The CPU is a crucial component for every system, it’s responsible for processing general instructions that help your computer run, but how does it affect FPS and gaming?
We’re used to thinking that FPS in games is mostly one by the graphics card, and while this is true, the CPU does play a huge role in how well the GPU can perform.
Since the CPU has a role in how well the GPU performs, this means it has an impact on how many frames are being generated in game. So, we’re going to examine how much the CPU affects FPS with benchmarks.
How Does The GPU Affect FPS?
First to understand how the CPU affects the FPS, we need to understand how the GPU works, and how it impacts the in game frame rate.
The GPU affects the FPS of many graphically intensive games in a direct way, this is because the GPU is responsible for handling all the graphical based data, you can say the GPU is the main component for FPS.
So if you usually want more FPS in a certain game assuming there’s no bottleneck, buying a new and more powerful GPU will 100% of the time result in more FPS.
A more powerful graphics card will also allow you run games at higher in game graphic settings due to it being able to work more harder to render graphical assets.
Above is an example of how a more powerful GPU, in this case the RX 6800 is generating more FPS in Fortnite whilst maintaining the same graphical quality.
But one thing a graphics card wont do is give you more detail in a game, what a graphics card does is allow you to maintain high detail whilst giving you more FPS
So How Does The CPU Affect FPS?
Both the CPU and the GPU work together to generate the pictures you see on screen, however, it’s mainly the graphics card pulling most of the weight by generating most of the FPS.
The CPU mainly works by processing the frames sent by the graphics card, so pretty much the CPU works as a limit or a bottleneck to the graphics card.
The more efficient your CPU is, the better it is at handling the frames sent by the graphics card; faster CPU means more frames processed.
So, if you pair a relatively weak CPU with a relatively powerful graphics card, what you’ll end up with is a system with a power imbalance.
This means the graphics card will process a ton of frames, but the CPU won’t be able to keep up, this is evident when the CPU is working at 100%, but the GPU is not.
So you’re probably wondering how fast your CPU must be to handle your graphics card, well it depends really because the speed of the CPU is a hard thing to define.
But for FPS and gaming, you typically want to focus on single-core performance which pertains to clock speed and IPC.
So if you have a really powerful graphics card that can generate a lot of frames in a game, then you’re going to want a CPU with enough single-core performance. An I9 fits this category.
Clock Speed Vs Core Count For FPS
As previously stated, the performance of the CPU can be measured in many ways, and the most important way when understanding frames per second is to look at the core clock speed.
Core count is pretty important, but not as important as the clock speed, this is because most games are programmed to utilize a single-core only.
This is another reason why having Hyperthreading, or SMT capabilities will have very little effect on gaming performance.
But some games are starting to utilize more cores, so it’s incorrect to say that games can’t ever use more than one core.
So, prioritize clock speed first, look for CPU’s with a clock speed around 4-5GHz, but never go for really old processors, this is due to IPC differences which has an impact on how much work can be done per clock cycle.
Also Read: Clock Speed Vs Cores For Gaming
Some Games Are CPU Intensive
Not all games are specifically GPU intensive, and this is because many of the calculations the game relies on are CPU intensive.
For example, the graphics card is responsible for handling graphical data such as terrain, geometric, and texture based information, but some games rely on more general calculations.
Take a game like Civilization(Civ 6) which is extremely CPU intensive, it would be unwise to not pick the best processor you can find.
The reason why Civ 6 is CPU intensive is due to the game having to process complex AI based data, and things like load times, turn generation times being heavily CPU based.
Temperature/Thermals Can Impact FPS
The temperature of your CPU has a direct impact on how it performs, a cooler CPU will perform much better. So, it would be a good idea to purchase a good CPU cooler to keep things cool.
Otherwise, if your CPU gets too hot, then you’re entering thermal throttle territory where your CPU will clock down in an attempt to keep things tame.
Intel and AMD CPUs will usually thermal throttle around 80C, so it will lower its clock speed to lower temperatures, and as we already know, clock speed which is an aspect of single-core performance influences FPS.
The best way to combat high CPU temperatures is to implement a better CPU cooler, and that sounds self explanatory, but a CPU cooler with a higher TDP rating will be better at cooling.
Most 240MM AIO coolers will have a TDP rating of around 125W, so this is a great baseline to go off when looking for a CPU cooler.
Also Read: Can Hot CPU CPU Cause Low FPS
The Resolution Can Increase CPU/GPU Bottlenecks
Increasing the resolution of the game you are playing can actually decrease the impact of a CPU bottleneck, this is because the GPU will be generating less frames overall.
Because of this, the CPU won’t have to process so many frames, and you’ll notice that your GPU usage will rise the higher your resolution is.
So, if your main resolution you game at is 4K, then you won’t actually need a really powerful CPU, you could probably do just fine with an I5 CPU.
