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Is the CPU more important than the GPU in the long run?

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January 6, 2010 8:38:07 PM

This is what I was thinking. We can all agree that the GPU is much more important when it comes to performance. FPS are gained roughly by a better GPU and not by a better CPU, which can potentially have a lot of untapped potential (BG2 reference!).

However, this is true only if you upgrade your system often (say, once a year). If you are determined to keep your PC for more, then a really good cpu is as important as a gpu, if not more.

The answer to why I think so is one: bottlenecks. If the gpu limits your performance, you can always lower resolution and detail, until you play on 800x600, low settings. My brother-in-law still has a GeForce 6600 and somehow managed to play Far Cry 2 on the details I just mentioned.

If the cpu is the bottleneck, there is not much you can do. Lower physics maybe? Or lower the AI of the opponents (technically that hasn't be implemented, but I can see a game just giving the "Easy" mode enemies who just use less processor power, hence increasing performance)?

This is probably why most recent games require some kind of dual core cpu, but can still have an ATi 1600 or a Geforce 6800 as minimum requirements. If you're happy with 30 fps and your cpu gives you those (and you don't care much about eye candy), then I'm sure you can manage your gpu to give you another 30 fps. But if your cpu can only manage twenty, then you're out of luck and you're stuck with those.

Bottom line: If you plan to keep your pc for years and want to play games after some time, invest in a cpu as much as you invest in the gpu. If you upgrade a lot, then the gpu should be the most important part of your pc.

PS: I am not an expert, so any discussions welcome.
January 6, 2010 8:48:20 PM

there is a reason applications have minimum CPU specs....if the cpu isn't fast enough, the game will still get the same framerates graphics wise, but the whole game will be slowed down
January 6, 2010 10:02:16 PM

That's probably true, but what I said is that PCs that will run for a long time with no upgrades need balance between the two, but PCs that will be upgraded often need a fast gpu more than a fact cpu.

A Pentium 4 with a 5970 can run pretty much the same games with a Pentium 4 with a 6800. The cpu is going to be such a bottleneck that it doesn't really matter what gpu you have (and if you take into account that recent games need a dual core, then you'll see what I mean about a strong cpu for the distant future).
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January 6, 2010 10:15:33 PM

Not if the P4 can't even start the game... ;) 
a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2010 10:24:01 PM

Quote:
Yeah thats true. Exept one thing :p  P4 and HD 5970 would DESTROY even the 8800GT with a dual core. ;) 

Actually I doubt that, I'll guess you are implying a Core 2 Duo as that is the most common dual-core CPU, in many games, Physics has its own slider (Crysis/Far Cry 2/etc) if you turned Physics up high, the 8800GT can easily push the pixels on most games at say 1440x900, then the C2D would destory the P4.
a c 1362 U Graphics card
a c 850 à CPUs
January 6, 2010 10:24:19 PM

carpenter20m said:
This is what I was thinking. We can all agree that the GPU is much more important when it comes to performance. FPS are gained roughly by a better GPU and not by a better CPU, which can potentially have a lot of untapped potential (BG2 reference!).

However, this is true only if you upgrade your system often (say, once a year). If you are determined to keep your PC for more, then a really good cpu is as important as a gpu, if not more.

The answer to why I think so is one: bottlenecks. If the gpu limits your performance, you can always lower resolution and detail, until you play on 800x600, low settings. My brother-in-law still has a GeForce 6600 and somehow managed to play Far Cry 2 on the details I just mentioned.

If the cpu is the bottleneck, there is not much you can do. Lower physics maybe? Or lower the AI of the opponents (technically that hasn't be implemented, but I can see a game just giving the "Easy" mode enemies who just use less processor power, hence increasing performance)?

This is probably why most recent games require some kind of dual core cpu, but can still have an ATi 1600 or a Geforce 6800 as minimum requirements. If you're happy with 30 fps and your cpu gives you those (and you don't care much about eye candy), then I'm sure you can manage your gpu to give you another 30 fps. But if your cpu can only manage twenty, then you're out of luck and you're stuck with those.

Bottom line: If you plan to keep your pc for years and want to play games after some time, invest in a cpu as much as you invest in the gpu. If you upgrade a lot, then the gpu should be the most important part of your pc.

PS: I am not an expert, so any discussions welcome.

