In today’s age of advanced PC hardware, it can sometimes be complicated to determine if your computer is being held back by a performance bottleneck. In this article, we will investigate what bottlenecking is and how you can identify if your CPU or GPU is the cause for a bottlenecked system.
We must first understand how components communicate during data processing to understand bottlenecking. Typically, your CPU and GPU(s) exchange frame or scene information via the PCIe bus on your motherboard. Since this is one of the slowest links in a modern system, it sets a hard cap on how much data can be transferred between the two at any given time.
When building the best gaming PC, it is essential to understand that your CPU and GPU(s) have different performance requirements to run games successfully. Your CPU must constantly process high amounts of data from scene information while your GPU pulls large chunks of data from the GPU’s onboard memory. If this communication path becomes too long or has too much contention, it can cause a significant amount of lag and stuttering in your games. A multitude of factors can cause this bottlenecking:
Bottlenecked CPU: The GPU is powerful enough to produce more frames than the CPU can process, causing the system to sit idle while waiting for data.
Bottlenecked GPU: The CPU is powerful enough to produce more frames than the GPU can process, causing the system to sit idle while waiting for data.
Both: The CPU and GPU are bottlenecking simultaneously (dual-GPU setups only).
What Is a PC Bottleneck?
As data is passed between your CPU and GPU, you can imagine it like a multi-lane highway. If the total number of CPU lanes (typically equal to the number of cores) is less than your GPU, you will have a bottlenecked PC. This situation naturally arises when using older or slower hardware.
To identify if your CPU is bottlenecking your PC, open your Task Manager and look at the CPU column. If this column shows a single core as 100% utilized while the rest are idle, you’re experiencing a bottlenecked system.
What Is Bottlenecking?
In addition to identifying a bottleneck, it is also essential to understand what bottlenecking looks like in-game.
Typically, bottlenecking manifests itself as intermittent lag spikes or stuttering in games. This happens when your CPU or GPU cannot process the information they receive promptly, causing delays in delivering frames to your display. If this becomes an issue for you, you can take steps to improve your system.
Essentially, there are three options to resolve a bottleneck: upgrading your hardware, overclocking, or disabling the conflicting component entirely. Out of these options, most users find that upgrading their PC is the easiest and least expensive choice. However, before upgrading your parts, make sure you configure your PC for peak performance.
Building a Balanced Gaming PC
Once you have your hardware configured for peak performance, you can begin building a balanced PC. While this may sound straightforward, it requires a combination of the best CPU for gaming and the best Graphics Card.
The easiest way to build a balanced PC is to use this pc builder website, where you can virtually build a PC. Choose the graphics card you want, and input your current PC parts. It will then recommend compatible hardware for you to purchase.
Finding a Compatible CPU and GPU
The PCIe bus controls the maximum amount of data shared between your CPU and GPU. If you are experiencing bottlenecking in your PC, it may be because the PCIe lanes on your motherboard are set to x8 when they should be at least x16. If you purchase a high-end graphics card but your motherboard doesn’t support it, this can quickly happen.
While the PCIe bus governs how data flows between your CPU and GPU, other components such as hard drives and system fans can also cause bottlenecking. Since these devices reside on the same SATA ports as your SATA SSD, disabling them can significantly improve performance.
To prevent this from happening to you, make sure you research your computer’s hardware before purchasing the necessary components. Also, make sure to install compatible operating systems and drivers from reliable sources to prevent installation errors.
Finding the Right Balance For Your PC
As previously mentioned, the easiest way to build a balanced gaming PC is to upgrade your GPU. However, upgrading or replacing your CPU can also improve performance for some games. On average, you should have at least 8GB of RAM in your system to achieve a good balance between CPU and GPU.
This amount of memory will allow most modern titles to run smoothly at 1080p on low-medium settings. If you want to play games in 1440p or above, though, you will need more than 8GB of RAM.
Also, keep in mind that while having a balanced PC is an effective way to resolve bottlenecking issues, it can cause others. For example, dual-GPU setups may not respond well to this change, requiring an unbalanced system to operate correctly.
If you are experiencing bottlenecking in your PC, it is often best to upgrade your GPU. However, if you want to improve your CPU without upgrading your graphics card, one of the most effective methods is overclocking.