Questions concerning upgrades are by far some of the most common emails and messages we receive here at RGT, and a good portion of those questions revolve around bottlenecks. Will a specific component hold back a shiny new upgrade that the user is planning to plonk into their PC. In the case of a graphics card, it requires the CPU to send it instructions – draw this, this texture needs to be placed here and so on. Lower processor performance therefore can hold back your modern day video card – so then, if you’re the owner of an older processor; let’s say the Intel I7-4770K CPU, will you be ‘bottlenecking’ a modern day graphics card.
With Nvidia’s Pascal series of cards currently going on the cheap, and AMD’s RX 500 series no longer suffering from huge inflation thanks to crypto currency mining, people are certainly willing to plonk down cash – and that’s not even including the exciting launch of Nvidia’s new GeForce 20 series, such as the RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti.
My oldest currently used system is an Intel I7-4770K with 16GB of DDR3 memory, running at a modest 1600MHZ. It was also paired with an RX 480 graphics card, with it being the last ‘upgrade’ I had plopped in the system for a few years, aside from the HyperX Savage SSD that’s running as the boot drive. It’s been a reliable work horse, until several months ago the PSU died. I replaced the PSU with a spare and just system at default speeds. I was a bit concerned that the PSU dying might have harmed a component, so better to run at stock for a bit and see what happens. I didn’t ever bother to reset the overclocks – a combination of lack of time and reviewing other systems.
But a few days ago with a GTX 1080 graphics card sitting on my desk, and several people asking if their systems would be capable of handling a GTX 1080 or similar GPU, I decided to launch a little investigation of my own. I run the tests at both 1080P and 1440P at stock, and then did the same with the system overclocked. I settled on a quick and dirty overclock – dialing in for lower temps (I got a max of about 60 while gaming) running at 4.4GHz, the RAM up to 2200MHZ and of course the GTX 1080 reference card at stock clocks.
So – how did things go then? To my surprise, the I7-4770K did extremely well in modern titles when overclocked – although of course there are some exceptions. I suspect some very CPU intensive games will certainly suffer from lower minimum settings, and clearly a modern processor like the Intel I7-8700K or a recent AMD processor is the way to go… if you can squeeze it into your budget. But if you can’t, I’d much rather you purchase a graphics card upgrade for your Haswell (or similar system) rather than upgrade the processor.
Of course, at higher resolutions such as 2560×1440, the gap is less noticeable compared to that of 1080P. There are a few things that the benchmarks do not take into account though. The first is that we’re running for benchmarking – so background apps which might eat up CPU cycles are minimized. In a real world test, there’d web browsers, there’d be chat programs, and anything else you would normally be running. All of these things eat up processor processor time, and eat into the more limited DDR4 bandwidth.
But as we showed recently in our CPU core scaling tests, games still do rather well with less CPU power. Yes, there’ll be slower loading time, poorer minimum performance and the other obvious caveats. In my humble opinion, a B450 and a Ryzen 5 2600X represent insanely good value for those looking for an upgrade. 6 physical cores, 12 threads and you’re pretty much good to go. But if you need a new graphics card now, cranking the clocks up on your current I7 is certainly a good idea.
Below are a whole sea of graphs which you can checkout – you’ll notice a few weird results, such as Batman Arkham Knight, which is slightly faster on the I7-4770K overclocked than either Ryzen or Intel’s modern processor – what gives? Actually, Nvidia’s GPU Boost gives. We were running these tests on a much cooler day, and the GPU managed to remain at a higher frequency for longer, therefore giving the Haswell based processor the edge in a few tests.
Even so, despite the weather (and GPU boost) giving the I7-4770K a bit of a leg up with higher GPU frequencies, the fact that we see an over 5 year old processor hang with the newer silicon is pretty impressive (at least in our opinion).
Yep – Batman Arkham Knight is a tricky one, but here we are – running at over 100FPS with no issues. Clock frequency is something the title is really sensitive too, and the moment we crank the 4770K up in speed, well good things start to happen.
Hitman is clearly CPU bound with the stock I7-4770K, but when overclocked it pushes towards the GPU bound, even at 1080P.
Yeeessshhhhh. the stock I7-4770K just gets demolished in Hitman 2016. The lack of memory bandwidth and core frequency drag the performance down. Yes, it’s certainly better than a console can muster, but that’s not saying much.
Rise of the Tomb Raider and the built in benchmark show almost a 30FPS difference. But I can assure you that in actual gameplay, it’s a lot more profound than that. In the vidthis very article, without trying very hard at all, we manage to get the FPS to dip to the low 60s with the stock settings. It is considerably higher, in the mid 70s at worst when overclocked. It’s a huge difference.
So then, in the real world, for the here and now, if you’re on a Haswell platform, if your processor is overclocked you’ll likely be fine for another year or so. It might be worth holding on until the new Ryzen CPUs based on 7nm next year, and upgrade your GPU now. Or, if you want to upgrade, pick up a Ryzen 5 2600X for a cheaper entry into the gaming arena which offers a good jump in performance compared to what you already have.
Here’s a few Amazon affiliate links if you want to grab anything we get a few bucks – but don’t feel you have to or anything!
MSI B450 Gaming Pro Carbon AC | US Amazon | UK Amazon
AMD Ryzen 5 2600X | US Amazon | UK Amazon
AMD Radeon RX 580 (cheap) | UK Amazon | US Amazon
GTX 1080 | US Amazon | UK Amazon