I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this question more than once, How many cores do I need to play? It is a recurring theme in the PC world, but the truth is that the answer has changed little in recent years. This has an explanation, the long life that PS4 and Xbox One are having, and the fact that video game developments always start from both consoles as the minimum hardware base.
With the arrival of the new generation consoles, and the release of some titles that bring enhancements for PS5 and Xbox S and X Series, we have started to see some improvement in the use of multithreaded processorsbut the truth is that, in the end, the transition has not been completed, and therefore we are still stagnating in this sense, so much so that, to this day, it is still possible to play last-generation titles perfectly well with a four-core, eight-thread processor.
Yes, a modest four-core, eight-thread processor is the answer to the question of how many cores I need to play games, and no, these processors not only are they not dead, but they have been given a new lease of life thanks to the Willow Cove, used in Intel Core Gen11, and Golden Cove, used in Intel Core Gen12 processors. The Core i7-11370H, which I had the opportunity to review when I tested the ASUS TUF Dash F15, is one of the best examples, although the current standard bearer for quad-core and eight threads is the Core i3-12100F.
It is true that there are some specific cases, especially in more current games, in which a processor with four cores and eight threads does not offer a really optimal result, but we must contextualize this properly, and it is that by this we do not mean that they do not offer a good performancebut simply that they do not reach the same level as a processor with, for example, 6 cores and 12 threads.
How many cores do I need for gaming? Preliminary considerations
The truth is that it depends on what you are playing, but in general you will have enough with a four-core, eight-threaded processoras long as it meets a number of minimum requirements, which we will discuss in detail below:
- High CPI: we talk about the instructions per clock cycle. It is a way of referring to the raw performance that a particular processor is capable of delivering without looking at its operating frequencies, or the number of cores it integrates. A processor with a higher IPC than another will offer superior performance, even if it is configured at the same frequency and has the same number of cores. And where is the minimum? Starting with Zen 2 and Skylake architectures.
- High operating frequency: a processor with a high IPC but a low working frequency will end up losing quite a lot of performance. We must take this into account, because although the most important thing is the IPC once we have reached the minimum of four cores and eight threads, if we use a processor that works at a very low speed it could end up giving us problems. If you are wondering where the minimum is, it is very simple, at 4 GHz. When we exceed this figure performance continues to grow, but the proportional improvement is lower.
- Compatible with high speed DDR4 memory: Processor performance can be seriously affected by the speed of RAM memory. When coupled with slow memory, communications between the memory and the processor will take longer to complete, and this will have a negative impact on processor performance. This explains why a processor like the Ryzen 5 3600, for example, can perform so differently when paired with two 2,133 MHz DDR4 modules and when used with two 3,600 MHz DDR4 modules.
From all that we have said we could put several examples of processors that would meet that minimum we have established, as well as others that would be left out. It is important to keep in mind that many processors that do not meet these minimums still offer good gaming performance, but lose quite a bit in their quad-core, eight-thread configurations.
The Core i7 6700K is one of the best examples, and also the Ryzen 3 3300X. Both have four cores and eight threads, high IPC and support high-speed DDR4 memory. Above them would be the Core i3-10100F and Core i3-12100Fthe latter being the most powerful quad-core, eight-threaded processor available right now. Its performance is so good that it is able to outperform even 6-core, 12-thread processors that have a lower IPC, such as the Ryzen 5 1600, for example.
Is four-core, eight-thread processors enough, will I have no problems?
Generally speaking, no. Look at the attached graph, it represents the usage rate of an Intel Core i7-11370H processor in some of the most demanding, and most important, games currently available. What appears in this graph is the processor usage rate in three different games, expressed in average and maximum values The average values remained below 70%and the maximums never reached 100%. This means that the Intel Core i7-11370H was able to deliver a fully optimal experience despite having only four cores and eight threads.
Does this mean that all four-core, eight-thread processors will deliver an experience this good? Well, no, and you should know why. The Intel Core i7-11370H has a very high IPC and has a fairly aggressive turbo mode that maintains high operating frequencies. A processor that has a lower IPC and runs at a lower frequency will not offer the same experience, and will likely end up being overwhelmed by those games.
Would performance in those games improve when using a six-core, twelve-threaded processor? Well, the answer is going to surprise you, not only is it probably not, but in some cases it could actually get worse Again, the key is in the IPC. Continuing with the example given above, use a Ryzen 5 1600, which has six cores and twelve threads, would cause us to lose performance due to the IPC difference between it and the Intel Core i7-11370H.
In this regard, it is also very important to keep in mind that current games tend to prioritize, once we reach that optimal minimum of four cores and eight threads, the IPC of the processor. They are not designed to efficiently take advantage of the real parallelization power offered by a six-core, twelve-thread processor, and so it may lose performance to a four-core, eight-thread processor, even if it has a higher utilization rate.
All in all, it is a fact that when we complete the transition to the new generation of consoles there will be a jump in gaming requirements, and it is very likely that eventually we will no longer have enough with a quad-core, eight-threaded processor. So if you can afford it and want to get something that will guarantee you a long life, but without wasting money, ideally, you should get a 6-core, 12-thread processor that has a high IPCsuch as the Core i5-12400F, which is one of the best in its class. If your budget is lower, even with a Core i5-10400F you can have peace of mind.
Background processing and doing more than just gaming
So far we have been focusing on a very particular approach, how many cores do I need for gaming, that is, just for that, without opening the range to other tasks that may remain in the background, such as streaming, for example If you are considering streaming while playing gamesthen it’s a whole different story, as you won’t have enough to enjoy a really good experience with a quad-core, eight-threaded processor.
However, you won’t have to spend a lot of money to get a top-of-the-line processor either, you will have enough with a six-core, twelve-threaded processor like the ones mentioned in the previous section. If apart from gaming and streaming you are going to edit video, other more powerful processors with a higher number of cores and threads may make sense, but in general most of you will have more than enough with an Intel Core i5-12600K or a Ryzen 7 5800X.
I wanted to make this digression because, unfortunately, there are still those who insist in make less experienced users believe that they need an 8-core, 16-thread processor to play gameswhen the reality is that half is enough, that is, with a four-core, eight-thread processor, as long as we comply with all the premises that I have given you throughout this article.
Final notes: I know how many cores I need to play, which processors do you recommend?
The truth is that nowadays there are many interesting options, and with very reasonable prices, even though it all depends on what you want to spend and your aspirations. Therefore, I am going to share with you a series of recommendations divided by price that will help you to have a clearer idea of what would be the best option for you.
- If you have a budget of less than 100 euros:Â the Intel Core i3-10105F is the best choice, as it costs Â£84.40, has a high IPC and features four cores and eight threads.
- In case you can spend a little more: the ideal would be the Intel Core i3-12100F, which keeps the four cores and eight threads, but has a much higher IPC and is integrated into a platform with a longer lifespan. It costs 105.90 euros.
- If you can spend up to 200 euros: the best you can buy in price-performance ratio is the Core i5-12400F. You really don’t need to spend more money on a processor if you are only going to play games. It costs 190.71 euros.
In case you want a processor for more than just gaming, with the Intel Core i5-12400F you are already at a very good level for gaming and streaming. However, if you plan to edit video or use the computer to work with applications that have a high degree of parallelization you could consider a Core i5-12600K or a Ryzen 7 5800X. The former has better single-threaded performance, but the latter performs a bit better in multi-threaded applications. If your priority is gaming, the Intel Core i5-12600K would be a better choice.