My experience is that when you build a system the CPU is longer lasting than the GPU. I have pretty much gone through 2 GPU's per CPU since I had my AMD K6 400Mhz system. Basically I am saying that a CPU can work with 2 to 3 generations of GPU's before it starts holding them back. (of course this is based on how big a leap there is on a generation change)
a b à CPUs
January 6, 2010 10:25:32 PM

A P4 and a 5970, lol. I wish my previous P4 rig could've taken a modern card. It had that whole AGP problem, though. ;) 

I agree that one needs to have a solid, strong CPU, and then upgrade the graphics card as needed. A better cpu will go a long way towards system longevity.

Only so much can be future-proofed, though, and eventually, the CPU has to be at the "next" level for games. It's only more recent games that have finally pulled away from allowing a single-core cpu in the minimum specs. One wonders how much longer P4's could've lasted if they had PCIe for graphics instead of AGP. :D 
January 7, 2010 6:13:46 AM

Well, technology always moves forward and perhaps one of the reasons could be purely commercial. The hardware manufacturers probably don't care much about backwards compatibility because it isn't cost effective. Too much research to be done to ensure compatibility with no gains for not selling new hardware. Where would motherboard manufacturers be, if there was one universal mobo that could take any processor for the past 10 years?

Even so, my argument still stands, I guess. When I bought my system my cpu was the second best in the market, a C2D E6400, with only the E6600 being more expensive (unless there was an extreme edition I wasn't aware of - and we're talking about early 2007, before Vista came to be). That processor, slightly overclocked now can still play any game I am throwing at it, not perfectly but it can. If I had gone with a single core alternative which were still available back then (at least in my country), I wouldn't be able to play anything right now.
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a b à CPUs
January 7, 2010 6:29:44 AM

I'd say CPUs are more important in the long run since:

1. CPUs are harder/more time consuming to upgrade
2. CPUs don't depreciate in value as fast as GPUs
3. CPUs are important for more than just running games
a c 130 U Graphics card
a b à CPUs
January 7, 2010 7:19:29 AM

Bluescreendeath said:
I'd say CPUs are more important in the long run since:

1. CPUs are harder/more time consuming to upgrade
2. CPUs don't depreciate in value as fast as GPUs
3. CPUs are important for more than just running games


Definatly agree very strongly with this.

Mactronix
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a b à CPUs
January 7, 2010 7:25:25 AM

^^ Totally agree too!

But the key here is the balance of the CPU-GPU combination. The overall balance of the system is more important than getting which one the user prefers. Cant just pair a HD5970 with a E2180 or 250BE just coz GPU is more important. Or the other way around as well.
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a b à CPUs
January 7, 2010 8:26:53 AM

uh_no said:
if the cpu isn't fast enough, the game will still get the same framerates graphics wise, but the whole game will be slowed down

Er... what? :heink: 
a c 130 U Graphics card
a b à CPUs
January 7, 2010 8:38:50 AM

Myself i have learnt over the years that probably the most important piece of hardware if your gaming, the GPU is the one place you can easily scrimp on when building on a budget with a view to upgrading later.

Given a budgeting choice (leaving monitors aside) i would much sooner cut back on the GPU than the power supply or CPU anyday.
A decent motherboard dosent have to cost the earth but a decent case is also a very good investment as well. I dont know about you guys but i would also rather not get a smaller HDD just to reinstall when i could afford a better one and trying to game or use a computer with less Ram than ideal is a big pain also.
So bottom line is that the GPU is where the cuts would be because of the ease of upgrading and also because by the time you have saved to get that new GPU you had your eye on there will probably be one cheaper and better than the one you really wanted in the first place.
A fast CPU gives you more FPS with a weaker GPU than a slower one with a faster GPU does i have found in general anyway. Im sure this dosent hold true across the board, its just what i have noticed with my own systems over the years.

Mactronix
a b U Graphics card
a b à CPUs
January 7, 2010 11:14:39 AM

It's really pretty simple the way I see it.
If you want to game, it takes a gaming GPU.
If you want your gaming GPU to work at it's highest potential, you need a fast CPU.
It's kind of like, which came first, the chicken or the egg? It doesn't really matter, in the end you have to have both. 1 simply cannot do without the other.

Or, you simply game at lower "user experience" (got THAT from watching ATT commercials heh, heh, heh)
January 7, 2010 12:40:40 PM

Well, there are some issues that need to be addressed though. Longevity is one and budget the other.

Let me give an example of what I am talking about since the first post.

If you plan on keeping the pc for, say, 2-3 years and manage to play games at the end of that time, it is probably better (and I stress probably) to buy a core i5 with a 5850 than a PhenomII X3 with a 5870.

