June 24

What Does a CPU Do For Gaming?

If you’re thinking of building a new gaming rig, there are two words that you would have read and heard repeatedly. CPU and GPU.

GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is vital for gaming. In simple terms, it’s a chip that helps display things on your screen. Graphics, animations, videos — anything that’s displayed in a game is directly controlled by the GPU.  So, it’s quite apparent that getting the best gaming GPU is very important.

However, that leaves us with a question regarding exactly what does a CPU do for gaming.

Defining the role of a CPU isn’t that simple. So, we thought we’d clear things up a bit for you. 🎮 ✨

Defining a CPU

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the brain of any computer. It’s also called a processor and its basic job is to manage, process, and execute commands. Again, that definition seems rather vague. This is because the CPU does a whole lot of things and defining them in a single sentence is very difficult.

AMD Ryzen 7 2700X cpu

Let me put it this way. If your computer is an organization, the CPU is the manager. It directs all the other components of the computer and gets the job done. Again, this is a rather oversimplified definition, but for the purposes of this article, let’s limit ourselves to this.

CPUs and Cores

If you’ve heard of CPUs, you must have also heard the word “Core” a lot of times. A core, in essence, in the actual processor. It is capable of performing one task at a time. Here’s something important: Irrespective of how fast the processor is, at any given point of time, it can perform only one task.

So, as the number of cores increase, so does the speed of the computer. Also, the strength of the core is important too. The strength of a core is determined by something called the IPC (Instructions Per Cycle). IPC is basically a points system that measures how fast a processor is. It measures how many instructions a processor can handle within a certain time period. So, obviously, you want a high IPC score.

amd cpu front back

Core strength is extremely important for gaming. You see, most games today use two or four cores. They are incapable of using more cores even if the processor has them. So, you need strong cores that can render games using very few of their cores.

Now, there are games that use more cores and increasingly, more developers are optimizing their games to utilize more cores. However, it’s very much a work in progress. So, even today, the majority of the games (including ones that use a lot of graphics, visuals, and whatnot) use only two to four cores.

CPUs And Gaming

Now, given that we know we need higher core strength, let’s look at what exactly a CPU does in terms of gaming. Without going all techy on you, let me put it this way: the GPU isn’t really that smart. It can execute tasks extremely quickly, but it doesn’t really know what needs to be done. It needs instructions. And you guessed it, the CPU tells the GPU what to do.

That’s just the beginning. The CPU, in essence, handles everything that isn’t visuals or graphics. So, there’s audio, obviously. But that’s not it. In our i3 vs. i5 vs. i7 breakdown, we look into how CPUs with different specifications affect gaming.

i3 i5 i7 intel cpus

Imagine this. You’re playing Call Of Duty: Whatever Version. You have a gun with you. You can see your character, the game-world, some members of your team, and so on. All this is rendered by the GPU. That means that anything you see is made possible by the actions of the GPU.

But, when you shoot someone, the CPU calculates the damage. If your other team members happen to be computer-controlled, the CPU tells them where to go. The GPU executes it, yes. But it’s the CPU that decides where that team member needs to go.

Inputs are also controlled and processed by the CPU. So, when you move your mouse to aim and click the fire button, it’s the CPU that calculates how much movement needs to happen. It understands that you’ve pressed the fire button. It calculates the loss of ammo in your arsenal.

It also calculates the damage of the opponent while simultaneously accepting further inputs. There are a lot of statistics in a game. The CPU keeps track of all that. Collision detection, saving, respawning, the AI, the UI — basically everything that isn’t visuals is controlled and managed by the CPU.

Again, it also tells the GPU what to do. The GPU executes the commands of the CPU. So, in essence, the CPU very much controls the game and your gaming experience.

amd ryzen and intel cpus

Now, if you’re thinking that you’d need a supercomputer to do all that, it’s not actually so. Very often, we don’t really understand how fast and powerful a processor or a CPU really is. You can play any Call of Duty game, apart from the latest one, with just a 2 core processor. That’s how good processors are when you perfectly optimize your PC for gaming.

These days, as I mentioned earlier, more games are being developed with multiple cores in mind. So, there are games that can actually make use of 12 cores simultaneously. However, they are very, very few in numbers. So, as of today, four to six cores should be fine for casual gaming and even professional gamers don’t use processors with more than 8 cores. Again, there are exceptions. This is the norm.

What CPU Should I Buy For Gaming?

Now, there are only two real players in the processor industry. Intel and AMD. Intel gaming processors are amazing. However, in recent years, AMD gaming processors are catching up very quickly.

We’ve compiled a list of the best gaming processors in the market. You can go through that list here.  In essence, when you’re buying a CPU for your gaming rig, make sure that you have at least four cores. Intel is better than AMD for gaming. The gap between them is not a lot, but there’s definitely a gap.

However, if you happen to do a lot of video editing, streaming, 3D animation work, and so on, AMD is far better than Intel. The loss that you make in gaming is far outweighed by the multi-threaded performance of AMD processors. As you can notice, most of the best processors for streaming are manufactured by AMD.

So, that’s about it, actually. Tell us what processors you’re thinking of buying. We love hearing from you!


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About the author

Akash Hoslok

Akash started messing around with computers when he was 7 years old. A few electrocuted fingers and a partially burnt room later, he started understanding how computers really work. Now, he mostly spends his time overclocking old processors and writing about new ones. He spent his prime gaming years trying to control the helicopter in Vice City. He then bravely gave up. Nowadays, he plays COD Black Ops quite a lot and claims that it's the best COD game ever.