When I was building my first computer for gaming, I was stuck between either going for a good CPU or a GPU. I just couldn’t decide which is better for me. Then I had to make a decision based on the games that I would be playing.
You could be facing the same dilemma as me. And trust me, a simple google search will just add to your confusion.
In this article, I will share my findings about choosing the right hardware for gaming. That will certainly help you to reach a decision.
So, let’s get started.
CPU and GPU Explored
The processor is at the heart of your computer. It is responsible for running all applications on your computer. The CPU typically contains multiple cores that decode the instructions sent by your applications.
When gaming, the CPU will execute what the game needs to do. These days a quad-core processor is the minimum for running demanding games.
On the other hand, the graphics card is responsible for displaying all the images and visuals that you see on your screen. Even if you are sitting idle on the desktop, the wallpaper and the UI elements of Windows are rendered by the GPU. Because it is more efficient at processing these graphical elements.
Graphics cards contain a large number of cores or stream processors as they are called. They are designed to process information in parallel. They work on calculations to produce the desired images with specific details such as lighting or placement of objects. Nvidia and AMD both manufacture GPUs with ray-tracing features that has is all the rage these days.
Now that is a very high-level concept of the workings of a CPU and GPU. Let’s now shift our focus to how they affect gaming.
How CPU and GPU Affect Gaming?
To run the most basic games normally you require a quad-core processor or a GPU that has at least 4GB of memory. Once you meet these criteria, then we can proceed with how games perform on specific hardware.
You know, 4 core CPU is the norm right now. But if you own a machine that dates back several years, sporting a dual-core CPU, you can optimize it for gaming.
The processor is mostly involved when the A.I and the physics aspect of the games. Every title has different running mechanisms. Or the gun recoil, bullet trajectory, enemy movements, etc. are just some of the things that the processor handles. The processor makes sure each of these components works as desired by a game developer.
On the other hand, the graphics card handles all the graphical elements such as textures, lighting, shadows, water movement, etc. As you already guessed a more potent card with more processing units, VRAM will be able to push out more graphics on your games. As a result, the games will look great too.
However, due to the nature of the design of these games, some rely on single-core performance while others shine when more cores are present. Minecraft would be a great example of this.
It relies on good single-threaded performance. Just so you know, IPC and higher clock speed signify the CPU’s performance in gaming. The chart below signifies this.
Let’s see what happens if we pair a powerful GPU with the i5 10400F and see if we see gains on a title that utilizes more GPU power.
With Control, it is a DX 12-based title that can utilize all the GPU power you can throw at it. We see the frame rates increase with more powerful cards. This is a classic example of a GPU-bound game.
One thing is established for sure. The titles that you are going to play will warrant the CPU and GPU selection. Let’s take a look at games that favor CPU the most.
Are you getting worried that your GPU is 100% utilized during gaming? That is totally normal and nothing to be afraid of. Don’t believe me yet? Then check our separate article on how much GPU usage is normal for gaming.
Which Games Are CPU Dependent?
This is not an exhaustive list of every game released so far that is CPU bound. I have tried to include the games that are most commonly played. So, if you play a title that is not listed here, a quick search on Reddit should help you find it.
Simulation-based games are typically dependent on your CPU. Cities Skyline, Total War Warhammer, Stellaris, and Civilization 6 are the ones that come to mind.
Because these games spawn cities and structures at scale, more CPU power is appreciated here. The graphical fidelity is there, but these games focus more on the experience of playability.
In addition, massively multiplayer games are bound to the CPU too. Valorant, and CS: GO are first-person titles while Fortnite is a third-person competitive shooter that adds to this list. These games demand that you have a quad-core processor as a minimum.
Some story-driven games include Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption, Farcry 5, etc. These games are open-world and require a decent CPU to avoid the spike in frame times. You may only need 60 fps here, but if the game starts dropping frames the experience will not be any good.
If your processor is holding you back, you may be experiencing a bottleneck. We explored how to determine if CPU is bottleneck GPU in a separate article. Read that piece if needed.
Which Games Are GPU Dependent?
Most games benefit from a good graphics card. That is like a general rule. But if we narrow down the games that are the most taxing, I can definitely name a few.
Cyberpunk 2077 tops this list. With RTX support, this game needs an RTX 2060 at the minimum. If you are looking to play at 4K, you definitely need something beefier like an RTX 3080.
Crysis was famous for bringing the GPU to its knees in its heyday. Crysis Remastered follows this suite. Witcher 3 Remastered also needs a good GPU.
If we shift our focus to multiplayer shooters, most of these are not taxing to the GPU. But COD Warzone is an exception. You need a minimum GTX 1650 to get a playable frame rate. If you turn up the details, an RTX 2060 is a must.
If we list some third-person titles, Red Dead Redemption, Shadow of the Tom Raider, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla make notable mentions.
We compare both CPU and GPU bottlenecks in different articles. Do check it out.
Is CPU or GPU More Important for Gaming?
Now it’s time to draw some conclusions.
Actually, both the CPU and GPU are important for gaming. If you cut too much cost on the processor, some games may run well, but others will not run well. Similarly, a weaker GPU paired with a high-end CPU, will not get you good frame rates across all games.
Let me share what I did in my case. I went for a Core i5 10400F a 6-core 12-thread processor. This is adequate for modern games. Then I looked for the best GPU that I can get on my budget, which was an RTX 2060. For 1080p gaming, including a butter smooth 144 fps competitive shooters, it performed superbly.
So, get a balanced processor and the best GPU in your budget that will last you at least 3-4 years easily. Do not cheap out on the graphics card at all. It is simply not worth it.
When you are upgrading from an old system, you may think about which to buy first, CPU or GPU. Read our separate article to know our verdict.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I spend more on CPU or GPU?
You should always spend more on the GPU. As the graphics card is responsible for rendering the visuals in your games, a beefier graphics card is the thing you need.
Do I need a good CPU if I have a good GPU?
If gaming is your main purpose, you can get away if you don’t have the best CPU. For esports titles, this is not a problem. But for demanding games such as Red Dead Redemption 2, you need both a good CPU and GPU.
I want to conclude this piece by quoting a line uttered by Thanos. Perfectly Balanced. As all things should be.
Don’t mislead me for a war criminal here. I am only referencing how you should pair the CPU and GPU perfectly for a great gaming experience. And you should be set for years to come.
That’s all for today. And with it, it’s time for goodbye.