CPUs and GPUs are very vital computer components, not just for gaming, but for other computer activities as well. For gamers (and others), the right CPU-GPU combo is necessary to avoid the problem of bottlenecking while deriving maximum gaming utility. Apart from having an above-average knowledge of how CPUs and GPUs work, there are no hard and fast rules to precisely determine a perfect CPU-GPU combo when building or upgrading a gaming PC.
Hence, some form of iteration or experimentation may be required before arriving at a good CPU-GPU pairing. We arrived at the following combos after several rigorous rounds of iteration based on a number of technical specifications.
What is a CPU-GPU Combo?
As the name implies, a CPU-GPU combo is simply a combination of a processor and discrete graphics. It is like summing two parts to produce a whole. For an immersive gaming experience, you require the best from both your CPU and GPU. Moreover, you need a graphics card because many of the CPUs available do not support integrated graphics. Even with an integrated graphics CPU, you’ll still need a separate GPU to have the best possible gaming experience
Are CPU-GPU Combos Worth It?
As noted above, having a CPU-GPU combo will enhance your gaming efficiency. Though not human beings, both are good examples of division of labor and specialization. A CPU-GPU combo can be pricey, butt it is one essential ingredient you require if you want to game like a champion.
Below are our 7 top CPU-GPU combos for 2023.
1. Intel i9-11900K and ASUS ROG STRIX NVIDIA RTX 3090 -Best Overall
Intel and NVIDIA need no introduction when it comes to CPUs and GPUs. Both companies have been thrilling gamers with highly sophisticated computer components for years. It is only natural that a combo from both firms is strong enough to be rated our top overall pick.
The Intel i9-11900K is an 11th generation CPU with a base clock speed of 3.5 GHz, a maximum turbo frequency of 5.2 GHz, and a 16 MB cache. It is designed with 8 cores and 16 threads. The i9-11900K is of the DDR4 3200 memory type with a maximum of 2 memory channels. For memory size, this CPU boasts a maximum memory of 128 GB (depending on the type of memory) as well as a maximum memory bandwidth of 50 GB/s which should be more than enough for a pleasant gaming experience.
This Direct 12.1 CPU is equipped with a 4K HDMI display resolution (4096×[email protected]) that makes for very clear images. Our GPU for this combo – the ASUS ROG STRIX NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 comes with 10496 CUDA cores, an 1860 MHz gaming mode boost clock, and a memory speed of 19.6 Mbs.
Its cores are made up of third-generation tensor cores and second-generation RT cores. The former ensures up to 2x more throughput with structural sparsity, AI enhancements such as DLSS, and support for 8K resolution. With the RT cores, you’ll get twice the throughput offered by the first generation of RT cores as well as improvements in NVIDIA’s pioneering ray tracing technology. The Asus ROG STRIX NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 also boasts a VRAM of 24 GB GDDR6X and is one of the best gaming GPUs out there at the moment, in terms of price-performance ratio.
In summary, gamers who opt for this powerful CPU-GPU combo are in for the excitement of their lives in terms of performance efficiency. Both tick all the boxes when it comes to variables such as speed, memory, display resolution, and other features like DLSS, ray tracing, and NVIDIA’s all-new Ampere Streaming Multiprocessors that ensure twice the previous FP32 throughput and improvements in power usage.
Why Is This the Best CPU-GPU Combo for Gaming in 2023?
Both products have a lot of modern features that are lacking elsewhere, making a combination of the two a mouth-watering scenario for gamers. For instance, the i9-11900K has an impressive 8 cores while the NVIDIA RTX 3090 comes with an astonishing 10496 CUDA cores.
2. Intel Core i3 and GeForce 1660 Super – Budget Pick
The budget-friendly Intel Core i3-10100 is the entry-level CPU among Intel’s tenth-generation CPUs. It is an upgrade on the Celeron and Pentium models. It has 4 cores, 8 threads, and a clock speed of 3.6GHz as well as a maximum turbo frequency of 4.30 GHz.
It also comes with a 6 MB cache and DDR4 -266 RAM with a memory size of up to 128 GB. Like many other Intel processors, the i3-10100 comes with several advanced technologies, e.g., hyperthreading technology, turbo boost technology, and thermal monitoring technology, among others.
These (and more) are decent enough features for CPU in its price range, especially since this unit outperforms most other products in its class and price range. However, some have criticized the i3 for lacking integrated graphics. You can overcome this weakness and still play optimally by pairing it with a suitable GPU like the NVIDIA GeForce 1660 Super.
NVIDIA describes the cost-effective 1660 Super as “a supercharger for today’s most popular gaming” and a look at its impressive features shows that this is not an exaggeration. It is powered by NVIDIA’s Turing technology and a very fast 6GB GDDR6 memory that brings about higher performance levels to help you cope with the demands of modern gaming.
