Buying a new computer or upgrading the one you have is one of the most satisfying feelings. But what if someone told you that you weren’t getting the most out of your new hardware?
As computer components work in conjunction with one another, if there’s an issue with one, there can be a problem with the others. This problem is known as a bottleneck, and by fixing it, you’ll often get better PC or Mac performance.
Keep reading for a guide that will help you understand what exactly a computer bottleneck is, as well as identify whether or not your computer has one.
What Is a Computer Bottleneck?
The basic idea behind a bottleneck is that your slowest hardware components determine how fast the speed of your computer is. That means that if you have a modern and beefy graphics card, your 5-year old processor will slow it down.
Essentially, it doesn’t matter how much you invest in one piece of hardware, because you if have other, much older pieces, they’ll limit the speed of your computer to what they can handle.
While bottlenecks might not be a huge deal to the average computer user, they’re something you should be aware of, especially if the bottleneck is significant.
When Does a Bottleneck Happen?
If you use your computer for ordinary tasks such as sending emails, looking at photos, and browsing the web, you might never realize that you have a bottleneck. However, the more demanding applications you run, the more it will become apparent.
Video games, especially modern ones, often require your computer to devote huge amounts of resources to render them. In that case, a bottleneck of even 2-3% might cause you to experience FPS problems, lag, or stuttering.
If you’re a graphic designer or someone who uses video or photo editing software, a bottleneck may also be easy to spot. A small bottleneck might not sound like a lot, but it might be the difference between you rendering your photo in fifteen seconds as opposed to three.
What Hardware Pieces Can Cause a Bottleneck?
PCs and Macs contain seven or eight major hardware pieces. However, most bottlenecks occur on account of problems with two major pieces: the CPU and GPU.
If computer hardware is a foreign concept to you, the CPU, or central processing unit, is like the brain of your computer. Its job is to run your applications smoothly and without a problem. Faster processors mean better multitasking and a speedier experience in general.
GPU stands for graphics processing unit, and its job is to render everything that you see on your computer screen. Faster and more powerful GPUs make everything look pretty and more detailed since they offer support for different textures, effects, and lighting.
How Can a Bottleneck Effect You?
To create a real-world example, let’s assume that you’re someone who enjoys playing video games. CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 just came out, and you bought yourself a copy.
The game requires some pretty beefy specs, and to make sure that you can handle it, you bought yourself a new GPU. You chose to keep your older CPU, however, since it meets the minimum requirements.
Remember that your GPU renders visuals and your CPU does the thinking. So in normal circumstances, if you throw a grenade at an enemy while in-game, it might bounce off of them and then explode.
However, because your CPU is a bit older, when you throw a grenade at the enemy, your GPU struggles to render the action for a few seconds since your CPU hasn’t finished processing it. This sort of problem causes you to experience lag once fights break out in-game.
How Common Are They?
While some bottlenecks can be extreme, it’s important to understand that almost all computers, whether they’re Mac or PC, have bottlenecks.
Computer hardware, like anything else, can degrade and slow down over time, meaning that it’s very hard to create a balanced system. Instead of concerning yourself with whether or not you have a bottleneck, pay more attention to how severe the one you have is.
If you check your computer and see that your CPU only allows you to use around 97% of your GPU, then that’s not a problem. However, if you check and realize that you can only use up to 70% of its potential, then that’s an issue.
The opposite situation of a GPU running at 100% and a CPU running at 60% isn’t as big of a deal, since most people don’t only use their computers to play video games. You’ll be able to put that extra CPU power towards running other applications.
How to Know if You Have a Bottleneck Problem
Aside from investigating the causes of slowdowns and lag as you run intensive operations, there are some other ways to check and see if a bottleneck is holding you back.
Many sites provide you with online “calculators”. After entering in your CPU and GPU models, as well as explaining what sort of programs you’ll be running, the site will then tell you what level of a bottleneck you can expect.
There are also different PC and Mac performance testing programs that you can download to your computer. These can help you figure out when it’s finally time for a hardware upgrade.
Use Hardware That Is Compatible
By doing your research before you buy computer hardware, you can make a point to avoid having a computer bottleneck. However, if you already have your system, it might be a good idea to upgrade any problematic pieces to get rid of the problem.
It might seem like a lot of work, but you’ll thank yourself after when you get to enjoy better performance.
Do you have a better understanding of how you can improve PC and Mac performance by resolving a bottleneck? If you do, make sure to check out some of our other posts for more tech-related guides and tips.