How Many CPU Cores Do I Need? [Workloads Explored]
If you’re wondering how many CPU cores are ideal for your system, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The optimal number of cores depends on your unique needs and demands. However, I’m here to offer comprehensive information about different scenarios and how they relate to specific core counts below.
Now that we’ve established this, it’s time to delve into all the necessary information you require in order to answer: What is the optimal number of CPU cores needed?
A Quick Rundown of CPU Cores, CPU Threads, and CPU Architecture
In case you have a solid grasp of concepts like CPU architecture, CPU cores, and CPU threads, please feel free to proceed directly to the section that addresses your specific questions.
It is important to briefly explain these terms if they are unfamiliar to you. First, we will discuss CPU cores and threads. Previously, one physical CPU core was equivalent to one CPU thread that the operating system could use interchangeably with each other.
Before the introduction of multi-core CPUs, what we now refer to as “Cores” were simply known as CPU. In those days, CPUs had only one processing core and essential silicon such as on-die cache. The real intrigue began when multiple-core CPU structures came into existence in the early 2000s with a feature called Simultaneous Multi-Threading (SMT), also marketed by Intel under the term Hyperthreading shortly thereafter.
A CPU featuring multiple cores simply means it has more than one processing unit. Without Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT), each of these CPU cores is recognized as an individual software “thread” for the operating system to utilize. With SMT, each of these cores is interpreted as two software threads, potentially enhancing performance in various workloads.
It’s essential to consider threads when contemplating CPU cores. However, it’s crucial to note that SMT doesn’t instantly make a CPU twice as powerful. Instead, it enhances performance in workloads that effectively utilize parallel processing, such as rendering, or when optimizing for multiple CPU cores. In activities like gaming, SMT typically has minimal impact on performance, especially if gaming is the sole task at hand.
It’s worth mentioning that E-cores in Intel’s new CPUs do not support SMT. Therefore, they still operate with the understanding that one core equals one thread for the operating system, even when SMT is enabled for the P-cores. More details on this distinction will be provided later.
How Many CPU Cores Do I Need For Common Desktop Use?
If your CPU architecture is relatively modern, you don’t need a large amount of CPU cores for simple desktop activities like surfing the web, basic photo editing, or watching media content. Thanks to their remarkable speed capabilities, contemporary CPU cores can handle these tasks with ease and often enough even a dual-core processor with Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT) enabled will suffice for typical multitasking needs in various scenarios.
If you experience slowdowns during regular desktop tasks, then a shortage of CPU cores is probably not the cause. Instead, it’s more probable that there are other factors at play such as insufficient RAM – especially when conducting resource-intensive web browsing. Generally speaking though for everyday desktop use purposes 2-4 cores should suffice; however, if your workload entails activities like file compression which requires greater resources to complete successfully and efficiently this could change things considerably. For example compressing large files imposes significant strain on both storage bandwidth and CPU processing power with performance increases directly proportionate to these factors working in tandem consequently affecting primarily power-users or professionals rather than typical daily computer users.
CPU Cores Explained
The central processing unit (CPU) is responsible for carrying out program instructions, such as manipulating data and transferring it. Previously, a single CPU could only perform one instruction at any given time.
Due to the increased amount of data and instructions required by operating systems, programs, and video games, processors now contain multiple processing units known as cores. By processing multiple instructions simultaneously, one processor substantially boosts the speed of the CPU. Consequently, computers are free to run various programs or video games concurrently. Multithreading, referred to as hyper-threading for Intel or simultaneous multithreading (SMT) for AMD, separates cores into threads when possible according to the operating system. This enhances multitasking abilities and boosts overall performance.
In essence, this implies that virtual cores can assist the operating system in optimizing the use of physical CPU cores. Therefore, how many threads or cores are actually necessary? Let’s examine some contemporary models and quantities of core.
Finding a single-core CPU today is quite challenging. Even in Intel’s Pentium lineup, which represents their more budget-friendly offerings, we couldn’t locate a single-core CPU. This scarcity is justified as most modern operating systems, including Windows 10, macOS Big Sur, and Linux, are optimized for multiple cores or threads. Running any program on a single-core CPU would be frustrating, making it impractical for tasks like video games or productivity work.
Dual-core CPUs are also uncommon nowadays, found in older CPU generations like Intel’s Pentium and i3 lineup or AMD’s Athlon APUs. These processors, equipped with just two cores, are considered outdated, and even basic tasks like running a browser may prove challenging. However, modern dual-core CPUs typically have four threads due to multithreading. While they may handle basic word processing, browsing, and some lighter games satisfactorily, more demanding tasks like rendering or video encoding can be slow.
