What to Upgrade First: CPU or GPU? [Analyzed Verdict 2024]

Written By Farhan Max

Whenever a game freezes on your PC, an application tends to work slow, or even if it takes forever to load the screen while booting up, then it’s time you should know: Your computer is running old, and it needs an upgrade.

As there are piles of components on your PC, you must be picky in upgrading the exact PC part that can extend the performance. Right here, the trouble begins; you get perplexed in between prioritizing the indispensable part that needs an upgrade.what-to-upgrade-first-cpu-or-gpu

Trust me! Everyone who wants to build a budget rig that fulfills their requirement comes down to this situation.

So, we decided to help you get rid of this confusion. After reading this article, you’ll acknowledge the precise deciding factors of upgrading PC parts, specifically whether you need to upgrade the CPU or GPU in the first place.

Let’s begin.

CPU Vs. GPU: What are the Differences?

Though you have a general idea about what CPU and GPU do and their potential functionality, digging a little deeper won’t hurt you. Reading this section will assist you in solving the puzzle inside your head and help you decide reasonably.

Let’s start with understanding the difference between CPU and GPU on a computer, followed by the reason for upgrading the components.


What is a CPU?

As you know, CPU stands for Central Processing Unit, commonly known as the processor. It’s the computer’s intellectual part that is composed of millions of transistors. One crucial effectiveness of the processor is to control other PC parts and make them collaborate with each other.

Whenever you command something on the PC, the processor coordinates the task to the esteemed component. That’s why the processor is significant.

Also, take a look at the in-depth workings of a processor that we have covered in a separate article where we define what a CPU is, and how does it work.

What is a GPU?

GPU is also a combination of multi-million transistors ― dedicated to improving graphical performance. The processor is the key component that governs the major components, whereas the GPU is built to serve specific requirements.

The main dissimilarity that you can find out from the explanation of the two components is ― the CPU is responsible for the overall performance of your computer whilst the GPU has no other responsibility but to improve the quality of graphical content. (more on this later)

That’s the difference between a CPU and a GPU.

You need to decide which component’s processing power you want to depend on. Hold on! No rush to determine that at this early phase.

Read the following chapters, then decide. Now, answer this, how do you determine it’s time to upgrade your processor? Check out the subsequent segment and see whether your answers match mine.

When Should You Upgrade the Processor?

There’s one easy answer for you if money is not the problem. Yeah, you guessed it right ― whenever you want. But unfortunately, price is a critical factor in terms of upgrading.

Basically, the processors are built to last for a long time. In theory, processor chips can last forever. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to utilize that forever.

You should ask three important questions before being decisive in upgrading the processor.

  • Is your CPU performing up to the mark?
  • Is your CPU bottlenecking the GPU?
  • Do you need more cores to surpass the current performance?

With answering these questions, you’ll get to know whether you should upgrade your CPU or not.

But, there are some symptoms; by noticing them, you can also determine if upgrading the CPU is gonna beneficial for you.

Here are the indications to upgrade your CPU:


Sluggish Performance

Unless there are some major issues, your PC shouldn’t take more than two minutes to turn on and off (excluding SSD). With an SSD installed, the turn-on time can be reduced to a minute.

If your PC is exceeding this timeframe, you need to open up the PC compartment and apply thermal paste to check whether the performance boosts up or not. And the speed doesn’t improve even after that; it’s time to bring some changes.

Unable to Overclock

Overclocking means resetting any component of your PC. To improve the base speed of your CPU, you can overclock it. It increases the clock speed of the processor. However, when the CPU is locked to it’s manufacturer’s inflexible clock speed, you can’t overclock to boost the performance. If you’re using an old CPU, you can’t overclock or boost the performance. That’s when you should go for a CPU upgrade.

Also, check our article where we discuss whether overclocking causes stuttering in your computer.

Not performing with modern softwares

Although the modern softwares require a shallow CPU configuration to install on your computer, they get power-hungry to operate smoothly. The new CPUs feature special functions such as automatic boost up for a certain period, less power-consuming, systematic approach to handle different applications, etc. If you feel these features are lacking on your current CPU, upgrading should be better.

CPU bottleneck

Bottleneck means failing to provide the required performance due to compatibility issues. A CPU bottlenecks when the other PC components are up-to-date except the processor itself. When that happens, your PC craves more computing power, and the processor can’t supply it.


Take a look at the picture that I added here. You’ll get a complete overview of a bottleneck.

Another example of bottlenecking is funny to remember; one of my friends purchased a core i5 6th gen processor to install on his GigaByte B250 motherboard with an RTX 3050Ti. The bottleneck ratio of the i5 6th gen processor with 3050ti GPU is roughly 26%. You can guess how frustrating it was for him to purchase that CPU.

That being said, if any of the reasons are occurring to you, then you should consider upgrading your CPU.

You can also take a look at our article where we discuss how you can fix a CPU bottleneck from your system.

When is a Good Time to Upgrade Your GPU?

Unless you’re planning on playing high-resolution games or establishing a professional workstation, there’s a little need to upgrade your GPU.  Another reason is the GPU lifespan. Usually, available GPUs in the market run at their full capacity for about four years. After that, GPU tends to lose out the functionality. when-should-you-upgrade-your-gpu

However, if you are a hardcore gamer, playing games with a low framerate might be irritating. That’s the ideal time to upgrade to a new GPU. But that’s not all. If your current GPU indicates certain issues like heating more than usual or frame drops more often than usual, you should upgrade the GPU then.

Here are the symptoms to determining you need a GPU upgrade:

Excessive CPU Heat

When your GPU can’t perform to its utmost capacity, the CPU takes charge, lessening the performance issue. For that, your CPU stretches the potential and heats excessively. In the event that is occurring to your computer, you should consider upgrading the GPU.

