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difference between apu and cpuOver 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.


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.

difference between apu and cpu

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 What Is A CPU and What Does It Do? [Technology Explained] What Is A CPU and What Does It Do? [Technology Explained] Read More and how it works.


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.

difference between cpu and gpu

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.


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.

difference between apu and cpu

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 What Is An APU? [Technology Explained] What Is An APU? [Technology Explained] Read More .


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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  1. Sidney Weisberg
    January 8, 2016 at 7:09 am

    Great Article I loved it helped me better understand so I don't look silly asking on the internet.

  2. Sahil
    November 15, 2015 at 7:13 am

    Thanks , GOOD Article

  3. satish kharel
    September 4, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Thank You Very Much It Helped Me A Lot Thank You Very Much

  4. Ill Lit
    August 21, 2015 at 6:18 am

    this makes it sound like hyperthreading is a good thing, its not. if an app only uses 1 thread then a cpu with hyperthreading will only process that thread at half speed

    • dinkles
      January 29, 2017 at 5:07 pm

      ummmm... dude, hyperthreading is a good thing... why on earth would it be a selling point for CPU's if it wasnt, theres a reason why i7's are better suited for some tasks over an i5...

  5. John
    February 27, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Hi I only download say movies plus browse the net just want some speed computer with no problems don't play games., No number crunching or anything was looking at the amd6800 what you think


  6. Tom
    February 3, 2015 at 5:37 am

    Hey there, thanks for that. Spelled out perfectly. So i'm wanting to get into Cinema 4D animation and want to build a rendering machine that is external to my iMac, connecting it via a Gigabit connection for network rendering so i can send jobs to it while continuing to work on my iMac without the massive lag effect rendering has on the computer.

    What would be the best setup CPU, GPU/Graphics card, RAM wise? Should i be looking to combine 8-12 GPU's? If so, do i need more than one CPU or motherboard? Do i need a lot of RAM (32+ GB) or is this covered off in the GPU?

    Now comes the tricky part... it needs to run OSX otherwise the iMac wont register it. So are there GPU's / CPU's / motherboards / RAM bla bla that won't be compatible with OSX?

    Its a bit question i know... but one i've wanted answered for some time!


  7. Norma
    July 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks for this article is really nice

  8. Mohammad Shajapurwala
    February 19, 2013 at 6:23 am

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

  9. Humza Aamir
    February 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm

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

    • Mohammad Shajapurwala
      February 19, 2013 at 6:28 am

      hello hamza...!
      within GPU process is not 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

    • Danny Stieben
      February 28, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      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.

  10. Scott Macmillan
    February 15, 2013 at 11:49 am

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

    • Danny Stieben
      February 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm

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

  11. Nevzat Akkaya
    February 15, 2013 at 7:22 am

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

    • Danny Stieben
      February 28, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      No problem! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  12. Alberto Lerma
    February 15, 2013 at 4:59 am

    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.

    • DarknessTSG
      February 2, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      But I wanna hit WW with everyone else!!

  13. Mara Averick
    February 14, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    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?

    • Anonymous
      February 14, 2013 at 10:30 pm

      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. :)

      • Mara Averick
        February 15, 2013 at 2:17 am

        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)!

        • Danny Stieben
          February 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm

          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.