Do You Really Need CPU Cores for Gaming

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CPU cores for gaming

It seems that the quad-core CPU is no longer a practical gaming solution. More than four cores are present in even mid-range PCs, but how many should your gaming PC have?

The Fundamentals of Threads and Cores

A CPU core effectively functions as a standalone, full processor. A quad-core CPU essentially contains four CPUs. The term “core” was used synonymously with “CPU” prior to the introduction of dual-core CPUs for desktop computers since a CPU would only have one core.

Today, the terms “CPU” and “core” often refer to the CPU package and the number of separate processors it contains, respectively. Simply said, a “thread” is an ordered series of instructions that the CPU processes. The name “thread” is short for “thread of execution.” The threads provided to the CPU for processing are handled by the operating system. This applies to both the operating system’s required threads and any software programmes that are now running on it.

The operating system must quickly switch which thread the CPU is working on if there is just one CPU core available that can handle one thread. Therefore, trying to multitask while using a single-core computer to play music, browse the web, and copy files is futile. Because the CPU is switching between the various tasks so quickly, everything appears to be happening at once to us.

However, if your computer has several CPU cores, you can process numerous threads concurrently, enabling true multitasking. Most crucially, since each thread has access to a full CPU rather than sharing one, processing capacity is increased.

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For Years, Games Have Had Poor Threading

Having several CPU cores allows an application to split itself into numerous threads, taking advantage of the additional processing power this allows, in addition to running multiple single-threaded apps concurrently. The issue is that it can be challenging to divide some application types into multiple threads. They therefore gain more from one or two cores operating at higher speeds than from four or more cores operating at lower peak speeds.

However, video game developers found it difficult to use more than two cores for a long time. Tasks like using the CPU to render 3D scenes can be split almost perfectly between as many cores as you like. Because two cores are dedicated to the game and the other cores are dedicated to the operating system and other background tasks, quad-core CPUs have long been a standard gaming CPU.

The “threadedness” of video games has, however, been steadily getting better as developers learn how to write code for multiple CPU cores. More than four threads can “spawn” in modern game engines, but typically there are only one or two “heavy” threads that are constrained by single-core speeds.

Eight Cores Are Found in Consoles

The fact that gaming consoles have more than four cores is one reason why the topic of core counts for gaming PCs comes up. The PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 each feature eight actual CPU cores, for instance. It follows that since each individual core in a gaming console frequently only delivers moderate performance, games created to run on these consoles would be built to take advantage of as many cores as feasible.

Consoles are the lowest common denominator because the majority of PC games are cross-platform releases. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series gaming consoles are built on PC hardware, and in the case of the Xbox, we’re even talking about a slightly modified version of Windows.

However, games that have been transferred from these consoles to PC often run well on quad-core or six-core CPUs, which appear to be becoming more and more common for entry-level and mid-range gaming systems. It should be noted that while most modern games list quad-core CPUs as the minimum requirement, this does not necessarily guarantee the best performance.

The Waters Are Mudded by Hyperthreading

We must briefly discuss hyperthreading in the context of CPU cores and threads. . Although Symmetrical Multi-Threading (SMT) is Intel’s trademarked term, it’s frequently used to refer to all SMT, regardless of CPU manufacturer.

With SMT, the operating system sees each physical CPU core as having two “logical” cores. Two threads can run concurrently on each logical core. It makes sure that the CPU is utilised as effectively as possible while keeping the overall amount of CPU power available in each core constant.

A quad-core CPU with SMT won’t perform as well in multi-threaded games as an eight-core CPU without it. It will, nevertheless, function more effectively than a quad-core without SMT. SMT is almost always included in recent CPUs; the important thing is to keep in mind to prioritise core count over thread count when selecting a CPU!

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Gamer multitaskers are on the rise

PCs are used for more than just playing video games, even if the majority of games don’t employ more than four hyperthreaded cores. Today’s gamers might wish to run several programmes in addition to the game they are playing. Consider programmes like Discord, streaming software, downloads running in the background, open browser tabs on a second monitor, and so on.

This justifies having more than four CPU cores as it frees up more resources for purposes other than playing games that would otherwise share CPU resources. When selecting a CPU, keep in mind whether you intend to use it for more than just video games.

Depending on the Game Type

Various video game genres and game designs demand different amounts of processing power. To represent the many characteristics of racing, like as aerodynamics, braking physics, and weather, a racing simulation game may include numerous threads. A real-time strategy game may contain a large number of threads for the AI algorithms driving the game’s hundreds of troops. Since there are frequently several concurrent systems controlling various parts of the globe in open-world games, they are an excellent application for multiple threads. Even the 2013 PC edition of GTA V scales much beyond a quad-core CPU.

Recommendations from Us

It is obvious that anyone constructing a gaming computer for contemporary gaming, regardless of expense, should stay away from quad-core CPUs if they want the machine to last. Six-core (hexacore) CPUs, in our opinion, are the best entry-level option. This offers two cores to handle non-gaming duties without compromising performance and four cores for contemporary games.

Given that this is the CPU arrangement seen in contemporary consoles and will continue to be used for years to come, at least through the conclusion of the PlayStation 5 and Series X|S generation, eight-core (octa-core) CPUs are your chosen goal. Another complication is Intel’s hybrid CPU architecture, which combines high-performance and efficiency cores into a single CPU unit.

For example, the Intel Core i5-12600K offers six high-performance hyperthreaded CPU cores alongside four non-hyperthreaded efficiency cores. This implies that the four efficiency cores may handle non-game programmes and Windows background activities, while the game has exclusive access to those fast cores.

We wouldn’t advise exceeding eight high-performance cores only for gaming. These are more advantageous if you also perform video editing rendering or other non-gaming activities that scale well over as many cores as possible.