You have recently downloaded and started playing the latest AAA game with your friends. All of them have good computers so their FPS is fine. But you, on the other hand, are experiencing horrible framerates and you cannot play and just keep dying. You think you need an upgrade. You ask yourself, “Should I upgrade CPU or GPU first?“
Upgrading either one will give you a direct performance bump. GPUs are the more important piece of hardware for almost every game. Hence, the GPU is the more likely upgrade that you should get. This is by no means a rule, though. It will depend on your specific setup.
The first thing you want to do is to go to a website that can calculate your bottleneck. A bottleneck is a piece of hardware that slows down other parts. For example, if you have a Ryzen 7 2700x paired with a GTX 750 Ti, then the GPU is a significant bottleneck to the CPU.
You can see this by yourself when you are playing a game. Try turning on an in-game setting that allows you to track GPU and CPU usage. In the scenario mentioned above, you will see the GPU at 100% the whole time, while the CPU will be in the 30-40% range in most games.
This is because the GPU is working hard to keep up with the CPU, while the CPU has no data to work on and is not in use. The same applies to the opposite. A powerful graphics card is severely limited by an underpowered CPU.
“Should I upgrade CPU or GPU first if both components are underpowered“, you might ask. The answer is simple – the GPU. Not only is the GPU more important for games, but it is also significantly easier (and usually cheaper) to upgrade. PCIe x16 slots are universal across all common motherboards, which means that GPU upgrades are as easy as taking the old one out and sliding the new one in.
In case that you still do not know the answer to the question, “Should I upgrade CPU or GPU first?”, then keep on reading for when you should upgrade GPU and when CPU in more detail.
When Should I Upgrade my CPU?
If your graphics card is new and better than your CPU, then you would benefit from a new CPU. However, this means that you most likely will also be upgrading your motherboard and even RAM, so it is a bigger investment.
You also must consider your monitor’s resolution. If you are playing on 1080p or lower, the CPU bottleneck will be more noticeable than on 1440p or 4k. Even if you have a 1080p display, you can try cranking up the graphics (especially anti-aliasing) in games as much as possible. This will force your GPU to work harder and potentially increase your FPS.
Most games cannot use more than 4 cores, so a CPU upgrade will never be as significant as a GPU upgrade is. Even very old processors, like the Intel Core i7 4790K, can keep up with something like an RTX 2060 without any issues.
When Should I Upgrade my GPU?
If your GPU is old and underpowered compared to the rest of your system, a GPU upgrade is something you probably need to do. Even if they are relatively equal, you will still gain significantly more performance from a GPU upgrade than a CPU upgrade.
Also, most of the time it is much cheaper and easier to upgrade your GPU. Almost all games nowadays use the GPU way more than they do the CPU. Games are optimized mostly around GPUs, not CPUs. That is why most games only use 3-4 cores. Also, when was the last time you saw a game-ready driver for a CPU?
Also, if you are playing on a resolution higher than 1080p, a GPU upgrade will mean even more to you. This is because the GPU will be used more, making the CPU less of a bottleneck.
The first thing that you should do before considering anything is to calculate the bottleneck. If you do not have a bottleneck but just want to upgrade, a GPU upgrade is the answer. GPUs are more relevant in gaming than CPUs and will give you more FPS for your money. GPUs are also cheaper, faster, and easier to buy and install than CPUs.