That's what I think so, anyway.
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January 7, 2010 12:51:22 PM

Exactly, the new video card in 3 years is going to be a lot better off with the faster processor. If you started with a slower processor, when the time comes you will need to upgrade both to realize the gain you are probably looking for.
When talking about a gaming PC, there is one thing for certain, nothing is for certain.
You are going to have to upgrade and you are going to have to spend money if you like to game. What you buy today will be outdated in 6 months. Trying to plan ahead and buy for tomorrow is really tough.
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a b à CPUs
January 7, 2010 2:28:57 PM

Quote:
BTW! I got a core i7 920. Will it last for a while?


Depends on what you are after its no better or worse than any other top end CPU as far as gaming goes every thing more or less flattens off in benchmarks after you get to an i5 anyway.

Mactronix
January 7, 2010 2:40:44 PM

man, you guys are causing me to have buyer's remorse for picking up a phenom ii x3 720 (paid $109), Giga-byte ma-ga785gmt-ud2h (paid $60) :( 

My last PC, a P4 2.4 held me over for nearly 6 years, 2 GPU upgrades.. I think I started with a MX400 and then moved to a BFG 6600 GT 128mb.

My current PC isn't crap, but the whole Intel vs. AMD thing was again hard to process lol ... I went the AMD route because it seemed like potentially better bang for the buck.. idk, now I'm having second thoughts - ugh.

I still will need a discrete GPU solution since I'm running the on board HD 4200 and have been looking at the HD 5750 1gig and 5770 1gig that I can obtain on eBay for ~$130 and $150 respectively.

I use Win7 Pro 64-bit, Photoshop CS4, Dreamweaver CS4, and play a pretty graphically intense flight simulator (Phoenix Flight Sim ver 2.5) and may play with Gears of War 1. I'm not a hard-core gamer, so I don't need CrossFire or anything like that. I'll be setting up a Dell 2209WA monitor tonight, so I have a bent towards quality gear, but really need to make my dollars go far with longevity in mind.

Maybe in another year or so I'll swap out the CPU/MOBO for Intel, or see what comes down the pike from AMD that may pop into my existing AM3 MOBO...tough call....
January 7, 2010 3:20:51 PM

A lot depends on the particular game you're playing. The DX stuff is handled by the video card, but everything else is handled by the CPU. If the game is mainly a bunch of DX calls, then the GPU matters more.

In general, dumb games are more GPU constrained than smart games.
January 7, 2010 3:21:57 PM

it does come down to what your doing, but all the graphics are done by the GPU. if you running photosop, flash, after effect etc any graphic programs, you GPU is gonna be more important than the CPU. a few years ago, the GPU tech couldn't keep up with the CPU's, but it's basically reversed, and the CPU can't keep up now. it ultimately comes down to a balance, i fyou GPU is too powerful , your CPU is gonna work harder to keep up, and that will reduce it's life. and vice versa.

GPU's are being released alot faster and the tech is advancing a bit faster now, but that doesn't matter. when you buy a part, within 3 months it's generally outdated. might be capable, but it's outdated.
a b U Graphics card
January 7, 2010 5:26:28 PM

To the OP.
GPUs planned obsolescence is 18 months tops, whereas a CPUs planned obsolescence is 24 months or more.This explains why GPUs often lose their value sooner, as well as specs dont change nearly as often. By that I mean, all you need is the card, whereas with a CPU, you often need a new Mobo, ram etc, so the market plays on this, as many would rather upgrade their current cpu, still maintaining its pricing, regardless that the new gen of CPUs are out or not, that being a much larger and expensive upgrade overall, considering ram and mobo etc.

Now, since CPUs usually dont change as often, their longevity not only seen in pricing, but performance is usually assured from 1 gen to the next, and the perf is generally small bumps since weve hit the "good enough" stage.
What I mean by thisis, since Phenom 2 and C2D, weve reached maximum clocks, and the Instructions Per Clock, or IPC has only gone up slightly, as weve reached the point of small returns in these 2 directions, and is why CPUs are going multi cored rather than clock speeds or IPC improvements, both of which has sort of played out.
So, using a P4 to the next jump to C2D is likely the last kind of jump we will see in our CPUs, unless SW/ganes take advantage of more cores.
So, as this happens, Apps/Games become more multi threaded, as this is the future and is where were heading, the GPU has actually started to become of more relevence, since it handles Multi threading better and faster than CPUs in many scenarios.

So, in the end, no, the CPU is losing its importance as more GPUs are using multi threaded apps as they come along, yet the growth and speed of GPUs have another couple of gens left before it hits the wall like the CPU has
!