It’s time to cease ignoring the CPU in your gaming PC

A hand holding an AMD Ryzen CPU.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There’s one factor that can strike concern into the guts of any PC gamer: a CPU bottleneck. It’s unimaginable that you simply wouldn’t get the total energy of your GPU when taking part in video games, which is usually the costliest part in your rig. And though information of what CPU bottlenecks are and methods to keep away from them is frequent, we’re in a brand new period of bottlenecks in 2024.

It’s time to reexamine the function your CPU performs in your gaming PC, not solely so as to get probably the most efficiency out of your rig but additionally to know why the processor has left the gaming dialog over the previous couple of years. It’s straightforward to focus your entire consideration on a big graphics card, however ignore your CPU and also you’ll pay a efficiency value.

The frequent information

Intel's 14900K CPU socketed in a motherboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Let’s begin with a high-level definition. A CPU bottleneck occurs when your processor turns into the limiting think about efficiency. When taking part in video games, your CPU and GPU work collectively to render the ultimate body you see. The CPU handles some minor duties like audio processing, nevertheless it primarily will get work prepared on your GPU. Your GPU executes that work, after which it takes a brand new batch out of your CPU. If you ever attain a degree the place your GPU is ready on extra work, you have got a CPU bottleneck.

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The resolution is to extend the load in your GPU. Running at increased graphics settings or taking part in at the next decision means your GPU will take longer to render every body, and typically, which means it received’t be ready in your CPU for extra work. You can see that in motion in Cyberpunk 2077 under. The Ryzen 9 7950X is 7% quicker than the Ryzen 5 7600X at 1080p, however when your GPU is compelled to render the massive quantity of pixels required for 4K, there’s a negligible 2% distinction in efficiency.

Note: I’m utilizing percentages all through the charts on this article for the sake of illustration. You can discover the total efficiency ends in a desk farther down the web page. 

CPU performance in Cyberpunk 2077 at different resolutions.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

That’s the place the dialog normally ends, however that may result in some misconceptions about methods to apply the information. You would possibly suppose, for instance, that you simply don’t want some monstrous processor in case you plan on taking part in video games at 4K. After all, why would you spend $550 on a Ryzen 9 7950X when the $200 Ryzen 5 7600X gives mainly similar efficiency at 4K?

The concept behind a CPU bottleneck is similar because it has at all times been, however the sensible software can get messy rapidly. With fashionable video games, you’re typically not rendering the sport at your output decision, and it’s important to take care of massive, open worlds that put much more pressure in your processor. Taking the decades-old classes of CPU bottlenecks and making use of them to fashionable video games doesn’t maintain up.

Challenging establishment

I wished to begin with Cyberpunk 2077 as a result of it’s very heavy in your graphics card. The Red Engine that the sport makes use of is remarkably well-optimized for CPUs, simply cutting down to 6 cores such as you discover on the Ryzen 5 7600X and as much as 16 on the Ryzen 9 7950X. In practically each state of affairs, you’ll be GPU-limited within the sport, which is strictly the place you need to be for the best body charges.

CPU performance in Spider-Man Miles Morales at different resolutions.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Let’s take a look at the flipside. Spider-Man Miles Morales could be very intensive in your CPU, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that there’s a 36% leap in efficiency with the Ryzen 9 7950X at 1080p. However, there’s nonetheless a leap of 17% all the way in which up at 4K. That’s sufficient of a efficiency leap that you would argue spending $350 extra for the Ryzen 9 7950X.

CPU performance in Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing and DLSS.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

It’s not simply Spider-Man Miles Morales, both. In Cyberpunk 2077, if we flip on the Ultra RT preset and enable DLSS to Performance mode — a method you would possibly truly play the sport — there’s a efficiency hole of round 26% at each 1080p and 1440p. That disappears at 4K, however the distinction in comparison with native decision is staggering.

When you play a demanding sport in 2024, you typically received’t be taking part in at native decision. You’ll activate the best graphics settings your GPU can muster and flip on upscaling both via DLSS or AMD’s FSR. The result’s that you simply’re usually placing extra pressure in your CPU. By rendering the sport at a decrease decision and upscaling, your graphics card is ready to generate frames quicker. And, within the course of, it’s left ready on extra work out of your CPU.

