Difference Between APU vs GPU

Every working PC requires some form of graphics processor (GPU) to generate a display. Now this graphics processor may be integrated or dedicated, but the basic purpose remains the same: display & rendering of frames.

While the term GPU in common language mean a dedicated graphics. The term GPU actual relates to both dedicated and integrated. Dedicated GPUs are standalone devices that plug into the PCIe slot on your motherboard.

A dedicated GPU does not share any resources with the system. Although this reduces the overall toll on the RAM and CPU, additional power is required to run modern medium to high-end GPUs. 

In addition to that, dedicated graphics can get quite expensive particularly if you wish to game on decent frame rates and graphics quality.

The alternatives to dedicated GPUs are CPUs with integrated graphics. AMD CPUs with integrated graphics card are popularly known as APUs. 

The APUs (accelerated processing units) are AMD version of CPU’s with integrated graphics. The processors come equipped with iGPUs, which can perform on par or slightly lower than some entry level dedicated graphics cards.

The iGPU’s VRAM is shared with the system’s main RAM i.e., it does not have its dedicated memory. The memory clock and speeds are subsequently dependent on the system RAM’s specifications.

The APUs reduce the overall cost of the system, since you do not have to spend on a dedicated graphics card. At the same time, they offer respectable graphics processing for very light gaming (particularly for online titles).

A dedicated GPU certainly performs exceptionally better than any AMD APU with its integrated graphics card, as it has its own resources and power and the chip is designed for 3D rendering.

On the other hand, the benefit of having an APU as it reduces the overall cost of your system cannot be overlooked.

To compare the two, we can check out the benchmarks, and performance to cost ratio of both!

Difference Between APU vs GPU?

So we have already established above that APU themselves have GPUs, but they are of the integrated kind.

The other type of GPUs are dedicated GPU. The essence of the topic in hand APU vs GPU, is actually to compare the integrated APU vs dedicated GPUs.

What is an APU?

AMD Ryzen Radeon Graphics Vega
Source: AMD

The APU (accelerated processing units) can be defined as AMD’s CPU with a an integrated graphics card.

AMD created APU (accelerated processing unit) processors in 2011. They refer to AMD CPUs that have integrated graphics. – Tomshardware.com

The basic idea behind an APU is to take the standard dedicated GPUs out of the picture, which cuts the cost and additional wattage requirement of the system while maintaining a decent graphics performance level.

The performance of the AMD’s iGPU are certainly not on par with mid to high end dedicated graphics card, but compared to some of the lower range dedicated GPUs, the performance is quite respectable.

The first desktop APU was the A8-3850, released in January 2011. The integrated graphics processor on this chip was the Radeon HD 6550D, a 400-core iGPU. AMD released multiple APUs in the same lineup (from the A4-3200 to the A8-3870K). The Sempron and Athlon II series was released in late 2011 and 2012.

In recent times, AMD has released multiple APUs as a part of their Ryzen series. These APUs come in all budget options, ranging from a relatively cheaper $99 Ryzen 3 2200G to the expensive & high-end $359 Ryzen 7 5700G.

The following table shows all the recent AMD Ryzen CPU with integrated graphics cards:

Ryzen 2000
Ryzen 3 2200GRX Vega 8
(2000 Series)
Ryzen 5 3400GRX Vega 11
(2000 Series)
Ryzen 3000
Ryzen 3 3200GRX Vega 8
(3000 Series)
Ryzen 5 3400GRX Vega 11
(3000 Series)
Ryzen 3000
Ryzen 3 4300RX Vega 6
(4000 Series)
Ryzen 3 4350RX Vega 6
(4000 Series)
Ryzen 5 4600GRX Vega 7
(4000 Series)
Ryzen 5 4650GRX Vega 7
(4000 Series)
Ryzen 7 4700GRX Vega 8
(4000 Series)
Ryzen 7 4750GRX Vega 8
(4000 Series)
Ryzen 5000
Ryzen 3 5300GRX Vega 6
(5000 Series)
Ryzen 5 5600GRX Vega 7
(5000 Series)
Ryzen 7 5700GRX Vega 8
(5000 Series)

It should be noted that while the integrated GPUs may share the same name, they can be world apart in terms of performance.

Take for instance the Ryzen 3 2200G and the Ryzen 7 5700G. They both have the Radeon Vega 8 iGPU, however, there is a significant performance different between the two.

While the AMD Ryzen 3 2200G Vega 8 has a G3DMark score of 1704, the Vega 8 on AMD Ryzen 7 5700G has a G3DMark score of 2717. The Vega 8 on AMD Ryzen 7 5700G is thus on part with the dedicated NVIDIA GT 1030 or AMD Radeon RX 550 graphics cards.

It also worth noting that AMD does not refer to their CPUs with integrated graphics card as APUs as part of their branding anymore. However, popularly, AMD CPUs with iGPUs are sometimes referred to as APUs.

AMD CPUs with Integrated Graphics Have “G” Suffix

AMD Ryzen 5000 G Series
AMD Ryzen 5000G Series. Source: AMD

It is worth noting here that the AMD APUs with integrated graphics card all have the “G” suffix i.e Ryzen 5 3400G, Ryzen 7 5700G

Hence, you can identify whether an AMD CPU has onboard graphics card or not through its model name.

