APU vs CPU: Which Is Better for Gaming?

The holiday season is often an exciting time for gamers. New title releases and great holiday deals may have you thinking about your hardware. Is what you’re running good enough for the games you want to play?

There are a lot of new technologies coming in for gamming.

Maybe you’re one of the millions of people investing in a new computer this year. You might also be thinking about upgrading your current rig. Either way, you want to make sure you’re investing in the right tech.

To that end, you have questions about APU vs CPU.

Which one’s the better choice for powering your gaming? This guide will help you compare the two. With a better understanding of the differences, you’ll be able to get the right tech for a better gaming experience.

What Is CPU?

“CPU” stands for “central processing unit.” It’s a core component of any computer, whether laptop or desktop. It’s just as important for your standard work computer as it is for gaming.

The CPU is the main controlling chip. In its simplest form, it contains two key pieces:

  • The control unit
  • The arithmetic logic unit

The CU fetches data from memory and gives the ALU instructions to carry out functions. The ALU carries out Boolean algebra, which gives the desired output results. When that’s the done, the CU sends the output to the appropriate location.

All of this happens in nanoseconds, resulting in what you want to see on your computer screen. When you tell a program to execute a function, the command goes through the CPU.

Today’s CPUs contain multiple cores, which allow them to process even more commands. The speed of a processor is typically its frequency, measured in hertz. Today’s processors are often measured in gigahertz and, with multiple cores, can carry out billions of functions every second.

What This Means for Gaming

Typically, a good gaming laptop has a powerful CPU. Running a game means sending a constant stream of commands through to the processor. A fast processor that can handle billions of functions per second will be able to load game environments almost seamlessly.

By contrast, a slower processor may result in lag time. If you send a command through and the environment doesn’t react for a few seconds, your processor may be overloaded.

There are, of course, other factors that can play into how fast a game runs on your rig. Internet connection and speed might be one, if you’re playing online. The available memory, or RAM, might be another.

What Is APU?

The term “APU” stands for accelerated processing unit. You might think this means it’s a ramped up version of the CPU. It’s a little bit different than that.

“APU” is actually a marketing term coined to refer to specific AMD microprocessors. You’ll only find APUs as part of AMD’s Ryzen line for that reason.

So, what’s the difference between CPUs and APUs?

APUs have the CPU and the graphics processing unit, or GPU, on the same die.

Does that mean APUs are integrated GPUs? Not necessarily. APUs are actually compliant with Heterogeneous System Architecture standards.

HSA specifications allow CPU and GPU integration on the same bus. That lets them share memory and tasks. The specifications are defined by the HSA Foundation, which was formed by AMD and other vendors.

What Are the Advantages of APUs?

The integration of the CPU and GPU on a single die allows them to share resources. That, in turn, lets the two processors share these resources more effectively.

You can think of it like the GPU and CPU forming a team. They both have the same goal, so they divvy up the resources to make the most of them.

It’s also more efficient when it comes to power usage, which can be good news for a laptop battery. In addition, APUs are also less costly to manufacturers. That can help if you’re interested in saving money.

APU vs CPU: Which Is Best?

When it comes to CPU vs APU, which one gives gamers an edge?

If you’re thinking about efficiency, an APU is likely your best bet. If you’ve maxed out your RAM, then an APU could help you make more of the resources you already have.

It can also be less costly than upgrading the CPU or GPU. You may also see those cost-savings passed on in the price of a new gaming rig.

That said, APUs may not perform much better than CPUs out of the box. You can overclock them, much the same way you can overclock a CPU. That lets the processor run even faster, which can make a more noticeable difference.

If you’re into serious gaming, though, then you’re likely going to want to opt for a CPU and GPU combo. Why?

Simply put, the integrated nature of the APU is efficient, but it limits the power of both the CPU and the GPU. As a result, a dedicated GPU and separate CPU will always deliver more.

What about Integrated GPUS?

At this point, you might be wondering about GPUs and integrated GPUs in particular. As noted, GPU stands for graphics processing unit.

Sony introduced the term with the first generation PlayStation. A GPU uses a parallel structure that allows it to work with specific data. As a result, it’s usually more efficient, and it comes with its own dedicated RAM.

The idea is to let a separate microprocessor handle the intensive task of graphics rendering. That then frees up the CPU to handle other tasks, such as actually executing the user’s inputs.

That’s why it still makes sense to have separate CPUs and GPUs if you’re playing any graphics-intensive game. An APU or integrated GPU will be fine for your work computer or casual gaming. It likely won’t be enough for any of the triple-A titles game devs are releasing these days.

Integrated GPUs are similar to the APU, in that they’re integrated directly on the motherboard. As a result, they use the system’s RAM and other resources. This makes them slower than dedicated GPUs.

Unlike the APU, though, integrated GPUs aren’t on the same die as the CPU. They also don’t meet HSA standards.

Dedicated GPUs can be upgraded, since they can be removed from the PCIe slot. Integrated GPUs mean replacement of the entire motherboard. Another advantage of the dedicated GPU is that several of them can be combined.

Today, you can even find external GPUs. That means they’re separate from the rig. They usually come with their own power supply, as they use more energy.

External GPUs are often much more powerful than either an internal GPU or an integrated one.

Choosing between APU vs CPU vs GPU

As you can see, APUs have their virtues. When choosing a rig, you’ll also want to carefully consider CPU and GPU specs as well.

The first consideration is always what you plan to do with any piece of tech you buy. Is this a new laptop for doing schoolwork and playing the occasional indie game? If that’s the case, you can save yourself some money and get more efficiency by opting for an APU.

If you’re serious about gaming and want to play the latest triple-A titles, then an APU isn’t going to be enough. An integrated GPU probably isn’t the right choice either.

A dedicated GPU is going to deliver better performance. You’ll want to pay attention to the specifications for the graphics card, such as how much RAM it has. Keep in mind that you can always upgrade the card later if you find you need more power.

For most of us, it is always confusing should we upgrade the RAM or graphics cards. Both are important.

You may even want to consider an external GPU.

You’ll also want to give special consideration to the CPU if you’re getting a CPU/GPU combination. Pay attention to the frequency, as well as how many cores are in the chip. The higher the gigahertz, the more functions the CPU can carry out per second.

Keep in mind that you can always upgrade as well. If you get an APU, it’s possible to switch to a dedicated GPU later on. If you’re not sure how serious you are about gaming right now, then it might be wise to start with the APU and upgrade later if you want.

The Right Advice for Better Builds

When it comes to APU vs CPU for gaming, there’s almost no contest. A powerful CPU and GPU combination will give you better results. Still, APUs have their merits, and for the casual gamer, they can be a great investment.

Looking for more tech tips as you research and build your next gaming rig? We have plenty of in-depth articles in the archives. The right advice can help you choose the best components to make gaming a dream, no matter how serious you are about it.

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