#1 Posted by Pr1mus (4103 posts) -

I am trying to understand how to best determine what may be a bottleneck in my PC as well as what is the best upgrade path.

It is my understanding that there is no magical tools to tell you how balanced your system is and that it varies greatly from one game to another. What i need is some basic info on how to best test this and determine what is the best upgrade to improve things.

My current specs are:

  • Windows 7 64 bits
  • P7P55D-E PRO
  • Core i5 760 @ 2.8GHz
  • GTX 460 1GB
  • 8GB (4x2GB) DDR3 1600MHz
  • WD Caviar Black SATA3 6GB/s @ 7200RPM

I installed MSI Afterburner to see how the GPU performs and been using the performance tab of the task manager for CPU usage. Is this a good way to monitor performance?

I did a couple test in DmC and GTA 4. Both games running at 1080p.

In DmC, which i run at max settings easily with upward of 100 fps when turning V-Sync off, testing in the Bloody Palace CPU usage is very stable at around 38-40% with one core running much higher than the other 3 who stay around 20-25% usage and GPU usage is stable at 76-78%

In GTA 4, load is evenly distributed across every cores and CPU usage is running around 70-75%. It varies a bit more than in DmC which i guess is normal considering the environment varies greatly compared to the Bloody Palace in DmC. It never drops below 65% however and never goes higher than 80%. The GPU usage is around 90%, peaking at 93%.

DmC might be somewhat irrelevant because none of the parts are near their maximum performance but in GTA 4 which i'm not running at max settings (mostly high, medium shadows, 16x AF, no AA, 75% draw distance) and at around 40-45 fps, the GPU does peak close to its maximum performance while the CPU still has some wiggle room.

So am i right in assuming that at the moment the GPU is a bottleneck for the CPU? What are other, better ways of testing this.

Next i need to figure out what is the best possible upgrade for the graphics card. I understand that it's no use going too high otherwise the card's potential will be wasted if the CPU can't keep up. CPU, Mobo and hard drive upgrades are out of the question. Specifically changing the CPU would pretty much mean changing the whole computer since meaningful upgrades on socket LGA1156 are non-existent. I am open to overclocking however. I say Hard drive upgrades is out of the question because obviously people will suggest getting an SSD and my budget will not allow it.

I am not upgrading now btw, i am slowly starting to educate myself for my next purchase. I haven't kept up with new hardware news since i built this PC. In all likelihood i will upgrade once the new consoles are out, by that time my PC will be 3 years old (built in October 2010) and it should be pretty clear if it's possible to upgrade it to keep up with the consoles or not.

Thanks in advance for the help.

#2 Posted by Corvak (1220 posts) -

Go for a GPU upgrade. Since the CPU isn't hitting heavy loads, it's the GPU that is the bottleneck.

SSDs are great for decreasing loading times, but only really boost performance a noticeable amount if you dont have enough RAM, and your OS starts using the HDD as swap space. They do decrease load times, however.

The other advantage to a new GPU is that down the road when you do upgrade the CPU and motherboard, the GPU is still usable, its unlikely we will move from the PCI-e interface any time soon.

#3 Edited by Mirado (1134 posts) -

Yeah, the GPU is holding you back. No point in discussing a specific card if you aren't upgrading now, though; even six months can alter the price/performance ratio enough to invalidate old recommendations.

My only advice is to work within your budget. A $200-$300 GPU may max out your current CPU and, if you stick to what you say and aren't planning on a whole system overhaul, will provide just as much oomph as a $600 card. Now, if you plan to basically rework the whole thing within a year of getting that GPU, something a bit more expensive can add some later performance once you make the switch.

Certain review sites do CPU comparisons whenever a new product is released; by sticking with one GPU and testing a wide spread of processors, you can usually get a feel for how your current CPU will do (whether they include your model or just by a relative comparison between yours and something new) and how a future CPU purchase might increase performance down the line. Just keep in mind that bottlenecks are ever shifting, and you aren't wasting a GPU's potential if you plan to upgrade a bottleneck component during the time that you own it.

#4 Edited by Pr1mus (4103 posts) -

@mirado: From what i gather GTX 670/680 performance is as high as i can hope to go and not waste too much of the card's potential with that CPU. It's all very hypothetical but i'm hoping that once they're out that GTX 760/760ti might be around the same level of performance as 670/680 and be cheaper. After that it's just a matter of knowing how that computer would handle PC ports of PS4/Nextbox games. A complete overhaul is out of the question for the foreseeable future. If that doesn't cut it then i'll be getting a PS4 instead and wait a couple years a build a new PC from scratch which has been what i have been doing for the last couple generations. Enjoy the consoles for their first 2-3 years and then move to the PC until the next gen consoles arrive. I'm just hoping that this time i could skip the next consoles altogether and stick to the PC without games running like crap for 2-3 years. In any case we'll know more by the end of the year.

For now though my main concern is more about knowing if the way i've been testing this, with After Burner and the task manager, is any good or if i just wasted my time.

#5 Posted by Mirado (1134 posts) -

@pr1mus: Honestly, the testing isn't even necessary. I can tell just by looking at the part list you posted that your GPU is holding you back. A quad-core CPU such as yours will meet the recommended requirements of new games such as Tomb Raider and will age much more gracefully than your GPU, which should already be put out to pasture. Hell, I know people with Q6600s that are running fine with a bit of overclocking, and your CPU is generations past that. Any further testing is unnecessary.

Now, if your question is "what methods should I use to test my system with," I honestly wouldn't waste my time, for a few reasons:

  1. Your bottleneck is easily identifiable without any testing.
  2. No metrics that you can record yourself will tell you anything about future performance with new hardware, at least not reliably enough to make a purchase decision off of it.
  3. There are a bunch of sites out there that run tests on new parts for a living, and as such have done all of the heavy lifting for you.

Yeah, you could run things like Furmark to pound your GPU into the dust or something like 3dMark to give you an overall performance number, but that's not going to identify any bottlenecks. It's a bit too hard to determine exactly what's holding your system back (or what you'd get out of new hardware) without taking a range of CPUs, dropping them into your system (with the same GPU at all times), checking the FPS of game X, and then repeating the process with GPUs instead. Just looking at one data point (your current CPU and GPU) doesn't tell you a hell of a lot; stressing something to the max isn't a real indicator either way, as it could be weak hardware or unoptimized software, or who knows. The numbers you're getting (FPS and usage percentage) aren't all that helpful unless you have other hardware to compare them against. However, I know the GPU 's holding you back just by looking at it, and you'll know if the CPU's at fault after you replace it if your FPS numbers don't match the review sites' for the new card.

My advise would be to take some FPS numbers of games you like to play (and write down the settings at which you tested, mind), and save that for when you put a new GPU in. If those numbers don't shoot up (and, in conjunction, if you are getting significantly lower FPS than review sites which tested your GPU at the settings they list), your CPU is now acting like a boat anchor....but I don't think that'll be the case, at least not to a crazy, "I just wasted my money" degree.

As you say, the real question boils down to a choice between a new GPU and a new console. In that case, I'd go new GPU, as you can overclock the CPU to shore up any weakness should any crop up (and I don't think it'll be all that bad), and a brand new graphics card will beat anything in a new console, especially for the first few years as developers work to squeeze the power out of those boxes.

The best part of your situation is you aren't going to make this call anytime soon, so I'd sit and see what develops. Who knows, the next round of GPUs might be a huge leap, or a comparative disappointment. That kind of info should help you make the right call.

#6 Edited by Jace (1135 posts) -

My advice would be to purchase a 670.