13 at 6:59
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    @AgiHammerthief: You're wrong; many modern CPU's do in fact contain an integrated GPU. That's the exact case we're dealing with here. – MSalters Jun 13 at 9:20
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    I once had a disagreement elsewhere on what exactly is a “CPU”. The other person argued that basically only the ALU is the CPU, denying cache, PCIe lanes, ... are part of it. My takeaway: It’s pointless to argue about this. – Daniel B Jun 13 at 16:43

Today, motherboard-integrated graphics are basically gone (in the consumer sector, anyway). It’s either CPU-integrated graphics or dedicated graphics. Both Intel and AMD still sell CPUs without integrated graphics, even with the same socket. If you install one of these, you won’t be able to use the display connectors on the motherboard.

In the past, CPUs did not have integrated graphics at all. Instead, the graphics unit was integrated with the motherboard (typically directly with the chipset). Your older Phenom II configuration comes from this time. It has motherboard-integrated graphics.

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    "In the past..." I'd appreciate it if you can elaborate a little bit on that! – Ahmed Abdelhameed Jun 13 at 1:44
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    To clarify further. The AMD 760G Northbridge chipset on this motherboard has a build-in AMD Radeon 3000 series GPU. It is the big chip under the heat-sink in the middle of the board. – Tonny Jun 13 at 13:39
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    @AhmedAbdelhameed In the non-so-distant past, Intel's first processors with integrated graphics were the from the Westmere microarchitecture of 2010 (overview), and AMD's first processors with integrated graphics were from 2011 (overview) – Chris O Jun 13 at 23:38
  • If memory serves, on intel - the integrated GPU shared the AGP or PCIe port meant for the video card, so you couldn't use both at once. This only changed with sandy bridge with its on die GPU – Journeyman Geek Jun 14 at 2:33
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    There are no specific years. It varies wildly across CPU makers and model lines. – Daniel B Jun 14 at 10:44

There has to be a graphics controller in the system somewhere. That graphics controller needs fast reliable access to a section of RAM to use as a frame buffer.

Depending on the system, the graphics controller may be in a few different places.

  • A seperate device with its own dedicated ram.
  • Integrated as part of the CPU
  • Integrated as part of the chipset
  • Integrated as part of the management controller (note that such graphics controllers are intended to provide a graphics output for installation and initial setup, their performance/features are terrible by modern standards).

On AMD AM2/2+/3/3+ and Intel LGA775, the onboard graphics were normally provided by the northbridge. So they would work with any CPU the motherboard works with.

On Intel LGA1366 and LGA2xxx, there is no provision for integrated graphics in either the CPU or the chipset. Most boards with these sockets will not have onboard graphics at all. The main exception being server boards that have the graphics controller integrated with the management chipset.

On Intel LGA115x and AMD AM4, the graphics controller is integrated with the CPU and not all CPU models offer it. So generally on boards with these sockets, if you want to use the onboard graphics you have to use a CPU that provides a graphics controller. The exception again being some server boards that have a graphics controller as part of the management chipset.

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    There has to be a graphics controller in the system somewhere - wrong. headless systems needs no such thing. – hanshenrik Jun 13 at 8:52
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    Not what the OP cares about, but IIRC, 'back in the day' CPU of the the Sinclair ZX80 did all the graphics processing and did all the other computations during the retrace time. So "integrated as part of the CPU" could even mean "just software". – mickeyf Jun 13 at 11:47
  • @mickeyf: Yeah, early PC video cards were also just dumb framebuffers that you had to draw on using the CPU. But the video hardware does need to read video RAM in scan order; this is usually not practical for software (although en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_display_controller#Types says some early systems did get bytes from the CPU and shifted them 1 bit at a time, presumably for 1bpp graphics). So you need some hardware dedicated to graphics, including generating memory loads. And also producing the right electrical signals on the right pins. – Peter Cordes Jun 13 at 20:45

the MSI tech support is wrong, the system does not need a GPU at all, at least Linux systems can run completely headless, and a quick google search suggests that "Windows Nano Server" can do the same.

i wouldn't be surprised if windows Desktop OS's requires a GPU, like Windows 10 Home. also note that there are some linux systems that requires a GPU and refuse to install without one, for example Manjaro Linux requires a GPU. (the installer refuse to start without one)

but no, computers are not required to have a GPU to function. i am managing several headless Linux Servers that doesn't have any GPU at all, which are managed over SSH.

(obviously non-exhaustive) examples of Operating Systems that can run without a GPU:

Arch Linux
Debian Linux
Ubuntu Linux (at least Ubuntu Server Edition, idk about the desktop distribution)
Windows Nano Server

(also if you need to run desktop programs on a headless system in Linux, you can install x.org with the xserver-xorg-video-dummy driver, which emulates graphics memory with your normal system memory, for example to get a LXDE-Lubuntu system running without a GPU on Ubuntu Server, run sudo apt install xserver-xorg xserver-xorg-video-dummy lxdm lxde-core x11vnc, and save this config file as /etc/X11/xorg.conf and upon reboot a desktop IS running in-ram, which can be accessed over VNC with x11vnc server started as sudo x11vnc -display :0 -auth /var/run/lxdm/lxdm-:0.auth which in turn are perfectly capable of running desktop programs like Firefox, LibreOffice, and VMWare Player, thanks to the emulated GPU of xserver-xorg-video-dummy. )

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    -1. Where did MSI tech support say that system needs GPU to boot/work/whatever? It's clear that OP wants to connect a display to this PC, not run it headless. You are technically correct, but your answer is completely out of place and not helpful at all. – gronostaj Jun 13 at 10:26
  • @gronostaj the answer to the question Must a CPU have a GPU if the motherboard provides a display port (when there isn't any separate video card)? is no. and the MSI tech support said It is necessary to install a PCIe graphics card., and.. no, that's not really necessary. – hanshenrik Jun 13 at 11:10
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    OP is confused because they thought that if their Ryzen fits the socket and the motherboard has a DisplayPort, they can simply connect a display and it will work. They are surprised that it didn't, hence the question. The answer to OP's actual problem is: not all fitting CPUs have an iGPU and in these cases you need a dedicated one to drive a display. As I said, your answer is factually correct, but it doesn't solve their problem. They don't intend to run this machine headlessly, if that was the case, there would be no confusion in the 1st place. They wouldn't even notice that DP doesn't work. – gronostaj Jun 13 at 12:01
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    Regarding MSI tech support's response, you've missed the "and the onboard VGA port cannot work with this CPU" part. That's the essence of this issue: motherboard's video outputs don't work because there's no iGPU. You're pulling the next sequence out of context. That person was right that "it is necessary to install a PCIe graphics card" to have functional video outputs, which was the goal. – gronostaj Jun 13 at 12:03
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    MSI tech support wasn't wrong; telling the OP about the concept of headless systems would be unhelpful when that's clearly not what they want. It's the OP that ended up with an incorrect statement (in their question here) that leaves out the "if you want graphics output at all" part. If you edit your answer to account for that, it would be potentially useful to cover that aspect of how the question was phrased. – Peter Cordes Jun 13 at 20:49

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