Which is better for good gaming?

  • Graphics card
  • Processor
  • RAM

Will only buying a very good expensive GPU (Graphics Card) ensure a good gaming experience? Friends say that you dont need to buy a new processor, a good graphics card is enough.

I like surreal 3D games most.

I have one 1GB DDR2 RAM and 2.0GHz Dual Core Processor, 7200 RPM sata Hard disk.

  • Related - gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/321/…
    – ChrisF
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 8:52
  • 4
    A lot can be inferred from you brief spec, except from your CPU. An old 2GHz Athlon X2 or Pentium D will be woefully outclassed by a modern 2GHz mobile cpu, or even by slightly older Athlon II X2 or Core 2 Duo CPUs. The model of the CPU is what is important, and not the clock frequency.
    – CJM
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 11:56
  • 1
    It might be helpful to give a couple examples of games you'd like to play and what settings you'd like to run it at. If you have a budget, post that as well. If you can afford some cheap ram I would definitely do that alongside a mid-ranged video card.
    – Sam
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 15:28
  • @CJM A mobile CPU? You have got to be kidding me. Maybe you're talking about a very specific chip. This is going to be a very opinionated thread, I think.
    – Mark C
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 16:57
  • @CJM Unless of course you mean a dual-core mobile CPU.
    – Mark C
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 17:06

5 Answers 5


Whilst many people will tell you that a graphics card is the most important component for gaming, it is not strictly true. The truth is that the balance of components is the most important.

In your case, anything but a modest graphics card will be overkill for your system. Even if you had a top of the range graphics card, you wouldn't get much out of it, because you are severely limited by 1GB of (relatively slow) RAM.

Should you upgrade your memory, your CPU will become the limiting factor - and in certain games, the CPU will prove even more of a bottleneck than your RAM.

A single 7200rpm SATA drive isn't particularly speedy either, but you are some way off it becoming a limiting factor. Faster HDDs will enable you to load levels faster, but have far less impact on frame-rates and graphical quality.

However, in a system where all components are of a similar generation, the first component to upgrade would be your graphics card. As a rule of thumb, I might suggest you keep your components within one generation of each other.

Your PC would be regarded as obsolete, but that isn't necessarily a reason to write it off. What is does mean is that buying a gfx card one generation ahead of your current one, doubling (or perhaps even quadrupling) your RAM and upgrading your CPU by one generation would be cheaper and would yield a far greater improvement than buying a latest-gen gfx card.

  • 1
    I think this is a great answer, although unfortunately depending on @LifeH20's setup, going even one generation higher on his current motherboard may not be an option. In that case, obviously the added cost of a new motherboard and other unsupported components (in the new mobo) will only further increase the overall cost.
    – kazzamalla
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 19:27
  • Ok you want me to keep balance, I have Intel DG35EC motherboard and dont have enough money. I was collecting money to buy a new Nvidia 9800GT. I want to play the new action surreal 3d games, but i can't :( Should i buy more RAM and a less expensive card for that?
    – LifeH2O
    Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 8:35
  • @LifeH20 - the answer depends on the CPU/GPU you have currently. That mobo has on-board GPU so ANY discrete gfx card will be an improvement (almost). Let us know your CPU/GPU and we'll make recommendations.
    – CJM
    Commented Oct 23, 2010 at 0:20
  • @Kazza - yes, we need to know details to make solid recommendations, but you might be right - the OPs particular hardware might need a bigger overhaul.
    – CJM
    Commented Oct 23, 2010 at 0:23

Usually the graphics card is the most important part, but there are some very CPU-intensive games out there. Very important is the resolution you're playing at, the higher the resolution the better the graphics card should be. You don't need a very expensive card to play at medium to high settings at a moderate resolution.

With a 2GHz dual-core it probably does not make any sense to put a high-end graphics card into it, but combined with a midrange card it should be enough for most games.

RAM is only limiting if you have not enough and the OS is forced to page out parts of your game to the hard drive. About 2-4 GB are recommended for current games, more will most likely not improve the performance significantly. Your 1GB are not enough for most current games, if you upgrade anything you'll have to upgrade the RAM as well.

  • 1
    +1 I have a good graphics card (9800GTX+), but had a poor CPU (single-core Athlon XP 2000). I was getting ~5fps in Prototype, ~15fps in L4D2, and could not play Crysis at all. I upgraded to a good CPU (quad-core Phenom X4), and can now comfortably play all those games at the highest settings. Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 16:49
  • 1
    Why is the graphics card the most important part? Above a certain threshhold (say, a 256-bit card with 256M), the same dollar investment in a CPU will increase your performance more than the same investment in a GPU. I have easily overclocked my A64 and Opteron(s) to get a performance increase that would have cost probably $50 in graphics hardware. The real answer, however, is that what is the absolute best for you right now depends on what your current setup is and what game(s) you want to optimize for.
    – Mark C
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 17:03
  • 1
    @Mark If you're playing a current game at nice resolution (1680x1050 and larger) with some reasonable Core 2 Duo (2-3 GHz) you'll be GPU-limited in most games. And a GPU with 256MB is either pretty old or very low-end, for current games 512MB is probably the minimum (and amount of RAM is a terrible indicator of performance anyway). Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 17:34
  • Right, that's why I said 256-bit and threw on just enough RAM. Your example demonstrates the point: You have to be using a nice enough CPU to even be playing at "nice resolution".
    – Mark C
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 17:39

Rather than give you a fish, how about I teach you to fish. The best one for performance is...

