CPU vs APU – What Is The Difference?

This guide explains the difference between a CPU (central processing unit) and an APU (accelerated processing unit) in simple layman's terms.

A CPU or a processor is a term many of you have already heard of since it’s the “soul” of any phone, PC, laptop, etc.

On the other hand, APU might be a term you are not so acquainted with, even though APUs and CPUs are quite similar. But, still, they are distinct.

So, what is the distinction between a CPU and an APU? We’ve collected definitions, advantages, disadvantages, benefits, and some other details to assist you in comprehending the difference.

Let’s explore those differences in this guide!

Table of ContentsShow

Central Processing Unit – CPU

Fix High CPU Usage

Every software or app you utilize on your computer is referred to as a computer program. This program is composed of numerous lines of programming language. This language is essentially a group of directions delivered to the CPU.

The CPU’s role is to process those computer program instructions to operate said programs. The instructions can include anything from logic to arithmetic operations.

But that’s not all!

The CPU is also the main meeting point for any piece of hardware linked to the system. This includes the system memory (RAM), hard drives, SSDs, and even the graphics card.

When a program needs access to the GPU for rendering, it must request that through the CPU.

Naturally, the way a CPU operates is so much more complicated than our explanation above, but there’s no reason to delve that deep into the topic, so we’ll leave the rest for the experts.

Clock Speed

There are a few things that dictate the speed, proficiency, and success of a central processing unit.

The clock speed is one of the main factors that affect how fast a CPU can process instructions. Today’s mid and high-end processors have boosted clocks between 4 and 5.5 gigahertz (GHz).

It’s possible to go above the CPU’s stock clock speeds by overclocking for even faster processing. CPUs can also be undervolted to reduce power consumption.

Here’s a video of der8auer overclocking and AMD processor up to 8.1 GHz:

Cores and Threads

However, the pace of the clock by itself is not sufficient to handle modern applications and video games. That is why current central processing units (CPUs) have multiple cores that allow them to execute multiple tasks/instructions at the same time.

Every solitary one of these cores has its own clock speed, which can also be overclocked. This is what PC enthusiasts refer to as “unanimous-core overclocking.”

To enhance CPU performance, actual cores can possess virtual cores, known as hyper-threading (Intel) or multi-threading.

For instance, the Ryzen 7 5700X has 8 cores and, with multi-threading, a total of 16 rational cores. Often referred to as threads, these cores enable the CPU to concurrently handle 16 tasks, enhancing work productivity.

Contemporary consumer processors have up to 32 threads, while enterprise-grade CPUs have up to 64 cores and 128 threads.

Although, not all tangible cores have threads. Recent examples are the SKUs from Intel’s Alder Lake lineup, as seen on CPUNinja’s website.

Currently, the leading CPU brands are AMD and Intel.

Intel CPU die with cache cores iGPU
An Intel CPU die detailing cache, cores, and UHD iGPU – Source: ResearchGate

iGPU

CPUs also have an integrated graphics card (iGPU). This is usually a low-powered GPU used for most basic tasks. They’re considerably slower than high-end dedicated GPUs.

However, not every CPU possesses an iGPU. For example, AMD’s Ryzen (most) SKUs lack a built-in graphics card within the processor, whereas the majority of Intel chips do.

Accelerated Processing Unit – APU

Ryzen 2000 CPU die
Ryzen 2000 CPU die – Note: the Vega GPU takes up a lot more die space compared to the Intel die above

An APU is a CPU and a GPU on a single die while sharing the same power, cache, memory, etc. Its role is basically identical to any other CPU.

Nonetheless, not all central processing units (CPUs) including an integrated graphics processing unit (iGPU) can be classified as accelerated processing units (APUs). To meet the criteria of the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HAS) Foundation established by AMD, a CPU must fulfill certain conditions. As Intel did not originate this foundation, they do not produce APUs.

So, is there any real difference between an Intel CPU with an iGPU and an AMD APU?

Yes, there is! Because of those strict regulations by the HAS Foundation, APUs have a much more powerful GPU embedded into the CPU die. But, because the GPU takes such a large part of the die, the CPU is usually slower than its non-GPU version.

Intel’s UHD graphics, for example, are considerably slower because they only take a small part of the CPU die.

Here’s a video comparing Intel’s UHD 750 iGPU and AMD’s Vega 8 in the Ryzen 3 3200G:

It’s apparent in the video that APUs have GPUs that are nearly twice as fast as Intel’s iGPU.

What Should You Get – CPU or APU?

With a better understanding of the differences between CPUs and APUs, we can now talk about the better option for you.

Naturally, all of this relies on your use case, but here are a couple of recommendations:

  • An APU is a good choice if you need a faster GPU for gaming or other GPU-related tasks but don’t have a dedicated GPU.
  • An APU is also a good choice if you do both CPU and GPU demanding tasks.
  • A CPU is a great choice (with or without an iGPU) if you have a dedicated GPU.
  • A CPU with an iGPU is a solid option if you don’t have a dedicated GPU and if you don’t plan on competitive or high-end gaming.

We hope this article has cleared some things about CPUs and APUs and that you will be able to pick the correct type of processor for your computer.

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Branko Gapo

Keeping up with the incredibly fast evolution of computer technology is almost impossible. That's why Branko will be using his knowledge on this matter to share news and information on all the latest essential technological innovations and advancements related to CPUs.