GPU vs CPU – what’s the difference?

GPU vs CPU – what’s the difference?
Romilly Cotta Updated on by

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If you’re considering an upgrade for your PC components, it’s a good idea to understand the differences between GPU vs CPU.

Before we go into further depth, the GPU and CPU are both hardware components that live in your PC, responsible for processing the data in your computer.

The CPU is often dubbed the ‘brain’ of the computer, and is responsible for running all the programs and telling other components what to do. Data is entered via mouse and keyboard and other peripherals in whatever way the program instructs it to.

The GPU is a single-chip processor chiefly dealing with graphics processing. It’s responsible for rendering game frames, videos and animations. It has a more specific function than the CPU.

Particularly for next-gen gaming, the GPU is an absolutely crucial component determining your PC’s performance. It explains why there’s been so much excitement around Nvidia’s RTX 4090 and AMD’s RX 7900 XTX.

Now we’ve given you an overview, we’ll go into a bit more detail about how these components work. We’ll then discuss how they relate to PC gaming, and what to look out for before choosing your PC components.

GPU vs CPU – let’s roll.

What is a GPU?

As we’ve mentioned above, the GPU, which stands for graphics processing unit, and is responsible for rendering images and videos. Contrary to popular opinion, a GPU is not the same thing as a graphics card, but is rather the chip inside the graphics card.

There are two kinds of GPUs. First is an integrated GPU, which does not come with its own separate card, but lives and shares memory with the CPU. Then there is a discrete GPU which exists on its own circuit board, thus with its own memory.

Read More: PCIe 5.0 vs PCIe 4.0 – is PCIe 5.0 worth it?

Integrated vs discrete GPUs

Integrated GPUs are very common since they’re used in a wide range of computers, laptops and tablets.

If you’re buying a CPU that comes with an integrated GPU on its motherboard will result in an overall lighter system. This is useful because it reduces your power consumption which helps keep costs down. It also results in a thinner system meaning you’ll often find integrated graphics cards in portable hardware like laptops.

An AMD Ryzen integrated GPU

They are less suitable for heavy graphics usage – so if you’re a gamer or graphics designer, you’ll need a discrete GPU.

PC gaming demands high frame rates, especially when you’re playing in 4K. The same goes for those working with high-definition photo and video content. Let’s also not leave out the very graphic-intensive demands of cryptocurrency mining which Nvidia have attempted to cater to!

Discrete GPUs, as we mentioned, are the preferred choice for graphic-intensive tasks.

AMD and Nvidia lead the way here, both having released their latest discrete GPUs this year. If you want to learn about how their flagship GPUs compare, take a look at our handy guide. These GPUs carry much more bulk than integrated graphics cards.

They add serious processing power to your PC though this produces a lot more heat. Therefore, you have to think about cooling to keep your PC parts at the right temperature. If you’re worried about the temperatures your PC is reaching, consider applying thermal paste or buying additional fans for your setup.

Read Now: How to lower GPU temperatures – 10 ways to keep your GPU cool

Over on WePC you’ll find a guide to the best thermal pastes for your GPU & CPU. Or if your PC case has the space, why not invest in some additional RGB fans which WePC have selected?

What is a CPU?

A CPU is a crucial PC component, responsible for loading instructions from the memory and executing them.

Its performance is measured in MHz (megahertz) or GHz (gigahertz), and it basically controls everything, including the GPU. So whilst the GPU takes care of frame rates, this action is performed because the CPU tells it to.

It’s good to know that some CPUs use hyper-threading technology. This involves the CPU to share its workload between multiple ‘threads’, resulting in the simultaneous completion of instructions, thus increasing the CPU’s overall performance. A CPU has between 2 and 28 ‘threads’ or ‘cores’. Generally speaking, the more cores the more efficient the CPU.

Now Read: Is a CPU hardware or software?

What is CPU Architecture?

CPU architecture refers to how the internal components of a CPU are designed to create the CPU.

Intel and AMD are the main players making CPUs. Though they’re different brands, they often share the same architecture. Intel has released their 13th Gen CPUs based on ‘Raptor Lake’ architecture, whilst AMD’s Ryzen 7000-series CPUs are built on Zen 4 architecture.

Different generations of Intel and AMD CPUs often share the same architectures. For example, Intel’s current 13-gen CPUs are all based on the ‘Raptor Lake’ architecture, and AMD’s newly released 7000-series CPUs are all based on the Zen 4 architecture.

