Building your own PC is a new and exciting time where you’ll get to mix and match all the parts you want to use.
For most gamers, the most exciting (and expensive) part of their build will be the Graphics Processing Unit or GPU. This is the component that processes all the fancy graphics you see in-game.
If you’ve ever monitored your processor usage, you may sometimes see your GPU’s usage go up to 100%.
Luckily, this isn’t a negative thing, and it’s entirely normal for your GPU to hit 100%, especially while doing graphically intensive tasks like playing a video game.
What Does It Mean When My GPU Reaches 100% Usage?
When your GPU goes up to 100% usage, it means that 100% of your GPU’s memory and processing power is being used. While this may appear to be an overuse of the system, this doesn’t indicate that. While we don’t think about it too often, many of our computers’ components reach 100% usage at various times.
Now, it is worth saying that you should not add additional stress to your GPU’s load if you see that it’s regularly hitting 100%. While simply hitting 100% usage doesn’t mean anything wrong, your GPU shouldn’t be at 100% at all times — only when the computer performs graphically intensive tasks.
Essentially, the takeaway from your GPU being 100% is that it can’t do anything more than what it currently does. Attempting to add to its load would be like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. At best, nothing really happens, and, at worst, the GPU overheats, and the card will shut down or bottleneck itself to try and keep load and temperatures down.
Conversely, it’s good if your GPU is hitting 100%; it also means your GPU isn’t currently being bottlenecked. This is important for benchmarks as when you benchmark your GPU, you want to see how much it can process before it bottlenecks. Bottlenecking will typically only happen when it goes over 100% or reaches too high of a temperature.
What Happens When a GPU Is Bottlenecked?
“Bottleneck” is a catch-all term for when a processing component intentionally slows down processing information in response to external operating conditions. Bottlenecks can be caused by a processing chip reaching a high temperature, or even a part plugged into an incompatible hardware outlet (like using a PCIe card in a standard PCI slot.).
While bottlenecking might sound scary to the uninitiated, every PC is bottlenecked in one component. If your PC weren’t bottlenecked somewhere, you’d never have any performance issues or performance caps, and we promise you that you do not have that, and neither do we.
The most common bottlenecks are the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and the GPU. These components feature an internal and external failsafe that bottleneck the unit when certain conditions are met. While this might sound inconvenient, keeping your PC running efficiently is essential.
If you could somehow remove the bottleneck and begin overclocking indefinitely, you would melt your whole motherboard if you could even get the PC to function for more than a few seconds at a time. For a little more context on how this overclocking process works, you’ll want to look at this video, where a CPU is overclocked to 7 GHz of speed… but it requires that it be cooled with liquid nitrogen to function.
For perspective, liquid nitrogen is a cryogenic fluid, meaning it’s related to the branch of science that tackles objects and substances that are extremely cold. In this case, liquid nitrogen clocks at around -196° Celsius or -320° Fahrenheit. That’s one order of magnitude—or about 10×—colder than the temperature water freezes at. To overlock your CPU or GPU infinitely, you go beyond needing water cooling; you need cryogenic fluids.
Thus, while we can all dream of an infinitely overclockable PC, it’s not viable with our current technology. It’s not like you can go out and buy liquid nitrogen at the gas station (if you can, please hit us up so we can overclock harder), and even if you could, liquid nitrogen sucks when it comes to storing the stuff. Modern storage just doesn’t cut it with liquid nitrogen. You’ll need to wear very protective gloves and continuously pour liquid nitrogen onto your CPU or GPU… so you won’t be gaming much at that point.
What If My GPU Isn’t Reaching 100%?
While your GPU reaching 100% is technically a good thing, it’s also not bad if your GPU isn’t hitting 100%. It’s only bad if you see your GPU climb to 100% and suddenly drop in usage even though the task hasn’t changed.
If your GPU isn’t hitting 100%, that typically means you aren’t using your GPU’s total capacity, which is not bad. If you’re doing light tasks like word processing or watching a YouTube video, it would be more shocking to see your GPU jump up to 100%. Conversely, if you’re playing Crysis at max settings, seeing your GPU at a low usage percentage would be concerning.
How you internalize your GPU’s load should be informed by the context of the task you’re currently performing.
When Is 100% GPU Usage a Bad Thing?
100% GPU usage is only bad if your PC performs light tasks. If your GPU is sitting at 100% while browsing the internet, writing in MS Word, or doing other relatively light tasks, this could indicate that your GPU is having issues with processing.
Typically your GPU usage will decrease when you stop gaming, video editing, streaming, or any other heavy load tasks. If your GPU usage stays at 100% even after you stop doing those tasks, you may need to replace your GPU or at least have it serviced by a professional.
You should also worry about your GPU usage if your GPU hits 100% and shuts down. When this happens, your screen will go black, even if the computer is still running. This is because your screen is plugged into your GPU and receives all of its input from that component. If the GPU shuts down, it will stop outputting to your screen even if the rest of the computer is still turned on.
Will High Usage Reduce the Longevity of the GPU?
The transistors in your GPU are going to wear out eventually. There is no way to stop that inevitability with our current electrical technology.
Graphics chipsets are typically built with heavy usage in mind, as the target audience of a graphics chipset will likely put the card under severe strain regardless of whether they want to.
As long as you’re just playing games and for a reasonable amount of time, you shouldn’t notice any additional wear-and-tear from high usage. Again, if your GPU is bottlenecking itself (reaching 100% then suddenly dropping even though the task has not changed) or overheating (shutting down output while the PC continues to run,) these are serious problems that you should have looked at.
If you’re concerned about the state of your PC components, the best way to ensure that you’re not overloading your PC is to check other user benchmarks.
These are available from many sources that aggregate user benchmark information, from operating percentages to operating temperatures and framerates.
Double checking that your GPU is performing as intended is as easy as Googling to find other users’ benchmarks.