Computer components are a world of their own geekery. With so many advancements being made to the components we use to build computers, it can get confusing to know which components are necessary and which are luxuries. For example, while an APU and a GPU might sound similar, they’re actually quite different.

Keep reading to find out all the differences between APUs and GPUs.

APU vs. GPU: A Side-By-Side Comparison

 APUGPU
Graphics ProcessingYesYes
Computer ProcessingYesNo
Sound ProcessingYesNo
ManufacturerAMDVarious
Installation PortCPU SocketPCIe, PCI
Mechanical ComponentsControl Unit, Arithmetic Logic Unit, Registers, Cache, Buses, ClockCPU, Video RAM, Video BIOS, RAMDAC, Motherboard Interface
OutputsGraphical, Sound, USBGraphical
Dedicated Heatsink?Yes, sold separatelyYes, hardwired into the board
InputsUSB-A, USB-CNone

APU vs. GPU: What’s the Difference?

There are many differences between APUs and GPUs. But let’s start by defining the term outright.

APU stands for “Accelerated Processing Unit,” while GPU stands for “Graphics Processing Unit.”

However, though they’re both able to process graphics (more on that below), that’s about all the two share.

Function

APUs and GPUs have different main functions. An APU is actually a specific type of CPU developed by AMD to mirror Intel’s Integrated Inclusive CPUs.

Integrated CPUs and APUs package the function of both a CPU and a GPU into one chipset. This allows people who don’t have the money or space for a dedicated graphics chipset to use their computers.

In addition, APUs can process sound, making them exceptionally powerful for people with limited funds to purchase and upgrade a computer.

Graphics processing is a necessary component for all computers. After all, something has to process the information into a graphical user interface (GUI) that can be read and understood by humans. In a computer with a dedicated GPU, the GPU handles it. The APU or CPU will process the graphics in a computer with an APU or Integrated CPU.

Graphics Processing

So, as we mentioned, both APUs and GPUs can process graphics. But, the components they use to do it are different; thus, the graphics’ quality and fidelity will differ between them.

Since APUs and Integrated CPUs don’t have dedicated video RAM, the graphical information will be stored in the computer’s RAM. Therefore, using the RAM as a double-duty storage space for both logical instructions and video information means a higher load on your RAM. In addition, since your CPU will be pulling double-duty as both your logic and graphical processor, the load on the CPU will also be higher.

For many people, this doesn’t mean anything. But for people with graphically intensive jobs like photography or video editing, this could be detrimental to their work outcomes. Gamers also tend to prefer having a dedicated graphics chipset that allows them to process graphics independently.

Independent graphics processing and dedicated video RAM will enable the computer to process more complex and high-fidelity graphics without overloading the CPU.

Manufacturer

Another significant factor that differs between APUs and GPUs is the manufacturer.

The term “APU” and the chipsets with that name are all engineered and manufactured by AMD. GPUs are engineered by NVIDIA or AMD and manufactured by a third party like EVGA or MSI. There are no third-party engineering companies for GPUs because it would be difficult to outperform the current chipsets with the technology we have readily available. Simply put, breaking into the current market wouldn’t be profitable.

The closest company to break into the GPU market was Intel, which did so using Integrated chipsets. Ergo, they did so by creating a technology no one had ever used before. On the other hand, AMD’s APUs were designed in direct competition with Intel’s Integrated chips.

NVIDIA video chip on a motherboard
GPUs are engineered by NVIDIA or AMD while APUs are made entirely by AMD.

Installation

APUs and GPUs also install into different ports. Dedicated graphics chipsets are a type of expansion add-in cards that aren’t necessary for the computer unless they’re the only graphics processors. APUs use the CPU socket since they’re a type of CPU.

GPUs use either a Peripheral Component Interconnect Express or PCIe bus. However, some very old GPUs may use the old-fashioned PCI bus.

Heatsink

Once upon a time, CPUs were shipped with a stock heat sink. Sure, the stock heatsinks were kind of flimsy. Maybe they were basically held together with Scotch Tape and prayer. Still, they did the job even if they did it in a somewhat noisy and disappointing manner.

In more recent years, companies have stopped shipping their CPUs with heatsinks. This is because competitor heatsinks were, by far, the superior choice, and most stock heatsinks got chucked in a landfill where they’d take 500 years to decompose and pollute our Earth.

The heatsinks for GPUs and APUs are also very different. APUs typically need to be outfitted with an external heatsink. Nowadays, we just buy whatever CoolerMaster heatsink our eyes first land on and slap that on there. But, GPUs are still shipped with stock heatsinks. In fact, the heatsinks on GPUs are typically attached to the GPU.

GPUs can be outfitted with additional heatsinks as space allows. They can even be outfitted with a water block for people interested in water cooling. However, water-cooled GPUs are generally unnecessary, unless you play exceptionally graphically-intensive games.

Since APUs benefit from CPU technology, they’re much easier to outfit with extensive cooling systems. APUs can be equipped with water cooling or air cooling relatively cheaply—something that GPUs don’t benefit from.

Components

APUs and GPUs are made of different components. GPUs have more parts, and more complex design than APUs typically do. However, APUs contain all the same components as a CPU (control unit, arithmetic logic unit, registers, cache, buses, and clock) and an additional graphical processing chip included in the die.

GPUs are more complex as they’re essentially secondary CPUs dedicated to processing graphics. GPUs include a whole CPU (including all parts), video RAM, video BIOS, RAMDAC, and a motherboard interface.

