If you have decided to build or buy a new computer but don’t know which parts go with what, you’ve come to the right place. Matching your CPU and GPU is not as hard as you might think. It’s all about knowing what is powerful enough. So, here is how to match CPU and GPU.
The easiest way to match the two components is to go to a bottleneck calculator and type in all the information required. Next, add the CPU or GPU that you wish to have and check if there is a bottleneck. You may want to replace the GPU first because it is easier, but remember that a CPU bottleneck will not allow games to fully utilize the GPU either.
If you do not want to waste time on calculators and forums, simply get a CPU that costs roughly the same as your GPU. The odds are that you will get a much more powerful CPU than GPU, and this is good. You want to have a slight GPU bottleneck so that you can upgrade later. Upgrading a GPU is much easier than upgrading a CPU.
In other words, you want to make a balanced system that has an equally powerful CPU and GPU. To learn more about how to match CPU and GPU, keep on reading, and you will know.
CPU and GPU Bottleneck
A CPU bottleneck happens when your graphics card is more powerful than your CPU. If you have a situation like that, your CPU is basically playing catch-up with the GPU because it is too slow. This is not desirable because you are limiting the GPUs from achieving maximum performance. But when your CPU is more powerful than your GPU, the processor will be underutilized. Nonetheless, it is the lesser of two evils. So, how to match CPU and GPU with that in mind?
Try to get a CPU that is a bit more expensive than your GPU. The CPU has to run background processes in addition to the processing of information in a program. This solution is simple, effective, and most of the time cost-efficient. But how to match CPU and GPU if you only have enough money to buy one of them?
You want to have a high-end CPU with the best GPU that you can afford and then upgrade the GPU down the path when you get enough money. Most people are satisfied with a Ryzen 5 3600 or an Intel Core i5-9400F and those CPUs can be easily matched with a high-end GPU to get very good FPS and stability in all games. These CPUs should not bottleneck your GPU at all, even if you have an RTX 3070.
Can I Pair a High-End CPU with a Low-End GPU?
While you can pair a high-end CPU with a Low-End GPU, you may want to pay a bit more attention to balance the two components for the best performance. Still, if you wish to have a good upgrade path later on, it is not a bad idea to buy a powerful CPU and match it with your old GPU. Just remember that your performance will not be ideal and maybe even worse than if you paired a powerful new graphics card with an older CPU.
Pairing a powerful CPU with an older GPU is better than the other way around because upgrading or replacing your graphics card is much easier, simpler, and faster. You just have to remove the current graphics card and put in a new one and that’s it. With CPUs, you have to do a few more steps and not to mention the amount of research that you have to do before choosing the right CPU.
Pairing a high-end CPU with a low-end CPU is also fine if you need the computer to run tasks that are CPU-intensive. In that case, the graphics card is there just to show an image on the screen. A good example of that are servers that need regular maintenance.
What Happens If My CPU Is Better than My GPU?
If your CPU is better than your GPU, you will have something that is called a GPU bottleneck. This is inevitable because one of the components will always be a bit more powerful. You should not worry about this as long as you are satisfied with the performance that you have. But how to match CPU and GPU then?
If you have a recent Ryzen 5, 7, 9, or an Intel Core i5, i7, i9 then upgrading a GPU will not give you a headache. You can even pair the most powerful graphics cards like the RTX 3080 with a much cheaper Ryzen 5 without losing any performance. The key is to find a graphics card that suits your needs and that will deliver the performance you expect to see in your games.
If your CPU is better than your GPU and you play games, you will notice that the game runs fine but you experience stutters or even graphic artifacts due to the underpowered GPU. That is not concerning and you should not worry about that. How to match CPU and GPU will depend on the CPU you have, but make sure that the component you are replacing is significantly less powerful than the one you have right now.
Having a powerful CPU with a decent GPU is a good idea if you want to save money and only play RTS games. Strategy games generally have a high number of entities that the CPU has to process in order to make the game run. The graphics card will only render the entities that are on the screen, so you do not really need something very powerful.
However, if you play FPS games or similar, you may want to purposefully bottleneck your CPU and get a good GPU. The performance benefit will be greater but bear in mind that you should replace the CPU too later.
Does a Good GPU Need a Good CPU?
A good graphics card does not need a good CPU to work in the first place, but it does need a good CPU if you want to use the power of the graphics card. This is because a CPU bottleneck will slow down the amount of data your graphics card gets to process.
You can easily check if you have an underpowered graphics card by running an intensive game and look at the CPU and GPU usage in game. If your CPU is maxed out at 100% but your GPU is only at around 60-80%, it is a sign that your CPU is underpowered. So, what do you do in a situation like that?
You want to get the best CPU that is available for your socket and that is within your price range. If you already have a powerful but old CPU, then consider selling it and buying a new motherboard and CPU. This is not the ideal solution, but it is a solution nonetheless.
Another thing that you can do is to sell the powerful GPU and get a cheaper one to make a well-balanced and well-rounded PC. Again, the solution is not ideal but it is very simple and intuitive. You can spare the money you get from selling the GPU and then use the money for your computer later down the line.
A good GPU will always need a good CPU, no matter how much you overclock either component. On the topic of overclocking, you can reduce the bottleneck ever so slightly by overclocking the CPU as much as you can. This is up to you and if you are afraid that you will break something and do not know what you are doing, do not do it.
Matching a CPU and GPU is very simple. You want to get a CPU that is slightly more powerful than your GPU. The fool-proof method is to buy a CPU that costs the same as the GPU. You will get a CPU that is powerful enough to have an upgrade path later, and a GPU that will serve you well for the next few years.
If you need assistance while building a computer, do not hesitate to ask the retailer what CPU goes well with the GPU or vice versa. You want to make a well-balanced system that can handle all games and tasks equally. If you unintentionally create a bottleneck, you will lose a lot of performance.
So, how to match CPU and GPU if it is your first time building a computer? You can try to catch bundle deals or use a bottleneck calculator. A bottleneck calculator will give you a percentage of how much performance you are losing on the GPU or CPU front.
It is fine to have a 10-15% GPU bottleneck because when you replace the graphics card later, you can have a powerful computer without spending too much money.