Pricing and Final Thoughts
The Pricing Issue
While running an APU is an attractive option for a low-cost system build, and we have definitely seen playable numbers in these gaming benchmarks without a dedicated GPU, there is quite a bit to consider with regard to memory price. This study focused on the advantages of memory bandwidth for gaming with the integrated GPU, and it’s undeniable that these APU’s make use of the extra memory speed. However, the example makes use of an expensive kit of overclocking RAM. When pricing out an APU build on a budget, the extra money required to pick up memory certified to run at high overclocked speeds will set you back at least an extra $30 or so over the least expensive 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 kit on Amazon at the time of writing (the tested HyperX 2666MHz memory is currently $95 for a 2x4GB kit), which isn’t particularly high, but certainly makes a difference once you start to compare options.
The point of the APU is to provide a great overall experience without the need for a dedicated graphics solution. However, even a low-cost dedicated card will provide better performance in games. A third option exists as well, as AMD has also provided dual-GPU support with the IGPU in the 7850K, which works with a couple of low-cost R7 cards including the ~$80 AMD R7-250. Suddenly the $30 investment in faster memory looks a little more significant when it’s a third of the way to a dedicated card allowing some dual-GPU experimentation with the APU!
Another point to consider is the processor involved in these tests. It’s likely that a different processor would be chosen for a low cost build, given the A10-7850K’s $185 price tag. Though a compelling option for an APU build with its robust R7 graphics core, much lower cost APU’s are available such as the $120 A10-6800K. This part would still provide support for 2133MHz (or higher with overclocking) memory if desired, and would save nearly enough over the 7850K to buy a discrete GPU as well. If a card like the R7 250 was chosen, it is possible to begin a build with a $200 total investment in the CPU and discrete GPU, and this is only $15 over the 7850K. Certainly, even a low-cost discrete GPU setup is likely to provide more of a performance increase than the HyperX Predator kit will provide, and the discrete GPU can be upgraded later for a bigger boost in graphics power than simply overclocking the memory or IGPU could possibly provide.
The R7 graphics in the 7850K responded in perfect linear fashion to each memory speed bump, and the overclocked system provided some pretty good FPS averages as well. I did have to use some very high voltages to reach stability more easily, but a user with patience and a very good CPU cooler could find a power/performance sweet spot with an APU like the 7850K that would not only blow away the experience of a console, but would be a heck of a lot of fun to play around with!
In closing, if you’re running with an APU and a motherboard that will support ultra-high memory speeds, there is justification to purchase the fastest DDR3 you can afford. However, once additional cost is factored in, the performance boost in games becomes less useful to the user looking in increase their frame rates than the addition of a discrete GPU. It’s really up to the individual whether an APU alone can power their gaming system, but it is certainly feasible when playing at resolutions and quality settings closer to those found on the current game consoles.