You Need an APU for Motherboard Onboard Video Ports to Work

Motherboards do not have any onboard graphics processing. 

Therefore, in for the video ports found on the back I/O panel of a motherboard to work, you need to have a CPU with an integrated graphics card.

Do Motherboards have Integrated Graphics
The back I/O ports on this board are powered by the iGPU as the motherboard itself does not have any graphics processing chip. Image: Asrock AMD A320M-HDV R4.0

Hence if you were to buy any other Ryzen CPU such as the Ryzen 7 5800X, Ryzen 5600X etc, then these back I/O video ports on the motherboard will not work.

In other words, you will HAVE TO HAVE a dedicated GPU in order to connect your monitor to if your AMD CPU does not have a integrated graphics card.

What is a Dedicated GPU?

dedicated graphics card
A dedicated graphics card is a standalone device that plugs into the PCIe slot on a motherboard.

Dedicated GPUs are often just referred to as GPU for short by gamers and enthusiasts (even though as explained earlier GPU can pertain to both integrated and dedicated graphics processing)

Dedicated GPUs or Graphics Processing Units are dedicated cards installed on the x16 PCIe slot on your motherboard.

graphics card in stallined in top slot
Dedicated graphics card in the x16 slot of the motherboard. Read: What are PCIe Lanes?

The main characteristics of the dGPU are that it has its own resources (like memory) and can be controlled by the processor to perform rendering and graphics-related tasks outside the processor itself.

As such, dedicated graphics cards are far more powerful than any integrated graphics card out there in the market. This of course comes at a cost.

The dedicated GPU market has been a two-horse race between Nvidia and AMD since the release of the GeForce 256 by Nvidia in 1999 and the ATI Radeon by AMD in 2000. The GPU market has grown immensely, with new generations of dedicated GPUs being released every couple of years from AMD and Nvidia, where Nvidia alone is reportedly worth $473.2 billion.

Dedicated graphics card vary drastically in terms of range. These range from basic options such as the NVIDIA GT 1030 all the way to high-end NVIDIA RTX 3090Ti – which can cost a fortune.

APU vs GPU (Dedicated) Performance Comparison

Can an integrated graphics card in an APU compete with a dedicated graphics? In majority of the cases no, even the best iGPUs cannot beat a dedicated GPU.

There are two main things to consider when comparing an iGPU with a dGPU. The first being the performance difference, and the second one being the cost efficiency.

Now, on paper, the dedicated GPUs beat the iGPUs, thanks to the dedicated memory, cores and higher bus speeds. But suppose we want to determine whether the iGPUs can compete with the regular dGPUs in terms of performance? In that case, we must check some benchmarks and game performance.

G3DMark Benchmarks

The following tables shows the G3DMark scores (graphics processing performance benchmark) of different APUs vs GPUs (dedicated).

Intel UHD 630 1395 As found on 8-10th Gen
Intel CPUs
Nvida GeForce
GT 740
(MSRP $79)
1543 Dedicated GPU
Intel UHD 750 1684 As found on 11th Gen+
Intel CPUs
AMD Radeon
Vega 3
(2018 Version)
1071 AMD 2000 Series APU
AMD Radeon
Vega 6
(2018 Version)
1274 AMD 2000 Series APU
AMD Radeon
Vega 8
(2018 Version)
1704 AMD 2000 Series APU
AMD Radeon
Vega 11
(2018 Version)
2139 AMD 2000 Series APU
Nvidia GeForce
GT 1030
2613 Dedicated GPU
Entry Level
AMD Radeon
Vega 8
2717 As on AMD 5700G
AMD Radeon
RX 550
2764 Dedicated GPU
Entry Level
11817 Dedicated GPU
Mid End
NVIDIA RTX 3050 12755 Dedicated GPU
Mid End
NVIDIA RTX 3070Ti 23587 Dedicated GPU
High End
30029 Dedicated GPU
Flagship Premium
Difference Between APU vs GPU
Difference Between APU vs GPU

APUs Graphics Processing are Nowhere Near the Performance of Dedicated GPUs

The benchmark scores of the Vega 8 iGPU on the Ryzen 7 5700G, which one of the most powerful iGPU you can find, is nowhere near any good dedicated GPU.

The integrated GPUs can only be compared with very low end GT 1030 or the RX 550 dedicated graphics card in terms of performance. These are only intended for very light gaming (think League of Legends, DOTA 2 etc)

Indeed, the benchmarks do not represent the actual in-game performance. Let’s talk about the average FPS in different games.

APUs Beat the Intel Integrated Graphics by a Significant Margin

While APUs may not be the best choice for enthusiast gamers, it is worth nothing that they beat the Intel UHD graphics by a significant margin. 

Intel UHD 630, a common iGPU on the 8-10th Gen intel CPUs is less than half as powerful as the Vega 8 graphics found on the Ryzen 7 5700G.

