It wasn’t long ago that processors all came with just a single core, but today it would be hard to find a processor without at least two, and most computers—especially gaming PCs—come with at least a dual-core or quad-core processor, with the option to upgrade for even more. The question for many new gamers, or those shopping for a new gaming computer, is how many cores do you actually need? To decide on that, it’s important to know what the “cores” do inside your machine, and then figure out how you plan to use your computer.
How Processor Cores Work
The “core” in your processor is responsible for working on a specific task inside your computer. When CPUs had just a single core, that meant your computer could only work on a single task at a time. As we started to do more with our computers, CPU designers started creating processors with multiple cores, which allowed computers to work on more than one thing. It started with dual-core processors, then quad-core, and today you can find CPUs with up to 18 cores that can all work on a different task. The more tasks your computer can work on simultaneously, the more efficient it will be.
In addition to having multiple cores, today’s processors also use a method called simultaneous multithreading or hyper-threading (the two terms are synonymous but differ by manufacturer). That allows a core to split into multiple “virtual cores” called threads, and each thread can work on something different, like a mini-core.
How Many Cores Do You Need?
For most of today’s gaming applications (and computers in general) you will need at least a quad-core processor. Whether you should get a processor with additional cores or multithreading capabilities depends on how you plan to use your computer. Video editing, music production, and 3D animation, for example, are intensive tasks that can benefit from multiple threads and cores that spread out the workload for the processor, allowing it to run faster and more efficiently.
It’s important to note that some apps and software are able to use multiple cores and threads better than others, and whether your machine benefits from more cores of multithreading technology depends on the software you plan to run in addition to your machine’s capabilities. For example, if you have a software program that is designed to only use four cores, having eight cores won’t make any difference in performance because only half of the cores will be engaged. Maximizing performance means matching your system capabilities with your usage.
Another consideration for a gaming PC is the clock speed. CPUs that offer higher clock speeds may outperform those with more cores if your main computer use is gaming. More cores are beneficial when you use your computer for time-consuming workloads (video editing, animation, photo editing, etc.),so if you’re planning to use your PC for work and for play, that’s the time to opt for more cores.
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