CPU vs APU: What’s the Difference? – The Ultimate Guide

A PC is only as good as its processor. And, if you’re building a new PC or you’re looking for a pre-built gaming computer, the processor you choose will play a significant role in determining your system’s performance.

But, there are two primary types of processors: APU and CPU (central processing unit). APU and CPU are acronyms that refer to processor designs. APU stands for accelerated processing unit while CPU refers to the more traditional central processing unit. APUs and CPUs each have their own advantages and disadvantages, but APU processors offer distinct advantages over CPUs for gamers with a budget who want cutting-edge gaming performance.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of both processors, as well as when to use each type.

What is an Accelerated Processing Unit ( APU)?
What is a CPU and How Does it Work?
What is a GPU and How Does it Affect the Performance of Your PC?
What are Integrated Graphics, and Why are They Useful?
Which Type of CPU is Better for Gaming?
The Benefits of an APU in a Gaming PC
Optimizing Your APUs for Gaming
What to Know Before Buying an APU
APU vs CPU: Who Wins and Why
What To Do Next

What is an Accelerated Processing Unit ( APU)?

An APU is an accelerated processing unit. APUs are newer than CPUs and have been developed by AMD. APUs share the same motherboard as traditional CPUs but include additional graphics cores that give APU-powered PCs enhanced graphics performance while lowering overall system costs. APUs come with integrated memory controllers, video decoding engines, and PCI Express connectivity. APUs typically offer fewer cores than CPUs but compensate with powerful onboard graphics processing. APUs are the most efficient processors on the market today and are especially beneficial to gamers. APU’s all-in-one design makes them easy to install, and APU drivers come preinstalled on all APU motherboards. APUs plug into virtually any motherboard, APU motherboards are available from a variety of manufacturers and APUs include integrated memory controllers as well as PCI Express connectivity. APUs offer the best performance at an affordable price for gamers who want to boost their system’s processing power without spending a ton of money.

What is a CPU and How Does it Work?

A central processing unit (CPU) is the traditional processor design that’s been used in PCs for decades. CPUs are sometimes referred to as processors or microprocessors and come with a large number of cores. APU motherboards typically have dual-channel memory controllers while APU motherboards have triple-channel memory controllers, making APUs better for high-performance applications where a lot of data needs to be processed. APUs are the best choice for gamers looking for affordable yet powerful discrete graphics processing beyond what integrated graphics can deliver. APU processors are ideal for gamers who want cutting-edge PC performance without breaking the bank.

CPUs are excellent choices for high-performance applications, but APUs offer superior value and performance in general computing and multimedia applications. APUs help you get more out of your PC and provide an affordable way to increase performance without spending a lot of money. APU processors feature increased CPU cores, powerful onboard graphics processing capabilities, and triple-channel memory controllers that give APU-powered PCs enhanced system performance at a low price. APUs deliver excellent value compared to CPUs and APUs are more than capable of delivering high-end performance for gamers. APUs offer the ideal balance between value, performance, and affordability that is perfect for gamers on a tight budget. APU processors combine two primary processing units (CPUs and GPUs) into one piece of silicon that’s more efficient than traditional CPU designs. APUs offer improved APU drivers installed on APU motherboards, APUs plug into virtually any motherboard, APU motherboards are available from a variety of manufacturers, and APUs include integrated memory controllers as well as PCI Express connectivity.

What is a GPU and How Does it Affect the Performance of Your PC?

A GPU is a computer chip that handles all graphics-related content on your computer. These chips can be stand-alone cards or built into the motherboard of your computer. GPUs were designed with only one purpose in mind: high-performance 3D graphics rendering.

For years, CPUs (central processing units) were much more powerful and handled games and other graphical content far better than GPUs (graphics processing units). However, modern GPUs are much more powerful. In fact, the power of a GPU has become so important that most modern games rely on them more than they do CPUs these days.

What are Integrated Graphics, and Why are They Useful?

