Did you know that a PC doesn’t necessarily need to have a CPU?
Indeed, you don’t need a CPU and can instead use an APU, although they’re technically the same thing.
APU, or Accelerated Processing Unit, is a marketing term that AMD came up with in 2011 to denote a series of processors that had both CPU and GPU cores on a single die and were thus able to fill both roles.
In this article, we’ll be going over a few of the best APUs for gaming that you can get in 2021, but we’ll also take a look at the advantages and disadvantages that they have compared to your regular CPUs.
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- Decent performance at this price point
- Very low power consumption
- Not unlocked
- Limited processing power
- Dubious value
About The APU
If you’re looking for affordable, then you’ll hardly find a better APU than the new Athlon 200GE. Since 1999, AMD has offered great budget solutions under this brand, and it endures to this day.
In the era of Ryzen, the Zen-based Athlon series is comprised of several reliable and highly affordable APUs that are bound to appeal to those who are on an extremely tight budget.
|Model||AMD Athlon 200GE|
|Number of CPU Cores/Threads||2/4|
|Number of GPU Cores||3|
|Base Clock||3.2 GHz|
|Graphics Clock||1 GHz|
The most notable thing about the Athlon 200GE is the fact that it comes with AMD’s excellent Vega graphics cores, like all of the new Zen-based APUs. It only has three cores, but even so, it is an excellent entry-level gaming APU, especially considering the price.
Needless to say, it’s not going to hold a candle to the more powerful Ryzen APUs or most of Intel’s CPU lineup when it comes to computing power, but if you can’t afford anything better and mainly intend on playing indie and eSports games that don’t require much graphics processing power, it would make for a viable pick.
- Excellent graphics performance
- Cheaper than the competition
- Great value
- Not quite as fast at computing tasks
- Small stock cooler won’t do for overclocking
About The APU
Are you looking for a more serious APU that could run more than 2D games and eSports titles? Then the Ryzen 3 3200G might catch your attention.
With its eight Vega graphics cores, it is the second most powerful APU currently available, though it might be the very best one when it comes to the value that it offers for your money.
|Model||AMD Ryzen 3 3200G|
|Number of CPU Cores/Threads||4/4|
|Number of GPU Cores||8|
|Base Clock||3.6 GHz|
|Graphics Clock||1.2 GHz|
At its core, the Ryzen 3 3200G offers all the things that are great about Ryzen: low price, good value, unlocked multiplier, and it ships with a compact but quiet Wraith Stealth cooler. On top of that, the aforementioned eight Vega graphics cores make it one of the best APUs currently available.
So, how does it cope with the competition? Well, it utterly dominates it.
In terms of overall processing power, the Ryzen 3 3200G lags slightly behind budget CPUs such as the Intel Core i3-10100 and the Ryzen 3 3100, but it more than makes up for that when we throw the graphics into the mix.
Simply put, Intel’s integrated graphics are no match for Vega. Compared to the Intel UHD 630 integrated graphics that you’ll find in the latest Intel CPUs, the 3200G easily offers more than twice the performance in most games and can actually manage playable framerates in AAA titles.
That, combined with the fact that it’s actually cheaper than Intel’s budget offerings, makes it the best value APU for gaming at the moment.
- Most powerful APU to date
- Best integrated graphics available
- Limited single-threaded performance
- Somewhat dubious value
About The APU
And finally, if the Ryzen 3 3200G is not good enough for you and you want the best APU currently available, there’s always the Ryzen 5 3400G. As you might expect, it offers some extra performance compared to its more modestly-priced counterpart, and it just might be worth the extra cost.
|Model||AMD Ryzen 5 3400G|
|Number of CPU Cores/Threads||4/8|
|Number of GPU Cores||11|
|Base Clock||3.7 GHz|
|Graphics Clock||1.4 GHz|
The key improvements that this Ryzen 5 APU offers compared to the Ryzen 3 3200G is the fact that it comes with multithreading, upping the thread count to eight, and that it has three more Vega graphics cores, all of which contributes to the overall performance offered by this APU. Plus, it comes with a markedly better Wraith Spire cooler.
On the graphics front, you’ve seen what eight Vega cores can do, so you can imagine what eleven of them can achieve.
This is easily the most powerful gaming APU released to date and it can offer better performance than even some dedicated entry-level graphics cards. Granted, it still doesn’t come close to a GTX 1650 or any other viable budget GPU, but it’s more than worth the money when you consider the price.
Furthermore, as a processor, it fares better in regards to multitasking than the previous Ryzen 3 model thanks to the inclusion of multithreading, though it still can’t quite keep up with any of the budget CPUs currently available. But, of course, the graphics are the key factor behind this APU’s appeal.
At the end of the day, the Ryzen 5 3400G is a bit more dubious than the Ryzen 3 3200G value-wise. It is a definite step up in terms of performance, but whether that step up is worth spending an additional $50 is an entirely subjective matter.
APU vs CPU – Which Should You Get?
So, we’ve already mentioned what an APU is: short for “accelerated processing unit,” it is a term coined by AMD, and it denotes a processor that has both CPU and GPU cores on a single die.
AMD is the only company manufacturing APUs, and while most of Intel’s Core series CPUs do come with Intel UHD integrated graphics, the kind of performance they offer can hardly compete with the Vega graphics cores that you’ll find in AMD APUs in 2021.
But, as the saying goes, a jack of all trades is a master of none, and that’s the main issue with APUs.
They are generally not as fast as similarly-priced CPUs when it comes to computing tasks, nor can most of them come close to the performance that even some of the cheapest dedicated GPUs can manage.
In spite of that, APUs still offer unprecedented value. Why spend over $200 on a budget CPU and budget graphics card if you can make do with an APU that does both their jobs at half the price?
That said, APUs are a great way to save money when building a budget gaming PC, provided that they can meet your performance requirements. If not, then you’d simply have to go with a CPU and a dedicated graphics card.
Which APU Should You Get? – Our Picks
The Ultimate Budget Gaming APU – AMD Athlon 200GE
The lowly Athlon won’t turn any heads or smoke any benchmarks, but as far as the entry-level of entry-level is concerned, the AMD Athlon 200GE is king.
It is ridiculously cheap and offers sufficient power for the price, thus making it a viable solution for those who are really pinching pennies and/or don’t really plan on playing anything but the less demanding indie games and eSports titles.
The Best Value Gaming APU – AMD Ryzen 3 3200G
There is little to be said about this Ryzen model that we haven’t already mentioned.
It packs good processing power and the eight Vega graphics cores offer the kind of graphics performance that Intel’s integrated graphics can’t come close to.
All in all, we’d say this should be the priority pick for most gamers who are on a tight budget and are considering getting an APU.
The Best Gaming APU Overall – AMD Ryzen 5 3400G
As already stated, the Ryzen 5 3400G is the best APU available right now. With four cores and eight threads, combined with a total of eleven Vega graphics cores, this is what a proper “jack of all trades” APU looks like.
Of course, the issue with this one is that it is a bit pricier than the 3200G that already offers pretty much all the performance that you’d need in an entry-level gaming PC, so not everyone will be willing to dish out an additional $50 for the performance increase that the 3400G offers.