Written by Anthony Freda
Published on September 8, 2023

What is a CPU?

CPU stands for central processing unit, and it’s what executes the commands and processes needed for your software to function. Physically, the CPU is just a small chip on your computer’s motherboard, but this critical component functions as the computer’s brain.

What is a CPU used for?

A CPU is used for processing the calculations needed for any program or application to run. As a computer’s brain, the CPU holds the circuits that process inputs, store data, and deliver outputs. When you’re inputting commands with a mouse click, for example, the thing that’s responding is the CPU.

A CPU has one or more processing cores, which is a discrete unit inside the CPU that receives and executes instructions to accomplish the tasks the CPU processes. If your CPU has multiple cores this can help to increase processing speeds, depending on the tasks being performed.

If you’re experiencing high CPU usage and the CPU temperature is elevated, that means that your CPU is overloaded and likely causing your computer to overheat as well as other performance issues.

What is a GPU?

GPU stands for graphics processing unit, and it helps handle graphics-related work like videos and effects. A GPU has many smaller cores to help process tasks that can be split up, which improves performance.

The most important GPU comparison or consideration when deciding which one to buy is whether it’s discrete or integrated. A discrete GPU has its own independent circuit board and RAM, while an integrated GPU shares its circuitry and RAM with the CPU, meaning the integrated GPU is less powerful.

What is a GPU used for?

GPUs have long been important for gamers, video editors, and anyone using intensive multimedia applications. A GPU is also important when carrying out research in the fields of science and medicine, where high-quality 3D imaging supports a wide range of scenarios. You also need a powerful GPU if you’re on a VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) to get the most out of applications.

GPUs are used in other modern technologies, too. They are the only components powerful enough to enable AI (machine learning and deep learning) and cryptomining.

GPUs can make very realistic ambient light effects.GPUs can make very realistic ambient light effects.

How do a CPU and GPU work together?

If you want to perform most of today’s digital work, you need an adequate GPU and CPU combination. It’s not about GPU vs. CPU performance as a competition — both are integral for gaming, video editing, and scientific and technological applications. That’s because they work together to boost data throughput.

Pros and cons of a CPU and GPU

Though you generally need both for today’s computing needs, let’s do a CPU vs. GPU comparison to examine their differences. GPUs are way more powerful than CPUs, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for everything we do on our computers. The main difference between a CPU and GPU is what they can handle.



Better for quickly processing a series of instructions

Better suited to many parallel processes

Designed to handle everything a computer does

Designed for one specific use

Flexible and efficient, despite not being able to handle a big load

Made to handle and process lots of data

Low latency means it can quickly handle all except the biggest data demands

High throughput means it can push a ton of data at once, despite latency being high

Can’t handle the intense rendering demands of the latest games

Made to render exceptionally large amounts of data

Average of two to eight cores

Usually has hundreds of cores

Important for all users

Only important for some users

Long lifespan

Becomes obsolete quicker

Should I upgrade my CPU or GPU first?

Whether you upgrade your CPU or GPU first depends on your specific situation and needs.

Reasons to upgrade your CPU:

  • It costs less.

  • It will last longer than a GPU.

  • A CPU controls every aspect of the system.

  • A PC that runs slowly will benefit best from an upgraded CPU.

Reasons to upgrade your GPU:

  • You want to experience the best (and newest) games.

  • Your GPU is more than five years old.

  • You do a lot of video editing or use intensive apps.

  • Your CPU is already suited to your workload.

Is your computer running fine, but you can’t run the latest games or video editing software? You might do well to upgrade your GPU. Check the specs against the games you want to play or the software you need to use.

But first, update your graphics drivers and look up other ways to boost your gaming rig to unlock the best graphics settings for Grand Theft Auto V and other favorites. GPU overclocking is an advanced technique that boosts performance, but be careful when overclocking because your GPU temperature will increase and your GPU could overheat.

How many cores do I need?

How many CPU cores do you need? It depends on your other hardware specs and how you use your computer. For one thing, laptop CPUs usually have fewer cores than desktops, because there’s less space in laptops for cooling solutions.

Let’s look at how many cores you need for your CPU, depending on your needs:

  • 2 Cores: This is the best option for budget users who do basic computing tasks like using email and creating documents.

  • 4 Cores: This is fine for regular school or work-related tasks.

  • 6 Cores: This is fine for regular gamers who are streaming.

  • 8+ Cores: This is for 3D rendering work, if you use video editing tools, or if you’re a serious gamer who streams intensive games.

If you want the best graphics, you may be fine with fewer cores if you go for a more powerful GPU. You can also overclock your CPU to get more out of your cores, although there are some risks involved. If you decide to upgrade, consider whether an AMD or Intel CPU will best meet your needs. And check out our guide to learn more about the difference between Intel i5 and i7 processors.

Multiple cores mean complex work can be completed more efficiently.Multiple cores help complete complex work more efficiently.

GPU cores can’t be compared as easily across different architectures because each has a different programming language. So, how should you compare GPUs? Use a tool like GPU Check to display useful GPU benchmarks like frames per second (FPS) for one GPU compared to another (or multiple at once).

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Performance Tips
Anthony Freda