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Are CPU And Processor The Same?

PC terminology can be a tough thing to understand at first because of how many parts, and layers of detail go into every component in your build. Don’t worry though, we are here to help clear this up!

CPUs are processors, however, they aren’t the only processor you will find in your PC. There is the Central Processing Unit (CPU), then there is the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU).

Let’s take a deeper look at the processors in your PC and why this terminology is both correct and incorrect.

Are CPU And Processor The Same?

CPUs are technically processors, but so are GPUs and so are APUs.

However, it is common to refer to the CPU as a processor and most people will know what you mean.

They are referred to as a processor because that is their duty within the construct of your PC.

It is to process tasks and information, then execute it or find another part that can, which we will explain much further in-depth in the next section.

This is similar to the question are GPUs and graphics cards the same?

What Do CPUs Do?

CPUs are processors that calculate, listen and execute tasks for the programs on your computer.

When CPUs are given instruction, they go through a multi-part process to break down that instruction and find out what they need to do.

Then, if it can, it will execute that task on it’s own.

However, the CPU has its limits.

Although it is the central processor that is going to pull in the instructions from everything that demands, it can’t fulfill every task it is given.

For example, installing a game on your hard drive.

Your CPU and RAM will work together to navigate through steam, buy the game, but once you click that install button the hard drive is then told by the CPU it has something to do.

The CPU doesn’t have any storage, however, part of its job is to find other parts that can and they will all work together in symphony.

What Do GPUs Do?

The second processor that is found in every PC, and gets plenty of love in the gaming community is the GPU.

Otherwise known as the Graphics Processing Unit. Similar to the CPU, this is a processor that calculates tasks and executes them.

However, GPUs are secondary to CPUs and are specialized specifically in graphics-related tasks.

They aren’t solving any other issue that isn’t pertaining to their primary function which is graphics!

This is a good thing though because it has allowed GPUs to be made much faster than CPUs at graphics tasks.

GPUs have to complete all the math needed to draw the world seen in video games and still rely on other parts to complete their job.

GPUs need RAM to temporarily store frames and information for the tasks it must complete.

This is also why you have VRAM built-in to dedicated graphics cards.

It’s like the RAM you click into your computer, but once again VRAM is built specifically for graphics-related tasks.

It can move the information required by the GPU much faster than that of traditional RAM and performs the duties much more efficiently.

This is one of the reasons why APUs don’t run as powerfully as dedicated GPUs, but we will talk about that soon.

With all that being said, you still need the CPU to tell the GPU what tasks it expects of the GPU.

The CPU has to keep sending tasks to the GPU, so the GPU can figure out how exactly it can complete this task, then complete it.

Are GPUs And Graphics Cards The Same?

Graphics cards may have GPUs in them, however, not all GPUs are in graphics cards. This means that they are not technically the same thing.

Although similar to CPUs and processors, you can call a graphics card a GPU, and people will know what you mean.

As you may have read above, GPUs are the processing unit and is only one small chip. Graphics cards are the giant contraption you click into your motherboard.

Graphics cards will have at least one GPU inside of them, built-in to the daughterboard of the graphics card.

Some have two and maybe there will be graphics cards with even more than that in the future!

The difference is a graphics card refers to the whole component that has everything including the cooling, VRAM, daughterboard, and all other necessary parts that make up a graphics card.

Whereas the GPU is just one small chip that can be put into both the large graphics card or even into the CPU itself which leads us to the next section.

We discuss this more in-depth in our article on are graphics cards and GPUs the same.

What Do APUs Do?

A little bit ago, I also mentioned APUs which are CPUs that also have a GPU built-in to the on-board chip.

APU is a term coined by AMD, however, there are also Intel CPUs like this.

You are still better off using AMD though, as historically their CPUs with integrated graphics have worked better.

These two processors still perform the functions listed above, but like anything in life there are trade-offs to this convenience.

Let’s start with the primary benefit though, APUs are cheaper. The drawback, they don’t perform as well as separate CPUs and GPUs.

APUs have to draw from the system RAM instead of having faster VRAM and generally aren’t able to be made as powerful as a dedicated graphics card.

Which is fair enough, considering the size (and price tag) of some newer graphics card like the 3090 or the 6800 XT.

And those are all the components that technically fall under the umbrella of the word “processor”.

Now let’s dive into one final fun terminology from the PC building world!

Are Hard Drives And Hard Disk Drives The Same?

This is a case where these two terms mean exactly the same thing! There is no technical terminology here that you need to worry about.

The full term for hard drives is a hard disk drive, however, a hard drive is just easier to say in terms of a conversation.

You could also call it an HDD if you really wanted to keep things super simple.

The “disk” part represented the technology being used inside of the storage drive, as that is how HDDs work.

There are several spinning disks, and a needle head used to write down the information.

Over the years, they were able to make the surface of these disks capable of storing more and more bits of data.

The prices got cheaper, and this especially became the case with the invention and release of SSD technology on the consumer market.

SSDs use a small chip instead of all the large moving disks and don’t need to use any moving parts.

At this point, if you are truly fascinated with SSDs I would recommend reading our article on are SSDs worth it.

Wrap Up

I tried to fit in as many confusing terminologies as I could think of, but knowing PCs I’m sure I missed a few.

Keep in mind, processors can be a few different parts. The GPU, CPU, or APU are all processors that serve the same duty to process.

The difference being they have unique form factors that may cater towards on or the other, or in the case of APUs both.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter all that much to get this terminology precisely correct in conversation because most people refer to the CPU as the processor and they will know what you mean.


I've been a PC gamer and builder for around 3 years now but my love for gaming spans many years all the way back to the Nintendo 64! Getting into PC gaming there was a lot of information that was hard to understand so I made it my mission to make PC gaming easy!

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