Skip to main content

What is an APU? Should you buy one for your PC?

What is an APU? AMD's new hybrid CPUs: Explained

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G & Ryzen 3 2200G Review fingers
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Although Intel has offered most its central processors with onboard graphics for some time, AMD has only done the same with distinctive product lines. Where its mainstream CPUs, even the latest Ryzen offerings, don’t offer any kind of built-in graphics, its accelerated processing units (APUs) do.

But what is an APU, and is it really any different from what Intel offers with its processors? The core concept of an APU is blessedly simple: An APU combines the functionality of a CPU and a GPU, two pieces of hardware found in basically any computer.

Two halves make a whole

The central processing unit, or CPU, carries out all the instructions for computer programs. Every action you take on your computer, whether running a game or simply typing a letter, must go through the CPU.

Get your weekly teardown of the tech behind PC gaming
Check your inbox!

The graphics processing unit, or GPU, is a piece of hardware that allows a computer to render images quickly. Creating 3D images often involves complex processes like rendering polygons, mapping textures, and using complicated equations involved in animation. Offloading these to dedicated hardware makes 3D images much quicker to produce.

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G & Ryzen 3 2200G Review fingers motherboard
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

By integrating the CPU and GPU into a single unit, the APU produces a better transfer rate between the two, allowing them to share the burden of processing tasks. This also allows the APU to complete tasks while using less power than a standard CPU and graphics card setup and ensures a certain base level of graphical capability, which makes the overall user experience better. Most importantly, it means you don’t have to purchase a separate graphics card, which drastically lowers the overall price of your PC.

None of this is really any different from what Intel does with its CPUs though, even if AMD likes to call its chips that feature both cores something a little different. Most of Intel’s recent architectures from its seventh and eighth generations, combine CPU and GPU functionality on a single die. Essentially, any modern processor you purchase these days will be an APU, even if it doesn’t bear the name. That doesn’t, however, mean they’re all made equal.

But are they worth it?

Although Intel chip buyers will almost always get themselves an on board graphics die whether they want one or not, AMD buyers have a choice. Do they buy a dedicated AMD CPU — preferably from the latest generation of Ryzen processors — or opt for an APU, like the new Ryzen with Vega chips? If you’re a gamer, even on a modest budget, you’re much better off opting for one of the best CPUs with a dedicated graphics card. Although that option is more expensive, the performance offered by both an independent processor and stand-alone video card is much better.

APUs have their place, perhaps with non-gamers and those on extremely low-budgets benefiting from the lack of a need for a dedicated graphics card. However, we’ve yet to see an APU that

Editors' Recommendations

Jon Martindale
Jon Martindale is the Evergreen Coordinator for Computing, overseeing a team of writers addressing all the latest how to…
AMD Zen 5: Everything we know about AMD’s next-gen CPUs
The AMD Ryzen 5 8600G APU installed in a motherboard.

AMD Zen 5 is the next-generation Ryzen CPU architecture for Team Red and is slated for a launch sometime in 2024. We've been hearing tantalizing rumors for a while now and promises of big leaps in performance. In short, Zen 5 could be very exciting indeed.

We don't have all the details, but what we're hearing is very promising. Here's what we know about Zen 5 so far.
Zen 5 release date and availability
AMD confirmed in January 2024 that it was on track to launch Zen 5 sometime in the "second half of the year." Considering the launch of Zen 4 was in September 2022, we would expect to see Zen 5 desktop processors debut around the same timeframe, possibly with an announcement in the summer at Computex.

Read more
9 best processors for PC gaming: tested and reviewed
The AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D installed in a motherboard.

It's tough to find the right gaming CPU for your next PC. We've benchmarked dozens of processors to find the best CPU for gaming, and there's a clear winner right now: AMD's Ryzen 7 7800X3D. Although the latest chip from Team Red claims the crown, there are still several other great options on the market.

Whatever your needs and budgets, though, we have options from AMD and Intel that will be great performers. We're focused on gaming here, but if you want a processor that can game and get work done, make sure to check out our list of the best processors.

Read more
Does RAM speed matter for PC performance?
Installing RAM sticks in a motherboard.

RAM is one of the primary components in a PC, and it's important that you have at least a certain amount of RAM depending on what you want to do with your PC. However, there are more things to RAM than just capacity: Frequency and latency are important considerations, too.

The question of whether RAM speed matters is especially important now that we have two generations of RAM available, both DDR4 and DDR5 -- and they have vastly different speeds. The official maximum clock speed for DDR4 was 3200MHz, while DDR5 starts at 4800MHz, an increase of 50%; however, you'll easily find RAM kits reaching above 7000MHz. Although latency significantly went up, from CL14 on most 3200MHz DDR4 kits to CL40 on most 4800MHz DDR5 kits, DDR5 is still found to be faster.

Read more