Upgrading your computer processor can either be very easy or very hard, mostly depending on what processor you are coming from. If you’re trying to upgrade a gaming computer, one of the issues that you might encounter is a processor or CPU bottleneck.
What is a CPU bottleneck? It is when your CPU holds back your entire system with regard to performance. This concept could be difficult to grasp at first, so let’s start from the ground up. When playing games, the graphics card handles, obviously, the graphics part. The CPU then handles the other aspects of the game such as AI, controls, hardware communications and so on.
When you increase the graphics quality of a game, the graphics card will put more effort into it. This will most certainly result in a slower performance, denoted usually as frames per second, but the CPU utilization in the game will still be the same. But when you change the graphics quality of the game and get almost exactly the same performance, it is likely that the CPU is holding back the graphics card. This could simply mean that the CPU is not powerful enough.
Let’s put it in the concept of driving a car. Let’s say the engine is the CPU and the driver is the graphics card. Even if the driver has excellent driving skills, but the engine is not that powerful and doesn’t have new technologies built into it, the driver is limited to the performance of that engine. Unlike if the engine is powerful, state-of-the-art and full-featured, the driver will be able to take advantage of that and gain more speed, better handling and so on.
A CPU bottleneck is similar to a scenario wherein even if you change drivers, you will always be limited to the engine’s power and efficiency. But if you upgrade that engine, or replace it with a far better one, the performance of the car will now depend on the driver. Now back to CPUs. So no matter what type of graphics card you have and/or game configuration, having a weak CPU will hamper the overall performance of your system. The best solution is most definitely a CPU upgrade.
So how will you determine if there’s a CPU bottleneck? Instead of swapping graphics card, which is terribly costly and impractical for regular users/enthusiasts, you could change the resolution or graphics quality settings of the game. If you encounter the same frame rates even if the resolution is at 1920×1080 or 1366×768, or if the graphics settings are at medium or very high, you most likely have a CPU bottleneck issue.
Nowadays, based on the research I’ve made around, CPU bottleneck issues only happen when you have a low-frequency dual-core processor or something lower. This could be true even if you have a very old processor that has more than 2 cores and with a high frequency. New-generation dual-core processors are enough to drive efficiency in video games, especially when it’s working in tandem with powerful graphics cards. You’ll run into problems mostly likely only with the latest games with really intensive AI.
When upgrading your computer’s processor, and if your budget allows it, I would suggest you grab the best processor you can buy. If you’re play 3D PC games a lot, you wouldn’t want your old processor slowing down your state-of-the-art high-end graphics card, right? Aside from getting the outright value from your purchase, regardless if you’re a gamer or not, getting the better and newer processor will most likely make your PC last for years before it would need another upgrade.