It depends.

Because the best is whatever is slowing down your computer most, and making the other components wait. There's a program built into Windows you can use for a rough measurement of what is slowing your computer down: Task Manager. Give your comp the ol' three finger salute, ctrl-alt-del, and open up the task manager, and switch to the Performance Tab

You'll see:

  • Current/recent CPU usage
  • Current/recent RAM usage
  • Current/recent Disk usage can be found by clicking on the Resource Manager button if you're running Windows 7 (and I think Vista?) If you're not, you can fall back on your trusty Mark-1 Human Ears to listen for normal hard-disk drives.

Now, leave the task manager running and start up whatever game you want to play better. Turn the settings up a bit, then play for a min. Repeat until you're not happy with your performance. Play like that for a minute so the computer can measure it, and remember to listen for the disk with your Mark-1 Human Ears, if you need to. Then alt-tab/close the game and quickly go back to the Task Manager, where you'll see the history of your recent playing. Whichever components are being used near or above capacity are the ones you can replace to improve your performance. And if they are all green, but your play experience was still choppy/slow/poor quality, then you probably need to replace the component we didn't measure: your graphics card.

(In the case of having to listen for your disk, you don't want it to be working all the time while you play, but that could be a symptom of not having enough memory, so upgrade memory first if it was all being used and the disk was always working.)

There are more involved ways to measure, but if its all you have, the simple Task Manager will get the job done.

In short:

Don't guess, don't have us guess, Measure.


GPU, CPU, RAM, Hard-drive.

In that order.

Rule of thumb: maximum age difference of 2 generations between components.

Though not a question here, hard-drive is the most subtle performance factor to observe: you'll have jaw dropping moments when you exchange a new one against a 4 year old drive. It's the most non-linear hardware upgrade experience among all of them.

The second I experienced from switching from dual-core to quad-core.

Shader power is mostly nice to have, once you have warped beyond 50-60 FPS (again, very subjective issue), and a top-notch GPU brings a lot of horsepower in terms of shaders.

You can turn down effects and achieve more or less playability, but you can't turn down the heat of the game, where CPU kicks in, showing everyone who's da boss.

When the s**t hits the fan, it's the CPU that will save your neck.

  • +1 A decent answer IMHO, but I'd argue that RAM is often ahead of CPU - but some games are specifically CPU-limited. It varies from game to game.
    – CJM
    Commented Oct 23, 2010 at 0:33
  • PS. I got into quad-core fairly early - found that I was 'beaten' by higher-clocked dual-core CPUs. This is because multi-threaded programming is an art-form - we are only beginning to get the benefits of 4 (or more) cores.
    – CJM
    Commented Oct 23, 2010 at 0:35

The major source of slowdowns is none of what you listed -- it's the hard drive. Fetching data from mechanical disks takes roughly 1,000,000 times as much time as loading from cache does.

Get a Solid State Drive for your operative system and games if you can. It is the single best upgrade you can make.

The second most limiting factor in gaming is, again, none of what you listed -- internet connection. It's not as much a matter of raw speed, even though all the autoupdating systems make it worthwile, as it is of connection quality. If your latency is too variable or if you lose packets, your multiplayer experience will just be bad. Those matter more than your raw ping/latency measure, because constant lag can be compensated within limits so long as your network is reliable enough.

The graphics card, the ram and the cpu are certainly important when measuring performance -- but they only matter when they're not enough. If the current level fits in 300 MB of ram, having 2 GB or 8 GB doesn't really make a difference. If the game is designed to run at 60 fps, it doesn't matter if your cpu can run 70 or 200 updates per second. Finally, if your gfx card can render 9,001 fps at worst, all of that wasted on a 60 Hz display.

Obviously, computers are supposed to last, so there is value to maximize the period of time for which it is good enough -- the best way to ensure that is getting the bestest hardware available today.

Just make sure you keep the full picture in view.

  • 11
    This is absolutely 100% incorrect. My gaming rig has a old 5400rpm 100gig hard drive, and can play every game I have at the highest settings. If the game is well designed and you have enough RAM, the only time you should be hitting the hard-drive is when loading new levels into memory - thus, having a higher transfer-rate will decrease loading times, but nothing else. The above chart, which shows hard-drive latency, is completely irrelevant and will have no effect whatsoever on games unless you are page-thrashing. Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 16:41
  • 6
    @badp: Loading times do matter. But saying that reducing loading times is the most important thing to improving the gaming-experience of a bad rig is nonsense. Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 16:47
  • 7
    I for one will gladly wait 30-60 seconds for a game to load initially, as long as the game is reasonably responsive after that. I run a machine with 8GB of Ram and a relatively slow HD. Once I get the game loaded I never have to go back to HD. Why do I care what the HD speed is.
    – C. Ross
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 16:51
  • 3
    @Mark C: Half Life 2, Starcraft 2, and the Mass Effect series come to mind. The load times are usually in the range of 5~20 seconds. Yes, it would marginally increase the experience to decrease those load times to 1~5 seconds by spending $200 on a solid-state drive, but much more important is actually being able to play the games - see my comment to @Fabian's answer. Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 16:55
  • 2
    SSD don't have a big effect on games, only the loading times are affected significantly. Just for games an SSD is much less important than Graphics and CPU, although the SDD I bought was certainly the most noticable upgrade I ever did (for general responsiveness, not framerates) Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 17:28

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