Confused about the computer processor acronym? Time to learn the difference between APU, CPU and GPU.
When it comes time to buy your new computer, knowing the difference between CPU, GPU, and APU is a huge advantage. It can even save you money. This is especially true if you plan to build your own PC.
The three technologies are often grouped together but perform separate roles. Knowing the functions of each, and whether you might need them, is very important.
So what exactly is the difference between APU, CPU, and GPU?
CPU (Central Processing Unit)
The Central Processing Unit or CPU, is the main brain of the computer. In early computers, the CPU was spread over several chips. However, to increase efficiency and reduce manufacturing costs, CPUs now use a single chip. These smaller CPUs are also referred to as microprocessors.
Reducing the CPU footprint also allows us to design and manufacture devices that are smaller and more compact. Desktop computers can be found as all-in-one devices, laptops continue to get thinner but more capable, and some smartphones are now more powerful than ever.
The CPU performs the core computing processes for your computer. Instructions stored in your device’s RAM are sent to the CPU for execution. It is a three-part system consisting of Fetch, Decode, and Execute stages. In general, this means accepting input, understanding what it is, and creating the desired output.
Using this, your CPU helps with everything from loading your operating system, opening programs, and even doing spreadsheet calculations. Resource-heavy operations such as video games place the most significant load on your CPU. This is why benchmarking tests are usually conducted against game standards.
CPUs are available in many variants from energy-efficient single-core chips to top-performing octa-core chips. Intel uses Hyper-Threading technology to make a quad-core CPU act as if it were octa-core. This helps squeeze the most power and efficiency out of your CPU.
GPU (Grapics Processing Unit)
For all the progress made with the CPU, the CPU still has flaws; that is, graphics. The CPU takes input and works on it in linear steps. However, graphics processing requires a lot of data to be processed simultaneously. Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), reduces CPU load and improves your video performance.
Most computers and laptops are equipped with a CPU and GPU, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, especially in the lower price range, your computer comes with integrated graphics instead of a dedicated GPU.
Both GPU and CPU perform similar functions, but the way they do it is different. The parallel structure of the GPU is specially adapted for its purpose. This helps the unit achieve the billions of calculations per second required for gaming and video playback. GPUs are often housed on separate graphics cards, which also have their own RAM.
This allows the card to store the data it generates. It is thanks to this built-in RAM that the GPU can generate a buffer, saving the finished image until you need to display it. This is especially useful when watching videos, for example.
Because these cards are easy to replace, they are often seen as one of the best upgrades you can make to your computer. High-performance graphics cards usually have a price tag to match. However, there are also graphics cards for cheap games, providing options for every budget.
APU (Accelerated Processing Unit)
To reduce physical size and manufacturing costs, manufacturers have found ways to combine electronic components into a single chip. The latest iteration of this technology is the System-on-a-Chip device (SoC). In this design, all major electronics are combined into one mold. This enables the growth of low-cost computing devices and smartphones.
However, the predecessor to the SoC was the Accelerated Processing Unit or APU. These units combine the CPU and GPU into a single chip to form a combined processing unit. This not only reduces costs, but also increases efficiency. Minimizing the physical distance between the two allows for faster data transfer and increased performance.
Because the GPU is optimized for faster calculation speeds, the CPU can move some work to the GPU. In a separate setup, the efficiency gains from this load sharing will be undermined by the physical distance and data transfer rates between the two. However, the combined APU does make this gain possible.
Even so, the APU doesn’t deliver the same performance as a dedicated CPU and GPU. Instead, they are best seen as a step up from integrated graphics. This makes the APU an affordable upgrade for those looking to update their PC.
Processor manufacturer AMD develops APUs. However, they are not the only ones to incorporate processors in this way. Intel is also starting to integrate CPU and GPU. The main difference is that AMD releases a line of dedicated APUs, whereas Intel and other companies incorporate them into their product lines.
APU vs. CPU vs. GPU: Now You Know!
Now that we’ve covered the main processing unit, you know there are a lot of options out there for your computer. If you choose separate CPUs and GPUs, you’re more likely to spend more on additional costs, but also get a more significant performance boost.
Choosing an APU is a compromise between cost and performance. If you’re currently running with integrated graphics, then the APU is a great upgrade.
However, before you buy an APU, CPU, or GPU, you’ll want to make sure you choose the best value upgrade for your machine. In this case, you should consider which of these upgrades will improve your PC the most.