When it comes to running modern games, which CPU should you choose? In general, Hexa-core processors are regarded as the ideal option for running resource-demanding games In 2021. Even though quad-core CPUs run just fine, it’s best to invest in a high-end processor to futureproof your gaming rig.
But again, your PC’s specifications depend on the game you want to play and how competitive you are. It’s relatively easier to pick out a GPU as all you have to do is check some benchmarks for the games you want to play. But since CPUs don’t directly impact gaming performance, it’s hard to find a single metric to compare them.
However, you can get an idea of the gaming performance you can expect from a CPU based on its core count. So, how many CPU cores do you need for gaming in 2021, and does the core count even matter? Let’s find out.
How Important Is The CPU In Gaming?
When discussing in-game performance, we tend to focus more on the GPU and RAM installed in our systems. However, we often forget the importance of the CPU, which is one of the most essential aspects of gaming. The CPU is the central processor of your computer that processes all the information required to keep the computer running, including all your game data.
This also applies in the case of gaming. Except for graphics, the CPU processes all the major chunks of data like world maps, physics, story elements, etc. The CPU essentially offers new frames for the GPU to render. If a processor is slow and cannot keep up with the GPU, the game will stutter. So, if you have a slow CPU with a low core count, no matter how powerful of a graphics card you have, your game will lag.
Physical Vs Logical Cores
Before getting any further into discussing CPU core count and performance, we need to talk about the differences between physical cores and logical cores. Whenever you look at a CPU spec sheet, there are bound to terms like cores, threads, hyperthreading, and so on. The core in the specifications refers to the number of physical cores the CPU has and the number of threads represents the combination of logical cores.
Physical cores are called the true cores because they are the number of processing blocks that are physically present on your CPU. A dual-core CPU has two processing blocks and a quad-core has four. In the same generation, the more of these blocks that a CPU has, the better it performs. It explains why a quad-core CPU always outperforms its dual-core counterpart. When we talk about CPU speed, we refer to the speed at which these physical blocks perform calculations.
Logical cores on the other hand are a little bit complicated, as they are the number of physical cores multiplied by the number of threads it has. Threads are virtual cores that are not physically present on the CPU die. But they perform similarly to physical cores, although to some lesser extent. In general, one physical core can have two threads, so a dual-core can have 4 threads and so on. Although logical cores can ever outperform a physical core, the CPUs with logical cores do offer much better performances than CPUs with the same core count but no logical cores.
Logical cores are like a very efficient management system for your resources, that offer you almost double the performance. But many people cannot make the jump from say a quad-core CPU to a hexacore CPU due to budget constraints. So, they often get a 4 core 8 thread CPU as it will always outperform a similar CPU with no virtual cores.
In The Case Of Streaming?
Gaming and streaming have become synonymous nowadays. Many of the world’s best gamers regularly stream their gameplays on platforms like YouTube, Twitch, etc. And as such, the question of streaming naturally comes up when talking about CPU core requirements for games.
Regardless of whether you’re a professional streamer or just want to stream your gameplay to some friends, you will need a powerful system to support you. Generally, a quad-core CPU is recommended for gaming. But in the case of gaming, it is not going to be enough if you are playing a high-end game and simultaneously streaming it online. You need to get a CPU with at least 6-8 cores, preferably with hyperthreading to get your name among the top streamers without any hurdles. But unable to do that, a quad-core CPU with hyperthreading can get you a decent streaming experience, provided you are willing to dial down the settings.
Does More Core Mean Better Performance?
In most cases yes, more cores do mean more performance that your CPU can pump out. But practically you will not perceive any real-life benefits after a certain core count in most applications. In terms of gaming, after you go beyond 8 cores, you virtually won’t see any difference in the performance. In that case, especially, your CPU won’t even reach its full potential before it gets bottlenecked by your GPU.
But on the flip side, in productivity workloads, like high-resolution rendering, data mining, simulations, the more cores the better. You will keep seeing performance gains as you increase the core counts, as these workloads fully utilize all the cores available to them, especially in the case of AI and simulation. As a rule of thumb, unless you need a heavy-duty workstation, a Hexa-core CPU will do you just fine in most of your daily tasks including high-end gaming.
So, Are Four Cores Enough?
Even a few years ago, four cores were all you needed for a good gaming machine. But nowadays the scenario has changed a little. With modern games pushing old hardware to their limits, some AAA games have started to utilize more than four cores. Many game developers have started to list quad cores as the recommended specifications for their games, and some have even gone to list quad-core as a minimum requirement.