Integrated graphics processors have a built-in graphics processing unit that enables them to process video information without needing a separate video card. In most cases, the lower memory requirement and power demands allow integrated graphics cards to outperform their stand-alone counterparts, but most computers with iGPUs also rely on an external graphics card for meeting the higher demands of processing video in applications like video games or non-linear editing systems. Integrated graphics are usually found in computers that use CPUs aimed at the low end of the market to the mid-market range, but Ultrabooks have also started featuring them lately to reduce the thickness and battery life drain.

Which Type of CPU is Better for Gaming?

The AMD APU and Intel CPU each have their own pros and cons, as well as different uses. A clear winner is not easy to determine in the APU vs CPU debate, but it can be determined that an APU will outperform a CPU when gaming alone, and a dedicated graphics card is not included.

Processing power is a very important factor in gaming. Having a great GPU is one thing, but having great processing power to back it up will truly make your game shine. Both CPUs and APUs are designed for this purpose, however, there are distinct differences that set them apart.

The CPU is designed specifically for managing data, whereas the GPU was designed to handle image rendering tasks. When comparing a standard CPU to an APU, the processing power of each chip becomes clear. The only downside that some might see in using an APU over a traditional CPU is that it sits on the motherboard where the fan is located. The fan on this chip will sound louder than one that sits directly on top of or inside your computer unit.

The Benefits of an APU in a Gaming PC

One of the main reasons that gamers may go with an APU in their gaming PC is because they do not want to spend the money on a dedicated graphics card. While there are certainly benefits to having both in one package, it does come at a cost. For entry-level gamers, the performance of an APU will be enough to get them started with gaming on a budget.

This is especially true since most modern games are programmed to utilize both the CPU and GPU for processing needs, often requiring more power than what can feasibly fit into one package. So, if you’re looking for a new gaming machine and you want to save some cash, but still be able to play games on your computer, an APU might be the best choice for you. Also, if you’re interested in streaming while you game (or even while you work), then an APU can help with that as well.

The drawback is performance. As you move up the ladder, an APU will start to bottleneck your gameplay. Higher-end games or graphics intensive programs will require more processing power than what an APU has to offer. There are also some other things that come with choosing this type of build, such as heat management and cooling. It’s not always easy to have a CPU and GPU in one package and it can also present some problems.

As we mentioned, there are benefits to having an APU, especially if you are on a budget or are just starting out with PC gaming. You will get more bang for your buck when you choose this type of build rather than the traditional CPU/GPU combo. One example of this is the APU’s ability to be used for streaming. Processor-based streaming can cost considerably more than an APU, so it just makes sense that you might want to start with an APU first and then move up later.

However, if you’re just getting into PC gaming and you don’t have a huge budget, an APU might be an easy way to get started with your gaming without breaking the bank.

Optimizing Your APUs for Gaming

For years now, I have heard about APUs being the next big thing for gamers.  APU is an acronym for Accelerated Processing Unit which is AMD’s strategy to bring faster integrated graphics to existing processors already on the market, calling them APUs.  The theory was that by adding a powerful GPU on the same die as the CPU, games could be accelerated without having to install a video card.  While this sounds great in theory, there are problems with APUs that have arisen over the past several years that may still prevent them from ever becoming viable for gaming purposes.

AMD has released several generations of APU over the past few years but despite my best efforts, I have not been able to get my hands on them for testing in my own games.  The biggest problem is that these APUs are designed to be all things to all people, which ends up being a bit of a problem when trying to run games at high resolutions and with maximum settings enabled.  As with any integrated graphics solution, the biggest limitations come from the fact that you have little control over how much RAM is dedicated to your video card because it is shared with your system memory.

By default, most systems use the shared setting which means that if you install 4GB of RAM (which has been standard on most PCs for several years now), then only 3GB will be available via Windows and 1 GB will be dedicated to your graphics subsystem. This is a good thing for general use, but it’s bad news for gamers because you need all the RAM you can get to cache high-resolution textures and some games just don’t run unless they have access to more than 1GB of dedicated memory.  The problem begins with system RAM being allocated as shared resources that the OS allocates as needed by both your CPU and GPU. Another problem that has been observed with APUs is that as new games come out, they tend not to be optimized well enough to take full advantage of these integrated graphics solutions.  While newer titles like Battlefield 4 will show some benefit on some systems, others will experience severe slowdowns and/or stuttering making them unplayable on APUs.  Other games such as Bioshock Infinite will work quite well until you get into the later missions where, even on high-end video cards, you may experience slowdown and stuttering problems.

