APU vs. CPU vs. GPU has been a hot debate topic since AMD launched its first APU. Considering the similarities between them, it’s common to get confused between APU and the traditional CPU + GPU combo. This article will solve all the confusion surrounding APUs, CPUs, and GPUs and help you make an informed decision.
What Is a CPU?
The CPU, also called the processor or central processing unit, is the most essential component of any computer. It is responsible for running all the programs and performing the complex calculations involved in computing. It controls all of the other components of a computer and tells them what to do and in what order to perform their tasks.
A CPU is excellent at handling multiple tasks at once, making it a jack-of-all-trades.However, it lacks the ability to perform tasks better than something tailor-made for it. In particular, a processor alone is not good at rendering graphics, so it is more often than not paired with a dedicated GPU to help it.
While most popular video games rely heavily on a graphics card to run them, a few games and software can be run smoothly via the CPU itself. Games like Civilization, Terraria, Minecraft, etc., are all CPU- and RAM-intensive since they do not contain heavy graphics requiring assets.
But if you are planning to play mid-tier or AAA titles, a CPU alone won’t be able to support them, and that’s where a GPU comes in.
What Is a GPU?
Unlike a CPU that tackles multiple small operations simultaneously, a GPU is designed to break down the heavy weightlifting tasks into small parts and execute them efficiently. In the gaming world, these tasks are mostly related to reproducing and displaying high-resolution pictures or rendering 3D models on your display.
But a GPU is capable of much more than that. If you are interested in mining cryptocurrency, video editing, or building AI applications, you will need a PC with a powerful GPU to support these tasks.
On the other hand, if you like to play competitive video game titles such as Apex Legends, COD Warzone, CS: GO, Valorant, etc., you will benefit from a dedicated graphics card. It can provide high frame rates and zero temperature bottlenecks over extended gaming or streaming sessions.
What Is an APU?
An APU, or accelerated processing unit, is an innovative product by AMD that combines elements of CPU and GPU to deliver the best of both worlds. It is basically a CPU that also packs an integrated GPU on the same die.
You may be wondering how an APU is any different from the regular Intel processors that come with iGPUs. To be honest, there’s not much of a difference between AMD APUs and Intel CPUs, and you can coin it as more of a marketing ploy. Instead of selling APUs with their stand-alone processors, AMD decided to create a separate lineup for its processors that were equipped with an iGPU.
From a design standpoint, an APU is much like an Intel CPU with integrated graphics. However, there is one difference that sets APUs apart from Intel models. Instead of the low-quality, standard integrated graphics that Intel offers with their processors, APUs are equipped with AMD’s Vega graphics that are much more powerful than Intel’s Iris iGPUs.
This reason alone makes them a viable choice for budget builds or when you only want a casual gaming experience. However, this configuration may not be the best for running games on ultra HD settings. If you aren’t looking for an upgrade in the near future while focusing on casual gaming, APU is definitely a worthy pick.
How Are APUs, CPUs, and GPUs Different?
APUs, CPUs, and GPUs are more similar to each other than different. The major difference between them is in what they process, their use case, etc. Since APUs are equipped with both a CPU and a GPU, it’s only fair to compare an APU with a CPU + GPU combo. Listed below are a few aspects where the two options stand out from each other:
- Processing power: as they say, “a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.” An APU’s logical processing capabilities of a CPU combined with the graphics processing capacity of a GPU make it powerful enough to run games like GTA 5, Battlefield 1, etc.
However, they are still not close to the performance that a dedicated CPU + GPU combo can bring to titles like The Witcher 3, Warzone, Red Dead Redemption 2, etc.
- Efficiency and power consumption: an APU is more efficient at data transferring speeds since both the processor and graphics card are built into the same body. Due to its compact size, an APU can easily rely on a single cooling fan to manage the thermals of your PC.
On the other hand, the intense performance benefit of the CPU + GPU combo comes at the cost of a bigger power supply to feed the discrete graphics card and its cooling setup.
- Limitations: for titles such as Minecraft that rely more on a CPU than a GPU, you will find an excellent use for an APU. Even for titles such as CS:GO and Valorant that don’t require a lot of image rendering (at low graphics settings), you will experience decent frame rates with an APU.
However, when it comes to a CPU + GPU combo, it not only offers buttery-smooth performance but also lets you do 3D rendering and video editing and allows you to enjoy the most demanding games like Fortnite Forza Horizon 4 at higher graphics settings.
- Price: when it comes to the price, APU has an edge over the traditional CPU + GPU combo. Much of its credit goes to how it is engineered. Since both the processor and Vega iGPU share the same chassis, an APU saves cost on the material.
Furthermore, since both components share the same cooling, it also significantly reduces the power consumption. A good APU will cost you between $250 and $500, while a great CPU + GPU combo can run $400 and higher.
APU vs. CPU + GPU Combo: Which Option Is Better for Gaming?
Now that you know the differences between a CPU, GPU, and APU and how an APU is different from a CPU + GPU combo, let’s find out which option is best for you.
Where Do APUs Make More Sense?
From a cost standpoint, you can kill two birds with one stone with an APU by having a decent CPU and iGPU in one component. They can have a passive saving benefit by being power efficient compared to a CPU + GPU.