With the pricey nature of a majority of CPUs nowadays, it is not easy to find a fairly affordable GPU that boasts some of the best graphics around like the 1660 Super. Combining the strengths of the i3 and the 1660 Super is a win-win for budget gamers wishing to extend the satisfaction derived from gaming.
3. AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU and AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT GPU
The AMD Ryzen was launched on the 7th of July 2019. It is based on AMD’s Zen 2 architecture. The CPU design has now moved to a 7nm manufacturing process CPU from the previous 12mm process. This implies gains in efficiency, for example, in instructions per clock (IPC) and a higher clock speed of 3.6GW.
it comes with 6 cores and 12 threads and is unlocked for overclocking. Improvements have also been made in the memory function. For instance, the caches L1, L2, and L3 are now 384KB, 3MB, and 32MB respectively. Its migration to the PCle standard makes for increased bandwidth for PCIe solid-state drives and AMD’s Navi graphic cards. In short, the AMD Ryzen will help you unlock your full gaming potential.
And the sky becomes the limit when you combine it with a product like the Radeon RX 5600 XT GPU which comes with its own game boosting features, based on the RDNA architecture.
Features like image sharpening, fidelity FX, and Integer Display Scaling will definitely help maximize your gameplay experience. Other features such as anti-lag, Radeon Boost and AMD Freesync lead to reduced latency, higher FPS, and stutter-free, tear-free gaming. It comes with a 6 GB GDDRS memory and a bandwidth of 288 GB/s for enhanced 1080p playing sessions.
There’s also Express 4.0 support that helps double the bandwidth from the Express 3.0 mechanism. In summary, a combination of these two units will offer you an immersive 1440p gaming experience characterized by an average of 60 FPS in a majority of games.
4. Intel Core i7-11700K and Gigabyte GeForce RTX 3070 OC
Unlike the i3 10100f discussed earlier, the i7-11700K comes with an integrated graphics mechanism. This is made possible by an Intel UHD Graphics 750 Integrated Graphics Processor (IGP) It has 8 cores and 16 threads as well as a memory bandwidth of 50Gbps and a hyperthreading mechanism. Being part of Intel’s K series CPUs means that the i7 can be overclocked, albeit with an appropriate motherboard.
The dual memory channel i7-11700K is a speed demon, boasting the fastest gaming performance among all Intel CPUs as of last year. It is poised to hold on to that position in 2023. When it comes to gaming, the i7-11700K is one CPU that can answer most questions you ask without fuss. However, even with its integrated graphics feature, you’ll still need a GPU for super-smooth gaming. So what better partner for the i7 than the Gigabyte GeForce RTX 3070 OC? Yes, the i7 and the RTX 3070 can be a match made in heaven.
The RTX 3070 is another NVIDIA graphic card that comes with Ampere streaming multiprocessors, second-generation RT Cores, and third-generation Tensor Cores. It features NVIDIA’s Windforce cooling technology that includes alternate spinning fans. There’s also an 8 GB GDDR6 256-bit memory interface, a clock speed of 1.5GHz, a memory speed of 14Gbps, and a maximum resolution of 7680 x 4320p for clear picture quality. Its RGB 2.0 mechanism offers 16.7 million customizable color options and numerous lighting effects for your favorite games All these impressive features are enclosed in an aesthetically pleasing and protective metal black plate.
5. INTEL Core i5 and NVIDIA RTX 3060 Ti
The i5 11600K is an eleventh-generation unlocked CPU with 6 cores and 12 threads. It is a superior low-temperature CPU that has revolutionized gaming productivity. Like the i7-11700K, the i5-11600K also comes with an Intel UHD Graphics 750 Integrated Graphics Processor. It has a graphics video maximum memory of 64 GB and a graphics base frequency of 350MHz.
The i5 is of 14nm lithography, has a cache of 12MB, DDR4-3200 memory, and 50G/s memory bandwidth. Other notable features include hyperthreading technology, PCI Express revision support, and 4K display resolution, among other goodies from this gaming beast. It parades a number of security features that include Intel OS Guard and Intel Trusted Execution Technology.
However, because of the fewer number of cores in the i5-11600K, consider using the i7-700K if you intend to game and stream via the same computer with a CPU encoding. But if you decide to concentrate this CPU on gaming, then you are in for a pleasant gaming experience.
That experience can be made even more pleasant if you pair your i5 CPU with a quality GPU like NVIDIA Geforce RTX 3060 Ti. Like the other elite NVIDIA models, the RTX 3060 Ti comes with second-generation RT cores that make for superior ray tracing for more realistic and immersive gaming.
