If AMD’s upcoming APUs are faster than some of their discrete GPUs, I’ll be a very happy PC gamer

A PC processor with integrated graphics capable of matching a console or discrete graphics card in performance? It is certainly already a possibility, but so far we have not seen such a chip materialize. The only company with the know-how to make it work is AMD, and they make similar chips for the latest consoles from Sony and Microsoft. There have been some factory floor scraps that kind of fits the bill, but such a graphically loaded chip never made it into a gaming laptop or serious compact PC.

But damn, that sounds sweet. A handheld device with a matching, or close to matching, graphics component, the Xbox Series S would easily pass through 1080p gaming and deliver high frame rates. Music to the ears of a PC player. Paired with a decent CPU component, perhaps a six-core or better, and a process node that can make that part sing with high efficiency, this could be the budget gaming chip that really brings budget PC gaming to a new level. it was.

It’s an exciting proposition, no doubt. But how likely is that to happen? AMD has been reticent to build such a chip for the PC market, but now there’s a rumor that the company’s future ‘Phoenix’ APUs – AMD’s name for its processors that combine CPU and GPU under one roof – can be something similar to our dream processor.

AMD regular leak RedGamingTech (by WCCFTech) suggests that these new Phoenix APUs could come with 16 to 24 RDNA Compute Units (CUs) – one CU being the powerhouse of the GPU architecture. That would put these supposed next-gen processors well above or below the Xbox Series S with its 20 RDNA 2 CUs. The exact architecture of these CUs has yet to be determined – even the chip itself is not completely confirmed – but it could be RDNA 2, for combine with today’s RX 6000-series discrete GPUs and current-gen consoles, or the upcoming RDNA 3 architecture, which is due for release later this year.

The CPU is said to be built using AMD’s Zen 4 architecture, which will also arrive later this year. And the entire system-on-chip will be built using TSMC’s 5nm process node. So far, very tempting.

You’ll only find up to 12 RDNA 2 CUs on current Ryzen 6000 series mobile processors. Although if you consider Valve’s Steam Deck, which comes with just a tiny combination of eight CU and quad-core CPU, that’s enough to run the latest games reasonably well at 720p/800p. We’re not talking high frame rates, but manageable 30-60fps on many. And maybe a touch of 1080p in less demanding games.

With these Phoenix rumors, you’d potentially be looking at twice the performance of AMD’s Ryzen 6000 processors and Steam Deck. In fact, even if the low-end was the only spec to materialize, the 16 CU unit, would still be compatible with the RX 6500 XT on the RDNA 2 architecture, and presumably a little better if it came to RDNA 3. AMD’s MO keep their APUs a little lagging at the forefront of graphics architectures.

The PS5’s AMD SoC comes with 36 RDNA 2 CUs and an AMD Zen 2 CPU. Here it is in all its glory. (Image credit: Fritzchens Fritz)

That’s what makes a chip so exciting for low-end gamers. How lack of GPU and subsequent entry-level lackluster GPU releases, it was not a good time to buy a PC on a budget. The RX 6500XT from AMD is just a leap from the company’s own Polaris-generation GPUs from half a decade ago, and while we were a little more impressed with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050It’s hardly a steal of $249.

One of the best ways to give budget gamers more money might be to incorporate the CPU, GPU, and more into a system-on-chip that reduces some of the complexity and cost associated with many discrete parts.

We’re talking a leaker here, so we can’t be sure that such a powerful APU is in the works at AMD, or that it could see the light of day outside its semi-custom division for PC laptops or DIY Desktops. Yet it’s such a compelling concept: genuinely powerful graphics in a system on chip design can bring so many form factors, laptops, and more to life.

Although I must admit, despite my excitement, I’m not entirely oblivious to the difficulties of bringing such a chip into a compact device. There will be power and thermal limitations, and a 24 CU SoC can require quite robust cooling, even with a more advanced process node. At least it would only require cooling one main component rather than the usual two.

While there may be another barrier that AMD faces to making a powerful APU happen, and that depends on us PC gamers and what we look for in the products.

We’ve heard on several occasions that AMD partners – the companies that use their chips in their laptops and other devices – like to put discrete graphics into gaming laptops, whether or not there’s already a fairly capable iGPU in the device. Ultimately it’s a matter of marketing and sales, and there’s clearly some data to back up the idea that customers want to see discrete graphics on their laptops – we’ve all gotten too used to integrated GPUs being a gaming gut load.

But the best way to change hearts and minds is undoubtedly to prove that your system-on-chip really has what it takes to deliver an impressive gaming experience. While we are far from confirming that AMD’s Phoenix chip can be said to be a chip, it is at the very least a very exciting possibility.

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