What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains]

cpu gpu apu intro   What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains]Over the last five or more years, there have been a number of different terms swirling around to describe computer hardware. Some of those terms include but aren’t limited to APU, CPU, and GPU.

But for people who are confused about acronyms, it’s difficult to understand what a computer really has.

Each component has its advantages and disadvantages, so understanding these terms could help in determining which computer would be the best to purchase, or simply aid in improving your practical understanding of computers.

CPU

Let’s start with the easiest of the three – the central processing unit, or CPU for short. This chip serves all your essential processing needs. Without a CPU of some sort, a computer simply cannot function. It aids in everything from loading your operating system to executing commands in the command prompt to performing calculations in Excel or similar software.

morecores processorboxes   What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains]

Video games demand much from CPUs, and usually earmark the physics calculations to it. CPUs can come in many different variants, from energy-efficient single-core chips running at a mere 1.0Ghz, to monstrous 8-core powerhouses that can easily achieve 4.0Ghz. Some CPUs also carry with them different technologies, such as Intel’s Hyperthreading, where 4 physical cores can appear to the operating system as 8 virtual cores, getting the most power out of the 4 that you really have.

For more detailed information about CPUs and what they do, check out Angela’s article describing exactly what a CPU is and how it works.

GPU

Graphical processing units, or GPUs, are what give you the video and graphics that appear on your screen. While computers can function without some sort of a GPU, you won’t be able to connect a monitor to them.

Such machines (most commonly servers) are generally accessed remotely via command terminal anyways. GPUs come in all different shapes and forms, such as dedicated cards which you can plug into your desktop’s PCI-Express slot, to graphical chips called integrated graphics chips, which are built directly into the motherboard – the backbone component of your system.

morecores gpu   What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains]

The difference between CPUs and GPUs is that GPUs are highly specialized in number crunching, something that graphics processing desperately needs as it involves millions, if not billions, of calculations per second. The amount of cores that GPUs have depends on the manufacturer. nVidia graphics solutions tend to pack more power into fewer chips, while AMD solutions pack in more cores to increase processing power. Typical high-end graphics cards have 68 cores if it’s nVidia, and ~1500 cores if it’s AMD.

APU

Now that you have a better idea of what a CPU and GPU are, you’re able to much more easily determine what an APU is. Short for accelerated processing unit, these chips pack the components of a CPU and GPU into one. This is supposed to be more advantageous because the different components can communicate with each other more easily, providing great processing power in a smaller, more efficient package.

apu amd a8   What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains]

While APUs generally don’t satisfy power users’ highest demands, they are more than enough for those with light to medium-high requirements for general processing as well as gaming. Although they can be used in many machines, they are usually recommended for mobile devices, laptops, and lower-end desktops. AMD has been making a big push toward APUs with a combination of their CPUs and Radeon graphics.

Intel has also been doing the same, including graphics capabilities in their Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors, although they don’t market them as APUs. For more detailed information on APUs, check out Matt’s article where he describes the APU.

Conclusion

Whether you want to buy a computer with a CPU/GPU combination or one that just includes an APU is really up to you and what your needs are. If you know that you won’t have a lot of graphical needs such as playing games, then an APU or a CPU with a weak GPU will do you just fine. If you want a lot of performance in any situation, then an APU is probably out of the question, so you should look for a strong CPU with a good GPU.

What’s considered “good” or not depends on what’s currently offered, so do some research to find out. However, you now have the basic knowledge to know what those parts are and what they do so that you can get exactly what you need.

Is there anything you’d like to add about CPUs, GPUs, and APUs? Which one(s) do you have? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: Stéfan, Forrestal_PLAaronageD3M0L1SH3R

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14 Comments -

0 votes

Mara Averick

Timely article for me as I’ve been planning a low(ish) cost Linux build for an alternative development environment/fun project (although I’ll never abandon my MacBook Pro). I was interested to read that GPUs pack the big punch in number crunching- since most of my ‘heavy’ work is with non-graphical data (I spend a lot of time in R, and, of course, in Terminal) I had been thinking I would skimp on the GPU, but it sounds like that would be a terrible idea… Right?

1 votes

Anonymous

Normally, you would use a GPU to do more of the number crunching involving physics and vectors, ie. more algebraic functionality rather than running process strings and terminal based applications really. GPU’s are particularly useful in builds that focus on graphic design, CAD (Computer Aided Design) work, gaming (shadows, physics, simulated enviroments), or multi-desktop (more than 1-2 monitors).

If you aren’t going to be doing any of those, you can probably skimp on the GPU a little. :)

0 votes

Mara Averick

Thanks, great advice! Sine my Adobe suite is all Mac I think my graphic work won’t really play into this build- though I’m gonna look into some of the visualization packages I’ll be using in R/R64, but I’m pretty sure the type of SVG-based map work I work with aren’t all that complex graphically (despite being computationally mind-boggling at times)!

1 votes

Danny Stieben

I wouldn’t totally ignore the GPU aspect of your build, but if I’d think that a mid-range GPU or APU should work out fine for you.

0 votes

Alberto Lerma

Why don’t you drink a cup of bleach instead?? I’ve heard that if you do, in your next job you’ll get paid 85 an hour without doing anything at all. Try it m8!! now go back to LH and stay there. Cheers.

1 votes

Nevzat Akkaya

An article that definitely needs to get bookmarked. Thanks MUO and Danny.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

No problem! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

0 votes

Scott Macmillan

Great article.It explained a lot to me about about what is happening under the hood.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

I’m glad I could help you better understand! :)

0 votes

Humza Aamir

Very informative, is there a way to find how many cores my GPU has? For bragging rights ;)

0 votes

Mohammad Shajapurwala

hello hamza…!
within GPU process is not divided…..it has full complete process…..u must be thinking of like quad core processor or like that stuff….but it is graphical unit section so deals completly….not a single process is hadle individually

0 votes

Danny Stieben

You can find it out by using tools such as CPU-Z or by simply researching the GPU online if you know the model number. Most retailers have such details on their pages.

0 votes

Mohammad Shajapurwala

thanks for coming up with such a great knowledge……its is very help full peace of details…thanks once again

0 votes

Norma

Thanks for this article is really nice