How Many CPU Cores Do You Need For Great PC Gaming?

1_rick

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https://hothardware.com/reviews/how-many-cores-do-you-need-for-gaming

They tested several games at 3 resolutions and with different CPUs, representing 4C4T, 4C8T, 6C6T, 6C12T, 8C16T, and 12C24T, with a 6800XT and a 3070, looking for a performance cliff.

The TL;DR: "Ideally, if we were building a new gaming PC today, or just upgrading and keeping our current GPU due to shortages, we'd definitely want to go with eight cores at a minimum and let our collection of games grow into it. If you are more budget-constrained, however, our findings say that a modern 6-core / 12-thread processor offers plenty of performance for the vast majority of game titles."
 

LOCO LAPTOP

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I was for the longest time on a Intel i7 5930k then a 5960x for a year or so until my current 10850k.

I would agree with that article for the most part. GTA-V, BFV and Cyberpunk really loved the new CPU.
 

Armenius

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I was for the longest time on a Intel i7 5930k then a 5960x for a year or so until my current 10850k.

I would agree with that article for the most part. GTA-V, BFV and Cyberpunk really loved the new CPU.
Probably has more to do with speed increases than number of cores. The 10850K is around 33-50% faster in single core performance than the 5930K. Octacore does seem like it's becoming the sweet spot, though.
 

JSHamlet234

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8 cores is probably ideal, though most games will run just as well or very nearly as well on 6. If I were building a gaming machine to last for the next 5 years, though, I would want 12 cores.
 

SPARTAN VI

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Granted they called out the difference in base/boost clocks between low/mid/high end CPUs, they don't appear to have done anything to CONTROL for that variable. Considering the 8 core and 10 core CPUs generally have higher base and boost clocks compared to their 4 and 6 core counterparts, their performance metrics are obviously going to be skewed because of that difference in clock speeds. So whether the measured differences can be attributed solely to core count is out the window. I'd expect most, if not all, of these CPUs would perform within margins of one other in these games (except AotS) if clocked similarly, despite their core count. TL;DR, unless they control for clock speed, these graphs are mostly about "more MHz = more better."
 
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1_rick

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Granted they called out the difference in base/boost clocks between low/mid/high end CPUs, they don't appear to have done anything to CONTROL for that variable. Considering the 8 core and 10 core GPUs generally have higher base and boost clocks compared to their 4 and 6 core counterparts, their performance metrics are obviously going to reflect that difference in clock speeds. So whether the measured differences can be attributed solely to core count is out the window. I'd expect most, if not all, of these CPUs would perform within margins of one other in these games (except AotS) if clocked similarly, despite their core count. TL;DR, unless they control for clock speed, these graphs are mostly about "more MHz = more better."
Most people don't overclock, so it's probably a fair representation of real-world performance available to the average user.

Plus, I don't remember if the article mentioned it or not but it's easy to see if 4 cores or clock speed is the limiting factor by seeing whether the system hits 100% load or not.
 

SPARTAN VI

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Most people don't overclock, so it's probably a fair representation of real-world performance available to the average user.

Plus, I don't remember if the article mentioned it or not but it's easy to see if 4 cores or clock speed is the limiting factor by seeing whether the system hits 100% load or not.
I agree it's a fair representation of real world performance, it's just not a fair representation of the relationship of cores vs. gaming performance scaling. Ideally they'd supplement this by using something like a 5950X, then disable cores as they go down to simulate what core count does vs. gaming performance. Granted that's not perfect either because it doesn't necessarily reflect the cache sizes available on lower core parts, but I think the point is to show how cores scale in games, not how different implementations and/or different core architectures scale in games. I believe LTT did a comparison using this method a few years ago.
 

DWolvin

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The more modern the engine, the more cores it will be able to use. It's not really rocket science, it's more along the lines of 'What are you really going to do with your computer.' Web use, retro games, go cheap on the computer. State of the art / VR / 4K 60+ fps? Build or buy a good system.
 

Ur_Mom

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This is [H]. 16/32. MINIMUM. 64GB RAM, 12GB VRAM minimum.

We don't fuck around. There is no overkill. 6 or 8 core? Newb.

I'm still on 4/8, but need to move up. Not in any big rush as I need a GPU upgrade (so, realistically looking to a 3-4 year wait on that upgrade...). By the time I do get to upgrade, I'll need more cores, 8K monitor, etc...
 

