Have you ever been playing a game and noticed that your FPS drops suddenly from time to time?
And then you're dead in the blink of an eye.
Right there my friend, you have experienced a bottleneck.
(Bottlenecks can be very annoying)
To avoid this next time, it is critical that you continue reading so that you may be enlightened with a few secrets to make your gameplay trouble-free and match with your desired standards.
Table of contents
What is a PC bottleneck?
Imagine a water bottle.
When water is flowing out of it, it becomes restricted by the neck of the bottle, if the neck is wider, water will flow out much more easily. This same concept applies to PC parts.
A bottleneck is when the performance of a PC, so the water flowing out of the bottle, is hindered by the lack of performance power of certain components, so the neck of the bottle.
Bottlenecks can be caused by components such as the CPU, the GPU, the RAM and SSDs.
Let’s go into a bit more detail and find where PC bottlenecks are happening...
Let me tell you a bit about CPUs first.
The job of a CPU is to manage tasks. In gaming, this can be things such as producing frames which are then passed on to the graphics card for designing and rendering.
Bottlenecks here can be spotted in games usually when you spot a shift in FPS, slowdowns and unplayable games.
Statistically, when CPU usage is at about 90% of its capacity, and significantly more than a GPU while playing a game, this is normally a bottleneck. Your CPU has to work much harder to keep up with your GPU.
Below I explain how to find out the percentage usage for CPUs.
If you want to find out how to buy the best CPU for your needs check out this article.
As I mentioned above briefly, the job of a GPU is to design and render the pixels that go on a single frame.
Bottlenecks here can be spotted in games usually when you notice a downgrade in frame resolution, or frames are being skipped.
GPU bottlenecks don’t work the same as the ones for a CPU.
GPU usage being used more than the CPU usage, and to over 90% of its capacity is a good sign.
This becomes a problem when you aren’t getting your desired frame rate or you are experiencing the issues we spoke of above.
Below I explain how to find out the percentage usage for GPUs.
If you want to find out how to buy the best GPU for your needs check out this article.
We have talked a lot about CPUs and GPUs causing bottlenecks but RAM is also a major contributing factor.
RAM is a short term store of data for any applications that are currently open.
As you are reading this, your RAM has probably stored google chrome files in its memory.
If your system crashes a lot while using intensive applications chances are that the amount of RAM that your computer has is too low. Also, if when playing games there is a high RAM usage then it is a sign that you need more of it.
Below I explain how to find out the percentage usage for RAM.
A small amount of RAM will cause a lot of data transfers between the CPU and storage drive that you use, slowing down your entire computer.
It is recommended to get 16 GB of RAM with 3000 MHz of speed to stop it from hindering the rest of your system.
If you want to find out how to buy the best RAM for your needs check out this article.
This isn’t necessarily a bottleneck, but depending on the type of storage you have, the amount of time it takes to download applications and open them may be longer.
The type of storage that you choose is pivotal, something like a hard drive is much slower than an SSD meaning its slower speeds will cause a CPU to perform slower as it can’t access data fast enough.
When I built my first PC the only storage drive that I had was a hard drive, and it took a solid few minutes for windows to boot up and for applications to open.
As you might imagine this wasn’t very fun to deal with.
Hence, I highly recommend investing in an SSD.
How do bottlenecks affect FPS, resolution and quality settings?
Both your CPU and GPU need to work in harmony in order to produce the best gameplay for you. They both are capable of providing a certain number of frames under specific conditions.
Depending on the game, a CPU can process a maximum given number of frames per second; the better the CPU and the less CPU heavy the game, the greater the potential FPS that you can get.
Within that same game, depending on things like resolution and in-game graphics settings, a GPU can also generate a maximum number of frames per second.
A CPU bottleneck occurs when your PC does not allow your GPU to attain its maximum potential FPS, which happens when your CPUs maximum potential FPS is less than your GPUs maximum potential FPS.
The reverse is also true.
A GPU bottleneck occurs when your PC does not allow your CPU to attain its maximum potential FPS, which happens when your GPUs maximum potential FPS is less than your CPUs maximum potential FPS.
Let’s take a look at this information in a scenario:
if your CPU is capable of 100 FPS for a game, while your GPU is capable of 200 FPS at 1080p and 50 FPS at 4K resolution for the same game, then:
- At 1080p, you will only get 100 FPS. This is because, even though your GPU is capable of 200 FPS, your CPU is only actually capable of reaching 100 FPS in total (CPU bottleneck), to fix this you are going to need a better CPU
- At 4K, you will only get 50 FPS. This is because, even though your CPU is capable of 100 FPS, your GPU is only capable of reaching 50 FPS at 4K settings (GPU bottleneck), to fix this you are going to need a better GPU
Some Common Misconceptions about PC bottlenecks
Before we get to all the technical bits, let me address some common misconceptions about how bottlenecks work.
“Bottlenecks only happen because of a slow component in your PC”
That is incorrect, bottlenecks can also happen because of certain applications not having the capability of using the full potential of a PC part. For example, some games are only designed to use 8 cores on a CPU and if your CPU has 16 then this is going to cause a bottleneck as there are 8 remaining unused cores.
“I need to spend all my money on a good graphics card because that is what affects gaming the most”
This is a massive misconception because CPUs are just as important as GPUs for gaming. As mentioned above, CPUs are the ones that create frames while graphics cards are the ones that draw out the frames. Balance is the key, a rule of thumb is to spend two times the money you spent on a CPU, on a GPU.
“No bottlenecks happen when you select the right CPU and GPU”
This is also an incorrect statement because there is always going to be some sort of bottlenecks taking place even if they are as low as 1%. We can just aim to reduce them as much as possible to get the best performance out of our PC parts.
