GPU vs. CPU Upgrade: Extensive Tests

Graphics Cards have More Potential

The first comparison shows all the test results obtained during cross-testing. Each graphics card completes the full suite of benchmark tests with six CPUs, and each of the CPUs completes the full suite of benchmarks tests with six different graphics cards. The percentage value calculated is made up of all of the achieved frame rates (graphics card x 6 CPU tests); there is no weighting between the individual games. The results were then added together and converted to percentages.

gpu vs cpu

With each generation of graphics chips, Nvidia has been able to double overall performance. The Geforce 9800 GTX is an exception: its performance is closer to that of the Geforce 8 series with the G92 graphics chip. The test contains the overclocked models, which have a little more 3D performance. Another exception is the Geforce 9600, which really deserves the title 9700. It cannot be compared to its slower predecessors, the 6600, 7600 or 8600—its 3D speed is more like that of the Geforce 8800 GTS 320 or 640.

Overall Results for Graphics Cards fps Percent
Geforce 9800 GTX (512 MB) 15263.6 561.2
Geforce 8800 GTS OC (512 MB) 15257.4 561.0
Geforce 8800 GT OC (512 MB) 14609.2 537.1
Geforce 9600 GT OC (1024 MB) 13148.6 483.4
Geforce 7950 GT (512 MB) 6500.9 239.0
Geforce 6800 GT (256 MB) 2719.8 100.0

The speed benefits achieved by changing the CPU are clearly lower, but a basic minimum level is necessary. Otherwise the new graphics card loses 3D performance; 2.6 to 3.0 GHz is sufficient as the basic level. Our test included the current Intel models costing $77, $200 and $262 (50, 130 and 170 Euros), while the X6800 Extreme Edition priced at $1236 (800 Euros) is an exception. The test results for this item show that the CPU displays very little in the way of benefits compared to the standard rate E6750 costing $204 (132 Euros). The influence of the clocking rate can be seen by increasing the frequencies from 1800 to 2410 MHz. When this is done, even the E2160 with its small cache can catch up considerably.

Overall results for CPUs fps Percent
Q6600@3.2 12284.2 135.9
X6800EE@2.94 12097.5 133.9
E6750@2.67 11985.9 132.6
Q6600@2.4 11583.3 128.2
E2160@2.41 10512.4 116.3
E2160@1.8 9036.2 100.0

We chose not to include single cores, as the Asus mainboard with X38 chip set refuses to work with them. At current CPU pricing levels, it makes no sense to use anything smaller than an E2160—doing so in combination with the currently available graphics cards would be wasting too much in the way of 3D speed.

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  • DjEaZy
    will there be a AMD/ATI roundup???
  • randomizer
    That would simply consume more time without really proving much. I think sticking with a single manufacturer is fine, because you see the generation differences of cards and the performance gains compared to geting a new processor. You will see the same thing with ATI cards. Pop in an X800 and watch it crumble in the wake of a HD3870. There is no need to inlude ATI cards for the sake of this article.
  • randomizer
    This has been a long needed article IMO. Now we can post links instead of coming up with simple explanations :D
  • yadge
    I didn't realize the new gpus were actually that powerful. According to Toms charts, there is no gpu that can give me double the performance over my x1950 pro. But here, the 9600gt was getting 3 times the frames as the 7950gt(which is better than mine) on Call of Duty 4.

    Maybe there's something wrong with the charts. I don't know. But this makes me even more excited for when I upgrade in the near future.
  • Anonymous
    This article is biased from the beginning by using a reference graphics card from 2004 (6800GT) to a reference CPU from 2007 (E2140).

    Go back and use a Pentium 4 Prescott (2004) and then the basis of these percentage values on page 3 will actually mean something.
  • randomizer
    yadgeI didn't realize the new gpus were actually that powerful. According to Toms charts, there is no gpu that can give me double the performance over my x1950 pro. But here, the 9600gt was getting 3 times the frames as the 7950gt(which is better than mine) on Call of Duty 4. Maybe there's something wrong with the charts. I don't know. But this makes me even more excited for when I upgrade in the near future.

