GPU vs. CPU Upgrade: Extensive Tests

Graphics Cards have More Potential

The first comparison shows all the test results obtained during cross-testing. Each graphics card completes the full suite of benchmark tests with six CPUs, and each of the CPUs completes the full suite of benchmarks tests with six different graphics cards. The percentage value calculated is made up of all of the achieved frame rates (graphics card x 6 CPU tests); there is no weighting between the individual games. The results were then added together and converted to percentages.

gpu vs cpu

With each generation of graphics chips, Nvidia has been able to double overall performance. The Geforce 9800 GTX is an exception: its performance is closer to that of the Geforce 8 series with the G92 graphics chip. The test contains the current models, which have a little more 3D performance. Another exception is the Geforce 9600, which really deserves the title 9700. It cannot be compared to its slower predecessors, the 6600, 7600 or 8600—its 3D speed is more like that of the Geforce 8800 GTS 320 or 640.

Overall Results for Graphics Cards fps Percent
Geforce 9800 GTX (512 MB) 15263.6 561.2
Geforce 8800 GTS OC (512 MB) 15257.4 561.0
Geforce 8800 GT OC (512 MB) 14609.2 537.1
Geforce 9600 GT OC (1024 MB) 13148.6 483.4
Geforce 7950 GT (512 MB) 6500.9 239.0
Geforce 6800 GT (256 MB) 2719.8 100.0

The speed benefits achieved by changing the CPU are clearly lower, but a basic minimum level is necessary. Otherwise the new graphics card loses 3D performance; 2.6 to 3.0 GHz is sufficient as the basic level. Our test included the current Intel models costing $77, $200 and $262 (50, 130 and 170 Euros), while the X6800 Extreme Edition priced at $1236 (800 Euros) is an exception. The test results for this item show that the CPU displays very little in the way of benefits compared to the standard rate E6750 costing $204 (132 Euros). The influence of the clocking rate can be seen by increasing the frequencies from 1800 to 2410 MHz. When this is done, even the E2160 with its small cache can catch up considerably.

Overall results for CPUs fps Percent
Q6600@3.2 12284.2 135.9
X6800EE@2.94 12097.5 133.9
E6750@2.67 11985.9 132.6
Q6600@2.4 11583.3 128.2
E2160@2.41 10512.4 116.3
E2160@1.8 9036.2 100.0

We chose not to include single cores, as the Asus mainboard with X38 chip set refuses to work with them. At current CPU pricing levels, it makes no sense to use anything smaller than an E2160—doing so in combination with the currently available graphics cards would be wasting too much in the way of 3D speed.

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  • david__t
    Shock horror - video cards have a greater impact than CPUs overall on games! Matching your CPU to your GPU has been something that gamers have done for years to make sure that their graphics card was not hampered - since when has this ever been an "endless topic of conversation"? Its like asking whether a better clutch or bigger engine makes a car go faster or not - yes you need a decent clutch to put the power down, but that power comes from the engine. Come on THG - this is not up to your usual standard of asking interesting questions - if you want an endless topic of conversation, try the age old sync / async RAM operation issue.
  • ToTaL SHiT
    The overclock potential of a cpu is far greater then a gpu.
    The entry level cpu in a series have almost as much overclock potetial as a high end one, sometimes even more due to fsb clock.
    The most bang for the buck is to had with a entry level cpu in a current series opverclocked, combined with the best grahics card in your budget (save money on cpu and put it towards gpu)
  • mackayde
    This review is fantastic. It is best for people who want to see difference between their current configuration and performance gains between old and new hardware per buck.
    E.G. If someone has a 8600GT and a low spec CPU, it makes no sense to buy a new graphics card as this review coroborates the relation between GPU AND CPU.
    Great stuff Tom's.
  • david__t
    Why do you mention overclocking? Anyway, entry level CPUs have less cache and a slower bus speed - none of which can be gained back by overclocking - and then you have to spend loads on a good heatsink (for any clock speed increase worth talking about) which means you may as well have bought a better CPU in the first place.
    Also, Mackayde, the fact that you said 'coroborates' makes my point for me - this is ground already covered - we all know that mid range goes with mid range etc... for the best bang for the buck & price/performance ratio.
  • Anonymous
    These test are being made for people who have doubts about cpu/gpu performances, not all people are genius like you david t to know the differences among these 2 chips. Dont take yourself to be too intelligent by trying to contradict thg because I sincerely think you are not that intelligent, you a_sh_le
  • samuraiblade
    good for me to know as i have just upgraded to a dfi x48 board and e8400 , i currently have a 8800gt on it but as its a crossfire board im intending to get the 1gb 4870 when its released at the end of the month , my sons machine is an athlon 64 3ghz with pci-x , so it kills two birds with one stone as he can have my 8800gt and get a very good machine also in the process.
  • AleksandarTokarev
    Great Review :)
  • Anonymous
    "Anyway, entry level CPUs have less cache and a slower bus speed - none of which can be gained back by overclocking"

    Err, of course you can make the bus speed faster by overclocking. What THG is suggesting is that the hit you get from using a cheaper CPU (i.e. less cache, lower bus speeds) can generally be dialled out by overclocking the CPU to death. i.e. run 3DMark on both, I bet you can easily get the same of better results from a lower prices CPU and many of the premium units.
  • Revonize
    Great article. At this moment i got very low spec CPU - P4 HT 3.0, ASUS P5KC mainboard, 4GB of Ram and HD 4850 graphics card. I am not very satisfied with overall performance of my machine. I want to upgrade a CPU but I was not sure what kind of performance boost i got. Now I know :) THX THG
  • g0ldf1sh
    Very useful article for me - in the process of component hunting for a new PC (upgrading from a P4 2.8, 6800GT (AGP) and 1gb of RAM - yep old stuff indeed) For me the fact the CPU needs to be around 3Ghz to get the best out of the Graphics card is the most useful bit of advice i could get right now, thanks THG
  • Anonymous
    Its sad when "know it all" computer nerds stroke their e-peen by slagging off a feature that is almost definatly going to be useful to countless others.

    Its people with david_t's attitude that give other techie types who may already know all this a bad name.
  • Anonymous
    Yes, great article. I have a similar setup to goldfish above and am looking to upgrade now too - glad I searched this out.
  • madox
    looking at this my cpu is much under powered i have A E2160 1.8 will the porformance increase be the same for the 9800 gt ?