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Are more CPU cores better for gaming?

Are more CPU cores better for gaming? Let's find out

Updated: Mar 20, 2023 11:52 am
are more cpu cores better for gaming

Looking to pick up a CPU for gaming but not sure how many cores you need? In this article, we take a look at what CPU cores are, how many you need for gaming, and discuss whether or not expensive processors with higher core counts are worth it for gaming.

Now Read: Best CPU for CPU-intensive games

What are CPU cores and threads?

The silicon dies on your CPU chip house several “cores.” Each of these cores is an individual processing unit that can execute instructions independently of the others. The earliest CPUs only had a single core, whereas all modern CPUs pack multiple cores for increased overall performance and an improved ability to multitask. 

Threads, also known as logical processors, are simply virtual extensions of cores. With SMT (simultaneous multithreading), a single CPU core is able to act as two logical processors. Most modern Core and Ryzen CPUs have SMT enabled. Some of the older ones don’t, though – particularly those in the Core i3 and Core i5 lineup.  

How many CPU cores do you need for gaming?

Games vary in their ability to use multiple cores effectively. 

Older games carry out the bulk of their processing on a single (or at most, a few) cores. As average CPU core counts have gone up over the last decade, developers have started optimizing their games to be better able to utilize the additional processing power made available to them by the extra cores. 

Games are still not very reliant on the presence of multiple cores for performance and functionality. The effects of a higher maximum CPU clock speed are much more beneficial, as the few cores being utilized for game-related processing will be generating more power operating at their maximum frequency. 

All that said, there is still a minimum amount of cores and threads you need in order to have resource-intensive games run smoothly on your computer.

In 2023, if you’re looking to get an entry-level gaming CPU, it’s recommended to go with a quad-core with hyperthreading. 4 cores and 8 threads are sufficient to provide you with a processing capacity sufficient for the vast majority of titles. 

If you’re looking for something that can deliver more powerful performance in CPU-intensive titles, go with a 6-core, 12-thread CPU. Hexacore CPUs also tend to have higher maximum clock speeds than quad cores, so a slight performance difference can be felt even in games that don’t utilize many cores. 

The Steam February 2022 hardware survey shows us that 6-core processors are currently the most popular. It’s fair to assume that most of these 6-core CPUs also have SMT enabled. 

Does increasing core count benefit gaming performance?

To a point, yes – and especially if you’re CPU-bound. A CPU with 4 cores will offer you much better gaming performance than one with 2 cores because running modern titles on a duo-core processor will usually present a pretty significant CPU bottleneck

A CPU with 4 cores and SMT enabled (4 cores, 8 threads) will offer you better performance than a regular quad core in most modern titles. A CPU with 6 cores is better yet. 

But, if you intend to use your computer for gaming exclusively, going with a CPU with more than 6 cores isn’t necessary. In doing so, you would be sacrificing a lot of cost-efficiency for only slightly better raw performance.

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