When building a gaming PC, the GPU is often given the most attention. The RTX 3000 series from Nvidia and RX 6000 series from AMD are synonymous with PC gaming. Because of this, the CPU can often fall on the wayside. Is this something you need to worry about, or does it not matter at all? So, let’s answer these important questions: Does CPU affect gaming? If yes then how much does CPU affect gaming?
Does CPU Affect Gaming?
Yes, it does. If you pair an RTX 3090 GPU with an Intel Pentium G4560 CPU, it’ll bring the GPU to its knees. Of course, that’s an extreme example, but the general idea stays the same.
This depends on many factors: the games you play, your in-game quality settings, and the FPS you’re targeting for. Granted, the graphics card is a much more important component rather than the processor. But it’s not something to ignore either. The CPU is still important for overall system performance.
How Does Processor Affect Gaming & What Does CPU Do For Gaming
OK, so you might be asking, why? What’s the reason behind the CPU being so important for a smooth gaming experience? In short, this is because while the GPU renders your frames, the CPU is the one that really brings it all together.
Even though most games are GPU-bound (where the GPU determines the performance more than the CPU), the CPU is responsible for keeping up with the GPU and processing data as quickly as possible. This is especially important if you’re targeting the highest possible framerate and playing at a low resolution in competitive games like CS:GO, Overwatch, and Valorant.
For example, consider a PC where the GPU is rendering 240 Frames Per Second, but the CPU is only able to process 144 Frames Per Second. This is what we call a CPU bottleneck, and it’s why buying an underpowered processor can totally ruin your gaming experience.
How Much Does CPU Affect Gaming?
Now, to what degree can an underpowered CPU bottleneck your gaming performance? Fortunately, there’s some good news on this front.
With the current offerings in the market, there’s not much room for error. Most new gaming-focused CPUs come with at least a minimum of four cores and provide the most bang for your buck. So, unless you’re going for a dual-core or outdated generation CPU, you really can’t go wrong. Most current offerings are sufficient, more or less.
But, this doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from the decision fatigue that comes with choosing a CPU. There are also some other factors to consider, like core and thread count.
How Many Cores/Threads Are Needed For Gaming?
As we can say from our own experience, hearing “4 Core/8 Thread” or “6 Core/12 Thread” for the first time can be intimidating, especially if you have no idea what that means.
Cores are simply processing units within the CPU. You can think of them as employees, with the operating system being the boss. Threads are sequences of commands given to the cores, pretty much like conveyor belts in a factory.
When it comes to gaming, just go for a six-core CPU for a smooth gaming experience. A four-core CPU also cuts it, but it might not work smoothly with processor-heavy upcoming titles, as games start relying more and more on multi-core performance. Only go for eight cores or higher if you use your PC for workloads other than gaming, like video editing and graphic design.
Overall, just go for something that will enable the GPU to perform optimally without any hiccups. Any less, and it’s too underpowered; any more, and it’s overkill.
Is Clock Speed or Core Count More Important For Gaming?
Clock speed is the number of cycles per second a CPU can complete. CPUs are measured in Gigahertz, “Giga” standing for a billion, and “hertz” standing for cycles per second. So, a processor with a clock speed of 3.5GHz can complete 3,500,000,000 cycles per second. On the other hand, core count relates to the number of cores a CPU has.
The only thing you need to know about this is that higher clock speeds generally lead to better gaming performance. On the other hand, having more cores comes in handy when you’re doing other heavy workloads. So, with a good overclock you can always boost the clock speed and get better gaming performance.
This is because games, at least the current most popular ones, rely more on a faster clock speed rather than the number of cores. As noted, however, this is changing over time as future titles start relying more and more on multi-core performance.
So, with this in mind, it’s wise to go for something that gives you the best of both worlds. In gaming, this usually comes down to a 6 Core/12 Thread processor with a boost clock from 4.4 to 5.0 GHz.
On AMD’s side, a good example of this is the Ryzen 5 3600X with a 4.4GHz boost clock. Whereas with Intel, the i5-11600KF is also a solid choice with a 4.9GHz boost clock. Both of these CPUs have six cores and twelve threads.
What To Do If CPU Is Lowering FPS?
If there’s a CPU bottleneck in your gaming PC, there are some steps that you can take to minimize it and increase your FPS.
First of all, try to lower the background load on your CPU as much as possible. Close all unnecessary programs, optimize your in-game settings, and do an anti-virus scan to weed out any errors in your OS.
Alternatively, if you own an aftermarket cooler, you can always overclock the CPU too. While this does involve some extra steps, like adding a higher voltage to your CPU and cranking up your cooler, it can be an awesome way to unlock some extra performance you didn’t even know was there.
And if nothing else, you can always reapply thermal paste on your CPU plate. The thing is, even though it looks flat on the surface, a lot of microscopic pockets of air sit in between it and the cooler base plate. So, reapplying thermal paste and filling in those gaps will naturally improve the performance.
Which is Better: Intel or AMD?
For beginners and first-time PC builders, this is a common question that comes up when choosing a CPU. The answer is that for any entry-level gaming PC, AMD is the way to go.
Let’s take the example of the Ryzen 5 1600. It’s a 6 Core/12 Thread processor, and is great value for the money. You can even overclock it if you want because it’s fully unlocked. Plus, AMD socket motherboards also tend to be cheaper compared to their Intel counterparts, so you can save some money on the front too.
Intel is suitable only if you’re a professional overclocker and want to get the most juice out of the chip. The people that fall into that category are mainly E-Sports players and PC enthusiasts. If you’re an everyday gamer, an AMD processor is the optimal choice in most cases.
Final Words About How Much Does CPU Affect Gaming
One point to keep in mind about the CPU is that it is one of the most difficult components to upgrade in a PC. When it comes to the GPU, you pretty much just have to take it out, pop in a new one, and make some changes in the OS if necessary.
However, if you want to change your processor, you would also probably need to upgrade your motherboard and disassemble your whole system while at it. So, it makes sense to go for a future-proof CPU from the get-go.
We hope this article answered the important question of how much does CPU affects gaming and helped you out in your search for the perfect processor. Happy hunting!