All this means, four cores may be enough to still give you great gaming performance, but you should start making plans for an upgrade. So, if you are building a new PC, we recommend getting a 6 or 8 core CPU if you can afford it. A Hexa or Octa-core CPU will give a generous amount of futureproofing. In case your budget doesn’t permit, get a quad-core with hyperthreading, so those virtual cores can help in improving your in-game performance.
What’s The Minimum Core Count For Gaming?
If we are talking about super low-end gaming, you can even run games on a single-core processor. Even nowadays, some casual games will run moderately well on a single core. But of course with modern games design demanding more and more resources, you are bound to run into lag and stutters. Additionally, in the case of games with high-end graphics, even if you have a high-end GPU, you will get a lot less framerate in general.
According to us, a four-core CPU is ideal to get into gaming. But If you want to get into modern gaming on a budget, your CPU needs to have a minimum of 2 cores. Preferably with hyperthreading, so the processor can enjoy the benefits of those two virtual cores. But even then, there are some titles that will refuse to load up on a dual-core.
What Are The Other Factors Of A CPU That Matter?
Till now we have been talking about CPU cores and their importance. But other than the cores, there are other factors like Speed and overclocking capability that define a CPU. Without the proper speed and modern features like decent overclocking headroom, there will be no difference between a modern quad-core and one from 10 years ago. So, let’s talk about these features.
CPU core speed simply means the rated frequency of the processors. It is a measure of how quickly your CPU can perform computations. In general, the higher your CPU’s clock speed, the more performance you will get from it across apps and games. The operating frequency of the CPU is so important, that during the early days there was a tough competition between AMD and Intel to break the Gigahertz barrier (make a CPU with 1GHz frequency).
During what is now known as ‘the Gigahertz wars’ the sole focus was on producing CPU with high and higher clock frequencies. But now we know that a dual-core with lower speed will always outperform a single-core CPU with higher core clock speed. So, nowadays there is a delicate balance between the core count and their operating frequency, as both are integral to CPU performance.
In the previous section, we talked about CPU clock speeds and how a balance is required between speed and core count. But what if you want to get more performance from your CPU that has a decent core count? The answer is overclocking. Overclocking, in simple terms, means running the CPU beyond its recommended operating voltage and frequency.
In the past, only hardcore PC enthusiasts used to overclock their processors to get the best performance. But nowadays, most computer users can overclock their CPU with simple BIOS options, given their CPU and motherboard support overclocking. A few intel CPUs (the ones ending with ‘k’) and all the AMD CPUs support overclocking with appropriate motherboards. But a fair warning, any type of overclocking voids your warranty, and it can also shorten the lifespan of your CPU.
After talking so much about CPUs, let’s check out some of the most common questions people have about them.
What Makes A Game More CPU Intensive Than The Rest?
It mainly depends on the complexity behind the game’s design and the gaming engine underneath it. If a game is designed on an engine with a high level of physics and AI integrations, the game becomes more CPU intensive as the CPU handles all the computations. But if the game is made on an engine that leans more towards beautiful graphics than complex calculations, the game becomes more GPU intensive.
Does Enabling CPU Virtualization Improve In-Game Performance?
No, CPU virtualization has nothing to do with in-game performance or regular performance for that matter. All it does is allow you to run a virtual machine on your computer. In a virtual machine, you create a simulated environment where you can test out other operating systems and tinker with it all you want without harming your computer. The virtual machine will share your PCs resources with your host OS.
What Do You Need More: Clock Speed, Cores, or Threads?
In short, all of them. But keep in mind, when it comes to a CPU with 2 cores and 4 threads and a CPU with 4 physical cores, the latter will always beat the former in raw performance. But a quad-core CPU will always be more expensive than its 2core 4 thread counterpart from the same generation. Now coming to CPU speed, a high-speed CPU with a certain core count will often outperform a slower CPU with the same core count.
What Generation CPU Should I Get?
The answer is simple; if you can afford it, always go with the latest generation CPUs. Right now 11th generation CPUs from Intel and 3rd gen Ryzen processors are the best of the bunch. On paper, the upgrade from the previous generation might not look much. But every new generation of CPU brings support for a bunch of new hardware and improvement in the CPU die itself. But if the latest gen is too expensive for you, a CPU that is one to two generations older will do you just fine.
In conclusion, there is no singular answer to the question of the number of cores needed for gaming, though four is the closest till now. But as we discussed, with modern game designs starting to utilize more than four cores and requiring more and more resources, that may change soon.
Maybe a decade from now the recommended number of CPU cores might change to 6 or even 8. So, to save yourself the trouble of upgrading soon in case you run into bottlenecks, you should consider getting a Hexa-core CPU. But in case you wanna go for something a little less costly, a CPU with 4 cores and 8 threads might be sufficient for your near future gaming sessions.