CPU vs GPU for Gaming: Which Makes the Biggest Difference

CPU vs GPU for Gaming: Which Makes the Biggest Difference

When building a Custom Gaming PC, it's important to distinguish what resources go into where. Here are the distinguishing factors between choosing between a better CPU or GPU for the express purpose of gaming. 

The GPU is one of the most critical factors in a gaming configuration due to its ability to deliver certain performances on different monitor resolutions. Following behind the GPU is the CPU, which plays a crucial support role behind the GPUs rendering ability with its core clock speed and turbo boost potential depending on its cores.

This article goes over the intricacies between the GPU vs. the CPU, which have the potential to hold each other back in pursuing performance.

CPU vs. GPU for Gaming

While GPUs carry a significant amount of weight when gaming, there are equally optimized games that can push a majority of the work onto the CPU. Depending on the game engine, there are significant performance increases or decreases regarding core speed and the amount to allocate. This relationship has more extrapolation in our Minimum & Recommended Specs for a Gaming PC blog that goes over the best baseline playable experience.

Types of Games Which Rely on CPU More

Games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Valorant, Fortnite, Genshin Impact, or League of Legends require a more powerful CPU than GPU to keep up in their performance due to subsystems like AI pathing and actions, damage number calculations, or less lag between input times. 

The role of CPUs has changed due to how games incorporate the CPU and GPU. The games listed above have engines that rely on the input of the CPU, with the GPU taking a back seat to the games’ processes.

Types of Games Which Rely on GPU More

Single-player, story-driven, or next-generation games are the most graphically immersive gaming experiences, making them the most demanding in higher settings. 

Games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Forza Horizon 5, Tomb Raider Series, or Metro Exodus require graphics cards from at least the past three to seven years.  While this seems like a wide gap for those looking to run games, hardware released the same year the game releases often gives the best results.

What a CPU Does for Gaming

Games that are more CPU bound tend to be on older engines or games that rely heavily on RNG (Random number generation) and the computation required from the CPU and RAM. A higher core count does not mean a game's performance will drastically increase.

An effective boost range on the CPU contributes to how much the GPU goes with the current CPU. A graphics card and cooling system balances this demand and enables the CPU to boost for more extended periods at its highest speed. 

What a GPU Does for Gaming

Most triple A games have high-fidelity graphics, focusing on the game's ability to look great. These games often utilize most of the GPU during gameplay to provide the highest quality textures at a framerate and resolution enthusiasts desire. 

With aspect ratios reaching as high as 32:9 on a 5120x1440 ultra-wide display, the need for powerful GPUs has increased dramatically over the decade. While not many enthusiasts have these resolutions, gaming peripherals have stayed within the 1080p to 4K range as performance between the two is par the course for cohesive gaming experiences.

Which to Upgrade First

Upgrading in the future is a viable way to stay on the bleeding edge of performance. As time goes on, game requirements change as hardware evolves. Let's look at what to upgrade for the most out of a system.

When to Upgrade CPU

Upgrading the CPU is a reliable option when the system cannot meet the demands of certain assets within a certain amount of time. Stuttering and or asset loading is affected by how fast the CPU can communicate with the GPU and RAM.

Depending on the upgrade, switching out the motherboard may be necessary depending on the CPU brand. For example, Intel makes each generation of motherboard have a different socket type compatible with that series. With the recent Ryzen CPUs on the market, motherboards have been able to accept multiple generations of CPUs with boards only needing a BIOS update.

When to Upgrade GPU

GPUs are a more subjective component depending on gaming needs. Many factors contribute to a game's expected performance, and VRAM and clock rate significantly influence performance for most games with the latest graphics requirements. For games released in 2022, the ten series of Nvidia GPUs released in 2015 hold up in 2022 as the recommended minimum requirement. 

The best time to upgrade is when switching out peripherals, like moving from 1080p to 4K. The added performance from a newer generation card will see higher fidelity graphics at a more negligible expense to the card's ability for output. 

Wrap Up on CPU vs.GPU

An essential factor for dated and modern CPU and GPU configurations is determining how the games you play affect your hardware. Optimizations and fixes are rolled out from manufacturers via firmware updates to ensure the GPU, motherboard, and CPU are running at peak efficiency. The GPU is the most important to consider for gaming, but a lower or matched quality CPU also optimally supports the system.

At Apex Gaming PCs, we offer a wide range of CPU and GPU configurations for needs from workstations to gaming. Using our custom builder, you can experiment with FPS estimations and the ability to get the most out of a custom gaming PC. Whatever your CPU or GPU needs, we hope to fulfill them at Apex!

Written By William Wilson

Photo Credits: Pavan Bhakta

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