As you may well know, gaming requires a lot of horsepowers. This means that you need powerful components. Your GPU, CPU, and RAM all affect your gaming experience. The GPU generally affects video games the most, but how does CPU affect gaming?
The central processing unit, or CPU for short, is responsible for a large portion of your in-game performance. While the GPU is great at focusing on only one task, the CPU can do many calculations at the same time. A CPU has only a few very powerful cores and a GPU has thousands of small cores that are designed to work in parallel.
So, how does CPU affect gaming if we consider that? A CPU is processing stuff in games such as entities, combat, crowds, NPC animations, clothes, destruction, audio, etc. You can now understand why some games benefit from a very powerful CPU, while others are not affected by CPU performance that much. Some games will benefit from having many cores, but other games can make more out of fewer, faster cores.
An example of a game that benefits from many cores would be Total War: Three Kingdoms. Total War is a turn-based strategy game with real-time tactics. In strategy games, your screen is often crowded with many soldiers, buildings, workers, trees, rocks, and so on. While the GPU is responsible for the game’s graphics, the CPU’s job is to process all those entities. Since many different calculations need to be done, this game (and most other strategy, RPG, and city-building games) benefits from having many cores.
This does not mean that you should grab a Ryzen Threadripper with 24 cores and 48 threads by any means. You will be hard-pressed to find any meaningful performance improvements in games on CPUs with that many cores. Having fast cores is also important.
Then how does CPU affect gaming when you do not have that many background entities? Having fewer but faster cores is much better than many slower cores in those games. A game like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive will run better on a CPU with 8 fast cores, such as the Intel Core i9-9900k, than on a Threadripper with its 32 slower cores.
Then how does CPU affect gaming FPS and general computer performance? Also, what does the CPU do for gaming? Continue reading to find out.
Does CPU really matter for gaming?
Yes, CPU can affect your gaming experience. This does not mean that you must shell out for an expensive CPU to have the best experience or performance. More often than not, mid-range CPUs like a Ryzen 5 or an Intel Core i5 are enough for the vast majority. Unless you are very serious about multiplayer gaming, want to stream, or do other tasks that need a lot of CPU power, then you do not need something more powerful and more expensive.
However, if you mostly play strategy games, you want to consider a more expensive CPU than what you originally planned. You will have a huge FPS bump if you get a better CPU rather than an overpowered GPU. In cases like these, you should buy a Ryzen 7 3700x and a mid-range graphics card, like the Nvidia RTX 2060.
On the other hand, if your sessions mostly consist of FPS games or similar, then having a mid-end CPU like a Ryzen 5 3600x paired with a high-end GPU like the RTX 3080 will net you better performance. This is because most video games are very graphically demanding and do not use more than 4 or 5 cores from the CPU. Bottleneck calculators will show this to be true.
So, how does CPU affect gaming if you have a lot of cores (8 or more)? Your computer will simply dedicate a few cores to the system or other tasks instead of a game taking up all of your CPU processing power. This means that it is generally better, in terms of price/performance, to buy a CPU with 4 powerful cores than it is to buy a CPU with 8 cores. You will not see much benefit from having an expensive CPU the same way you will if you have an expensive, high-end GPU.
What does the CPU do for gaming?
The CPU’s job is to process many different entities and actions that happen in a game. It is also the CPU’s job to tell the GPU what to render and when. The CPU is also responsible for the input and output. It registers all of your keystrokes and clicks and processes them by following the game’s instructions. How does CPU affect gaming in terms of what it processes?
The CPU does the processing of all entities, health, damage, statistics, saving, user interface, collision detection, AI behavior, fighting, and other similar things that occur inside video games. So, while some games have hundreds or even thousands of entities in one particular scene, like RPGs and strategy games, other games have only a few dozen entities at a time.
How does CPU affect gaming using an example? Let’s take a look at League of Legends as an example. There are 10 players, jungle monsters, minions, and towers. That is pretty much it when it comes to entities. If you add them all up, it would only be around 100 entities at any given moment. This means that League of Legends is not nearly as intensive as strategy games or even some FPS games are.
Does CPU affect gaming FPS?
Yes, a CPU affects gaming FPS, but not in a way that a GPU does. While having a better GPU will always give you better performance, having an overpowered CPU will not. You can look at a CPU as if it were a cutting board and the GPU a knife. Having a bigger cutting board will give you more space to work with. If the cutting board is too small, you cannot work on it. Similarly, you do not have any benefits if it is two meters long. But having a better and sharper knife will always make you cut faster.
So, just like with our knife and cutting board analogy here, having a better CPU will only give you that much. If you do not want to overspend, a CPU with 4 to 6 cores is more than enough for all games. You should invest the spare money into a better graphics card that will make a substantial difference.
The price-to-performance sweet spot is a 6-core, 12-thread CPU with fast clock speed and thermals. Only spend more if you plan to stream or do other similar tasks. CPUs are great at multitasking and allow you to have tons of programs running in the background while you are gaming. Remember that CPU works hand-in-hand with RAM so make sure that you have plenty of RAM to go along with all your cores and threads.
How does a CPU affect performance?
A faster CPU or one with more cores will allow you to do more tasks faster. A single CPU core can only do a single task at a time. This is why having multiple cores allows for more efficient and effective multitasking. You still need to have sufficient RAM space to utilize those cores. Otherwise, some of your cores will just idle while waiting for new data to process.
Since having more cores is better for both the manufacturer and the user, most programs and games nowadays are designed to use multiple threads (virtual cores) at the same time. This allows for significantly faster processing speeds, but it also means that one program can occupy more than one core, even if you do not need it.
Another reason why we are seeing CPUs have more cores instead of faster cores in recent years is that having faster CPUs is much harder and hotter to get. You have most likely noticed that newer CPUs run at the same clock speeds as ten-year-old CPUs. It is cheaper for the manufacturer to add more cores for better performance.
In the end, how does CPU affect gaming? CPU performance can affect gaming in a few aspects. Since the CPU is responsible for rendering entities, I/O, statistics, send instructions to the GPU, and other tasks, it is easy to see why you want to have a powerful CPU. Bear in mind that you do not need to splurge on a $500 CPU to have great gaming experience and, in most cases, you will not even gain much from one.
Think about what you use your computer for, what types of games you play, and how much you are willing to spend. A CPU affects game performance slightly less than a GPU, but it is still influential nonetheless. Creating a balanced machine with enough GPU and CPU power, as well as enough RAM, is your best bet. After all, you do not want to end up playing Cyberpunk 2077 on Ultra with ray-tracing on your brand-new RTX 3070 only to experience horrible micro stutters because of your Intel i3-7100.