- Intel Pentium Gold G6405: Adequate for basic tasks, with gaming performance comparable to an i3 but at a slower pace.
- AMD Athlon 3000GE: A solid choice, especially without a dedicated GPU, offering a more powerful integrated Vega GPU than Intel’s UHD.
Processors with 4 cores and 8 threads are more common than dual or single cores. Intel’s i3 lineup often features 4-core/8-thread CPUs. Having 8 threads provides a significantly improved user experience, allowing multiple programs to run simultaneously without severe stuttering. Tasks like video encoding or rendering become quicker, although more cores would further enhance productivity work. Older Intel i7 generations, like the 7700K or 6700K, are budget-friendly options for building a powerful gaming PC.
- Intel i7-7700K: Shows its age but offers better performance than newer i3s, suitable if found at a good deal.
- Intel i3-10300: An affordable 4-core/8-thread i3, but consider 6-core options for better performance.
- Ryzen 5300G: Faster GPU than the above options, but availability may be limited to OEM systems.
Hexa-core or six-core processors represent today’s mid-range standard, with 34% of Steam users using six-core processors as of August 2021. CPUs like AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 or Intel’s i5-10600K offer excellent performance at a budget price. Six cores (12 threads) offer a significant upgrade over 8 threads, satisfying most users for gaming and productivity work. Popular games run well on six cores, and programs like Blender, Adobe Premiere, and Photoshop benefit from the additional cores.
How Many CPU Cores Do I Need For Gaming?
As the answer differs, things get more interesting. It’s important to note that only a handful of applications are created with the ability to utilize multiple cores concurrently and even then, they may not be performing tasks in real-time.
Take video encoding, for example. It greatly benefits from maximizing the utilization of available cores. In contrast to gaming where high frame rates are essential but require real-time processing with many calculations involved. Although games have evolved over time and some progress in optimizing them to utilize multiple CPU cores simultaneously has been accomplished by modern game engines, there is still a limit at which adding more resources result in limited gain returns beyond this threshold.
In gaming performance, raw core count may not be the ultimate determining factor unlike in other workloads. The speed of each CPU and power of GPU per core often have a more pronounced influence on overall game performance compared to the number of cores present. As for modern gamers, it’s ill-advised to opt for a CPU with less than 4 cores if optimal gameplay is intended. Furthermore, choosing either six or eight-core CPUs are highly recommended when striving towards achieving framerates beyond 60FPS since increased CPU capability directly influences maximum achievable framerate within games; regardless of how much powerful your GPU maybe its efficiency is somewhat irrelevant unless relayed by an equally adeptly performing processor unit.
It is noteworthy to mention that when it comes to gaming performance and CPU cores, enabling or disabling Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT) has minimal effect unless you are also carrying out another task simultaneously. Since gaming involves a real-time workload, dividing it among more virtual cores via SMT does not notably boost the quality of performance; in fact, such an action may slightly hinder productivity – although this was not observed through my own testing experience.
What is the minimum number of CPU cores required for video editing and encoding?
When dealing with videos on a large scale, having extra CPU cores will greatly aid you. Enabling Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT) is particularly useful when it comes to tasks like video rendering and encoding because they aren’t carried out in real-time; instead, SMT allows for efficient distribution of these operations across several CPU cores and threads thereby increasing their effectiveness.
Although different tasks, video rendering and encoding both depend greatly on raw CPU power and fall into the larger category of “video editing.” In my recent evaluation of video encoding benchmarks (detailed in another article), I found that powerful multi-core CPUs offer a clear advantage – up to higher core counts with weaker individual cores where diminishing returns become evident. Generally speaking, for most desktop consumer-grade CPUs, increased core count translates into better performance; however, your ideal number will ultimately depend on time constraints and patience levels. For video-related workloads using the same CPU architecture, you can expect nearly linear growth in performance as you increase your core count.
For those who aspire to work in professional video editing, my suggestion is to consider purchasing a CPU with at least eight cores or enabling SMT on a six-core CPU.
How Many CPU Cores Do I Need For Professional (CPU) Rendering?