Inputs and Outputs

Since an APU handles all of the graphics, logic, and sound processing, it has outputs for all of these things. Additionally, the APU is going to inputs for USB-A peripherals, data transfer, and input devices. These inputs are designed for things like your mouse and keyboard to interface with your CPU.

GPUs don’t have any inputs; they’re purely output-handling devices. As a result, GPUs will typically have more graphical outputs than APUs. Since APUs handle so much information and output, there’s not enough space to put more than one or two graphics outputs. So instead, GPUs typically have between two and five outputs.

GPU outputs are typically also more graphically advanced than APU outputs. This is because GPUs can process and output to more advanced output devices using technology like DisplayPort. At the same time, APUs are typically locked to HDMI and DVI.

Energy Efficiency

It probably goes without saying that a computer with fewer components draws less power. Thus, if you outfit your computer with an APU instead of a GPU, your system will draw less power overall. So, if energy efficiency is a significant consideration for you, in that case, you might want to go with an APU and turn down the graphics on anything too intensive.

Graphically Intensive Processes

One thing that GPUs universally excel at that is shaky with APUs is graphically intensive processes. Video games, photography, video editing, video compression, and even playing high-resolution videos are graphically intensive processes that involve a lot of processing power on the side of the graphics processor.

When doing these tasks, it’s advised to have a dedicated GPU. If you attempt these processes with your APU, you’ll likely run into performance issues. These issues may be with either the task itself or with the other tasks you’re trying to complete. Even running the operating system can be difficult for a computer with an overstrained processor.

APUs are designed as a budget-friendly chipset for people doing low-intensity tasks. However, if you anticipate doing graphically intensive tasks, you’ll want to spring for a dedicated GPU.

Cost Efficiency

Cost efficiency is one of the categories that APUs and other integrated chipsets win without even a scuffle. You have to pay for both components when purchasing a computer with a dedicated GPU.

GPUs typically fall in the $500 to $1500 range, while APUs usually fall into the $300 to $800 range. So, forgoing the GPU and relying on your APU is an excellent way to cut down your computer costs.

Necessity vs. Luxury

GPUs are unique in that they’re both a necessity and a luxury. While a graphics processing unit is necessary, it doesn’t have to be a dedicated GPU. APUs are efficient in cost and power, and the technology behind them is being innovated and updated with each new generation of APUs.

If you’ve been waffling on buying a GPU because you’re worried about the cost, buy the APU now and set yourself up. If you come upon a necessity for a dedicated GPU, they’ll still be there when you find that out.

APU vs. GPU: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • APUs are an AMD property; only AMD makes APUs.
  • GPUs are more graphically advanced than APUs.
  • APUs handle the processing for both logic and graphics; they even handle sound.
  • GPUs have no inputs, while APUs have inputs and outputs.
  • APUs are installed on the CPU socket, while GPUs are installed on the PCIe slots.

Final Thoughts

GPUs and APUs are both essential properties for building a computer, and deciding which one to outfit your computer with is an integral part of determining your computer’s overall power. A dedicated GPU will typically improve any computer setup. Still, an APU is an excellent way to lower the cost of your build.

GPU vs. APU: Full Comparison with Specs FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How much do APUs cost?

APUs generally cost between $130 for the AMD Ryzen 5 to around $600 for the AMD Ryzen 9.

AMD’s APUs are some of the most affordable chipsets on the market. One of AMD’s most prominent features is its low cost-to-efficiency rates. These chipsets compete with and surpass more expensive ones without any trouble.

Do any devices come with integrated chipsets?

Yes! Plenty of laptops, desktops, phones, and video game consoles use integrated chipsets. While they’re not ideal for much of the graphically intensive work you might do on a computer, they’re perfectly fine chipsets that shouldn’t be dismissed.

Are APUs better than other integrated chipsets?

If you’re planning on buying an integrated chipset, we highly recommend going with an APU over an Intel On-Board Integrated chipset. This is because AMD competes in both the CPU and the GPU market; they have all the latest info on both processes and how to optimize them. Thus, AMD’s APUs are a vastly superior product to Intel’s Integrated chips.

In what situations are APUs superior to GPUs?

APUs are generally superior in energy efficiency. They’re also more cost-efficient. So, buying an APU is probably more efficient cost-wise if you’re building a computer that won’t bear a heavy task load—particularly in the graphical sector.

Are APUs more energy-efficient?

APUs are more energy-efficient than GPUs as the same die handles both processes. Thus, the system overall will draw less power because it has one fewer component to power.

Do APUs degrade faster than GPUs?

APUs do not necessarily degrade faster than GPUs. However, it is worth mentioning that APUs do handle a higher volume of data.

Therefore, you should be somewhat gentle with your APU. Your APU probably can’t run Crysis on max settings. Overloading your APU will cause it to degrade faster.

Do APUs need to click in the socket?

APUs do not need to click in the socket. Instead, an APU should sit flush against the socket, and the latch over the socket should close and lock easily. Do not push your APU down in the socket. You will break the motherboard.

Are GPUs better than APUs?

GPUs are better at handling graphics than APUs. However, they’re both valid options for computers, and there are many cases where an APU is a superior choice (usually in low-cost builds for people who don’t do many graphically intensive tasks).

Does an APU affect GPU performance?

An APU won’t affect your GPU’s performance unless you’re actively using the APU’s graphics outputs.

Can I use an NVIDA GPU with an AMD APU?

Yes, they are compatible and will not cause any notable issues when running concurrently.

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