All in all, an APU is the perfect low-budget option for any game that needs only an entry-level setup. APUs can run games like FIFA 21, Battlefield, World of Warcraft, etc., on medium to low settings at 720p to 1080p resolution and a minimum target FPS of 30, depending on the title.
However, if you see yourself playing AAA titles in the near future, an APU may not be a viable purchase after all. That’s because there’s only so much it can process at a time without being bottlenecked by the onboard iGPU.
However, if you are on a tight budget right now, an APU is your best bet. And if you ever plan on upgrading your APU-equipped PC to a discrete CPU + GPU setup in the future, you can easily do that without having to replace the APU.
Simply pair the APU with the discrete GPU, and your CPU will smartly switch between both graphics cards – depending on the task – to ensure efficient performance.
Where Does A CPU + GPU Combo Make More Sense?
Irrespective of how cost-effective or efficient they get, APUs simply don’t have enough juice to stand neck and neck with a discrete CPU + GPU combo. Since discrete graphics cards don’t have any space limitations as APUs do, they are packed with trillions of transistors that can process multiple operations on a parallel basis.
Discrete GPUs also have their own RAM known as Video Random Access Memory, which significantly boots the overall graphic rendering workflow and results in buttery-smooth performance.
It’s safe to say that a CPU + GPU combo is the perfect choice for a hardcore gamer who deals with tasks that demand a lot of visual memory, etc. This combo is ideal for games requiring at least 60FPS or higher to provide the best experience. Games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Crysis Remastered, Fortnite, etc., are some such names.
If you have a budget of $400 (for the processing components alone) or higher, you should consider a CPU + GPU combo for optimum results. Such configuration offers more flexible usage and assures long-term stutter-free use.
Best APUs for Gaming
AMD’s APUs have won hearts and deliver smooth performance and clear graphics compared to some Intel CPUs with integrated graphics cards. For reference, the Ryzen 3 3200G APU with Vega 8 Graphics is about twice as fast compared to Intel’s Core i7-9700K and UHD Graphics 630. In some cases, AMD’s Ryzen series APUs can even outperform a few older generation, entry-level CPU + GPU setups when overclocked properly.
Currently, AMD offers three series of APUs:
- The A-Series APU, which is AMD’s entry-level processor designed for affordable PCs and laptops.
- The Athlon Series APUs,which are slightly more powerful than A-series APUs and come with Vega graphics.
- The Ryzen APUs, which perform parallel to some entry-level discrete GPUs. They are the most powerful APUs in the market and come with Vega graphics.
Best CPU + GPU Setups for Gaming
While the CPU is indeed the heart of your system, it cannot handle high-requirement games alone, and the GPU is the ultimate answer to your game’s performance.
If you want to maximize the quality of your gaming adventures and have a reasonable budget to invest in, it’s best to get a CPU + GPU combo that offers speed and optimality. It’s very important to select the right GPU that syncs with your CPU. Some of the top options on the market are:
- Ryzen 5 3600 with MSI GTX 1660 Super Ventus XS OC – best combo for 1080p at 60fps gaming
- Intel i9-10900kf with RTX 3090 – best combo for 4K gaming at 60fps
- Intel Core i5-9600K with RX 5700 Xt – best combo for 1080p gaming at 144Hz
- Ryzen 7 3700X with EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Super – best value combo for ultra-wide monitors
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are AMD APUs worth investing in if I don’t want to upgrade later?
Yes, the most recent AMD Ryzen desktop APU with integrated GPU has one of the fastest integrated GPUs ever. In fact, high-end APUs like the Ryzen 7 5700G and Ryzen 5 5600G have impressive iGPUs that can make your PC future-proof for four to five years.
2. Which is more important in PC gaming: GPU or CPU?
Both components are equally essential to running games at optimum settings. If your PC has an old CPU, it may bottleneck your GPU. Similarly, if you have one of the latest CPUs but use an older graphics card, you may not be able to extract the best performance from your setup. However, when it comes to prioritizing your purchase, it’s best to upgrade your GPU first.
3. How much RAM do I need in a PC with an APU?
Since the CPU and GPU are both on a single chip in an APU, the configuration uses the main system memory for both the processor and the integrated GPU. A portion of the system memory itself is dedicated to the GPU. Therefore, we recommend that you have at least 16GB of RAM in dual channel configuration, e.g., two sticks of 8GB, to get a robust performance out of your APU.
APU vs. CPU + GPU Combo: Who Wins the Battle?
As we’ve mentioned, an APU will never be able to keep pace with a CPU + GPU combo. However, that’s not to say they fail to serve any utility. Heading the low-cost route with an APU allows you to upgrade your setup later at your convenience.
It all comes down to your budget in the end. You can invest more and get a dedicated GPU, which will bring along a much higher graphical power right out of the box.
For serious gamers, we’ll always recommend going with a CPU + GPU combo, as it will offer you a flexible experience and will not leave you looking for an upgrade soon.
In the end, APUs are viable for gaming, but they come with their fair share of drawbacks when it comes to competitive gaming. However, they provide you with a solid entry-level build that can easily handle light tasks and games.
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