How to Avoid CPU Speed Drops While Gaming

Your central processing unit (CPU) does a lot of work when you game. The CPU frequency can suddenly plummet when your processor has too much data to process. So, can you avoid CPU speed drops while gaming?

You can avoid CPU speed drops while gaming by ensuring your CPU stays cool and gets sufficient power. Dusting your computer and upgrading to an aftermarket cooler allows your CPU to get higher clock speeds. Disabling power-saving settings and using a good motherboard also prevents CPU speed drops.

This article will explain why your CPU slows down when you game and the various ways to fix that. Let’s get into it!

Why does the CPU speed drop when I game?

speedy warp graphics behind screen of a computer displaying a game

The main reason why your CPU speed drops when running demanding tasks is overheating. The technical term for this is thermal throttling.

What’s even more surprising is that your computer does this on purpose.

When your CPU gets beyond a temperature threshold set by the manufacturer, it’ll downclock on its own to lower its power draw. 

Downclocking is highly effective because lowering the power draw means less electric current gets converted into heat.

Unfortunately, it also means that your CPU slows down. You then experience stuttering and frame dips in your games.

You might’ve noticed that your CPU speed drops in demanding AAA games. Demanding games will push your CPU over the edge and cause it to overheat.

The CPU can probably sustain the max/turbo boost clock your CPU is rated for.

The other big reason that affects CPU clock speeds is the various power-saving technologies in your operating system and the BIOS.

It’s confusing, but your computer doesn’t favor performance, even when you need it in games and other programs.

Instead, it’s constantly balancing the CPU fan speed and power draw by slowing your CPU down. This leads to a quieter computer with an insignificantly lower electric bill.

We’ll talk about those settings and what they do later. You’ll better understand how your computer manages your clock speed.

How to avoid CPU speed drops while gaming

Since overheating and bad power management affect your CPU speeds, we have to tackle both. 

Let’s see what’s causing your CPU to slow down and how to fix it.

Clean your computer

a technician cleaning a cpu heatsink with a small brush

First and foremost, you should clean your desktop computer of any dust. Dust is your PC’s worst enemy.

Dust retains heat and obstructs the airflow, making it harder for your computer to stay cool.

It sticks to fan blades, gets in between CPU heatsink fins, and coats your motherboard VRMs.

If you’ve never taken your computer apart from the day you bought or built it, do it now.

Don’t worry, you won’t break anything if you never physically touch the internal components of your PC.

You just need a can of compressed air and some free time. If you don’t have compressed air, go and pick up a can. It’s made for electronics and comes with a long nozzle that can get into tight places.

A small painter’s brush also comes in handy for more stubborn deposits of dust.

Here’s what to do next:

  1. Remove all cables from the back of your computer.
  2. Take your PC outside.
  3. Remove the thumbscrews on the left panel (on standard PC cases) and remove the panel itself.
  4. Use the compressed air to blow all visible dust away. Don’t touch any of the components because you can short-circuit them. Pay close attention to the VRMs (small black boxes) around the CPU socket and the CPU heatsink.
  5. Put the panel back on and reconnect all the cables.

If you can’t recognize your CPU heatsink, it’s the large chunk of aluminum with one or two fans attached to it that sits in the middle of the motherboard.

Change the thermal paste

Thermal paste is a highly thermally conductive compound that your PC uses to transfer heat from the CPU to the heatsink. Your CPU would overheat in seconds without thermal paste.

Your CPU needs regular thermal compound changes to keep the temperatures frosty. I recommend changing it every two to three years.

The thermal compound dries out and gets crusty over time. In turn, this makes your CPU overheat.

Here’s how to do a thermal paste change:

  1. Remove all cables from your computer.
  2. Remove the left panel.
  3. Unplug the CPU fan header.
  4. Remove the CPU cooler. Check the cooler’s user manual because some mechanisms are rather complex.
  5. Use a clean cloth and some thermal compound remover to remove the thermal paste from your CPU and the heatsink.
  6. Apply a pea-sized amount of thermal compound onto the middle of your CPU.
  7. Mount your CPU cooler.

Install an aftermarket CPU cooler

An Aftermarket Air CPU Cooler Being Installed

Both AMD and Intel use decent stock coolers for their CPUs. However, high-end processors thermal throttle severely if you’re using the stock cooler.

Upgrading your CPU cooler can lower your CPU temps by 15-40%. As a result, your CPU will stay at its max turbo clock speeds indefinitely.

An aftermarket cooler is a great investment. It’ll improve your CPU performance, and it can last for years. You can even use it for your next CPU in the future.

There are two types of aftermarket CPU coolers to consider: air and AIO water coolers. Let’s briefly explain each to understand which is better for your computer.

Air cooler

Air coolers are much cheaper than AIO. Even the most basic aftermarket air cooler is probably way better than the stock cooler you have now.

Moreover, if an air cooler costs as much as an AIO, it’ll outperform it 9 out of 10 times.

Also, air coolers are unlikely to fail. The only thing that can break is the fan, but that’s true for AIO water coolers too. Plus, you can easily replace the fan.

They’re also much easier to install and take up less overall space.

Read more about my recommended premium air CPU cooler if you’d like to put an end to CPU throttling from here on out.

AIO Water cooler

a liquid cooler for cpu aio

All-in-one water coolers use a thermal block to absorb heat from your CPU. Water absorbs the heat and carries it to the external radiator with fans.