But remember, the overall goal is to have a well balanced system, imbalances are still possible at high resolutions.
Overclocking Can Increase FPS
Overclocking your CPU can improve FPS, this is because you’ll often be widening the bottleneck the CPU has on the GPU.
So, if you notice that your GPU isn’t running at 100% or pretty close to it, then overclocking your CPU may actually be a great solution to this.
If you’re looking for overclockable processors, then Intel (K) variants all allow for overclocking, and most Ryzen processors come unlocked by default.
Overclocking is generally done through the BIOS, but it’s possible to overclock through the operating system, but your goal is to increase the clock speed modifier whilst maintaining core stability.
Overclocking is pretty simple, there’s some general rules you should follow to maintain great CPU health. Don’t Increase Voltages, Increase Clock Modifier In Small Increments, Ensure You Have Sufficient Cooling.
Intel Vs Ryzen For FPS
When it comes to gaming and getting the best FPS possible, most people will agree that Intel processors are better in this regard.
This is because Intel processors are better when it comes to single-core performance, they come with higher clock speeds, and more IPC than Ryzen processors.
Most people will go for an I5 when building a gaming machine, this is because I5’s feature decent clock speeds, and they’re fairly affordable.
However, Ryzen processors are definitely not a bad choice for gaming, Ryzen processors are more than capable for gaming, it’s just that Intel Processors generate more FPS on average.
Some Ryzen processors like the Ryzen 7 5800X can be a competent processor that rivals the Intel 11th gen processors, and it also has pretty good multi-core performance.
CPU FPS Benchmarks
Forza Horizon 5 CPU Benchmarks
As you can see by the benchmark above, the more powerful the processor you get, the higher the average frame rate you get, the I9 being the most powerful CPU has an average of 227FPS, and higher 1% Lows.
The I7 which is a mid-top end processor has slightly less average frame rates, and lower 1% lows, this is due to the I7 12700K being clocked lower than the I9 12900K.
The I5 12600K has the lowest average frame rate out of all of the processors, and this is due to it having the clock speed out of all of the CPUs.
But, if you’re able to overclock the I5 or the I7 to the same clock speed as the I9 12900K, then there’s a possibility you can get similar average frame rates.
Call Of Duty Warzone CPU Benchmark
Here’s another example of how the CPU with the highest clock speed produces higher average frame rates, this is because the higher the clock speed, the wider the bottleneck is.
The I9 12900K is able to average 202 FPS with 142FPS as the 1% low, the average frame rate with the I9 12900K is 10FPS higher than the I7 12700K, and to some, this is a big deal.
The I5 12600K is able to average slightly less frame rates of around 182 FPS, this is because it has the lowest clock speed of them all. But this doesn’t make the I5 a bad choice, in fact it’s probably the best choice based on price.
You can choose to overclock your I5 to higher clock speeds to achieve frame rates similar to that of the I7 12700K or the I9 12900K.
Cyberpunk 2077 CPU Benchmark
Here is an example of a game that is quite demanding, therefore it’s unlikely that the CPU would have a huge bottleneck on the graphics card.
This is why we see that the I9 12900K and the I7 12700K have very similar average frame rates, 140 FPS and 138 FPS respectively.
The I5 12600K however has much lower average frame rates with an average of 127 FPS which is 11 less than the 17 12700K, whereas the difference between the I7 12700K and the I9 12900K is only 2 FPS.
This is a sign that the I5 12600K is a bottleneck in this scenario, and the only way you can minimize the bottleneck is to overclock the CPU.
How Does RAM Affect FPS?
The same way the CPU impacts the GPU, the RAM impacts the CPU in the same way, so the RAM does have an impact on the FPS being generated.
This is because the RAM and the CPU communicate data between each other, and when the RAM is inefficient at communicating data with the CPU, this will affect the FPS.
So technically the RAM is a bottleneck to the CPU, and the CPU is a bottleneck to the GPU.
Faster RAM speeds are known to improve FPS, but not by a huge margin, usually by around 5FPS, but 5FPS to some is quite noticeable.
When buying RAM, always go for XMP RAM as this is easily overclockable with little risk, you can do it by pressing one button, this is because XMP RAM is verified by the manufacturer to run at a certain clock
In conclusion, it is evident that the CPU impacts the frame rate of whatever game you are playing, this is because the CPU has to process all the information being sent by the GPU, so the CPU has the potential to be a bottleneck.
The goal is to have a well balanced system which means all bottlenecks are at a minimum, it’s actually impossible to completely remove bottlenecks, this is why we go for balance.
So this means pairing a powerful CPU with a powerful graphics card because a weaker CPU may not be able to handle the number of frames being processed by the powerful GPU.
Also, this means having enough RAM as the RAM acts as a bottleneck with the CPU, so if your RAM is slow enough, it can slow down the data transfer between the RAM and the CPU resulting in lower FPS.