As the performance of budget graphics cards continues to improve, more PC users are able to build systems with high-end graphics performance aimed at gaming or workstation applications.
New top-end graphics cards are able to render games at a 4K resolution, while costing the same as previous-generation GPUs.
AMD and Intel’s high-end CPUs are also extremely powerful – however, they can be prohibitively expensive for average users and often make up a significant portion of a new PC’s price.
The trick is to find how much GPU and CPU performance your PC requires, and where you can save money by not purchasing an overly-powerful CPU.
Certain applications, like gaming and 3D modelling, are limited more by GPU performance than CPU core count – meaning users can get away with a relatively-cheap processor and spend more on a GPU.
Intel’s marketing material suggests that gamers require a powerful unlocked processor in order to gain maximum performance for both gaming and professional applications.
AMD’s high-end Ryzen processors are also marketed as chips for enthusiasts and hardcore gamers.
However, gaming performance is generally dependent on graphics processing power – meaning users don’t need an octa-core CPU to play games, even at 4K.
The biggest consideration for 4K gaming is the processing power of the GPU.
In certain gaming benchmarks, the low-cost 7th-gen Intel Pentium G4560 processor boasts the same frames-per-second score as its Core i7 counterparts when paired with a powerful graphics card.
According to gaming benchmarks conducted by TechSpot, DirectX 12 titles such as Civilization VI and Total War: Warhammer are actively limited by a less-powerful processor and generally require a Core i5 to deliver above 60fps.
This data shows that an Intel Core i5 processor is sufficient for most modern titles and does not bottleneck most graphics card configurations.
Less-powerful processors like the Intel Pentium G4560 are also sufficient for many GPU-dependent tasks besides gaming, including 3D modelling and design.
As these workloads depend heavily on graphics performance, they can be run on an inexpensive processor.
However, users will require a more powerful processor for strenuous multi-tasking, or tasks requiring increased multi-threaded performance, as the Intel Pentium G4560 has only two physical cores with four threads.
Intel’s unlocked processors (designated with a “K ” at the end of the model number) are useful for consumers requiring fast clock speeds and high processor performance across almost all tasks.
Purchasing an unlocked processor for mainstream gaming or video rendering is typically not necessary, however, and Intel’s unlocked CPUs cost much more than their standard counterparts.
While the CPU performance required for professional workloads varies depending on task, many workstation PCs would perform better with a more powerful graphics card than an overclocked, quad-core or octa-core processor.