A bottleneck in a gaming PC occurs when one component, typically the CPU or GPU, is slower or less capable than the other components in the PC. This leads to a performance limitation where the faster component cannot operate at its full potential due to the slower component.
Over time you might upgrade parts of your gaming PC. Gamers tend to upgrade the GPU first as that’s the easiest thing to change. If you do this without upgrading the other parts, there will be a big difference in the CPU and GPU.
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Identifying a bottleneck in a gaming PC requires analyzing the performance of various hardware components. Here are some steps you can take to identify and address a bottleneck:
Why bottlenecks happen
Bottlenecks often occur when there is a significant disparity in performance between two or more components in the system. If you have a powerful GPU paired with a weaker CPU, the CPU may struggle with the GPU’s demands. This leads to a CPU bottleneck.
Using outdated or incompatible hardware can also result in bottlenecks. If you have a high-end graphics card but pair it with an older motherboard or CPU, the performance of the GPU may be limited, causing a bottleneck.
You need a balance of reasonably matched hardware in order to avoid a bottleneck.
Is your Gaming PC bottlenecking?
There are ways to check if your gaming PC has a bottleneck.
One simple solution is to use a bottleneck calculator. This website allows you to enter your component list and get suggestions on the compatibility of your components.
For example, the Intel i7-10700KF and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Ti.
Our graphics card is too weak for this processor on 1080p resolution. The average bottleneck percentage is 19.9% (CPU bottleneck), which means the CPU is at fault. It also suggests at the end to replace the current CPU with a better CPU such as the Intel i7-13700.
Image Credit: MSI
Another way to check for a bottleneck is by monitoring the performance of your gaming PC while you’re using it. You can use applications such as MSI afterburner to monitor the performance matrix of your system.
≥ 95 percent: GPU limit = The graphics card limits the performance
< 95 percent: CPU limit = The processor limits the performance
If your graphics card is utilized between 95 and 100 percent, the processor is strong enough and supplies the GPU sufficiently. If the GPU is used 80 percent or less, that means you’re hitting a strong CPU bottleneck.
Hard Drive bottleneck
A hard drive bottleneck is when the performance of a computer system is limited by its hard drive. The hard drive can become a bottleneck when it becomes the limiting factor in reading or writing data.
To combat this issue, you can upgrade your HDD to an SSD. Switching from an HDD to an SSD can significantly improve system performance by providing faster read and write speeds. SSDs are more expensive compared to HDDs but they offer substantial performance benefits. Consider NVMe if your motherboard supports it. NVMe drives use a faster interface and can provide even higher data transfer rates compared to traditional SATA SSDs.
A display bottleneck is when the performance of a computer system is limited by the capabilities of the display device. This bottleneck can manifest in various ways, such as lower frame rates, input lag, or reduced image quality.
Higher refresh rates, such as 120Hz or 240Hz, can provide smoother motion and reduce perceived input lag. However, if the graphics card or the system cannot consistently generate enough frames to match the display’s refresh rate, it can lead to a bottleneck and result in screen tearing or choppy visuals.
How to fix bottlenecks
Fixing bottlenecks in a gaming PC involves identifying the component that is causing the bottleneck and taking appropriate actions to balance the performance of your system. Here are some steps you can take to address potential bottlenecks:
Upgrade the component
If the bottleneck is caused by a specific component, you can upgrade it to a more powerful one. For example:
- CPU Bottleneck: Upgrade to a faster CPU with more cores and higher clock speeds.
- GPU Bottleneck: Upgrade to a more powerful graphics card to handle demanding games and applications better.
- RAM Bottleneck: Add more RAM to your system to provide sufficient memory for running games and applications.
- Storage Bottleneck: Upgrade to a faster storage drive, such as an SSD, to reduce loading times and improve overall system responsiveness.
In some cases, upgrading one component may not fully resolve the bottleneck. You can consider upgrading your entire system for a more balanced and improved gaming experience if your system is outdated.
Bottlenecks can sometimes be caused by thermal throttling due to excessive heat. By providing better cooling solutions, you can help maintain lower temperatures and allow your components to operate at their full potential.
If you’re CPU is overheating, it will throttle down to protect the CPU from damage. This can lead to bottlenecking in games.
Close your background applications
Background processes on a computer can potentially cause bottlenecks if they consume excessive system resources, leading to reduced performance for other tasks and applications. Bottlenecks caused by background processes are often related to CPU, RAM, or storage utilization.
You can use task manager to identify which applications use a significant portion of your CPU’s processing power.
Increase your game’s resolution
Increasing the game resolution can help alleviate a bottleneck, particularly if you are experiencing a GPU bottleneck. If you find that your processor is bottlenecking your gaming performance, you should choose a higher resolution if possible. Shifting to a higher resolution (like 1440p or 4K) puts more focus on the GPU, if your graphics card and monitor are up to the task.
When increasing the game’s resolution, make sure that it’s not higher than your display’s resolution. If you increase a game’s resolution beyond the screen resolution, it will have the opposite effect and reduce your frame rate.
Overclocking can be used as a potential solution to alleviate a bottleneck in your computer system, but it should be done with caution. It can help increase the performance of a specific component, such as the CPU or GPU, to better match the performance of other components and reduce the bottleneck.
However, be cautious, as overclocking can generate more heat and may require additional cooling solutions. Overclocking voids the warranty of most components. If something goes wrong during the overclocking process, there is a risk of damaging the hardware permanently.
If your computer is infected with malware, it can lead to various bottlenecks. Malicious programs and other malware and virus run in the background and increase CPU usage.
To address malware-induced bottlenecks, it’s essential to take immediate action to remove the malicious software from your system. Run a full system scan using reliable antivirus or anti-malware software. Make sure your security software is up to date to detect and remove the latest threats.
By promptly addressing malware infections and adopting good security practices, you can help prevent bottlenecks and ensure your computer runs smoothly and efficiently.
Keep in mind that fixing a bottleneck may require a combination of different measures and hardware upgrades. It’s essential to consider your budget, performance requirements, and specific tasks you perform on your PC when deciding on the best approach to address bottlenecks. But the best way to get rid of the problem for a long while is to upgrade your hardware.
Our handpicked selection of hardware upgrades to fix common bottlenecking issues: