Everyone knows that CPU and GPU are two of the most important PC components in a machine designed for high-quality gaming or super-smooth content creation.
While the CPU has been called the ‘brain’ of a PC since the inception of computers, GPUs have become a household name only recently. The cryptocurrency mining hype had made GPUs a topic of discussion – a position that CPUs have held for many decades.
However, here is the interesting part. Even though we use these terms colloquially, we might not understand the significant differences between a CPU and a GPU.
Quite frankly, ordinary people do not have to know it. But things are different when you want to build the best PC for your custom needs. In that case, you should have a clear and concise idea of the differences between CPUs and GPUs.
You do not have to worry, by the way. You can master the core ideas in under a few minutes.
In this CPU vs. GPU comparison guide, we have explored the significant differences between a CPU and a GPU. In addition, we have answered a few questions you may have had, including how a CPU and a GPU can work together.
What Is A CPU?
CPU, which stands for Central Processing Unit, is the most crucial part of any computer.
Often referred to as the ‘brain’ of the PC, this electronic circuitry will carry out the instructions given by computer programs. The core actions performed by a CPU are arithmetic, Input/Output, logic, and control.
You have to understand that a CPU is not a specialized processor. Instead, it has been designed to handle the central/generic steps required to keep the PC running. Therefore, while a computer may run without specialized processors such as GPU, a PC cannot run without a CPU.
CPUs have been a part of computers since their inception. However, in the following decades, the processor chips have become smaller and more powerful. Intel and AMD are the two most famous names in the world of CPUs.
However, companies like Apple and Google have developed exclusive CPUs for their computers.
Compared to the old models, concurrent CPU models have more cores and manage multi-threaded actions. In addition, many popular models come with integrated graphics resources as well.
Some chips, such as AMD’s Ryzen series, are known for their outstanding gaming performance. In general, though, CPUs are not made to handle graphics-intensive processes.
What Is A GPU?
GPU, which stands for Graphical Processing Unit, is a specialized processor used in computers. This electric circuitry is used to generate 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional imagery on the computer.
As we mentioned, GPUs can be integrated into the motherboard or the CPU. However, they are not the most popular versions of a GPU.
A GPU of the computer is also called a graphics card and a video card. These specialized processors come in handy for gaming performance and resource-intensive tasks like editing, 3D modeling, and crypto mining. It Is also essential that the software being used must be optimized for GPU hardware acceleration.
By having a dedicated processor handle graphics-intensive tasks, a computer can ensure that the CPU does not come under excess load. Unlike CPUs, though, GPUs are entirely optional. You need these chips only when you want the computer to perform challenging tasks.
So, most ultra-thin notebooks ship with no GPU. Instead, they rely on integrated graphics performance from the CPU.
NVIDIA, AMD, Zotac, Intel, and ASUS are some of the most popular GPU makers you can find in the market. However, most people recommend the high-end GPUs from NVIDIA when they need unparalleled graphics performance.
Different Roles CPU and GPU Occupy
The different roles occupied by CPU and GPU can identify why a computer should have both of them.
As we said above, CPUs are designed to execute a variety of commands from the system software. You can consider a CPU as a high-end calculator of some kind. So, this calculator will take care of arithmetic, control, logic, and I/O operations.
These processes ensure that a computer can access the Operating Systems and the programs installed on the OS.
More importantly, the control and I/O operations enable the system to communicate with connected devices and peripherals, including the keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc. In short, a CPU handles all the tasks that are required to keep a computer running.
On the other hand, GPUs are designed to execute only a specific set of commands. In this case, commands have to deal with 2D and 3D imagery.
A GPU will take up these roles when using a program that needs GPU-grade hardware acceleration. For instance, you can find the GPU start working when you start running high-end games, 3D modeling software, cryptocurrency mining, etc.
Compared to a CPU, a GPU contains more cores that deal with graphical performance. Therefore, GPUs play a more critical role when we consider systems made for crypto-mining or video rendering.
As you can see, as long as we consider the case of Personal Computers, a CPU and a GPU stand on different sides of the spectrum. However, it does not mean that these processors are independent. As it happens, a CPU and a GPU will have to work together to ensure maximum performance from a computer. We will explore how it happens.
How Do They Work Together?
A CPU and a GPU must work together on any computer. This concept applies to ultra-light laptops as well as gaming-grade heavy PCs.
Every computer equipped with a GPU and CPU will have a piece of software that can allocate the correct set of controls to each type of processor.
For instance, while the CPU gets all the general-system processes, the GPU will receive intense calculation commands. Here is the best part. You may have figured that a GPU is more powerful than a CPU.
Therefore, a GPU can make the system perform faster, especially while handling games and video editing, by complementing a CPU. The driver software plays an essential role in this part. Problems with the driver software may cause the system to allocate resources in a non-optimal manner. As you can guess, it would lead to the loss of performance.
Even though this part is taken for granted, choosing a CPU-GPU pair that works without any issues is crucial. We will cover how to do that in the following sections.
Can a CPU Take the Role of a GPU?
Theoretically speaking, a CPU can take the role of a GPU. Both CPUs and GPUs are two types of processing units. Therefore, if a CPU has a better set of integrated graphics cores, it can replace a GPU. However, this concept does not get translated to the real world so quickly.
The major problem is that CPUs are designed to keep everything in a balanced state. As we said, they have to handle logic, control, and I/O. Adding more graphics cores to the CPU responsibilities would not be the best idea if you ask us. There would be necessary changes in the power consumption patterns, among other things.
So, even though a CPU could take the role of a GPU, it should not be doing that in the ideal world. It will not be the wisest decision when we are trying to outperform benchmarks every day.
Can a GPU Take the Role of a CPU?
The answer to this question is easy. It is a simple No. Even though GPUs may be more powerful than CPUs, the former cannot take the latter’s role. We mentioned the reason in answer to the last question. A CPU is designed to take care of many tasks, including arithmetic and control.
However, a GPU does not have these many cores in them. Instead, the cores inside a GPU are designed for rendering 2D and 3D images. So, even if a GPU tries to take over a CPU, it cannot do so.
Many users have wondered why GPUs are not replacing CPUs yet. The reason is simple. In the current system, a GPU and a CPU can complement each other and improve the overall performance. It also means that both CPUs and GPUs can grow in performance, power consumption, etc.
More importantly, people will always have the option to build a PC without a GPU. However, at this point, you cannot create a PC without a CPU. Keep these ideas in mind for a bit, though.
What Is More Important for My PC?
We already told you that a computer could not run without a CPU. Although it might make the GPU seem like optional equipment, it will not be the ultimate truth. You cannot run a PC for gaming/editing without a suitable GPU, either.
More importantly, we had mentioned the different roles that CPUs and GPUs have to play on a computer. We also added that a CPU and GPU work in a complementary way. It means one helps the other one to perform better and handle commands with clarity.
Therefore, ‘importance’ is a relative concept when it comes to a computer. Nevertheless, a CPU and a GPU are essential for your computer in their ways. For instance, without a CPU, you cannot even start the computer.
This simple chip will play an essential role in controlling the computer’s arithmetic, logic, and I/O aspects. Likewise, you cannot run the OS or the programs without an appropriate CPU installed on the computer.
On the other hand, a GPU plays an irreplaceable role when rendering 2D and 3D images with high quality and clarity. Therefore, if you want to run a resource-intensive game on your computer, you cannot do that without a GPU.
But, before you use this extra boost from the GPU, you need a CPU to start the OS and launch the game. As you can see, the connections between a GPU and a CPU are so complex. You cannot separate these elements and expect the computer to work. It will not.
Therefore, instead of understanding which among CPUs and GPUs is the more substantial option, you should try to choose a CPU-GPU pair that gets along well. Otherwise, you may see a severe dip in speed and performance even if you have other premium components.
How to Choose CPU and GPU that Work Well Together?
Unfortunately, there is no direct answer to this question. You can guess why.
Intel and AMD are some of the most popular CPU manufacturers in the industry.
If you pick ten random PCs worldwide, at least 8 of them will be powered by a CPU from these manufacturers. However, they are not the most famous names when it comes to GPUs.
Instead, companies like NVIDIA and Zotac handle the throne here. If it was not the case, you could have bought the CPU and GPU from the same maker. Provided that you took care of the first-layer compatibility, you could have witnessed the top-notch performance.
Manufacturers currently make extra efforts to ensure that their graphics cards work well on at least the most popular CPUs. For instance, you can see that NVIDIA’s newest GPUs claim to work in sync with the latest-generation processors from Intel and AMD.
In addition, in some cases, some graphics cards are marketed as the best choice for specific GPU models, especially the ones from the AMD Ryzen series. So, if you are looking for flagship-grade CPUs and GPUs, you can use this information to navigate your PC building process.
The second option would be trial and error. However, if you are new to the scene, you can find many experts who recommend the best CPU-GPU combinations for different computers.
For instance, you can get the right combination for a photo editing PC or a gaming battle station. As long as you follow advice from a trusted source, you do not have to worry. Similarly, you can rely on customer reviews to see if a particular GPU model works with the series of the CPU you have.
We have tried to distinguish between CPU and GPU as clearly as possible.
We assure you that CPUs and GPUs are not meant to be compared to each other. Instead, you should see how both can be complementary, thus retaining the best overall speed for your PC.
Martha Davis is a computer hardware specialist who works extensively in designing and manufacturing hardware devices, researching advanced computer technology. She built GadgetGangster.com as a platform to share her insight on computers and PC assembly with the web. Currently, she is carrying out her research on Robotics and Computer Vision and working privately to deliver services. Martha makes sure that readers of GadgetGangster.com master the basics of setting up computer components like motherboard, CPUs, and GPUs through the informative articles that she writes.