What to Know Before Buying an APU

AMD recently released the 4th generation of their Ryzen APUs, but because there are supply chain shortages, they are hard to justify.

There is one main reason that an APU has value in today’s market, and that is for budget oriented gamers that play eSports titles. These games do not require a very powerful CPU in most cases, so the low price point of AMD’s APUs can make sense when you consider what you get. If you want more performance than the Ryzen 3 2200G provides, then it does not necessarily make sense to spend $100 or more on another processor with integrated graphics when it comes to game performance.

The biggest downside to buying an APU right now is the high cost due to global supply shortages. The 4th generation Ryzen APUs should be around $100, but due to lack of supply, they are over $200 in some cases. If the cost was more reasonable and didn’t require a large markup, then an APU would make sense for budget oriented gamers that don’t care about gaming performance as much.

The other downside that plays into this is that Intel’s iGPUs will likely not see a major upgrade in the next year or two while AMD’s Vega graphics will continue to get updates and support from game developers. This means that you can get better performance out of your games if you pair your APU with a cheap dedicated graphics card than if you get an Intel processor with an iGPU right now because there isn’t a significant update to those GPUs.

With AMD’s APUs, the current biggest downside is that they are expensive due to supply shortages from global supply chain issues. This means that if anyone wants an APU, it would be best to wait until those issues are resolved and prices drop. When it comes to gamers, there is not much of a reason besides budget oriented gamers who play eSports titles to even consider getting one. While there may be some value for other types of users, Ryzen 3 2200G gives more performance than most people will need for tasks other than gaming today. In the next year or two when Intel updates their iGPUs again, this could change as Intel could have a significant update in their graphics department depending on what they do.

APU vs CPU: Who Wins and Why

The answer to that question depends on the specific circumstances at hand. If you’re looking to build a high-end gaming computer, it’s best to go with a dedicated graphics card in combination with a CPU.

If you’re not looking to spend the most possible, an APU might be your best bet. The A10-7850k is capable of playing many PC games without any problems while remaining relatively inexpensive compared to other options on the market.

However, if you are building a new gaming rig and are hoping for exceptional performance, then it is crucial that you choose both an APU and GPU over an APU alone. The extra processing power provided by the GPU will dramatically increase your computing.

The answer to this question depends on what you need. If you’re building a new gaming computer, it’s best to get a CPU and dedicated graphics card.

Let’s take my friend for example. He is looking to build his first PC and has decided that he would like to spend as little money as possible while still maintaining decent performance levels. In this case, an APU might be the right route because the low price point will allow him to spend more of his budget on other components without sacrificing too much power in the process. On the other hand, if he decides that he wants to play games at high settings or try using VR technology, then I would recommend upgrading with either an A10-7850k APU/GPU combo or an APU/CPU/GPU combo.

The answer to that question depends on the specific circumstances, but in most cases, a CPU and graphics card is better than an APU. Although both options would provide good performance in general computing, in order to really see results in your favorite games you’re going to need something better than the A10-7850k’s integrated graphics cards.

Although this article focused primarily on gaming, when building a computer it is important to remember that there are many other factors at play than just what types of components will allow your machine to handle your favorite games. Some people may be interested more in video editing, while others might want their PC to act as an entertainment hub for all of their multimedia needs. And although dedicated graphics cards are important for gaming, low-end graphics cards may make some video editing tasks more difficult than they need to be. That’s why it is important to do some research and talk with an expert before choosing your components in order to make sure that you get the best possible computer for what you intend to use it for.

What To Do Next

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between an APU and a CPU, or whether to choose one over the other when building your own gaming computer, then this article should help clear up that confusion. We hope it has been helpful in answering any questions you have about CPUs vs. APUs for gamers! Ultimately, while APUs will never be an ideal option for gamers, they can serve as a nice entry-level option to tide you over until you can afford a more powerful CPU and dedicated graphics card combo.  

read our next blog on What To Look For In A CPU: 9 Factors To Consider if this topic interests you at all!