If you’re building a gaming PC, you want to invest a lot of money into a graphics card, and get at least a mid-range CPU to avoid the dreaded performance bottleneck. That’s the popular wisdom, anyway: It’s what you’ll hear if you ask a PC gaming buddy or an unusually friendly nerd forum. But what happens if you ignore the advice, and pair a brand-new, high-power graphics card with the cheapest desktop processor you can find on the shelf?
Such is the question posed by YouTube channel RandomGaminginHD. They built a “gaming” desktop with a Pentium Gold G7400 CPU, which is going for just $70 at Best Buy today, with a new $600 RTX 4070 graphics card, more or less just to see what happened when you stick ’em together. The results (via Tom’s Hardware) are surprising, and well worth the seven minutes it takes to get through the video. (By the way, RandomGaminginHD, thanks for making an interesting video that’s actually concise, algorithms be damned.)
In short, at least some modern games are so GPU-dependent and well-optimized that the performance bottleneck isn’t an instant show-stopper, even on a dual-core, ultra-budget CPU. Forza Horizon 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2, both known for incredible graphics and fairly good stability at 1440p resolution and “Ultra” graphics, managed above 60fps average and 1% lows in the 30-40fps range. (To be fair, these games run much faster when paired with more potent CPUs, but these remain very respectable numbers.) Kingdom Come Deliverance, often a CPU-heavy game thanks to its many NPCs and subsystems, still managed a passable 45fps average and a 1% low of 10fps.
But what about that fancy new DLSS 3 tech Nvidia has been pushing so hard? The core idea behind it is that your GPU has built-in systems that can use AI to generate visual frames for smoother performance, as well as some other goodies like upscaling and latency reduction. It’s really meant to make high-end games on high-end hardware run even better…but what can it do for this strange half-budget, half-gamer build?
A lot, as it turns out. With the new path tracing “Overdrive Mode” active in Cyberpunk 2077, plus DLSS and frame generation, RandomGaminginHD’s Franken-box managed an average FPS of 70 with a 1% low of 30 at 1440p resolution. That’s console-quality performance running graphics that aren’t even an option on a PS5 or Xbox Series X. While there were some fairly significant jitters from the low-power CPU, it’s more than playable, which is a shocking result.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Less GPU-optimized games and console ports didn’t fare so well. The Witcher 3 and Marvel’s Spider-Man took notable performance dives when CPU-intensive NPCs started populating, even with DLSS and frame generation on. RandomGaminginHD concludes that a new GPU like the 4070, paired with games that support DLSS 3, could make for a great mid-system update for an older CPU, if not necessarily such a pokey one.
So if you want solid PC performance and you can’t afford, say, a top-of-the-line Ryzen 9 7950X3D, take heart: saving a bit of money on a CPU won’t tank your build. At least not nearly as much as it used to.