Information Corner: Why Does Overclocking Your CPU Affect Game Performance?

The computing world has developed so much in the past three years since the introduction of AMD’s Ryzen lineup. It’s not like the introduction sparked all hardware developers to race to the top, but it did force Intel to actually compete in the market, and compete they did. Intel released several CPU’s to battle Team Red, all of which were completely capable of handling the superior power of a lightning-fast GPU without bottlenecking it (except for some Core i3’s, but that’s neither here nor there; we’re talking at least Core i5). Fortunately for AMD, their CPU’s could also handle being paired up with top-of-the-line GPU’s. So then the essential question came into light: “which CPU, offered by either company, could allow a GPU to produce the highest frames-per-second seen in modern games?”

This will not be an article imploring you to buy a certain CPU or GPU. To be honest, I have faith in my viewers to pick what’s best for them (and their wallets) based on the information they attain from articles such as these. When it comes to technical things like this, people see that the ends do not justify the means, and choose a cheaper product. In other words, they will see a five FPS difference between the Ryzen 5 2600 and the Ryzen 7 2700, see the $30-$50 price difference, shrug, and without any more thoughts on the matter, pick the Ryzen 5, which is a smart decision for a working computer enthusiast such as myself who just so happens to refrain from content creation. Realizing you don’t need something is very important, especially when you’re paying for it. This is simply an article explaining the process of how CPU overclocking can increase game performance. Now, if I say something wrong in this article, I want you to call me out on it. I am not perfect, and if you were spreading false information, I would call you out on it too. Now, to the article!

The CPU, or central processing unit, controls everything in the computer. If the CPU wants something done, it’s the rest of the computer’s job to do it. For example, when you click on a program in Windows 10, what is going on under the hood is the CPU is knocking on your storage system’s door asking if that program is home. If it is, then great! The program gets its lazy butt out of bed and loads itself based on its interaction with your RAM, or random access memory. There are many things going on, but the point I want to drive home is that the RAM is accessing the program itself and, based on the speed of your RAM, begins unraveling the program while the data remains in your storage device. If the program isn’t home, the storage device sends an error signal to the CPU, which the CPU translates to human speak and displays it on your monitor (machines speak in 1’s and 0’s, for those of you who didn’t know).

For the purpose of this article, let’s say this program is GTA V. While it’s taking its sweet time loading up (as those who play the game are familiar with), the CPU communicates with the GPU that it’s time to get off the couch and start heading to the gym (in other words, it’s about to get used A LOT).

When the game loads, all components end up working together to keep the process alive. At this point, the CPU is taking information from the RAM and giving it to the graphics card (GPU) to be converted into video.

Now that we know how the process works, we can begin to examine how the CPU’s operating frequency affects how fast a game can run.

Remember how I said that a CPU communicates with the RAM to obtain the information it needs to keep the GPU busy creating video? Yeah, this part doesn’t exactly have much to do with the operating speed of the CPU as it does the operating speed of the RAM. See, even if your CPU is running at a blazing 5 GHz, this isn’t where you would see the results of your overclock. The RAM can only operate so fast, so you would actually see diminishing returns. The speed that your RAM operates at, in hertz, is only half that of your RAM’s speed rating. So if you have DDR4 3000 (like me), your RAM would have a base frequency of 1500 MHz, or 1.5 GHz. Knowing this, the frequency that your RAM is operating at is how fast it can obtain information from your storage device. This is also why (among other things, including programming limitations) your CPU is often underused when you’re playing games, with percentages ranging from 20%-45%. However, you might notice a GPU usage of over 75%, indicating a high graphics load despite the CPU yawning at how slow the RAM operates.

When you increase the speed that your CPU operates at, what you’re actually doing is decreasing the time it takes for the CPU to send information to the GPU instead of obtaining information faster from the RAM. This results in the GPU having to use the rest of its processor and kick its usage up to 99% or even 100%. You have now successfully increased the video output of your graphics card using your CPU, but as far as getting even more out of your computer, I’m afraid that’s all she wrote (unless you overclock your RAM, but that’s not what we’re talking about).

So there you have it. A very broad explanation of what is happening when you overclock your CPU and how it affects game performance. Again, if I have stated something that is untrue, please tell me in the comments section, as I am always trying to find out more information from people who know more than me. While the coup de grâce would be to overclock the RAM, CPU, and GPU at the same time and still be stable, most people would want to play it safe and overclock one of them or none of them. It’s honestly up to you, but that concludes the explanation (or lack thereof) of how overclocking your CPU affects game performance.

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