These Ryzen processors turn conventional PC wisdom on its head

The Ryzen 5 5600G is a graphics card and central processor in oneThe Ryzen 5 5600G is a graphics card and central processor in one
The Ryzen 5 5600G is a graphics card and central processor in one
If you’ve only ever bought desktop computers off the shelf, the components that sit inside may have remained a mystery to you. But the moment you try to upgrade one, that rectangular box of tricks becomes a can of worms.

It usually takes the removal of just a single screw to gain access to the innards of a PC, and to reveal the four or five main parts that make it tick. Three of these – the memory, hard disc and graphics card – can be upgraded or augmented by simply slotting new ones into the appropriate slots and connecting the cables. Done right, it will add at least a couple of years’ life to an ageing machine. But if you get the wrong parts, you’ll spend weeks trying to fix everything.

The graphics card – the component that displays images on your screen – is one of the most obvious DIY upgrades, largely because many computers don’t have one in the first place. Budget models especially rely on a low-power graphics chip within the main processor, which is fine for general purpose business use but not for playing games or watching high definition video. Traditionally, it has been possible to upgrade this to a dedicated graphics processor for not much more than £50.

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But right now, graphics cards are as rare as hens’ teeth. A long-term shortage of components has been compounded by increased demand as office workers rushed to upgrade their PCs for home use, and by supply chain problems ever since. As a result, low-end and mid-range cards are almost non-existent on the shelves, and the prices of those that remain have skyrocketed.

However, the development of so-called Accelerated Processing Units, or APUs, presents a third option. The term was invented by the chip manufacturer AMD, which makes Radeon graphics cards and a range of main processors that has outpaced Intel as market leader. The principal is to combine both functions in a single unit, with fewer of the compromises in performance that are traditionally involved. Its most recent range of Ryzen chips allows realistic gaming speeds that should hold up for the life of the machine, without further upgrades.

It’s not a new idea, but the latest generation of processors is the first that can truly be considered all-purpose performers for almost every user, not simply a cut-down trade-off.

The bad news is that you can’t just slot one into an existing PC. But you can build a new one for much less than would have been possible before – even with the current shortages. A Ryzen 5 5600G APU, with motherboard, 16 gigabytes of memory and all the other necessary parts can be put together for no more than £400, either at home or by your local computer dealer.

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If you want to spend even less, there are many cheaper processors out there, but you won’t find a better balance between performance and price – at least not until yet another range of processors comes along later this year.

The competitiveness has been helped by AMD’s decision to make these Ryzen processors available as kits, rather than selling them only to big-name computer assemblers like Dell and HP, who can then add their own mark-ups.

The downside is that the Windows operating system is an additional expense – but there’s no need to pay Microsoft the £100 or so for a boxed copy. Instead, you can download the files from the official site and buy a serial number for less than £10 from a third-party supplier. The numbers in question were intended for bulk PC manufacturers, but owing to the vagaries of the licensing system have gone spare. They work in the usual way, though, and when you enter the code your copy of Windows will be fully authenticated.

In a market in which the price of components is going up rather than down, as it usually does, becoming your own PC maker is a rare way of turning the supply chain blockages to your advantage.

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