Even with its 8GB VRAM as against the 12GB VRAM of the RTX 3060, the RTX 3060 Ti is still a more powerful unit than the former in many other areas. For instance, it has 4864 CUDA cores, which is 1280 cores (both RT and Tensor cores) more than RTX 3060. It also has a larger memory interface than the RTX 3060. In all, with the power exuded by the RTX 3060 Ti GPU (it consumes 30 watts more power than the RTX 3060), pairing it with a decent CPU such as the i5-11600 should delight every gamer out there.
6. Ryzen 5 3500X and EVGA GTX 1080 Ti Sc
The multiplier unlocked Ryzen 5 3500X was introduced in September 2019. It belongs to AMD Ryzen 5 desktop processors product line. It is based on the Zen 2 architecture and a 7nm lithography with 3.8 million transistors. It has 6 cores and 6 threads (so no multithreading feature). Its boost clock time is 3.6 GHz with a possibility of rising to 4.1GHz., depending on workload.
For memory, the 3500X uses a DDR4 type and has a memory speed of up to 3200 MHz which can be extended via overclocking and a suitable memory module. Cache L1 has a capacity of 384KB while that of Cache L2 is 3 MB and 32 MB for Cache 3. It supports PCIe 4.0, has a dual memory channel and 65 TDP. Needless to say that the above and other features from this high-end CPU are robust enough to provide you with both 1080p and 1440p gaming pleasure.
But note that the 5 3500X does not have an integrated graphics feature. However, by pairing it with an efficient gaming GPU like the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti Sc, its lack of graphics will more than be made up for. Based on the NVIDIA Paschal architecture, the GTX 1080 Ti Sc is one product that can fulfill most gamers’ dreams. It comes with 3584 CUDA cores, a base clock of 1556MB, and a boost clock of 1670 MHz. There’s also a next-gen 11 Gbps GDDR5X memory and an 11 GB frame buffer. It has a digital resolution of 7680 x 4320p and provides support for PCI 3.0. Its icx cooling feature, design-build, and fin technology all help to enhance its cooling capacity.
7. Core i5 7600K and Ryzen 5 1600X
Even with its 4 cores and 4 threads, the i5 7600K is still capable of 1080p and 1440 gaming. However, the limited number of cores and threads means that this CPU will struggle to multitask, e.g, playing a game and streaming videos. But with a clock speed of 3.8GHz, 6MB cache, 24 PCH lanes, HyperThreading, virtualization, turbo 2.0, and several others, this CPU will offer you a lot in terms of computational performance.
It will comfortably pair with most GPUs without any bottleneck concerns. One such GPU that the i5 7600 can pair with for a quality gaming output is the Ryzen 5 1600X. The Ryzen 5 1600X comes with a variable base clock speed of 3.6GHz and a boost clock speed of 4.GHz. There’s also a dual-core 4.1 GHz eXtended Frequency Range (XFR) feature that automatically activates if it establishes compatibility with your thermal system.
The XFR also plays a part in the all-core 3.7 GHz boost level for heavily-threaded workloads. The Ryzen 5 1600X uses 14nm processing technology as well as a host of other AMD technologies. These include the Zen core architecture, Ennmotus FuzeDrive, virtualization, and others.
It has 6 SMT-enabled cores that can operate on up to 12 threads in parallel. Similar to the flagship Ryzen 7 1800X, the 95W 1600X boasts 16MB of L3 cache, a 3MB L2 cache, and an L1 cache of 576KB. The Ryzen 5 processors do not come with on-die GPUs (just like Ryzen 7 processors). One implication of this is that they can be used in PCs with discrete graphics cards which makes them very ideal for the gaming market.
How to Choose the Best CPU-GPU Gaming Combo
Choosing the best CPU-GPU gaming combo can be a difficult task since there are no specific rules to help decision-making. However, here are some things to have in mind when trying to adopt any particular CPU-GPU combo.
Frames Per Second
The refresh rate is one of the most important considerations when deciding on the CPU-GPU combo to settle for. The higher the frames per second, the more load the CPU has to carry and vice versa. In other words, gaming at 144Hz or 240Hz will require more resources from the CPU than playing with the standard 60 Hz.
Therefore, consider installing a very powerful CPU if you intend to consistently operate with higher refresh rates or play games that are CPU intensive. Same goes for lower resolution gaming because the lower the resolution, the more the FPS (meaning more load for the CPU). Also the higher the resolution, the more the pixels to be rendered (meaning more load on the GPU).
Note that there are screens that are built to work on both high FPS and high resolution. For instance, a 1440p-144Hz screen will mean more load for the CPU than a 1440p-60Hz screen. Also, a 1440p resolution means more load for the GPU than a 4K or 1080p resolution.
As noted above, higher resolutions mean that more pixels have to be rendered which translates to more load for the GPU. In contrast, lower resolutions (say 1080p) mean less load on the GPU and more load on the CPU because it has more frames to process. So it all depends on your preferences and the nature of the games you’ll be playing. There are apps out there that can help you monitor the relationship between CPU/GPU usage on resolution, pixels, and FPS.