“Bottlenecks can potentially damage my CPU and GPU”
Well, there is some truth to this statement but it is purely because one PC component has to do a lot of work, which in turn releases a ton of heat, similar to overclocking. Good cooling and heat dissipation practices should get rid of that problem.
How do I tell if the parts for my next PC build are going to cause bottlenecks?
The internet has many available resources to find out whether your chosen PC parts will bottleneck each other or not, some of them are good and some of them are bad. Let me show you what to look for:
- Application Requirements
For starters, you can search up applications and see their recommended requirements to run them. This varies from application to application, for example some need high level CPUs and others need high level GPUs.
For example the game Rainbow Six Siege is very CPU intensive, so it is worth investing in a better CPU rather than spending all your money on a GPU.
On the other hand, a game like Assassin’s Creed is very GPU intensive, so it is worth investing in a better GPU. It really changes from case to case.
- Google search
Something that I would also recommend you doing to look for bottlenecks is simply make a google search like this: “Ryzen 5 3600 and RTX 3080 bottleneck”.
A lot of times people have already asked whether your combination of PC parts is going to cause a bottleneck or not.
So this should show up some articles explaining exactly that.
If not you can always post new questions on websites like reddit or quora and you should get helpful replies from the PC community, or if you prefer you can leave a comment here and I can try to assist you.
- Benchmark Tests
If you are looking to test bottlenecks for games or specific applications, I would highly recommend you to look at benchmark test videos or reading articles on them for your parts against those applications, to see how they perform.
For example, if I wanted to buy an RTX 3060 and wanted to play Call of Duty on maximum settings, I would look at a video like this to see what percentage of the GPU is being used and if it is bottlenecking the CPU used in the benchmark.
From there you can do some analysing.
So in this case the GPU, as shown in the top left of the video, is being used over 90% on average. This is fine, it is good that the GPU is fully being used.
The CPU is being used about 30% most of the time so you don’t really need to upgrade that either.
So far so good.
But, if I wanted a higher frame rate such as consistently getting 144 FPS then I would look into a better graphics card and CPU combination as this one only gets about 120 FPS on average.
- Bottleneck calculators
There are also a lot of calculators available online that supposedly calculate the percentage bottleneck for your PC build but they tend to be unreliable.
In practice, they are about 60% right, although it can vary depending on which website you use.
To be honest, I wouldn’t really recommend you to use bottleneck calculators, but if you do choose to use them a good idea might be to use a few different calculators, so the more tools you use to check for bottlenecks the more likely you will get a good estimate.
To give you a rough idea of what PC parts to pair, here is an estimated table of which CPUs and GPUs you should look to buy in conjunction to reduce the chances of bottlenecks happening.
Note: there are a few points that I want to clear up about this table. This is just a rough estimate and bottlenecks between CPUs and GPUs can vary depending on many factors such as different games. Also, there are many other CPUs and GPUs options available out there, I have just included a few as a guide here.
How do I measure bottlenecks for my current PC build?
If you are interested in going more in depth and tracking the metrics for your PC parts, then this is the section for you.
We have spoken about what different metrics such as GPU and CPU percentage usage actually mean, now I am going to show you how to track each one of them.
First of all, you are going to need to install a PC bottleneck software called MSI afterburner
After you have done that, head over to the settings on MSI afterburner, and under the “Monitoring” Tab, check mark only the following settings:
- GPU temp
- GPU usage
- Memory Usage
- Fan speed
- CPU1 Temp
- CPU usage
- CPU clock
- RAM usage
- Frame rate
- Frame time
Also, be sure to enable all of those with OSD enabled. (On-screen display)
Now, go into a game and as you play, keep a close eye on the statistics which should be in the top left or right corner of your screen. It is advised to write them down so you can analyse them later.
It is time to do some analysis!
With the data you collected and the data usage instructions under the CPU, GPU and RAM bottlenecks sections you can determine more accurately whether there is a bottleneck and if so, which components are causing them.
If you need any more help on this section feel free to leave a comment below or contact us and I will try to get back to you as soon as possible!
Fix PC bottlenecks with simple tweaks
Now that you have identified which part of your PC is causing bottlenecks, here are some simple fixes you can implement right now.
I do have to warn you though, some of these changes will not give you a massive boost in performance but I can assure you that they will certainly make a difference.
- Increase the resolution - yes, you read that right, in case your CPU is causing a bottleneck, increasing the resolution will increase the work done by the GPU so there is going to be a balance between your computer parts.
- Stop unnecessary background processes - if there are no other applications open, more of your CPU power can be used to support your graphics card, so for example, in gaming, if you were to close any open google tabs, your CPU can fully focus on producing more frames for your game.
- Overclock your CPU - this is useful as it will give you a boost of speed in the CPUs performance. Although if done on a regular basis it can be harmful to the system.
- Decrease the resolution - back to normality now. This is done to help your GPU, if it is being bottlenecked then reducing the resolution of a game or application will put less of a load on it, stopping any bottlenecks.
- Lower game settings - reducing game settings can help mainly your GPU, but also your CPU as they get more room to breathe due to the fact there is a reduced workload on them now.
- Overclock your GPU - this is useful as it will give you a boost of speed in your GPUs performance. Although if done on a regular basis it can be harmful to the system.
- Overclock your RAM - this is useful when your RAM is causing the bottleneck, it will give you a boost of speed in your overall performance. Although if done on a regular basis it can be harmful to the RAM sticks.
At the end of the day, if it turns out that your PC has bottlenecks after identifying them as shown above, don’t stress too much about it. Just having a bottleneck doesn’t mean that games become unplayable and your PC is unusable. If the smaller fixes that we have talked about don’t work, as a last resort, you can always upgrade to better PC parts eventually.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me, you can use the comments section below or our contact us page.
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