How Much Will Your Old CPU Slow Down Your GTX 1060 Or RX 480?

How Much Will Your Old CPU Slow Down Your GTX 1060 Or RX 480?

It’s always easier to replace a video card than it is a CPU and motherboard, so it’s not surprising to find people with a GTX 1060 or RX 480 surrounded by comparatively ancient components. These setups are sacrificing some performance by bottle-necking their GPU, sure, but exactly how much is going to waste?

Matt Knuppel of Hardware Unboxed found himself in a situation to test the affect of old parts on the latest mid-range cards — NVIDIA’s GTX 1060 and AMD’s RX 480.

We all salivate over the likes of the new Titan X, but it’s the aforementioned cards that are most likely to end up in the bulk of PCs.

Knuppel managed to dig up two popular AMD and Intel systems from yesteryear — one sporting a 3.2GHz Phenom II X4 955 and the other a 2.67GHz i5-750 (which I myself have, though overclocked to 3.2GHz). These were compared to a modern setup — a 4.0-4.2GHz i7 6700K.

So, no surprise the new computer smacked the other two around, but in a few tests the older systems were able to keep up admirably. In particular, Star Wars Battlefront wasn’t really CPU-bound and neither was The Division, with all three configurations returning similar framerates.

Where the updated CPU architecture dominated was the ever-demanding ARMA 3 and Witcher 3, where the 6700K came out in front by margins for 30-40 per cent. In these cases, this was the difference between playable (30fps or more) frame rates.

So, while a new GPU can certainly compensate for an ageing CPU, there is a limit. Given the rise of graphics APIs such as Direct3D 12 and Vulkan, aimed at reducing driver — and therefore CPU — overhead, you could hold out on a system upgrade for longer than you might expect.

GTX 1060 vs. RX 480 in 6 year old AMD and Intel Computers [Hardware Unboxed]


  • Could the slower bus speeds in the older systems be playing a part as well?
    Not sure how much data is actually passed through to be honest.

  • I just splerggggged on a 1070 for my i5-2500k system.

    hope it does alright coz I don’t wanna replace any other parts for now 😛

      • 😀

        Once I’ve got it and have everything setup, I’ll try remember to come back and let you know my thoughts.

        It’ll be a couple weeks until it arrives and I get it setup though.
        I also haven’t overclocked this CPU before – so I’ll prob get it running as is and try a couple games, and then I’ll mess around with it to see how far I can push it.

        • Just wondering if you experienced any bottlenecks? I’m also on an i5 2500k an looking for a new gfx to replace my ancient gtx 460ti

          • hey sorry mate, I’ve not got around to playing anything (aside from a little No Man’s Sky) as I’ve been pretty exhausted lately (I’ve got chronic fatigue, and I’ve had a couple of things that needed doing, so I’ve had no energy left for anything)

            I did get around to overclock my CPU.
            I’m not super into that stuff, but I did a bit of reading and tried to get my head around the things I needed.
            I had it running at 4.7, which appeared stable, though I wasn’t happy with the temps (actually I had 4.8 which appeared stable too – but it was hitting 84deg with Intel Burn Test); while I think I probably could have got it under control, I got to a point where I’d had enough (again my fatigue) and decided I’d leave it for now and drop back to 4.6 in a day or two. Then I dropped the 1070 in, but it just wouldn’t post for some reason – some bios setting must have caused compatability problems as dropping the multiplier/vcore and tried a couple other settings, made no difference – anyway I was tired so I just reset to defaults and turned on auto OC – which is running at 4.6; temps are higher than I had when doing it manually though. Once it was posting, windows derped coz of hardware changes – so had to re-install everything. doh! >.<

            after all the stuffing about I ran a few benchmarks and they all ran a lot better, as you’d expect.

            Anyway, I’ll try jump in a couple games for a little test and report back soon!

          • Quick update.
            I tried a couple games I still had installed, all at 2560×1440 with maxed settings and vsync on.

            20mins of Farcry 4

            15mins of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor on max settings (with default textures) + 15mins with the Ultra HD texture pack installed

            1:30h to 2h of Star Wars Battlefront Multiplayer

            All ran silky smooth with zero hitching or slow down that I noticed.
            If I get time tomorrow I’ll try install Fallout 4 and Crysis 3 + I’ll have a look through my games and see if I’ve got anything else that might be worth a test.

