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APU, GPU, WTF? A guide to AMD’s desktop processor line-up

AMD’s line of desktop processors isn’t all that straightforward. There are five current product lines split across two categories, powering everything from tiny Mini-ITX small form factor PCs to high-end gaming machines. Naturally, different individual processors are separated by price and performance. Here’s a broad breakdown of the company’s main lines.

APU versus CPU

AMD’s acquisition of graphics card manufacturer ATI in 2006 boosted the company’s ability to produce and innovate in graphics hardware. As a result, AMD offers three unique lines of “APUs,” or Accelerated Processing Units. These designs combine a CPU and GPU onto the same chip, so motherboards with an APU design don’t need integrated graphics (like Intel’s soldered-on GPU options) or discrete graphics (via a conventional graphics card).

APUs tend to be the less expensive options in AMD’s lineup, often intended for smaller and more energy-efficient machines. The company still offers two lines of traditional CPUs, and these chips require external graphics solutions. AMD CPUs are a better option for system builders who intend to create a conventional workstation or dedicated gaming PC.

Sempron APUs

The Sempron line of APUs is AMD’s cheapest option for desktop computers. At the time of writing only two Sempron APU models are sold, the 2650 and 3850. The 2650 is the low-end option, with a dual-core design clocked at 1.45GHz, a 400MHz integrated GPU, and 1MB of L2 cache. The quad-core 3850 runs at 1.3GHz, with a slightly boosted GPU of 450MHz and 2MB of cache. It also supports slightly faster 1600MHz RAM. Both chips use the AM1 socket design and 128-memory core GPU architecture, and can be purchased for less than $30.

You’ll find these chips a good option if you’re building a very basic, low-cost system, or a system that doesn’t require much direct user interaction (like a home file server).

Athlon APUs

athlon apu


AMD’s mid-range APU lineup gets the Athlon product line name. These chips use faster quad-core processors and zippier GPU clock speeds, but don’t offer a dramatic boost over the Sempron line. The Athlon 5150 runs at 1.6GHz, while the Athlon 5350 runs at 2.05GHz, but otherwise these AM1 socket chips are identical, with 2MB of L2 cache, 600MHz 128 GPU memory cores, and support for RAM at speeds of up to 1600MHz.  Athlon APUs retail for under $50.

Athlons are a solid choice for a cheap, general-purpose computer.

A-series APUs

a series


The top of the line of AMD’s integrated chips is the A-series. About two dozen variations of the A-series are currently sold, with CPU cores ranging from two to four and GPU cores from two to eight — the highest-end A-series APU is technically a 12-core monster with 4 dedicated CPU cores and 8 dedicated GPU cores. All of them run at significantly higher wattages than the 25W Sempron and Athlon line, ranging from 45-100 watts (making them much heavier hitters on your power bill). Clock speeds for the CPU cores go as high as 4.1GHz for the top model A10-7870K chip with a maximum of 4MB of L2 cache, and GPU clock speeds range from 433MHz to 866MHz. Maximum supported RAM speed varies from 1600MHz all the way to 2133MHz.

The line is broadly separated into A4, A6, A8, and A10 chips, increasing in CPU power, GPU features, and price as you go up. Prices for the slowest A4 chips can be below $50, while the top of the line A10 sells for more than $150. A-series APUs require a FM2 or FM2+ CPU socket.

An A-Series is a good choice if you want a reasonably powerful, yet affordable system, with modest gaming capability. These APUs can’t handle the latest games at high detail settings, but they can play most titles at low-to-medium detail and 1080p resolution.

Athlon CPUs

athlon cpu


Athlon CPUs (not to be confused with the APUs above) offer a good price to performance ratio for computer builders who want to create standard work or gaming machines, especially when compared to their more expensive counterparts from Intel. The Athlon series comes in dual-core and quad-core variations, labeled Athlon X2 (1MB of L2 cache) and Athlon X4 (4MB of L2 cache). CPU speeds range from 3.6GHz to 4.1GHz, and at the moment a a variety of architectures and wattages are represented. The cheapest Athlon X2 can be had for around $50, while the most expensive X4 costs about $75. Both use the FM2+ CPU socket, and some are backwards-compatible with the original FM2.

These chips are a good choice for mid-range systems and budget gaming systems if a discrete graphics card is already available. They’re not a good choice for high-end gaming, however, as they simply don’t offer the CPU performance the most demanding games require.




AMD’s 8-core FX series are the fastest and most powerful offered by the company. All of the current chips run at high wattage (95-220 watts) on the AM3+ socket, with speeds ranging from 3.6GHz for the FX 4100 to a blistering 5GHz for the FX 9590. L2 cache ranges from 4MB to 8MB. At the time of writing all FX CPUs use the slightly older 32nm architecture and the maximum DDR3 speed is 1866MHz – DDR4 is not supported as of the FX-8 generation.

FX processors are, naturally, the most expensive in AMD’s lineup. The cheapest current models start at around the $110 mark, with the most expensive cracking the $300 level from some retailers. Note that this is still considerably less expensive than Intel’s top processor options.

No FX processor can match even Intel’s mid-range, quad-core processors in the majority of scenarios. However, the easy overclocking these chips offer can make them appealing to hardcore enthusiasts. They also excel in a limited number of workloads that take advantage of multiple processing threads. If you don’t already know what those workloads might be, though, you’re better off with a quad.

Older product lines

Please note that older AMD CPU lines, like the Sempron and Phenom II series, have been left off of this list as they are no longer sold at most computer retailers. If you’d like to compare AMD APU and CPU chips directly across product lines and ranges, the company offers a master list of all its chips on its website.