CPU and GPU Bottleneck Identification and Solutions

July 12, 2021

For computer gamers who play games that involve large amounts of text or graphics, you may have experienced a common issue known as bottlenecking. Referring to a situation where your FPS (frames per second) rate drops due to an overload of graphics or text that cannot be processed properly, bottleneck is known to take place for both CPU and GPU situations – but there are things you can do about it.

At Xidax, we’re proud to offer not only a wide selection of custom gaming computers, including limited edition options, but also assistance with graphics, FPS and any other issues your machine may be dealing with over time. What are CPU and GPU bottlenecks within a gaming computer, how are they caused, and how can you both monitor for them and reduce their likelihood? Here are some basics to keep in mind.

CPU and GPU Bottleneck

In a broad sense, bottleneck within a CPU or GPU speaks to a situation where the data being sent for processing – or the data that can be processed in the processor simultaneously) – is limited. There is not enough capacity within the system to return processed data based on the amounts of data being sent out.

Within this realm, bottlenecks can take place both within the CPU (processor) and the GPU (graphics card). Here are some basics on each:

  • CPU bottleneck: When the processor in your machine is too slow to process and transfer the data that’s being sent to it, CPU bottleneck can take place. In most of these cases, the graphics card will be too advanced for the processor that’s being used, and the CPU will not be able to process every game action, physics, UI, audio and other processes in real-time. CPU bottlenecking often takes place because data transfer speed has been capped.
  • GPU bottleneck: On the flip side, pairing a high-level processor with a slower graphics card may also lead to bottlenecking, but within the graphics card. The processor will be moving so fast that the GPU does not have time to return processed data back.

Dependencies and Bottleneck Causes

There’s a myth among some within the gaming world that the actual game you’re playing has nothing to do with your risks of a bottleneck – this simply isn’t true, and is a harmful misconception. While the processor or graphics card may both play a role, so might the games you choose.

To get a bit more specific, computer games today are either CPU- or GPU-dependent:

  • CPU-dependent: Games that tend to have high FPS rates but low-resolution graphics, such as Minecraft, various iterations of Civilization, the Assassin’s Creed series, and others.
  • GPU-dependent: Games that have higher frame rates and resolutions, and are paired with a high-end graphics card, are GPU-dependent. Examples include Dying Light, The Witcher 3, Borderlands 2 and many others.

If you play one of these types of games significantly more than the other, your machine should be tuned appropriately. Your setup should be based in large part on the games you play, meaning you won’t have to upgrade components.

Checking for Bottlenecks

For those who have experienced bottlenecks in the past, or are concerned about them moving forward, there are methods available for monitoring. Specifically, there are several forms of software, including those like MSI Afterburner, that will perform this monitoring for you. It will help you log both CPU and GPU usage while gaming – you can either do this manually or even keep the program monitoring window open while playing, seeing real-time updates on every load your CPU and GPU performs.

If you are reading your monitoring software and note high CPU usage and low GPU usage, this is often a sign of a CPU bottleneck – this often takes place for CPU-dependent games. On the flip side, if you see high GPU loads with low CPU usage, this is likely a GPU bottleneck based on a GPU-dependent game.

Methods for Remedying Bottleneck Concerns

As we alluded to above, the solution for any CPU or GPU bottleneck is actually fairly simple: Balancing out the processing loads of both components so they are similar. When these two are in the same range and can handle the same capacities, neither will overload.

Now, the actual methods you use to remedy bottlenecks may vary. Here are some of your options:

  • Increase resolution: For issues of CPU bottlenecks, one of the simplest and most common solutions is to increase the processing usage of the GPU – that is, to increase the resolution of the game’s graphics. Moving your graphics up to 4k resolution, if it’s lower than this to begin with, will cause the GPU to take more time to render processed data, putting it more in line with the CPU speed-wise.
  • RAM overclocking: RAM and CPU processing are closely related, and one strategy here is overclocking RAM. This will boost performance and FPS.
  • CPU overclocking: Another form of overclocking is for the CPU, which will offer more breathing room for the processor.
  • Background processes: Another common method for CPU bottlenecks is to close out background processes that might be eating into your speeds. You might be surprised how much your FPS will increase once you’ve done this.
  • Lower CPU-bound settings: Within many games, you can lower CPU-bound settings if you’re dealing with bottlenecks that don’t have other solutions. Settings like draw distance, vegetation, population density and others can be adjusted.

For more on how to deal with CPU or GPU bottlenecks in your gaming computer, or to learn about any of our custom computing or workstation options, speak to the staff at Xidax today.

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