Also Read: Build Guide for Gaming PC Without Dedicated Graphics Card

Gaming Performance

According to Tom’s hardware, the Ryzen 7 5700G’s Vega 8 iGPU performed well at 720p resolution, producing 86.0 average FPS in 17 games.

The dedicated RX 560 had 20% more frames on average on the exact resolution. On 1080p (standard), the RX 560 produced 37% more FPS than the iGPU. The Vega 8 only beats the GTX 1030 by small margins.

So Can You Game with APUs?

All things considered, if you are an average gamer, then even the best iGPUs such as the the Vega 8 is not suitable for gaming at all.

The Vega 8 iGPU does not perform well at all on standard 1080p resolutions. There is no point in mentioning the even higher resolutions (1440p and 4k).

The GPUs beat the APU in gaming; this is a proven fact.

However, there ARE some instance where an iGPU can be sufficient for gaming. If you only play popular online games such as the League of Legends, DOTA, CS:GO and even Fortnite (to an extent), the more powerful iGPU such as that in the 5700G can suffice.

I had actually tested Fortnite on an Intel UHD 630 (one of the weakest iGPU) and it CAN work at 60 FPS give that you heavily dial down the graphics. 

3d resolution to 50%

low settings 50% resolution
60FPS on an Intel UHD 630 on Fortnite after dialing down the graphics settings a ton.

While the game did maintain very smooth 60 FPS, it looked absolutely horrendous. The graphics were too pixelated for my taste.

Read in Detail: Build Guide for PC for Fortnite

Again, the only time an APU instead of a GPU can make sense is if you only have low gaming requirements or if you are not a gamer in the first place. That way, going for a CPU with an iGPU can significantly reduce the overall cost of your PC.

Also Read: Does Your PC Need a Graphics Card If Its NOT for Gaming?

But does the cost cut really matter?

Cost Efficiency. Are APUs Worth it?

Another critical factor is the cost efficiency of the iGPUs (APUs). With the GPU left out, the overall system can cost much less.

The budget saved from the GPU can be spent on other parts, such as faster RAMs, better motherboards, coolers, etc. A key question is whether a cheaper system with an APU can compete with a GPU & CPU combo.

Let us take the MSRP of the Ryzen 7 5700G, which is $359. For comparison, let us consider a system with a CPU and a GPU whose combined cost is around the MSRP of the Ryzen 7 5700G.

The best option available, in my opinion, is the Ryzen 5 2600 ($149) paired with the GTX 1660 ($219). The combined price of the two is $368, just $9 over the MSRP of the Ryzen 7 5700G.

The Geekbench (OpenCL) score of the GTX 1660 is 55,712, which is 6.3 times higher than the Vega 8.

The in-game performance of the GTX 1660 paired with the Ryzen 5 2600 is excellent and almost twice the Vega 8’s performance. The GTX card produced 70.4 on 1080p Ultra settings compared to the 37.4 FPS produced by Vega 8 on medium settings on 1080p. (source: Gpucheck, Tomshardware)

Granted in terms of CPU performance, the Ryzen 7 5700G is far superior as compared to Ryzen 5 2600, but if you are a GAMER, the combination of Ryzen 5 2600 with an NVIDIA GTX 1660Ti would make a lot more sense.

GTX 1660Ti can still play many AAA games at ultra graphics at respectable frame rates, the Vega 8 in Ryzen 5700G can barely play any even at low-medium graphics.

Also Read:

High End APUs can Make Sense for Video and Photo Editors

The expensive APUs like the Ryzen 5700G can make more sense if you are a casual video or a photo editor. This is because, in terms of sheer CPU performance, the 5700G is a great processor, compared to the likes of Ryzen 5 2600.

Video and photo editing do not need as powerful a graphics card as that needing for gaming. Therefore, the balance of GPU and CPU performance offered by the high end APU can make sense.

You Can Cut Cost if You Are Looking for an Essential PC

If you are NOT a gamer, and you are planning on building a PC for simple home or office work, then some of the cheaper APUs can actually be quite worthwhile.

APUs such as the AMD Athlon 3000G (ultra budget CPU) or the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G can still perform quite well for basic home and office use. 

They are affordable and you would not have to spend a dime on a dedicated graphics card. 

Final Words

Although some budget AMD APUs like those from the Ryzen 3000 series can give you relief in the budget, they do not perform well in games.

If you are a gamer worth your salt, you would avoid going for an APU.

Plus you can build a gaming PC that performance countless times better than the top APU for the same price as we demonstrated above.

If you are buying a Ryzen 7 5700G or any APU by AMD, keep in mind that all you’ll get is a good CPU that can allow your PC to display without a GPU or Graphics card.

For a good gaming experience, you will have to buy a dedicated GPU anyways. If you’re looking for a CPU that does not need a GPU for display, you can go for an APU. 

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Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101 and an expert in the computer peripheral industry with over two decades of experience. He has worked as a consultant for major companies and has a deep understanding of the inner workings of computer peripherals. He has a degree in Electrical Engineering and has served as a product manager and technical consultant. He is passionate about testing and evaluating the latest products to provide readers with reliable information.

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