If you want to build yourself a gaming PC, brace yourself for sticker shock when you start shopping for a graphics card. Cryptocurrency mining has derailed the prospect of building a gaming PC from the ground up by driving up the price of GPUs and creating a shortage. That's the bad news. The good news? Thanks to AMD's new Raven Ridge APUs—or Ryzen processors with Radeon Vega graphics, as AMD likes to say in place of "APU" these days—you can build yourself a budget gaming PC based on *gulp* integrated graphics.
We see your rolling your eyes, and heck, we don't blame you. Let's face it, integrated graphics have not been all that great up to this point. Serviceable in some cases, sure, but not really viable for a gaming PC. But that was then, and in the here and now, AMD's new Ryzen 3 2200G and especially its Ryzen 5 2400G are, quite literally, game-changers.
Give Me Some Specs!These processors combine Zen CPU cores with Radeon Vega graphics, and while neither side is a particular powerhouse, there is enough CPU and GPU grunt on these chips to play games on. We're not talking about dropping the resolution to 1366x768 and disabling all of the eye candy, either. Depending on the game, you can manage better-than-playable framerates at 1080p. Fancy that!
Here is a look at the full spec sheet for each chip:
Both the Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400 are quad-core processors, the latter also with 8 threads to throw at tasks. They both also have Vega graphics underneath the hood—8 compute units (CUs) with 512 stream processors in the Ryzen 3 2200G running at up to 1,100MHz, and 11 CUs with 704 stream processors in the Ryzen 5 2400G running at up to 1,250MHz.. AMD's Infinity Fabric provides high speed communication links for the CPU and GPU, along with the DDR4 memory controller, display engine, multimedia engines, and I/O and system hub.
Looking at the specs, you might get the impression that AMD simply bolted Vega onto its Ryzen 3 1200 and Ryzen 5 1400, and tweaked the clockspeeds. That is not the case. These first Raven Ridge APUs have only a single CCX, whereas first-gen quad-core Ryzen processors had two, but with fewer active cores in each. The benefit of this configuration is lower latency for workloads that bounce between threads, albeit at the expense of L3 cache.
Can They Game?Obviously you are going to get better performance from running a more powerful CPU with a discrete graphics card, such as a GeForce GTX 1060 or Radeon Vega 56/64. However, you're also going to over pay for those cards right now. In contrast, the Ryzen 3 2200G retails for $99, and the Ryzen 5 2400G goes for $169. And remember, you're getting a CPU and graphics at those prices.
In our testing, these APUs showed promise for a budget gaming PC. Let's have a look at some 3DMark scores:
The above scores give you an idea of how AMD's new Raven Ridge APUs stack up against other integrated GPU solutions, such as Intel's HD 630 and Iris Pro 6200, along with AMD's own previous generation Radeon R7. It's really no contest, with the integrated Vega graphics leaving all other contenders in the dust. The Ryzen 5 2400G is especially impressive.
Also keep in mind that 3DMark's Fire Strike test is designed to test "high performance gaming PCs," to give these scores some added perspective. Of course, 3DMark is a synthetic benchmark, so we tried playing a modern game on these new APUs as well.
Here we see the Ryzen 3 2200G averaging 35 frames per second and the Ryzen 5 2400G running at 41 FPS in Middle Earth: Shadow of War at 1920x1080, and at the Medium quality preset. We didn't even have to turn the settings down to low to get playable framerates. Compare those framerates with just 23 FPS for a Core i7-8700K, Intel's flagship Coffee Lake CPU, with integrated UHD 630 graphics.
Not all games will fare as well, of course, but the point is some games that were previously unplayable on integrated graphics can be run on a Ryzen 3 2200G or Ryzen 5 2400G.
What Does This Mean?
There are few scenarios that come to mind here. The first is the obvious—you can build a budget gaming PC around one of these APUs. Pick yourself up a cheap motherboard, plop in 8GB or 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and stick a 120GB or 256GB solid drive into the mix and you have a responsive system that can play games. You could also go with a cheaper hard drive, the system just won't feel as snappy compared to an SSD.
Another scenario is to build a budget gaming PC now with the intent of upgrading down the line. AMD did system builders a solid when it committed to supporting its socket AM4 platform for at least the first couple of years. Even though graphics cards are in short supply and overpriced at the moment, you could build an AMD system from the ground up around one of these APUs and play games at lower settings to get you by. Then when graphics cards fall back to MSRP levels, you could hawk your APU on eBay or Craigslist, buy a burlier Ryzen processor, and add a discrete graphics card to the mix.
And of course it doesn't always have to be about you. If, like us, you're always asked for recommendations for hardware (usually on a budget), this is a solid option to recommend for anyone who fancies themselves a casual gamer. Obviously this route doesn't apply if they're looking for a muscular build, though if that's the case, you can propose waiting, or option 2 above.