    I upgraded my X1950 pro to a 9600GT. It was a fantastic upgrade.
  • wh3resmycar
    scyThis article is biased from the beginning by using a reference graphics card from 2004 (6800GT) to a reference CPU from 2007 (E2140).

    maybe it is. but its relevant especially with those people who are stuck with those prescotts/6800gt. this article reveals an upgrade path nonetheless
  • randomizer
    If they had used P4s there would be o many variables in this article that there would be no direction and that would make it pointless.
    Great article!!! It clears up many things. It finally shows proof that the best upgrade a gamer can make is a newer card. About the P4's, just take the clock rate and cut it in half, then compare (ok add 10%) heheh
  • justjc
    I know randomizer thinks we would get the same results, but would it be possible to see just a small article showing if the same result is true for AMD processors and ATi graphics.
    Firstly we know that ATi and nVidia graphics doesn't calculate graphics in the same way, who knows perhaps an ATi card requiers more or less processorpower to work at full load, and if you look at Can you run it? for Crysis(only one I recall using) you will see the minimum needed AMD processor is slover than the minimum needed Core2, even in processor speed.
    So any chance of a small, or full scale, article throwing some ATi and AMD power into the mix?
  • randomizer
    In the case of processors, throwing in some AMD chips would be a good idea as they are often a fair bit slower than a similarly priced C2D. However, I don't think having ATI cards in the mix would show up anything really different than what we have now. The higher end cards will be bottlenecked on a slow processor while the slower cards won't be bottlenecked as badly. A 3870X2 will need a more powerful CPU to reach maximum potential just like a 9800GX2. Of course, the amount of CPU power needed will almost definitely be different, but the overall conclusion is that buying a next-gen (or current-gen rather) card is going to benefit you more than a new CPU unless it's real old. That is all the article is trying to prove, not which CPU/video card is best.
  • LuxZg
    I've got say I agree about no need to add ATI cards, as they are easily comparable with the selection of nVidia cards shown in article.

    But it lacks comparision with single core CPU's. In the times of 6800GT's popularity we've had single core Athlons like Barton, and perhaps early Athlons/Semprons with 754 socket. As adding AGP system would complicate things way too much, I think at least Athlon64 socket 939 could be used, as those were very popular in between/during 6800GT and 7xxx series.

    At very least we should have one set of benchmarks on low/old CPU like that, so we can see if buying faster card is of any use at all, or will we reach a bottom of performance the same way that we see 6800GT unable to use additional power from new CPUs.

    Other than this, it's a great article!

    PLEASE - make one more roundup like this once GT200/4800 cards are out!

    P.S. And nice to see that 9800GTX, and overclocked Q6600 are still right on 300W consumption, meaning any quality 400/450W supply is more than enough for them!
  • Reynod
    Onya ... thanks for pinching the idea from our thread on the subject buddy !!! Tou guys must troll our topics looking for good ideas eh??

    Seriously though ... cheers and thanks !!

    Hey ... update the article with a couple of AMD cpu's thrown into the mix ... perhaps a 3800, 5000. and a 6400 and a couple of 50 series Phenoms.

    Thanks again...
  • cah027
    This is a really cool article. I think it should be updated with every new generation of new parts (ex: new ATi and Nvidia and Nahelem and Fusion)

    I wonder if Nehalem will be such a big boost if it will show gains across the board of GPUs ?
  • danatmason
    I've been waiting for an article like this! Great to have figures to back up the idea of a cpu bottleneck. I tried to pair an 8800GT with an Athlon x2 4000+ at stock speed and I was HUGELY disappointed. But with a quick OC of the processor, I'm sitting happy! So I imagine those results scale similarly with AMD processors and the same idea - clock speed matters more for games, not cores - will still hold true.
  • royalcrown
    there's no need to throw a bunch of AMD processors in here for one reason, well two...

    1. You can see on the cpu charts where the AMD you have compares with an it would perform about the same with the same card.

    2. cpu's in the same FAMILY on the same architecture will scale the same between them relative to the way the c2 duo's scale to each other.
  • ubbadubba
    the E8xxx and E7xxx are not mentioned. Please either include in next edition (along with a few AMD CPUs) or comment on which parts they would mimic. Like, does the E8400 @ 3GHZ behave like a E2160 @3GHz, or is the E8400 still a little bit better by X%. E7200 and E8200 are fairly cheap for new CPU models, so that would be nice for the next go round.

    A game that's missing is UT3 -- it favorably benefits from X3 AMD CPUs as a cost-effective solution, whereas the X3 may not be as good in other games. But maybe that would throw off overall results if 1 game did really well and did not follow the same trends as other games.

    and yes we need AMD CPUs to see the scaling effects across the different GPUs. The interaction of weak CPUs with strong GPUs or vice versa is not represented in the CPU charts.

    speaking of which: when are the GPU charts going to get updated with modern GPUs and games?
  • Anonymous
    What an incredible article! My jaw dropped to the floor at the cost per frame chart. Really nice work! Now, the holy grail is cross-linking article data like this to the CPU and Vid charts. I am very impressed.
  • a 6pack in
    DjEaZywill there be a AMD/ATI roundup???

    that is something that i am really curious in. I've been bummed out that i killed my quad and back to dual. I guess its not really noticable..
  • hcforde
    SCY,(15/05/2008@10:10) most people may have a greater tendancy to upgrade their GPU over their CPU. Maybe that is why it was done. Us techies may not see it that way but the general market may.