How many CPU cores do you need for games?

These days, it’s virtually impossible to buy a desktop CPU with fewer than two cores. Dual-core CPUs have become the norm, and quad-core systems are becoming increasingly common thanks to AMD’s budget quads. Heck, you can get a six-core Phenom for $200 now. Intel has full range of multi-core products, too, and many of its designs add additional threads via Hyper-Threading.

But how many cores do you actually need? That depends on the sort of applications you run, and Bit-Tech has taken a look at one type in particular: games.

Older games haven’t made particularly effective use of more than a couple of cores, but the Bit-Tech piece tackles a number of new titles, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. The verdict? Three cores is about all you need for recent titles, and some games won’t even make use of that many.

We shouldn’t really be surprised by those results. Today’s games are developed primarily with consoles in mind, and the Xbox 360’s Xenon CPU only has three cores. This outcome is discouraging for those hoping to see developers take full advantage of the wealth of CPU power available on the PC, but it’s potentially good news for budget-conscious gamers looking to save a little cash on their next builds—and sweet vindication for anyone who went out and bought a Phenom X3.

Comments closed
    • Shining Arcanine
    • 9 years ago

    I think >1024 cores should be enough to run modern games with software rendering.

    • ronch
    • 9 years ago

    “…and sweet vindication for anyone who went out and bought a Phenom X3.”

    You bet it is. I have a Phenom II X3 720 on an MSI 785GM-E65 board. During normal use I’m running this CPU at stock settings. When the going gets tough though, as in video encoding, I turn loose the 4th core. It’s like NOS, I tell ya.

    • link626
    • 9 years ago

    mafia 2 recommends 4core.

    so the standard has been raised.

    • bcronce
    • 9 years ago

    I would go so far to say you need at least 3 threads for the newest games.

    • iatacs19
    • 9 years ago

    LOL I guess my 8 core system is pretty useless, but it does make for a nice space heater during the winter time. 🙂

    • eitje
    • 9 years ago

    q[

    • Laykun
    • 9 years ago

    I would like to have seen these benchmarks also run with a SLi/Crossfire setup.

    • UberGerbil
    • 9 years ago

    One aspect of that article that needs to be taken into account is the way they did their tests: by using a single chip and selectively disabling cores while keeping everything else constant. That’s obviously good for the purposes of getting consistent and reliable numbers that isolate just the contribution from the added computing elements, but it can be somewhat misleading if you’re using it as the basis for a purchasing decision. That’s because your choice in the actual marketplace isn’t among otherwise-identical i7-980X chips with various numbers of factory-disabled cores. In reality, if you’re looking at the potential benefits of, say, swapping out your dual-core for a quad, you’re not going to be getting just two more sets of execution resources. You’re also going to be getting more cache, and possibly other differences as well. Even if you’re running a game that doesn’t use more than two threads, you may see a benefit from the added cache that goes along with the otherwise-mostly-dormant cores on the quad. Probably not a big one, granted, and it’s going to vary somewhat (both among games and when looking at swapping CPUs on AMD vs Intel), but it is a factor.

    And the tests were done with hyperthreading disabled. Again, that makes for more consistent and reliable results, but I doubt many Nehalem owners are going to run their systems that way, and it may certainly change the relative benefit of, say, upgrading from an HT-enabled dual to a true quad.

    Likewise, the tests ignored multiplayer, though net code may be run on its own thread. That’s unlikely to make a big difference (it’s certainly going to be swamped by a dodgy net connection) — though I’ve /[

    • Pettytheft
    • 9 years ago

    The problem with utilizing multiple cores and why games are so far behind is because of the skepticism by developers of moving to multi-core when it was obvious that CPU’s were moving that way. If it wasn’t for consoles we would probably have fewer games than we do now running on multiple cores.

      • UberGerbil
      • 9 years ago

      No, the problem is (or is as much) that extracting non-trivial parallelism from most tasks is /[https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=44090&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&hilit=Amdahl's+law<]§

    • anotherengineer
    • 9 years ago

    So if your on a tight budget it would be better to get a fast dual core and shell out the extra cash on the vid card.

    • wira020
    • 9 years ago

    I agree with Bit-tech when they recommend 4 core for now.. 3 core for games and 1 for system or apps running in the background ( antivirus/torrent/music ).. But from my view, I’d rather get hexacore if i’m buying cpu now.. amd 1055t is dirt cheap.. if games are using 3 cores right now, that’d mean they’ll start using more soon… besides, I think they didnt test enough games and not enough genre variances.. Still, it’s a good article….

      • ronch
      • 9 years ago

      1055T is dirt cheap? For a 6-core, it is a great deal, but if $200 is pocket change for you, you must be rich.

    • ClickClick5
    • 9 years ago

    Source games, 3 threads. 🙁

    It is just difficult to program something like a game to fully use 4+ threads in parallel. Video encoding and folding are about the only really big concepts that can take advantage of cores, cores, CORES!

    For a game though….not near as easy. Heh, I remember when the game’s speed was dependent on your processor speed. 386/486 anyone?

      • Meadows
      • 9 years ago

      Some console ports can take advantage of multiple cores too, I’ve seen >90% CPU usage on my quad playing Prototype for example, which at the time made me personally suggest it to Damage as another benchmark.

      Then there are things like CryEngine 2/3 which are highly threaded, but it’s not heavy enough to matter, so it could as well be dual-threaded and it still wouldn’t make a difference.

    • south side sammy
    • 9 years ago

    I was just reading an article in one of my magazines by LalShimpi. Said a faster dual core was better than a quad core. This was summer 2008. ( also said “if you’re only buying for the next 12 mos.” ) I wouldn’t touch a dual core anymore and if I were going to buy a new processor right now I would by a 6core. I already strangle my quad doing absolutely nothing ( to me anyways ) And there are some games that do make use of an extra core or two ( 5+6 ) so what would make anybody think a hexacore wouldn’t be a wise choice right now ? You also have to take into account that after certain resolutions 1600-1900+ doesn’t matter what processor you have but you still need the extra cores. I’d like to see games that actually would use 6cores in any benchmark…. because they are here and available and just might make a difference………

    • indeego
    • 9 years ago

    Yesterday/one/dual core/memory limited: Close all nonessential apps apps to play a game.

    Today/Four+Core/Memory plentiful: Keep everything open, all the timeg{<.<}g

      • cygnus1
      • 9 years ago

      ++ and even run two games at the same time and alt-tab between them with the amount of memory in today’s systems

    • jdaven
    • 9 years ago

    That’s why the Phenom X2 and X3 are so useful. You can buy a cheaper processor for the majority of games and when you buy a game that can utilize more than 2-3 threads, you have a huge chance to unlock the other 1-2 cores.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    sup com 1 only uses 2 processors, annoyingly.

    • SecretMaster
    • 9 years ago

    Is Dragon Age: Origins the only game the utilizes all 4 cores on a quad?

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