Whether you are entirely new to building PCs or as comfortable as they come, one crucial decision you will have to make is how to match your CPU and GPU.
As two of the most important parts of any build, this decision will be a crucial one for your machine’s capabilities and where a lot of your money will eventually be invested.
With that, let us break down how to match your CPU and GPU, how to avoid some common pitfalls, and how to get the most bang for your buck.
How to Match a CPU And GPU?
To make sure you are choosing the right parts when matching your CPU and GPU, make use of a bottleneck calculator and PCPartPicker to evaluate their fit, as this ensures your parts can co-exist and match each other well. While you will want to avoid bottlenecks entirely, it is important to figure out which form will hurt your machine most for your intended purposes and then allocate your money wisely here for maximum effect. If you are looking to play more active games like FPS and sports games, it is more important to invest in your GPU. If you play more passive games like RTS or card games, you can lean more into your CPU. In the long term, your CPU being strongest means an easy upgrade path as GPUs evolve, but your GPU will have more of a role in how most video games run, so you must evaluate your end goals and priorities.
What is a “Bottleneck”?
A bottleneck is where one component severely limits the capabilities of the other due to a lack of computing power.
When one component’s maximum output is significantly more or less than the other, it constricts the computing power of the more powerful component while the less powerful one struggles to keep up. This is why having a balanced system is important, as it ensures that your PC can operate at maximum efficiency without putting any kind of strain on one individual component.
A CPU bottleneck occurs when the GPU is more powerful than the CPU. The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is responsible for calculating and processing things like physics, sound, shaders, etc. The GPU, in turn, is responsible for interpreting those processes and displaying them.
So if you have a CPU bottleneck, that means your processor isn’t performing fast enough for the GPU to interpret, which means it’s getting less data than it can handle. This can result in your GPU not being utilized as much as it can be.
Likewise, a GPU bottleneck occurs when the CPU is more powerful than the GPU. Since the GPU is responsible for displaying and interpreting the processes done by the CPU, this means that it’s overloaded by the data provided by the CPU and, as a result, causes lower frame rates, and general performance issues.
When matching your CPU and GPU, the most important pitfall to avoid is a bad bottleneck. This happens when one of the two parts is much more powerful than the other, creating a technical debt that will bear in its day-to-day functionality.
How to Check for Bottlenecks When Matching Your CPU and GPU
One of the easiest ways to do this before you purchase your parts is via a bottleneck calculator. There are many bottleneck calculators online, but it is important to note there is some inherent unreliability in this type of program due to a lack of context.
After all, bottlenecks go much deeper than just the two parts and depend on what is being run on your machine as well as the rest of your build. So, it’s important to note that while at the end of the day, these calculators are no substitute for testing hardware fits, they are still a way to do some research ahead of time.
With that, it is an invaluable step that could save you money and time down the line, just do not use it as the only method to rely on when building your machine.
Once you have used your bottleneck calculator, another great tool to use is the builder at PCpartpicker.com, which will give you some advanced notes on how your GPU and CPU pair together overall and warn about any incompatibilities.
Whether it is an issue of brands, power mismatches, or any other issues you may have missed, this service is great at picking it up before you make a mistake.
Should You Focus More on CPU or GPU For Your Build?
In the best-case scenario, you want to have both the CPU and GPU high-end. But not everyone has extra three grand to spend on the RTX 4090 and Intel’s i9 processor.
If you’re one of these people, you need to determine whether you should spend more on your graphics cards and save on your processor or vice versa in order to achieve optimal performance for whatever you’re going to do on your PC regularly.
If you’re looking to build a machine that maximizes performance for more demanding, active games like FPS favorites Call of Duty, Halo, Escape from Tarkov, and others, having a more powerful GPU than CPU will result in the most bang for your buck.
Some of the most common GPU-intensive activities are:
- Graphically-demanding games
- Video editing
- 3D graphics rendering and modeling
- Cryptocurrency mining
On the other hand, not everyone will fully utilize a beefy GPU. There are instances where spending extra on a powerful CPU and saving on your GPU will be a much better option.
This is especially true for those looking to play less demanding games like those from the RTS or card game genres or those who work much less with video in general.
Some of the most common CPU-intensive activities are:
- CPU-intensive games (GTA, Red Dead Redemption, etc.)
- Video editing
- Hardware virtualzation
- Code compilation
But in today’s day and age, almost everything runs through GPU, and focusing more on getting a powerful one will be your best move, generally speaking.
With that being said, if you need advice on which exact combo to buy for your specific situation, be sure to check out our breakdown of the best CPU and GPU combos–For nearly every budget.
How you match your GPU and CPU will be one of the most important decisions of any PC build. These parts will be key in the day-to-day functionality of your machine and how it handles running the most demanding programs.
With that, it is important you do your research to get the most value out of these purchases, especially for those looking to build on a budget, regardless of whether it is low-end, midrange, or high-end.
While it is easy to chase some of the big-name GPUs for their hype or invest in the strongest CPU for the long-term implications, making this choice based on how you use your machine will always result in the best decision and fit. No two machines will be used the same, so pick your parts with this in mind.
In the end, you don’t have to be the most experienced PC-building veteran to make the right choice in matching your GPU and CPU. If you utilize bottleneck calculators, evaluate the technical fit of your parts in a program like PCpartpicker, and put these results in context with the way you will use your machine, pairing your GPU and CPU will not be as scary a process or big a headache in your next build, and you will feel the difference once you get them running!
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