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APU vs CPU: Which is Best for You?

APU vs CPU: Which is Best for You?

Daniel Horowitz
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When you’re learning about PC components, there’s a lot to uncover when it comes to the various acronyms like CPU (central processing unit), GPU (graphics processing unit), and RAM (random access memory). More recently, manufacturer AMD added another acronym to the mix with the APU.
In this article, we’ll explore exactly what the APU is, the benefits of this component, and who may want one in their new computer.

What is an APU?

An APU is an accelerated processing unit. They’re manufactured by AMD as a way to house a CPU and GPU on a central die. This allows for efficient resource sharing between the two components, and it offers great core and thread counts at an affordable price. As a result, these components are particularly popular among gamers.
AMD created the APU in 2011 and the current generation options are named Picasso, Renoir, and Cezanne; the previous generation APUs were the Raven Ridge and Bristol Ridge. You can primarily find an APU in the AMD Ryzen™ line.

Differences between APU and integrated graphics

Man Standing in Front of High Speed Internet
An APU and integrated graphics card both combine a CPU and GPU. However, there are two key differences between these components.

HSA compliance

APUs are HSA-compliant, but integrated graphics cards are not. But what is HSA?
The HSA set of standards were created by the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) Foundation. They allow for the integration of CPUs and GPUs, with shared memory, and they govern the standards in video game consoles and certain smartphones and tablets.
Integrated graphics cards do not meet this standard and are not considered HSA-compliant.

Vega graphics architecture

The other major difference between APUs and integrated graphics is that modern APUs use Vega graphics architecture. This is a scaled-down version of the same technology found in dedicated GPUs, and it pushes the APU beyond the capabilities of an integrated graphics card. Because of this, APUs are generally considered a step up from an integrated GPU.

Benefits of an APU

An APU has numerous benefits that help it stand out from both an integrated GPU and a dedicated GPU with a separate CPU. It is largely considered a middle ground option between an integrated GPU and a dedicated GPU and CPU, but here are the other major benefits.

1. Improves power efficiency

An APU improves the power efficiency of your computer because it’s manufactured at a reduced size and because it combines the GPU and CPU into one unit.
A dedicated GPU is optimized for faster calculation speeds, and a dedicated CPU is optimized for processing power. However, you can lose out on this dual optimization, and see a reduced power efficiency if there are issues between these two components. They may be placed too far from one another in your build, or they may have varying data transfer speeds.
With an APU, power inefficiency is not an issue. A single, shared component can more easily handle the load of processing and rendering graphics, which means the APU also consumes less power than a dedicated GPU and CPU.

2. Decreases power consumption

APUs are a great option for laptop users. If you plan to play games on your laptop as well as use it for work or school, you should consider an APU. It simply doesn’t consume as much power as a dedicated GPU, which will lengthen your laptop’s battery life.
The same applies for anyone concerned with their power bill or if you want to do your part to lower your carbon footprint. An APU uses significantly less power than a dedicated GPU, and it can help to utilize your power in a more sustainable way.

3. More budget-friendly

One of the biggest benefits of an APU is the affordable price. You can purchase or build an entry-level gaming PC for close to $500 with an APU. This is a great way to get into PC gaming in a way that won't hurt your wallet. Plus, you can play most triple-A (AAA) games from the previous generation without any issues, as well as sports titles and indie games.
As a comparison, you can look at the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the two most powerful consoles of the previous generation. They both use modified versions of APUs to process games and render graphics. As a result, your budget gaming PC, with a modern APU, will deliver graphics similar to the PS4 and Xbox One.

Why use a dedicated CPU and GPU?

There’s no way to get around it: dedicated CPUs and GPUs provide better performance than either an APU or an integrated graphics card. While the AMD Ryzen line is great for a budget gaming PC, a hardcore gaming PC requires a high-end graphics card.
You’ll need an NVIDIA® GeForce® RTX 3090 or AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT card, with a comparable CPU to match. This is particularly important for modern AAA titles, which will struggle to run properly with an APU.
You also get more processing power with a dedicated CPU and GPU. This allows you to run multiple resource-intensive applications or programs without worrying about lag or input delay.
If you plan to use your computer for high-end gaming or intensive tasks beyond web browsing and spreadsheets, you may need a dedicated CPU and GPU.

Best HP desktop PCs and laptops with APUs

Many modern PCs use APUs for their processing needs, particularly those focused on power efficiency, portability, and budget gaming. And at HP, we have several great APU-powered PCs that fit the bill.

1. HP ENVY x360 convertible laptop

HP ENVY x360
The HP ENVY x360 convertible laptop is an excellent all-around laptop, especially if you’re frequently on the go. Thanks to the 360-degree hinge and touch/stylus-enabled screen, you can work and create wherever you are.
This APU-powered laptop is versatile and energy-efficient, too. It boasts an upgradeable AMD Ryzen 5 5500U processor, AMD Radeon graphics, long battery life, and ENERGY STAR® certification. You can also recharge the battery to around 50% in just 30 minutes.
The HP ENVY x360 convertible laptop comes with a vivid Full High Definition (FHD) micro-edge display, too. This ensures that every color on your screen is vibrant and accurate.

2. HP Pavilion 15-inch laptop

HP Pavilion 15t
The HP Pavilion laptop - 15z-eh100 packs a lot of performance into a compact form factor. The 15.6-inch diagonal FHD BrightView glossy display is crisp and sharp. And the upgradeable AMD Ryzen 5 5500U processor and AMD Radeon graphics provide solid processing and graphics power.
This HP Pavilion laptop also boasts an excellent screen-to-body ratio and B&O Dual speakers with HP Audio Boost, so it’s perfect for work and for play. And with its affordable price, it’s simply an excellent value across the board, from its audio and visual quality to the processing and graphics power.

3. HP Pavilion desktop PC

HP Pavilion Desktop PC
APU processors aren’t only in laptops. Numerous desktop PCs, such as the HP Pavilion TP01-2165z desktop PC, use an APU with great results.
This HP Pavilion desktop packs in an AMD Ryzen 5 5600G, as well as tons of storage. You get a speedy 256GB PCIe® NVMe™ SSD as well as a massive 2TB 7200 RPM SATA HDD. This machine also comes with a sleek, silver-brushed design and 16GB of RAM, so it looks as good as it performs.

Summary

An APU is an excellent, jack-of-all-trades option for anyone looking to put together a budget or entry-level gaming PC. You can find numerous APU PCs and laptops at HP, or you can buy AMD Ryzen processors separately to build your own computer. However, if you plan to play modern AAA games or use resource-intensive software, you may need a dedicated GPU and CPU.
An APU is also cost-efficient in multiple ways. It’s substantially less expensive than a dedicated GPU and CPU, and it’s generally better than a typical integrated CPU-GPU combo. Plus, it uses less energy than dedication options, which means a lower power bill.
If you need a versatile, affordable option and don’t care about playing the latest, biggest games, an APU may just be the right choice for you.
About the Author: Daniel Horowitz is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.
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