The most efficient CPUs and GPUs out there usually come with significantly high clock speeds. But note that high clock speed is a necessary and not a sufficient condition. This is because some CPUs and GPUs have higher clock speeds but less power overall. So you want to ensure that your combo not only has high clock speeds but tick all the other boxes needed for optimal performance.
Number of Cores
The number of cores in a CPU or GPU is an indication of its performance power. The reality here is that the more the cores, the greater the versatility and performance level. CPU cores are often in single digits (for example, 4, 6, 8) while GPU cores are usually in thousands (for example, 4864, 3584). If you are only interested in gaming, a 4-core CPU paired with any quality GPU will be enough. But if you intend to multitask, then be sure to opt for a higher number of cores.
Video RAM (VRAM)
The video RAM functions like the computer RAM but the former ‘s functionalities are restricted to a graphics card. Again, just like with cores a higher RAM figure translates to a greater performance level. So for the best gaming experience (and also for other non-gaming operations), a high capacity RAM is recommended.
Every gamer desires to acquire a combo that will take his or her gaming experience to newer levels in terms of performance. But not all CPU-GPU combos are an exact match for each other, meaning that there’s a possibility for one to bottleneck the other. Hence, try and ensure you are very conversant with the processor and graphic card you are combining (consult a computer gaming expert, if necessary) in order to avoid bottlenecks and enjoy the benefits of selecting the most suitable combo for you.
Computers are designed to have spaces or slots where certain components (e.g., graphics cards) are installed. This means that purchasing a component whose dimensions do not match the space created for it in your PC will be a problematic scenario. Therefore, ensure that both the component and the slot allocated to it have the same size before purchasing.
Be sure to understand the connectivity mechanisms surrounding the processor and graphic card you want to purchase. This will enable you to determine the exact connection requirements and save you the headache of using converters for connection due to port sizes that do not match. The usual connection mechanisms are HDMI port, Display Port, and DVI port.
Cooling is very important both for performance and longevity. For instance, there’s an inverse relationship between temperature and performance speed. Be sure to take a look at the thermal design power (TDP) when reading the specifications of any particular CPU or GPU. Also, you have to ensure that the cooling system in your PC is efficient enough to dissipate whatever the level of heat captured by the TDP value.
Budget here has to do with the availability of the needed funds for the CPU-GPU combo you have identified. If your funds permit, be sure to go for a combo with the exact specifications you need. If not, you may want to make do with what is affordable. Luckily, there are quite a few affordable combos in the market for those who search meticulously.
Brand loyalty can be a big deal for some but not for others. Some people will rather purchase a product from a particular company, no matter the quality. In a market with differentiated products, some clients may prefer a CPU or GPU brand because of the technologies it uses to manufacture its products, etc. However, it is better to identify the exact features you desire and go for them, no matter the brand.
The importance of CPUs and GPUs for a computer system need not be overemphasized. This importance is also evident in the gaming world where CPU-GPU combos are a sine-qua-non for an optimal gaming experience. However, clear rules for perfectly selecting a processor and graphic card presently do not exist. Therefore, to come up with your ideal match, some form of iteration or experimentation is necessary. Hence, the 7 CPU-GPU combos for this list are products of an iterative process coupled with expert technical knowledge. This technical knowledge is also useful when trying to identify those factors to consider before settling for a CPU-GPU gaming combo.
Frequently Asked Questions About CPU and GPU Combos For Gaming
Which is More Important For Gaming – a CPU or a GPU?
Most gaming systems will require significant graphics to ensure optimal gameplay scenarios. For this reason, the emphasis is usually on the capacity of the GPU. But some games require heavy doses of CPU power. So it really boils down to the demands of any particular game. In a nutshell, despite the more frequent emphasis on graphics, the CPU is also an important ingredient when it comes to gaming.
Can You Game With a CPU Without a GPU?
Yes and no. Yes because it is technologically possible to game with CPUs that have built-in integrated graphics processing units. No, because even the most high-end CPU with an integrated graphics processing unit will disappoint you in certain games. For the best quality gaming, a CPU-GPU combo is an absolute necessity.
What Causes a CPU-GPU Bottleneck?
A bottleneck occurs when one data processing speed lags behind another. For example, there’ll be a CPU bottleneck if the CPU processing speed is much slower than the GPU processing speed in a CPU-GPU combo.
Can You Pair a Low-End CPU With a High-End GPU?
Yes. As long as both components are compatible with each other. It is a better situation than pairing a weak CPU and another weak GPU. But note that in such a scenario, any bottlenecks that may arise with time will most likely be from the low-end CPU.
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