How Important is CPU for Gaming

Building a gaming computer takes some planning if you want to have a balanced unit that’s within your budget.

It’s like building a MMORPG character where you have a limited number of points to allocate to traits. You distribute the points equally to create a balanced character that can handle any task and to survive the virtual world. Unless you always create specialist characters and splurge on one trait. This approach will not work in computer building as you can see later.

If you have the ultimate cheat which is unlimited money. You just buy the biggest, baddest and most expensive components and mash it together. Mo’ money means no problems for a gaming enthusiast. This supercomputer should hurdle anything that you throw at it.

But if you’re like most of us, you would want to have some semblance of planning to maximize your hard earned money. Striking a balance on performance versus cost is the key.

And it all starts with buying the right CPU.

What CPU to buy for gaming

To make your choice simple, let’s narrow down your CPU choice into two.

A dual core or a quad core processor. In simple terms, a dual core processor has two processing units inside, while quad core has two.

A dual core processor can run 2 tasks in parallel while a quad core processor can run 4 tasks in parallel. Now splash some hyper-threading action and the effective tasks that can be accomplished is doubled.

computer processor

With all things equal, more cores usually means better performance due to more simultaneous running of applications. But an old quad core Intel Pentium 4 2.60 Ghz cannot match the performance of a dual core Intel Pentium G4560. The faster 3.5 Ghz clock speed of the G4560 makes it about 4 times better than the Pentium 4 2.60 Ghz

If you are on a budget and can only afford dual cores, you can get by most modern games by having a fast dual core processor. Look for CPUs with hyper-threading or Simultaneous MultiThreading

What’s the difference between Hyper-threading and Simultaneous MultiThreading? They are essentially the same. Both describes the same technology which doubles parts of the CPU core to create logical cores which speeds up multi-threaded tasks. Hyper-threading is Intel’s brand name for the technology, while simultaneous multi-threading is the more general term and is used by AMD on their new Zen line of processors.

You can also buy a lower or older quad core processor and supplement with more RAM and a good GPU. It takes some research and planning to build that dream gaming computer.

What games do you play?

Another way to plan your purchases is to identify what type of games will you be playing. Some games require more CPU power while some game require more GPU power.

If you play multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft where there could be dozens of characters on one screen. CPU power would be needed to process these large-scale battle scenes.

games you play

Competitive games like League of Legends and DOTA 2 also requires a powerful CPU due to the large number of characters and action happening at the same time. Middle map clashes of 6 or more characters will tax your CPU to near 100%.

The same also goes for battle royale games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and FortNite. With a hundred characters all moving to the safe zone will also need raw CPU power.

GPU is more important to adventure and action games like Crysis 3 or Grand Theft Auto V. Specially if you want to play in very high definition. Utilizing shaders, lighting technology, atmospheric fog, volumetric smoke and even cloth physics makes these games more reliant on GPU power.

Building without bottlenecks

Remember my character building analogy at the start of the article? If you spend all your traits or money on just one aspect of your build, you will have an unbalanced computer. It’s like betting everything on a powerful CPU and making everything else inferior.

The CPU will be too powerful and process data faster than the other hardware components can handle. The CPU will wind up “waiting” for the memory sticks to finish reading the data, for the hard disk to save data, and for the GPU to process graphic commands.

The same will happen if you splurge on a GPU. But the imbalance will be less extreme compared to an overpowered CPU build. You can play new games with good settings and good performance using an old processor and a new GPU. But new games will barely or wont run with a new CPU but an old GPU.

Using again the Intel Pentium G4560 as an example. This fairly modest CPU can run almost any game when paired with a powerful GPU like a GTX 1070. There will be some bottleneck issues with the CPU but nothing some tweaking won’t solve.

building without bottlenecks

With all our focus on CPU and GPU specifications, you should not skim over the other equally important components like memory and hard disks. You can’t go wrong with 8GB of memory. If your budget permits, get a SSD instead of a SATA hard disk. But budget gamers should get by fine with a SATA hard disk.

The gaming build

In gaming, both CPU and GPU are important. You can just buy any quad-core CPU and buy 8GB of memory sticks as a base unit and not encounter any issues with incompatibility.

In games, The CPU is responsible for processing the game's instructions and processing input from the player. Things like handling the non player characters, environment, and simulations is all done by the CPU. The CPU is the brain of the group is responsible for giving instructions to the GPU.

The GPU’s responsibility is to rendering images that will appear on your screen. The CPU sort of describes to the GPU what should be shown by giving processed information. The GPU reads the “instructions” from the information given to it by the CPU. It then creates the image based on this information.

It’s like those police movie scenes where a victim describes how the criminal looks and a sketch artist renders the drawing. The CPU (in this analogy, the victim) has the more “dynamic thinking” role and the GPU (sketch artist) has a more “reactive thinking” role.

From this analogy, the CPU takes a backseat to the GPU in terms of which roles is more complex when dealing with graphics. Simply put, the victim (CPU) can describe every detail of the assailant, but if the sketch artist (GPU) is incompetent. Well they better start looking for a CCTV footage or this police movie will end badly.

How important is CPU for gaming?

In closing, I would say in today’s gaming an old CPU from about 5 to 6 years ago can still cope up. A GPU will age more compared to a CPU. A GPU from 5 to 6 years ago would almost be obsolete unless you turn down all the settings.

Just get a capable CPU to avoid bottlenecks. With a GPU bottleneck, you can improve the FPS by lowering game settings. It’s a bit harder to reduce the effect of a CPU bottleneck.

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