          • Another little update.
            Again running at 2560×1440

            Started Fallout 4
            played for about 40mins at maximum settings. I’ve never played it before, so I can’t comment on how the whole experience would go, but for the most part it ran smooth; a few small hitches which appeared to be small load hitches when talking to an npc, I felt none while just running around. Though I must add; it seemed like a typical Bethesda game; average graphics, some dumb bugs and loads of clunkyness. That’s not to say I don’t like it, as I usually enjoy their games to a point. Generally they have some fun quests and world to explore, sadly though at some stage I suspect the balance will break the experience for me (like pretty much all their games). Surprisingly the gun mechanics feel quite nice from the little I tried. Anyway, eventually I’d like to get into it and give it a go. 🙂

            Also played some Crysis 3
            Ultra settings using v-sync off, FXAA, 4x Anis-filtering, medium motion blur. It ran fairly well; zero hitching and lowest frame rate drop I remember was down to about 40fps in areas that I recall (from playing it on my 570 a few years ago) as being the more demanding parts of the game. Else where it was sitting at 55 and above. Also while it dropped down it never felt sluggish. I’ll have to play through it again, fun game and it’s quite pretty. 🙂

          • Last lot of testing I’ll post (I don’t have a huge selection of newer games, but happy to test a game on request if I have access to it), plus some other info that may be of interest.

            So a couple things:
            1st, I’ve got an SSD for my OS and a small old one for games, but most of these games were running from my RAID array (Intel RAID controller card with 5 standard 7200 RPM drives (all of them are 3-5years old now) – throughput is pretty decent, but it’s not an SSD) as I couldn’t be bothered moving things on and off my SSD to test for an hour.

            2nd, during all of these I’ve left everything running in the background, such as: Anti-Virus (Kaspersky), Malwayrebyes Anti-Malware, and other stuff (i.e. skype, etc.)

            3rd, my RAM is 2133mhz 9-11-11-24 T1
            I mention it because some seem to think if you’ve got slow RAM that is where random stuttering (not low fps) tends to come from. This was one of my concerns.

            Anyway, a couple more games I’ve tried.

            2560×1440 – Ultra settings, silky smooth and zero hitching – don’t think it ever dropped under 60.

            Witcher 3 (First time playing the game)
            2560×1440 – Ultra settings.
            No hitching, but the frame rate would drop a fair bit in areas – about 30 was the lowest I saw; however it did start to feel a bit sluggish once dropping to about 45fps.

            GTA V
            2560×1440 – Everything maxed out.
            I lost my saves, so just started and did a bit of driving around – I had no weapons to blow shit up 🙁
            anyway, it ran fairly well: At first I thought it was stuttering every 10 sec or so, but then I realised my AV was doing a scan in the background >.> after stopping the scan there was ZERO hitching, FPS would drop in some places though – lowest I saw was around 40fps while on a hill looking over the city at night. Turning off AA and seemed to give about 8fps back. The game was still extremely responsive even when the FPS dropped.

    • Not really, no. Especially if overclocked. I have mine at 3.8GHz, and even in CPU-bound games it’s not too far off latest gen. No reason to upgrade it yet, for me.

    • ive often wondered about my i7 950 and my 970gtx. i never seem to get the claimed performance its capable of 🙁

  • I know I’ve probably asked this before and had it answered, but my new i7-6700 was the most expensive outlay during my first DIY upgrade. It’s not the K, and I don’t want to overclock.

    I should be future-proofed for a good while and be able to take my pick of the new generation of these cards? Or should I try my hand at overclocking if/when I get a new card?

    In my heart of hearts I know I will simply not have the time to enjoy what the bleeding edge can offer, so I’m fine to hold off.

    • In a word? Yes. Basically any of Intel’s i5 or i7 chips won’t bottleneck games to any large extent.

    • You don’t want to overclock, but you do? Do you know why you bought the i7 and not the i5?

      Pretty much what guy below said, though. Pretty much ….

    • You’d have to be running a pretty hardcore SLI/crossfire setup for that CPU to be a bottleneck, at least for the next few years.

  • Tried upgrading my AMD 1090T board from a ATI 6790 to a GTX970 and got exactly 0 (zero) FPS improvement on Mechwarrior Online. Game is so CPU bound it’s not funny. Luckily it was only a temporary measure and my new Intel 4790k arrived the next week

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