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CPU, GPU, NPU, APU: What are They

Apr 11, 2024

Nowadays, technology is changing rapidly, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, deep learning and so on everywhere, all kinds of chip term CPU, GPU, APU, NPU endless... What are they? And what are their relationships and differences? This article will provide you with a detailed introduction.

CPU (Central Processing Unit)

The full name of the CPU is Central Processing Unit, one of the main devices of a computer, is like the brain of a computer. It handles all the essential tasks that make your computer work, such as running programs, managing files, and performing basic calculations.

The CPU structure mainly includes ALU (Arithmetic and Logic Unit), CU (Control Unit), and Register, which communicate with each other through data, control, and wealthy lines. These structures and communication methods are the necessary foundation for the CPU to accomplish a variety of tasks and are key factors in improving the computing efficiency of the computer.

Features: CPU is versatile and flexible and is capable of performing various tasks such as operating system management, software operation and data processing. It specializes in serial computing, i.e., performing tasks in a specified order.

Designed for: It is widely used in various computing devices such as personal computers, servers and mobile devices.

GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

The full name of the GPU is Graphics Processing Unit and as the name suggests, it is a microprocessor specialized in executing graphics operations. When you play video games, watch videos, or edit photos and videos, the GPU does most of the heavy lifting to make those visuals look good. 

Originally designed to accelerate computer graphics rendering, the GPU evolved into a processor with powerful parallel computing capabilities as the demand for graphics performance increased.

Features: Parallel processing capabilities, handling numerous calculations simultaneously, ideal for tasks with repetitive operations. But cannot work alone and must be called under the control of the CPU in order to work.

Designed for: GPU can not only high-performance graphics processing, such as the game industry, animation production; it is also used for scientific computing, numerical analysis, massive data processing, financial analysis and other areas that require massively parallel computing.

NPU (Neural Processing Unit)

The full name of the NPU is Neural Processing Unit. NPU is a processor specifically designed to accelerate neural network computation. Unlike traditional CPU and GPU, NPU is optimized for AI computation at the hardware level to improve performance and energy efficiency.

NPU works by using its specially designed hardware architecture to perform various mathematical operations in neural network algorithms. These operations are the core operations in the neural network training and inference process. By optimizing at the hardware level, NPUs are able to perform these operations with lower energy consumption and higher efficiency.

Features: Designed specifically for deep learning algorithms and neural network computation, it can efficiently perform large-scale matrix operations, solving the problem of inefficiency of traditional chips in neural network computation.

Designed for: The main applications are in face recognition, speech recognition, autonomous driving, smart cameras and other areas where deep learning tasks are required.

APU (Accelerated Processing Unit)

The full name of the APU is Accelerated Processing Unit. Combining the functions of the CPU and GPU on a single chip to co-compute and accelerate each other. This not only reduces costs, but also increases efficiency. Minimizing the physical distance between the two allows for faster data transfer and improved performance.

Nevertheless, an APU does not offer the same performance as a dedicated CPU and GPU. Instead, they are considered an upgrade from integrated graphics. If you're not running big games, your average office software will run perfectly fine with integrated graphics. This makes APUs an affordable upgrade option for those looking to update their PCs.

Features:  Offers both general-purpose CPU and GPU capabilities, suitable for a wider range of tasks.

Designed for:  Ideal for daily use, multimedia applications and some light gaming.


In short, the CPU manages overall tasks, the GPU handles graphics and visuals, the APU combines the functionality of the CPU and GPU, and the NPU is dedicated to accelerating machine learning and artificial intelligence tasks.