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When running a game on a CPU-bottlenecked PC, which graphics settings should be decreased to improve performance?

In other words, which settings usually have impact on CPU usage (rather than GPU)?

  • 2
    I do recommend including titles in the question. Some games - like GTA series - are heavily dependent on CPU, so it may be prudent to look in multiple directions. Bilo below has some good points. Me - I found that GTA IV runs way smoother when updated to newer version (which dispenses with Social club, thus releasing much needed resources) and I always kill gta4browser process, which can take anything from 25% to 99% of CPU cycles. – AcePL Jun 24 '15 at 9:58
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Game settings which impact the CPU usage depends on the game itself mainly and also some what depends on the hardware combination used.

Generally speaking, the graphics settings that are usually available in the games these days that impacts the CPU are -

  1. Draw/View Distance
  2. Shadow Quality
  3. Anti-Aliasing [AA] (Depends on what type of AA techniques are available in the game. MLAA(Morphological Anti-Aliasing) for example is very much CPU intensive, on the other hand MSAA(Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing) is very much GPU bound.)

There may be some other settings also and it varies from game to game which may impact the CPU performance. These are just the common ones but may not be present in some games. Like the Draw Distance in Assassin's Creed Unity cannot be adjusted by the player as far as I can recall, it was fixed.

Then there are some advanced graphics settings which are optimized for a particular GPU manufacturer. For example the vastly popular Physx by Nvidia works very well on their GPUs and CPU performance is not much effected by it. But this option is usually disabled in case of AMD GPUs but if enabled (I read in some forums) it is mostly taken care by the CPU and it degrades the overall performance badly.

  • Isn't draw/view distance rather a VGA RAM intensive? – AcePL Jun 24 '15 at 10:01
  • @AcePL its actually both CPU and GPU intensive. Longer the draw distance more number of batches are needed to be submitted to the GPU. So the CPU needs to work harder to create those batches and despatch them to the GPU. Now which one the CPU or the GPU is working harder in this case depends on the game engine. It may be GPU intensive most of the time but also impacts the CPU performance greatly that's why I though its worth mentioning. – Ayan Jun 24 '15 at 10:12
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    @AcePL: It is, but unused RAM doesn't increase performance, so this only becomes a factor when the memory is (almost) full. Furthermore, GPUs have a lot of tricks up their sleeves to reduce the load of rendering objects in the distance: culling, mipmaps... Such tricks are often not available for tasks dedicated to the CPU. – Marcks Thomas Jun 24 '15 at 10:18
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It depends on what game and what platform, taking CS:GO (A Steam game) as example, , checking option Disable the Steam Overlay can reduce CPU usage, launch CS:GO with -nojoy command also reduce CPU and memory usage.

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    These are not graphics settings. – gronostaj Jun 24 '15 at 8:42

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