Processor or video card? What should I change first?

We try to help guys who have this question!

Knowing which part is best to update first is one of the most common questions that comes up in the live chat and also in Adrena’s posts. The question usually revolves around: “Which should I upgrade first, the processor or the video card?”. Will my old Core i5 handle the more modern RTX/RX? Or should I change the CPU first and then buy a better card? do you mind

We’ve already discussed this balance between CPU and GPU in this video where we talk about hardware bottlenecks, but in this article, we’re going to answer more directly how upgrading your processor or video card affects your PC’s performance. And the sad truth is that the answer is always an anticlimactic “Vary.”

Processor and video card in games

The first important concept to understand is that your games are driven by a dual processor and video card. In a scenario where you have enough memory, both RAM and VRAM, your screen frame rate will be the sum of the time it takes the processor and graphics card to render each frame. So both are equally important in the final result.

Frame creation follows a logic similar to the graph below:

The processor does its job, sending it to the video card. While the graphics card prepares a frame, it starts working on the next frame, which is called Draw bells. In this scenario we’re showing, the video card finishes producing one frame faster than the processor can do its job for the next one, causing a nasty CPU bottleneck: the video card doesn’t reach 100% utilization in idle mode.

The time required for each component varies greatly depending on the performance of those components and also the type of game. The same hardware, in the above graphics, can show very different bars in another game, the processor needs much less time than the video card, for example. Or even changing the quality of the graphics can make GPU rendering time longer than CPU time.

So tip number 1 is: see if the game you want to play will show you the time of the processor and video card. Especially competitive games such as COD: Warzone and Rainbow Six Siege have provided the ability to obtain CPU and GPU timing information. There is no error: just see who is the slowest and change that part. This way you will have maximum efficiency in your upgrade.

And what should I do if the game doesn’t show it? There is a very simple trick: reduce the performance of the video card. This is possible by reducing the game’s graphic quality to the resolution. It minimizes everything and uses resolution scaling and If, even at 720p, the frame rate doesn’t increase, it’s a sign that your processor can’t handle the work fast enough for high frame rates, and you’d better start with your CPU upgrade.

But there are times when updating just one is not enough. We conducted the test with a Core i5-4570-based bench + 2×8 GB of RAM at 2133 MHz + GeForce GTX 970. Both the CPU and the GPU needed about 12ms for frames, so the decrease in graphics quality practically did not bring noticeable gains.

We upgraded to an RTX 3060, model ROG Strix, and had practically zero benefit: the game stayed in the 70 to 100 fps range, the card now finishes in 4ms, but is very idle before the processor keeps up. Struggle for 10 to 12 ms to complete your work. But the update was not useless: with so much performance, it was possible to put the game in Quad HD and high quality and continue playing at this frame rate. So here is an important factor: If you are not getting the graphics quality you want, the video card is the priority to upgrade.

We have now changed the processor, installing an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D with a GTX 970. And then something interesting happened: we started having 140fps peaks in some parts where the game was too light for the video card to handle, e.g. Interior parts of the map. When we go outdoors it goes back to the 70-80 fps it was before. And here we have the corresponding conclusion: the video card is important for high frame rates, but this will happen only if your processor has the performance to achieve them. So if your focus is on lots of FPS, be prepared to fork over the CPU, Except for the video card.

But since each game interacts differently, we ran a battery of tests to see the different behavior in different games. Combinations include:

CPU Chair:

– Intel Core i5-4570:
– 2x8GB HyperX Beast DDR3 @2133MHz
– Z97 MSI Gaming 9 AC
– 2x Kingston 1TB SATA KC600 SSD:
– Cooler Master M2 Silent Pro 720W
– Open the chair

– AMD Ryzen 9 5900X:
– CM MasterLiquid ML360 V2 RGB cooling system:
– 2x16GB DDR4 @3200MHz:
– Kingston KC2500 250GB + 2TB SSD
– CM v1300W platinum power supply
– Custom CM MasterFrame 700 cabinet

Video cards:

– Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 Windforce
– ASUS ROG Strix RTX 3060 OC edition:

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was pretty obvious to block the graphics card. For 1080p and ultra quality, the game needs a lot of video cards, so the reduction in graphics quality can cause some framerates, but the RTX 3060 upgrade has already reached the Core i5, which can deliver frames at 70 frequencies. per second, will significantly increase the performance of the system in the benchmark.

Rainbow Six Siege shows the situation in Warzone: if you really want more frames, you have to spend on both components. But interestingly, updating the processor simply did not solve anything: the performance only starts with a more powerful video card, but not by much.

With good graphics, but also a complex city full of modeling and NPCs, just updated two components to play Marvel’s Spider-Man with high frame rate and high graphics quality. Upgrading just one component wasn’t enough to make a big difference in fluidity

Red Dead Redemption 2 requires a good graphics card that runs at 1080p and ultra quality, so the RTX 3060 was able to achieve excellent frame rates with both the older Core i5 and the latest generation Ryzen 9. Interestingly, the CPU upgrade provided a modest performance boost, showing that the Core i5 can handle the game, but it’s not quite as sluggish.

Finally, Counter Strike shows again that competitive gaming with high frame rates requires good hardware. The GPU upgrade helped, but it’s all about the processor, which boosted frames to an average of 300fps. And to have a real jump, you need both a good graphics card and a good processor.

But here is an important criterion: In all of these graphics, you could get more out of the GTX 970 if it was set to 1080p medium or even lower, which is done a lot in competitive games. And that brings us to a snag: If you’re not sure whether to buy a CPU or a GPU, I’d start with the CPU. You can reduce the rendering time of the graphics card by reducing the resolution and graphics quality, but there is very little that can be done if the processor does not match the frame rate you want (rare exceptions include reducing the population density on the map).

So, if you are willing to accept the graphics degradation, you can start by upgrading your processor and playing the ugly game. At least until you buy a better graphics card and then you can play with all the graphics quality you deserve.


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