CPU Vs GPU For Gaming

When building a gaming PC, the two most important components are the CPU and the GPU, this is because they directly influence how many frames per second are generated. So, the question arises, what’s better to upgrade, CPU or GPU? To understand which is more important, we need to understand how each component influences the other.

When you’re gaming, a lot of graphical information is being processed, so upgrading the GPU may seem like the obvious option, but this isn’t always the case. Although the GPU handles most of the graphical information, the CPU still plays a critical role, and should not be neglected.

Answer: When it comes to gaming, the CPU is arguably just as important as the GPU, the goal is to find a balance between the two. Yes, the graphics card is responsible for processing graphical information, but if there’s a CPU bottleneck, you may only use around 50% of your graphics card.

Understanding Bottlenecks & Their Impact

why bottleneck are bad for gaming

A common mistake with beginner PC builders is that they spend a lot on the graphics card and buy a really weak graphics card, this is an unbalanced build. What you’re going to see is that your build doesn’t match up with similar builds with the same graphics card, you will see that you’re lacking a lot of FPS. The most important practice to follow when building a PC is to build something that is balanced.

This is what we call a bottleneck, and the CPU is responsible for it, purchasing a weak CPU and pairing it with a strong GPU will overwhelm the CPU as it’s not fast enough to process the data being sent. When the CPU can’t keep up, you will notice that your graphics card isn’t running at 100% or close to it, therefore you’re not getting the maximum performance.

An extreme example of a bottleneck would be pairing an Intel I3 2100 with an RTX 3070, the CPU being weak and the GPU being strong. On average, you should experience around a 67% bottleneck across multiple video games. This is obviously a huge problem, 67% of your GPU performance is going to waste. Honestly, the best way to fix this would be to downgrade the GPU slightly so you can purchase a better CPU.

What Is More Important For Gaming

Since we now know the effects of having an unbalanced build, we can safely say that the CPU and the GPU are just as important as each other. But you’ll find yourself upgrading the GPU before the CPU as CPUs generally last longer than GPUs. We say this because the single-core performance of GPUs is starting to slow down as new processors come out.

We say it’s slowing down because the clock speeds are no longer increasing, we’re practically only relying on IPC for single-core performance increases, and this can be pretty slow. Due to this, you can find that CPUs such as the I9 9900K are still viable today, and will go well with most graphics cards. While it’s practically impossible to have a 0% bottleneck, the 9900K is still pretty strong.

With in-game resolution, the higher it is the lower the CPU/GPU bottleneck will be, this is because the CPU will have to process fewer frames. So, you’ll find that a lot of older CPUs will still game pretty well at high resolutions such as 4K and 1440P, but at 1080P, the bottlenecks are more pronounced. At 1440P, you will only experience a 10FPS difference on average between the 9900K and the 12900K.

Understanding Single-Core Performance

why single-core performance is important for gaming

Understanding the processor and how it influences the in-game performance is crucial to purchasing the right CPU, it’s really easy to purchase a bad CPU if you’re unaware or new to building PCs. When you’re gaming, you’ll notice that only one core is being utilized the most, this is because a lot of games are coded to use a single core.

So higher clock speeds = more FPS? Not so fast, clock speed is an important metric when gauging the single-core performance, but it isn’t everything. The clock speed is only relevant when comparing it to CPUs within the same generation. There’s another metric called IPC, and this stands for instructions per clock cycle, you don’t hear about it that much.

The hidden metric also known as IPC refers to how much work a CPU can do per clock cycle, the higher the IPC the faster the CPU. You’re probably wondering how you would know what CPU has the highest IPC, well it’s usually the latest CPUs with the highest IPC, this is mainly due to huge improvements with the CPUs architecture.

So, don’t feel tempted to purchase an old CPU with a high clock speed as you can probably do better with a newer clock speed with a lower clock speed. IPC is the reason why the Ryzen 5000 generation processor has surpassed Intels 10th generation processors in terms of single-core performance. This is why Ryzen 5000 CPUs were the best gaming processors, they had a 16% IPC increase.

The Goal Is To Achieve 100% GPU Usage

100% GPU usage is good for generating the most FPS possible.

The main goal is to have a CPU/GPU combo where your GPU is able to work at its maximum capacity, this will result in the most frames per second generated by your GPU. When you have a bottleneck, your CPU will be running at 100%, but your graphics card will not, the goal is for low CPU usage, high GPU usage.

Running your graphics card at 100% isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a sign that your GPU is running at its maximum speed, surely you will want all the performance you’ve paid for. Yes, 100% GPU usage will cause the GPU to run hotter, but as long as you have sufficient cooling(airflow), this should not be an issue.

And yes, you’ve probably already figured it out, low GPU is a sign of a bottleneck, if you find it impossible to reach 100% utilization, you’ve probably have a bottleneck somewhere. This is why the CPU and the GPU are both really important for gaming, you can’t really have one more powerful than the other.

Verdict

The final verdict is that the GPU and CPU are equally as important, you can’t have a super-powerful GPU and a weak GPU, this will cause a bottleneck. Yes, you’ll find yourself upgrading your GPU before your CPU, this is because CPUs last longer, but they’re equally important.

The goal is to achieve 100% GPU utilization which means your GPU is working at its maximum generating the most FPS in-game, you can’t really do this if you have a CPU bottlenecking it. This is the main cause of low GPU utilization.