Glad you asked. let’s look into it.
Back in 2010 when AMD was losing the processor performance wars with Intel, they made a technical detour to develop something called Fusion – the first Accelerated Processing Unit.
An APU combined a capable processor (CPU) with a capable graphics unit (GPU.) Up until that time a desktop computer either relied on integrated graphics or had a separate graphics card. An APU was designed to put both on the same chip.
It sounds easier to do than it turned out to be, and the effort brought AMD close to bankruptcy. They succeeded though, and the APU turned out to be the savior of the company. APUs went into many laptops and AMD scored big with them in game consoles like PlayStation and XBox.
AMD also made several APU chips for desktops and when I decided to build a desktop computer for Linux in 2013 I decided to go with one of them – an A8-5600K.
Using an APU in a desktop back then had several advantages:
- It was cheaper than buying both a processor and graphics card. I was able to use the savings to buy a better quality motherboard. This was important for longevity and reliability.
- It simplified the build process. I didn’t need to put in a graphics card and connect it to the power supply with a specialized cable.
- I didn’t plan to use the machine for gaming so a slightly less powerful but still capable graphics solution would be fine for web surfing and office tasks.
- The graphics on the APU was slightly trailing edge and this is always good when you are dealing with Linux graphics drivers.
I chugged along nicely in Linux with my AMD build for a couple of years. Then I began to see some of the disadvantages:
- AMD began to drop its graphics driver support for older units and that included the one in my APU. I could no longer use the latest graphics drivers.
- Although I still had a capable and pretty powerful central processor, the graphics portion of the chip was getting rather wimpy. A new but cheap AMD separate graphics card would give 4-5 times the speed and performance.
- The grandkids found that even web-based video games ran a lot better on a more powerful Windows desktop I had upstairs.
So I replaced the video portion of my APU with a newer graphics card. I had been smart enough to get a power supply that would support a separate card so it was an easy enough upgrade.
That upgrade has now been in place for three years. The machine is now 5 years old and still runs very well. Both processor and graphics card are now quite obsolete but web-based games still work great and the desktop is fast and powerful with a solid state hard drive and a high-speed Internet connection. No complaints from the grandkids anyway.
If I do decide to build a new machine sometime in future I might very well adopt the same way of doing it – APU first, separate graphics later. AMD has just announced its latest APU technology which combines its newest Ryzen processors with the latest Vega graphics – all on one chip as before.
But it’s a bit too soon for a Linux based Ryzen-Vega APU desktop. The motherboards don’t work all that great with the latest chips and the Linux graphics drivers at this point are buggy and not that stable. Better to wait for a trailing edge machine in a couple of years. That’s the way I see it anyway.