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GPU or CPU: where can you compromise on to find the right gaming laptop



Should you invest more on a graphics card or the processor? Which one matters more for gaming?

For gaming enthusiasts in search of a laptop capable of running their preferred titles smoothly, one of the most commonly asked queries is where should they prioritise their investment, the graphics card or the processor? Determining which component holds greater importance for optimal gaming performance poses a challenging question.

Typically, upgrading memory or selecting a swifter solid-state drive is a clear win, enhancing overall system performance and boosting speeds. However, the decision between allocating resources towards the GPU or CPU is far more nuanced and complex, warranting careful consideration based on individual needs and priorities.

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While both the GPU and CPU are crucial, the GPU often exerts a more substantial influence. Modern games place heavy graphical demands, and the GPU handles all graphics rendering and processing essential for displaying these visually immersive games.In contrast, the CPU primarily focuses on core processing tasks. Optimal gaming performance is typically achieved by pairing a mid-range CPU with a GPU optimised for gaming, ensuring a harmonious balance. While the GPU’s role is paramount for overall gaming performance, both components must be robust enough to prevent bottlenecks.
Understanding the GPU

The GPU stands at the forefront of visual proficiency in the computational realm. Designed for parallel processing, the GPU excels in tasks requiring rapid rendering and mathematical computations. Traditionally associated with graphics rendering, GPUs have expanded their applications to encompass diverse tasks. In gaming, GPUs leverage parallelism and specialised cores to manage lighting, rendering techniques, and complex shading. These capabilities translate into immersive experiences, lifelike environments, and advancements like ray tracing, a sophisticated lighting simulation method. Additionally, GPUs enhance realism by accurately depicting reflections and shadows, elevating visual fidelity.

Graphics processing units are pivotal in gaming due to their efficiency in handling graphical computations. Let’s delve into the main functions and reasons GPUs are indispensable in a gaming laptop.

Graphics Rendering: GPUs specialise in rendering images and graphics efficiently, facilitating immersive and realistic visual experiences in games. They manage dynamic lighting, reflections, shadows, particle effects, and high-resolution textures, contributing to lifelike virtual worlds.

Frame Rates: GPUs impact frame rates in games, with higher rates translating to smoother gameplay, reduced motion blur, and enhanced responsiveness. A powerful GPU maintains high frame rates even in demanding scenarios, ensuring enjoyable gameplay.

Resolution and Visual Quality: Gamers often prefer maximum graphical settings and high-resolution displays for optimal immersion. Powerful GPUs handle higher resolutions without compromising performance or visual fidelity.

Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) and Ray Tracing: Modern GPUs incorporate DLSS and ray tracing technologies, demanding immense computational power for enhanced gaming experiences.

Streaming and Content Creation: GPUs with hardware encoding capabilities improve video quality during streaming, allowing smooth gameplay while creating content.

VR and AR Gaming: Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) necessitate substantial computing power for rendering separate eye images in VR and overlaying virtual elements in AR. A potent GPU ensures immersive and seamless VR and AR experiences.

Physics Simulation: GPUs support physics simulations, enhancing game realism by depicting authentic interactions between characters, objects, and environments.

Multi-Monitor Gaming: Gamers utilizing multiple monitors require powerful GPUs to drive additional displays efficiently. This setup demands increased graphics processing power for rendering larger combined display areas.

Future-Proofing: As game designers push graphical limits, a powerful GPU ensures compatibility with upcoming games, extending the system’s longevity and enhancing visual fidelity.


Understanding the CPU

At the core of any laptop lies the CPU, the central processing unit pivotal to a computer’s operations. While GPUs excel in parallel processing, CPUs shine in sequential computations and program executions.

When it comes to gaming, CPUs manage game logic, AI computations, and intricate interactions between environments, objects, and characters. Each calculation influences gameplay progression, underscoring the importance of the CPU’s single-threaded performance, architectural design, and clock speeds.

Efficient architecture optimises processing cycles, while higher clock speeds expedite instruction execution. Furthermore, CPUs oversee system resource management and multitasking.

While GPUs excel in rendering graphics, CPUs play a crucial role in providing a comprehensive gaming experience. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why the central processing unit remains a critical component in a gaming laptop.

Physics Calculations: CPUs handle physics simulations, including collision detection and object interactions, enhancing game authenticity.

Game Logic and AI: CPUs manage game logic, AI computations, and decision-making processes, influencing gameplay challenges and realism.

Multiplayer and Online Gaming: CPUs manage network communication, synchronisation of player actions, and game state coordination in multiplayer environments, ensuring smooth online experiences.

Overall System Performance: A well-balanced CPU enhances overall system performance, impacting gaming, media consumption, and productivity.

Background Tasks and Multitasking: Efficient CPUs handle multitasking, enabling seamless gaming alongside background apps and streaming software.

Game Launch and Loading Times: CPUs contribute to quick game launches and smooth transitions between game levels or areas.

Optimising Frame Rates: Balancing CPU and GPU performance reduces bottlenecks, optimising frame rates for enjoyable gameplay.

Compatibility and Future-Proofing: CPUs must meet game requirements and facilitate upcoming games, ensuring compatibility and system performance.

Streaming and Content Creation: CPUs assist in video encoding for streaming and content creation, maintaining gameplay smoothness.

Modding and User-Created Content: Powerful CPUs handle complex mods and custom content, ensuring optimal gameplay.


But which one’s more important for gaming?

Simply put, the CPU primarily handles logic or decision-making tasks, while the graphics card is responsible for rendering images on the screen based on the processor’s instructions. Generally speaking, the graphics card usually takes more precedence over the processor when it comes to gaming.

The reason for that is most high-end processors (such as Intel Core i7 and i9 or AMD Ryzen 7 and 9) and even many mid-range processors are sufficiently powerful to handle any game without encountering performance issues. However, in visually demanding games, only powerful graphics cards can render images at a high enough frame rate (FPS) to create a real-time visual experience. Therefore, having a powerful graphics card is crucial for delivering a smooth gaming experience, regardless of how powerful the processor is.

Prioritise finding a laptop with a good graphics card. Major laptop manufacturers typically offer processor/graphics card combinations optimised for maximum performance and efficiency. I would recommend considering gaming laptop models equipped with the latest GeForce RTX 40-series mobile GPUs. An RTX 4050 should be great for 1080p gaming or an RTX 4060 for 1440p resolution gaming. If your budget allows, you could go beyond to an RTX 4070, RTX 4080 or even the 4090, as they can handle almost any game at 1440p or even higher 4K resolution effortlessly. If you are on a tight budget or prefer playing games that don’t need many resources, you could also look for the older-gen RTX 3050/3060 models.

Moreover, all of these GPUs support Nvidia’s DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) technology. DLSS utilises AI to enhance performance, image quality, and energy efficiency in games that support AI-based rendering. This technology is available on all GeForce RTX graphics cards from Nvidia, thanks to their dedicated AI Tensor Cores. DLSS analyses images rendered at lower resolutions by games and motion vectors, and after training the DLSS network on Nvidia’s supercomputer, the AI model is delivered to your GeForce RTX graphics card through drivers. This results in higher FPS and improved image quality in games, often surpassing native resolution rendering without DLSS.

Do remember to look out for the TGP or Total Graphics Power of the discrete GPU that is embedded into the gaming laptop. The laptop manufacturer usually mentions that in the specifications sheet. A higher Watt (W) TGP means better the performance as it draws more power. The upper limit of most mid-range RTX 40 series laptop GPUs is up to 115W while the high-end options can go up to 175W.

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