If AMD’s next APUs are faster than some of its discrete GPUs, Is a PC CPU with integrated graphics capable of matching the performance of a console or separate graphics card? It’s absolutely a possibility, but we haven’t seen such a chip yet. AMD is the only business that knows how to make it work, and it manufactures equivalent processors for Sony and Microsoft’s current systems. Although there have been certain manufacturing offcuts that sort of meet the description, such a visually charged CPU has never made its way into a gaming laptop or small PC in any serious way.

But, wow, does that sound delicious. The Xbox Series S would easily munch through games at 1080p and produce high frame rates if it had a graphics component that matched, or was close to matching, the Xbox Series S. A PC gamer’s dream come true. This might be the cheap gaming chip that ushers budget PC gaming into a new era, along with a competent CPU component, perhaps a six-core or higher, and a manufacturing node that can make this part sing with high efficiency.

Without a question, it’s an exciting prospect. But, really, how likely is that to happen? AMD has been hesitant to develop such a device for the PC market, but there is now speculation that the company’s future ‘Phoenix’ APUs—moniker AMD’s for processors that include both CPU and GPU under one roof—might be similar to our ideal processor.

According to RedGamingTech (via WCCFTech), AMD next APU these new Phoenix APUs might have anywhere from 16 to 24 RDNA Compute Units (CUs), with a CU being the GPU architecture’s powerhouse. This would place these rumored next-gen CPUs near to or below the Xbox Series S’s 20 RDNA 2 CUs. The exact architecture of these CUs has yet to be determined—even the chip itself hasn’t been confirmed—but it could be RDNA 2, which will be compatible with today’s discrete RX 6000-series GPUs and current-generation consoles, or the upcoming RDNA 3 architecture, which will be released later this year.

The processor is claimed to be based on AMD’s Zen 4 architecture, which will be released later this year. TSMC’s 5nm manufacturing node will be used to build the whole system-on-chip. So far, everything has been tantalizing.

In today’s Ryzen 6000-series mobile CPUs, there are only up to 12 RDNA 2 CUs. Even then, if you consider Valve’s Stream Deck, which has just eight CU and a four-core CPU, that’s more than enough to run the current games at 720p/800p rather effectively. We’re not talking about high frame rates here, but rather 30-60fps in most cases. And perhaps a smidgeon of 1080p gaming in less taxing games.

With these Phoenix rumors, AMD’s Ryzen 6000 CPUs and the Steam Deck might possibly be doubled in performance. Even if the 16 CU unit was the only spec to materialize, it would still be a match for the RX 6500 XT on the RDNA 2 architecture, and likely a bit better off if it came on RDNA 3. AMD’s strategy is to keep its APUs a touch behind the curve when it comes to graphics architectures.

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That is what attracts budget gamers to such a processor. It hasn’t been a fantastic time to buy a PC on a budget, what with the GPU scarcity and following lacklustre GPU launches at the entry-level. While we were a little more impressed with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050, it’s hardly a steal at $249. AMD’s RX 6500 XT is barely 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 3050, it’s hardly a steal at $249.

One of the greatest ways to give budget gamers more bang for their buck is to combine the CPU, GPU, and other components into a system on chip, which eliminates some of the complexity and cost of numerous individual pieces.

We’re relying on the word of a single leaker here, so we can’t be sure that AMD is working on such a powerful APU, or that it will see the light of day outside of its semi-custom business for PC laptops and DIY desktops. However, it’s a fascinating concept: really great graphics on a system-on-chip design may bring a slew of new form factors, laptops, and other devices to life.

Despite my excitement, I must say that I am not completely blind to the challenges of delivering such a processor to a little device. There will be power and thermal constraints, and even with a more advanced manufacturing node, a 24 CU SoC may require some serious cooling. At the very least, only one key component would need to be cooled, rather than the typical two.

However, there may be another roadblock in the way of AMD releasing a strong APU, and that has to do with us PC gamers and what we seek in goods.

We’ve heard many times that AMD’s partners—companies that utilize its processors in laptops and other devices—prefer to install discrete graphics into gaming laptops, even if the device already has a competent GPU. In the end, it’s an issue of marketing and sales, and there’s no doubt that people want discrete graphics in their laptops—we’ve all become accustomed to integrated GPUs being a load of nonsense for gaming.

However, proving that your brave system on chip has what it takes to create a great gaming experience is without a doubt the finest approach to win hearts and minds. While we’re far from concluding that AMD’s Phoenix processor is the rumoured chip, it’s certainly an intriguing option.

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