It must be noted that video editing workloads may differ from rendering workloads – particularly when utilizing Cinebench R15. In these scenarios, CPUs boasting a high core count consistently outperform their counterparts; even those which are several generations behind them can surpass newer models such as Intel Core i7-12700K’s 12 cores with decent proficiency. For instance, although discontinued for some time now; the previously available 18-core processor offered by Intel knowns as Core i7-7980 XE is better equipped performance-wise than its modern alternatives in this benchmarking test setting. Notably important would therefore include acknowledging that while opting for older technology could see higher value returns on bench tests like these benchmarks we use above? Analogous parts today would typically command inflated prices due to scarcity or rarity introducing unideal bottlenecks at best providing tolerable trade-offs compared against more practical purchasing options overall recommended schemes needed towards your own workstation setup and situation!
To optimize professional rendering capabilities, it is advised to acquire as many cores as possible. For optimal performance, Core i9 and Ryzen 9 processors are recommended for most users in this field. Although AMD Threadripper offers even greater core counts, the cost and drawbacks associated with these chips may pose a challenge if you plan on utilizing your system for other tasks. It is suggested to begin with at least an eight-core CPU while 16 cores remain the optimal range currently available. Surpassing that limit by using Threadripper PROs which offer up to 64 cores can lead to lower single-core functionality despite faster rendering speeds; additional workloads such as active tasks may also be affected negatively due to higher strain being placed on processing power beyond what’s required of them specifically .
How Many CPU Cores Do I Need For Streaming?
To determine the perfect CPU for streaming, it’s important to consider the type of content being streamed. A basic quad-core chip is sufficient if you’re live-streaming non-real-time PC footage or camera feed since such activities aren’t overly demanding. However, gamers who want to stream games on Twitch must have CPUs with additional cores as this becomes a vital requirement in their case.
When it comes to game streaming, remember to take into account both the raw single-core speed for improving gameplay quality and features such as Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT) so that the stream doesn’t negatively impact in-game performance. It’s recommended that you begin with at least an eight-core CPU equipped with SMT, just like other demanding workloads. Failing this important feature could lead to substantial drops in gaming quality during live streams.
When considering this situation, core count is not the sole factor to consider; both CPU architecture and per-core performance hold equal importance. Fortunately, AMD and Intel each provide exceptional contemporary architectures. Nevertheless, before committing to a purchase, be sure to verify which brand offers superior per-core performance within your price range.
What makes P-Cores and E-Cores different?
In Intel’s current CPU architecture, cores are categorized into P-Cores (Performance cores) and E-Cores (Efficiency cores). P-Cores focus on maximizing per-core performance and support features like Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT). On the other hand, E-Cores do not support SMT and prioritize efficiency, providing power-saving capabilities and raw muscle for threaded workloads that don’t require significant per-core power. For more details on these differences and their impact on Intel’s current product line, check out Jerry’s article on the topic.
Why doesn’t AMD have P-Cores and E-Cores?
Currently, AMD holds a general lead in creating excellent multi-core CPUs. There’s no immediate pressure for them to make major changes to their CPU architecture. However, the P-Core/E-Core split has proven beneficial for Intel’s 12th Generation Core processors. If you’re looking for substantial multi-core power, AMD remains a strong choice, and their approach may evolve over time.
Should I get a Locked or Unlocked CPU?
If you’re purchasing AMD, you’re already getting an unlocked CPU. For Intel, the decision depends on how much extra money you’re willing to spend on features like overclocking. Overclocking can significantly improve performance in the workloads discussed in this article, making it worth considering if within your budget.
Should I get a CPU with Integrated Graphics?
For common desktop use, media consumption, and light/retro gaming, opting for a CPU with integrated graphics is suitable. Modern integrated GPUs are comparable to entry-level discrete GPUs and can handle many scenarios, even pushing modern games at 720p. However, for heavier workloads mentioned in this article or for more demanding gaming, integrated graphics may struggle. If you lean towards professional tasks, considering a dedicated GPU for rendering alongside a powerful multi-core CPU might be a beneficial strategy.
That’s all for now! I’m confident that this article has given you a strong basis to determine the most suitable type of CPUs based on your individual needs. These guidelines should continue to be relevant and useful as long as you’re purchasing from recently released generations of CPUs; however, hardware released prior to 2019 may not adhere in the same way. If you require further assistance or have additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. Wishing you enjoyable computing experiences!
My name’s George Owens and from past 10 years I am working as hardware engineer and built many PCs for myself and my friends. I love gaming, programming, graphics designing and basically anything that has to do with computers and technology. If you ever need a hand with anything, feel free to contact me and I will be more than happy to help you out.