CPU performance in Spider-Man Miles Morales with DLSS and ray tracing turned on.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

This can result in some very unusual conditions, and Cyberpunk 2077 already reveals a few of that habits. The efficiency hole is nearly similar at 1080p and 1440p, nevertheless it utterly disappears at 4K. In Spider-Man Miles Morales the efficiency hole with DLSS and the entire ray tracing sliders turned up stays constant.

From 1080p as much as 4K, the Ryzen 9 7950X is round 25% quicker than the Ryzen 5 7600X. In this case, we’re utterly constrained by the CPU all the way in which as much as 4K with probably the most demanding graphics settings the sport is able to. If that doesn’t persuade you that your CPU is necessary for gaming efficiency, I’m unsure what is going to.

A balancing act

The bottom of the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The concept behind a CPU bottleneck holds up in the present day, however instruments like upscaling problem PC avid gamers to suppose extra critically in regards to the function their CPU performs in gaming efficiency. Every system is totally different and each sport is totally different, however you possibly can dig deeper into your system’s efficiency to know the way it reacts to totally different video games.

First, let’s take a look at the circle of life between your GPU and CPU. Instead of fascinated by one part ready on the opposite, you possibly can consider them as particular person items of your PC with a sure capability for efficiency. You may say that your CPU and GPU are each able to a sure body price, or that they each take a sure period of time to finish their work.

Ryzen 5 7600X Ryzen 9 7950X
Cyberpunk 2077 1080p 169 fps 180 fps
Cyberpunk 2077 1440p 119 fps 122 fps
Cyberpunk 2077 4K 55 fps 56 fps
Cyberpunk 2077 RT 1080p w/ DLSS 100 fps 127 fps
Cyberpunk 2077 RT 1440p w/ DLSS 100 fps 126 fps
Cyberpunk 2077 RT 4K w/ DLSS 84 fps 85 fps
Spider-Man Miles Morales 1080p 112 fps 152.6 fps
Spider-Man Miles Morales 1440p 112.6 fps 143.2 fps
Spider-Man Miles Morales 4K 112.7 fps 132.2 fps
Spider-Man Miles Morales 1080p w/ DLSS 86.1 fps 106.7 fps
Spider-Man Miles Morales 1440p w/ DLSS 84.8 fps 104.7 fps
Spider-Man Miles Morales 4K w/ DLSS 82.9 fps 103.3 fps

Thinking about bottlenecks this manner is useful for figuring out them inside your individual system, and my full outcomes above present why. In Spider-Man Miles Morales with DLSS on, you possibly can see that the Ryzen 5 7600X is simply able to about 85 frames per second (fps), whereas the Ryzen 9 7950X is able to about 105 fps. And we are able to confidently tie the efficiency to these components as a result of there’s nearly no change in efficiency from 1080p as much as 4K.

Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing and DLSS gives an much more clear instance. The Ryzen 5 7600X is able to about 100 fps whereas the Ryzen 9 7950X is able to about 127 fps. In each circumstances, the GPU is ready to render extra frames than what the CPU can. It’s solely at 4K the place the GPU drops under what the CPU is able to, eliminating the CPU bottleneck.

The latency widget in Special K.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

You don’t want a bunch of spare {hardware} and a spreadsheet to watch efficiency in your individual video games. I like to make use of Special Okay to see how my CPU and GPU are interacting and what body price they’re producing. This app, which I’ve written about previously, features a latency widget that sits excessive of your video games whilst you play. It reveals the latency — or time — that your CPU and GPU are taking to render frames, in real-time. It even has a line exhibiting in case you’re CPU-limited.

I wish to activate the widget every time I’m taking part in a brand new sport. I’ll flip it off finally, nevertheless it’s remarkably useful for understanding how the sport works with the {hardware} I’ve. That information can information you a great distance whilst you’re tweaking settings. In a sport like Spider-Man Miles Morales, for instance, I can instantly inform that turning on DLSS to Performance mode at 4K will web me mainly no enchancment in body price, so I may both flip upscaling off or go for the next high quality mode.

Between video games which can be taxing in your CPU like Spider-Man Miles Morales and Dragon’s Dogma 2, upscaling options, and broader ray tracing assist, it’s necessary to look at what function your CPU is definitely taking part in in efficiency. There are loads of circumstances the place an previous, underpowered CPU is completely tremendous in case you’re taking part in at a excessive sufficient decision; however there are simply as many circumstances the place the alternative is true, particularly with the way you’ll play most video games in 2024.

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