Do I need a GPU for gaming?

Nowadays, video games are made with hyper-realistic graphics with vast in-game worlds (think of the Nordic realm in God of War).

In order to appreciate the beauty and detail of these games, 4K resolutions are increasingly becoming a go-to choice. However, when you factor in the need for high refresh rates, the strain on your PC becomes pretty large, which is why you need a GPU to process all the graphics.

Which game types require more labor from the CPU?

First-person shooter (FPS) games like Modern Warfare II and Overwatch 2 benefit from a powerful CPU if players want the edge over their opponents. This is because the CPU is processing a lot of information at once, meaning it needs to have as many cores as possible.

For example, Grand Theft Auto V recommends at least an Intel i5 3470 (4 cores, 4 threads) to keep up with the demands of the game.

Similarly, Fortnite Battle Royale recommends Intel’s i6 2.8 GHz processor to keep up with the competition.

GPU vs CPU – what’s most important for PC gaming?

The GPU is often called upon as the most important bit of hardware for PC gaming. We can understand why – the GPU is what renders everything you see on your screen. Modern games like Modern Warfare II is very demanding on your PC, but games like this also rely on the multiple cores and threads that newer CPUs offer.

In reality, both GPU and CPU are of great importance. You need both PC components to be powerful to keep up with the demands of next-gen gaming.

CPUs are the more flexible PC component. It performs things like artificial functionality of non-player characters so you have something to play against. The GPU on the other hand only performs graphics rendering.

Which game types require more labor from the CPU?

Today’s quick-moving games including first-person shooters (FPS), multiplayer games, open sandbox games, and more are built to reap advantages provided by the latest CPUs and their multi-cores and threads. In fact, they require them to play well.

For instance, the first-person shooter multiplayer game Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 recommends at least a quad-core processor: either the Intel i5-2500K, which has 4 cores and 4 threads, or AMD Ryzen R5 1600X, which has 6 cores and 12 threads.

But for competitive players using high refresh-rate monitors (1080p), the game actually recommends an AMD Ryzen 1800X (an 8-core processor with 16 threads) or an Intel i7-8700K (which has 6 cores and 12 threads). The 8th Generation Intel i7-8700K happens to be one of fastest processors with some of the highest clock speeds (boost speed at 4.7 GHz) that Intel offers for gaming and streaming.

Similarly, the acclaimed massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft recommends quad-core processors as well: Intel i7-4770 (4 cores, 8 threads) or AMD FX-8310 (8 cores, 8 threads) or better.

The hugely popular online open-world game of Grand Theft Auto V recommends an Intel i5 3470 (4 cores, 4 threads) or AMD FX-8350 (8 cores, 8 threads). And the epic battle royale game of Fortnite Battle Royale recommends at least an Intel i5 2.8 GHz processor with 4 cores and 4 threads.

Should I upgrade my GPU or CPU?

This is a tricky decision. In an ideal world you could buy both, since they work together to deliver your PC’s overall gaming performance. However, it’s likely that there are budget constraints here making you choose between the two.

If you’re mainly playing FPS games, your best off going for a quad-core CPU to experience faster frames per second. If your CPU doesn’t have enough threads, this can then impact the performance of your GPU which is a shame if you’ve just splashed out on a powerful new GPU like the RX 7900 XT.

If your monitor’s resolution is 4K, then you’ll want to consider upgrading your GPU to at least Nvidia’s RTX 3080 which will cope with the extra strain.

You should upgrade your CPU first if:

You like fast-paced games such as first-person shooters such as Modern Warfare II, or real-time strategy games such as The Age of Empires.

You should upgrade your GPU first if:

You mostly play online open-world games with well-defined, immersive environments and stunning visuals such as Grand Theft Auto V or RPGs like Hogwarts Legacy, then be sure to prioritize an upgrade for your GPU first.

Frequently asked question – GPU vs CPU

Can I still game without a graphics card?

If you’re playing video games, then you can’t game to any decent standard without a graphics card. If you have a high-end CPU, you might be able to use the iGPU, however the frame rates will probably be extremely low

How much RAM do I need for gaming?

If you’re playing modern games like Hogwarts Legacy, we recommend at least 16GB RAM for gaming to avoid issues like stuttering. Though some older titles only require 8GB, we recommend upgrading your RAM to future-proof your gaming set-up.