Constant Frame Drop

Another sign of a must-have GPU upgrading is ― constant frame drops. When your CPU is providing the effectiveness, but it’s missing the same outcome from your graphics card, you notice sudden frame skimming while playing a game or rendering a video.

Usually, it is expected from a GPU that will produce 60 frames per second on a 1080p display. If your GPU is failing to cope with the FPS, you surely need to upgrade your GPU.


As I stated, the average lifespan of modern GPUs is more or less four years. In case you have an older GPU than that, forthcoming games with high graphics and video rendering will not be possible/ difficult to handle for your GPU.

These are the reasons why you need GPU upgrading. Are you facing these situations while your PC is turned on? Think closely, then be decisive.

Before you decide to upgrade the CPU or GPU, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind — CPU and GPU bottleneck. You don’t want to purchase a component that is not compatible with your rig, do you?

Read the subsequent part to understand the bottleneck and how that impacts the computer performance.

What is a CPU or GPU Bottleneck and How to Identify Them?

As explained earlier, the bottleneck is a state where your computer is demanding more power and processing speed to run an application. Still, it can’t run the application because of a lack of performance.

When the major components of a computer aren’t compatible with each other, a bottleneck occurs. When a GPU or CPU bottlenecks, one provides its maximum power to handle the application, whereas the other one struggles to run that enormous power.

For instance, if you build a rig with an i9 10th gen processor with an r7 250x GPU, presumably, the graphics card won’t be able to compete with the processor. That can be called a GPU bottleneck.

On the contrary, if you put an RTX 3090 with an i5 5th gen processor, that can be exemplified as a CPU bottleneck.

Before being decisive in updating a CPU or GPU, you must consider this. Also, the performance bottleneck can help you decide which component you should upgrade first. If the GPU is bottlenecking the CPU or vice-versa, you can decide which one to upgrade first.

You need to identify which of your current PC components is bottlenecking. To do that, there are quite simple methods. Keep reading to find out.


Here’s the procedure to check which component is bottlenecking your PC:

First, you need to launch a fast-paced game on your computer. Make sure that the game is also eye-soothing. If you notice the game is having a serious rendering problem, that’s because of your GPU.

On the contrary, the CPU is the culprit here when the visual rendering is just fine, but the game is lagging.

Try a different approach after that. For this, you need to download MSI afterburner or alternative monitoring applications such as Open hardware monitor MangoHUD, etc.

Launch a game that meets your rig’s hardware requirement. Play for some time and notice your GPU and CPU usage through MSI afterburner.

If the GPU usage is 100% while the CPU uses roughly 50% of its power, then you know which component you should upgrade first.

Note: Different programs run using the PC components differently. Try these methods with multiple games and other programs to get the complete picture.

What are the Benefits of Upgrading a New CPU or GPU

Different PC components enhance your computer’s performance to various extent. For example, a CPU’s performance boost in data management can never be compared to a GPU.

On the other hand, a GPU’s performance in gaming can’t even be mentioned for a CPU. That means that both CPU and GPU serve a diversified purpose in a system.

You will most likely get more core clock speed when you upgrade a CPU. Which will ensure more speed in instructing the other PC components. Also, upgrading the CPU leads to more cores. Which makes the CPU performance improve significantly.

Most modern CPUs are designed to utilize multiple cores. More core means more efficiency in task management.

Nevertheless, when you upgrade your GPU, you’ll have more VRAM which will be capable of rendering better graphics. A powerful new GPU will stop the lag and stutters while rendering video, or editing large videos.

A new GPU will make the computer run faster, not to mention the butter-smooth video gaming.

So, after describing the benefits of a new GPU and CPU, it’s time to decide for you; which component should you upgrade first. If you want my opinion, check out the forthcoming section.

CPU or GPU: Which Component Should I Upgrade First?

Deciding on the component that needs an upgrade totally depends on your prerequisites and budget. If gaming/video rendering is your first priority, you can upgrade either one of them. But, in case you don’t need high graphical operations, you should upgrade the CPU first.

To clarify the earlier statement, there are many fast-paced games that require more CPU power than GPU. If you are into those, I would definitely recommend you go for a CPU update. But in case you can’t dispose of video rendering from your priority list, try getting a GPU.

I think you know what’s the gist of this article ― You must decide what you want with your desktop for a longer period. The same suggestion goes for upgrading laptop components.

I’ve explained the necessity of upgrading both CPU and GPU. You be the judge of deciding which circumstances resemble you and take necessary actions.

I believe some questions arose in your mind while reading this article. Read the following section to get clear of those queries.

Also, check our article where we outline whether a CPU or GPU is important for gaming. This should also clear any further confusion.

Frequently Asked Question

Should I prioritize CPU or GPU first?

If your CPU usage is 100% but still can’t get the optimum performance, go for a new CPU.

Can CPU affect FPS?

Yes, CPU performance affects FPS.

Do I need a Good CPU if I have a good GPU?

You need a CPU that is compatible with your GPU. Make sure it doesn’t bottleneck the performance.

The Bottom Line

Upgrading your system can be exciting, especially when you know you’re purchasing the most impactful component you need. After reading this thorough guide, you’ll be able to find out which component you require upgrading first.

But then again, if anything seems weird or confusing while deciding on the PC parts for an update, you can contact me without any hesitation. I’ll be very much happy to assist.

Enjoy your latest rig!

About The Author
Farhan Max is a tech geek with a particular interest in computer hardware. He's been fascinated by gaming since childhood and is now completing his undergraduate studies while researching and testing the latest tech innovations. Alongside his love for all things geeky, Farhan is also a skilled photographer.

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