AIO coolers outperform air coolers. They’re a better fit for high-end CPUs.

They also arguably look cooler. Some AIOs even have small displays or RGB on the CPU block.

But AIO coolers are harder to install, cost more, and the water pump can break or weaken after a few years.

Change power plan settings in Windows

The power options within Windows control how your hardware behaves. What interests specifically are the Processor power management options.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Go to Start and type Power & sleep settings.
  2. Press Additional power settings.
  3. Click on Change plan settings next to the plan you’re using.
  4. Press Change advanced power settings.
  5. Expand Processor power management.
  6. Change the Maximum processor state to 100%. This ensures that your CPU can even reach the advertised clock speeds.
  7. Change system cooling policy to Active. Passive cooling is for fanless CPU coolers. It limits how fast your CPU can get.
  8. Apply and close the settings.

There’s also the Minimum processor state option. Setting it to 100% will make your CPU run at max speeds all the time, even when idle. 

It puts an unnecessary load on your CPU, so it’s not really recommended. Only set it to 100% when playing games and lower it when you close the game.

If you have an AMD processor, don’t skip the following step. AMD has a custom power plan that’ll speed up your CPU.

Update chipset drivers

a closeup of a chipset semiconductor with heatsink assembly on a motherboard

The chipset on your motherboard is a set of components that manage the communication between all the other hardware parts.

You must have the latest chipset drivers installed if you want the chipset to work properly. It can directly affect the frequency boosting policy of your CPU.

Depending on what CPU you have, you can download the latest chipset driver on AMD’s or Intel’s website. 

The first part of your motherboard’s name is the name of your chipset. 

If you don’t know what motherboard you have, do this:

  1. Go to Start.
  2. Type “System information.”
  3. Find the motherboard model name under BaseBoard Product.

Change CPU BIOS settings

closeup shot of a pair of BIOS ic's on a motherboard

The BIOS on your computer is firmware your computer uses to manage all connected peripherals, along with a few other things.

What interests us are the various CPU settings within the BIOS. You may need to adjust the CPU clock speed, voltage, and power management features.

To open the BIOS on your computer, you’ll have to first turn off your computer.

When turning on your PC, you’ll see what button opens the BIOS on the bottom of the screen.

The BIOS key is normally Del, Esc, F1, F2, or F10.

Once you’re in the BIOS, open the CPU Settings

The exact names of all the different BIOS settings vary from motherboard to motherboard. When in doubt, check the manual.

You can adjust the CPU clock speed and voltages here. I don’t recommend touching any of that if you don’t know what you’re doing.

However, what you can do is disable any power-saving features you find.

Disable Global C-State Control and Downcore Control, set Power Supply Idle Control to Typical Current idle, and enable Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT).

Remove your CPU overclock

a dial with needle in the red representing an overclock placed on top of a cpu

If you know your way around computers, you probably know how to overclock the CPU.

Overclocking is a term that describes increasing the CPU frequency beyond the maximum stock rating.

Even though overclocking should increase CPU speed rather than decrease it, that’s not always the case.

If you force the CPU to work at a frequency higher than what it can achieve, it’ll either thermal throttle or crash.

If you’re overclocking your CPU but getting lower clock speeds, it means you’re only making the problem worse.

So, reset the CPU frequency and voltage to default. You can do it manually or simply reset the BIOS settings through the BIOS.

Undervolt your CPU

CPU manufacturers build thousands of new CPUs every day. Since it’s almost impossible for them to fine-tune the voltages of every single chip, they often set it way too high.

A higher voltage means your CPU draws more watts. As we explained earlier, more watts means higher CPU temps. That leads to CPU speed drops.

You can undervolt your CPU through the BIOS. However, I must warn you: It requires a lot of trial and error before you get it right.

But shaving off even 0.05 V can lead to a more stable turbo boost frequency.

Free up space on your storage

A full storage disk slows down your computer for multiple reasons. 

It’s harder for your CPU to read from a full hard drive. Plus, the CPU will start idling for a millisecond while waiting for data to load.

This explains the seemingly random CPU speed drops that pop up when you see a loading screen or death animation.

So, delete all programs on your storage disk to free up space. You can also use Disk Cleanup to delete temporary files. Find it in the Control Panel.

Buy a better motherboard

The VRMs (voltage regulator modules) around the CPU socket ensure that your processor gets stable and adequate power.

Low-end motherboards don’t have enough VRMs for powerful CPUs. The quality of the VRMs matters too. 

A bad VRM can make your CPU run well below its max turbo frequency. 

You can tell that your VRMs are low-quality if you’re getting crashes and low clock speeds, regardless of the CPU temperature.

Unfortunately, this fix means you’ll have to spend some money on a new motherboard. When shopping for a new motherboard, look for Japanese capacitors and high-quality alloy chokes.

The price of the motherboard is a good indicator of quality.

Final thoughts

Your CPU is most likely downclocking automatically to cool down. Keeping your computer dust-free and using a good CPU cooler with a blob of thermal paste will lower your CPU temps.

Additionally, your operating system and your BIOS can affect your CPU’s behavior. 

Disable power-saving settings in the BIOS. Verify that your CPU is allowed to reach the maximum advertised clock speed in the Windows power plan settings.