Krenum

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8 Cores is ideal for today's environment but you can have all the processing cores in the world and still not have good performance if the IPC of the CPU is slow.

I'm still running a 4/8 i7 6700K, but its starting to show its age.
 

Sycraft

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For modern systems, you really want a minimum of eight physical cores. Some games such as those using Frost Bite or games like Cyberpunk 2077 are starting to show improvements with eight core CPU's over six core offerings.
It's also what the new consoles have which means it'll probably be what we see optimizations for in many engines.
 

sfsuphysics

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Well unfortunately the ancient motherboard I have has a maximum cpu of 4 cores, and I'm already at the apex of CPUs for it. So full upgrade sounds like a good idea on paper, but I'm seriously thinking the GPU shortage (aka reasonably priced) will last MUCH much longer than most anticipate while sure scalping and mining may die off I think GPU manufacturers aren't letting go of this gravy train until they absolutely have to, as such by the time I have a new GPU to necessitate an rebuild of a system there's no reason to do it now as prices probably will be cheaper ... unless some rando ass typhoon strikes Vietnam or something and "shortages" occur in another area.
 

Eshelmen

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Haven't had any real struggles running anything on my 6c 9600k yet.

I'm hoping to upgrade in the next year or two when inventory has been sorted and prices are back to a decent tier. Until then, my 6c CPU will do just fine for me at 1440p.
 
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I'm pretty sure you need at least 6 cores now. I was running a 3770 up to 2018 or so before games (and other things) started demanding more cores and my processor started to show its age. I wasn't sure about investing in a 4c/8t processor back in 2012 because a lot of people still through dual-core was enough, but I figured I would at least be able to run more applications comfortable at once if nothing else. A lot of people who bought into hex-core processors on X79 instead around the same time as me told me their processors held up well enough that they could still use them in modern games even after mine started showing its age. When I built a gaming PC for a friend three years ago, I got them a hex-core Coffee Lake and a 2060 Super at the time because I thought that would be enough and that's all their budget could really accommodate.

From what I've gathered, a Kaby Lake i7 (the last quad-core i7) isn't faring a whole lot better in modern games than my old 3770 paired with a modern graphics card would. It does have better IPC, but not enough to compensate for the fact that games increasingly scaling well across multiple cores. So yeah... right now you need 6 core, probably 8 core is enough for a while. Comparing this to 2012, very roughly... buying a hex-core now is like buying a dual core i3 back then would have been, buying an 8-core now is kinda like buying an i5, and buying something like Ryzen 3950X is more like buying an i7 would have been back then. That's a rough analogy, but that's how I see it. If you buy a high-end Ryzen with 16 cores and 32 threads today, that is probably the most future proof you can get unless there is a major upset and some new innovation comes along.
 

Mchart

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My 2700x (And now my 3800x) show marked improvement in the more demanding open-world games over my 5820k system with the same GPU due to the extra cores. 6 cores will do it, but honestly, in 2021, you really want 8 cores if building new now.
 

ChadD

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I built a 3600x system what seems like forever ago now. I intended to upgrade a gen later to a 8core... or score a deal on a 8-12-16 core 3000 series when pricing dropped.

Then the world went mad... and the Fabs sold their entire production to huawei for 4 months, and everything spiked through the roof if you could even find it.

However my take away after gaming on this system for almost 2 years now.... I really didn't need a CPU upgrade anyway. If I really have a need to spend money I would be better off upgrading my 5700 XT then my CPU... which to be honest is also good enough for the 1440 res I'm running anyway. I lock almost every game I play at 75 FPS... cause why not with freesync and radeon chill I can lock 90% of the games I play at 75 FPS and the FPS is consistent and my machine never sounds like its reving for take off.

The few games I play that actually push my hardware where I see dips into the 60s and perhaps even the 50s if I refuse to turn any settings down from Extreme... are not the games I play for hundreds of hours anyway. IMO the games I have played the last few years that are high end demo worthy aren't really all that great in terms of game play. Not that I have played everything and ya every gamers tastes are different.

If I was suggesting a build for a friend today... not taking into the account the buy what you can get advice. lol I would honestly say pick up a 5600x if you can get one... and spend whatever extra $ you can on the GPU. Even if your streaming and the like frankly the GPU offloads most of that work... I don't really see the advantage in 12 and 16 core CPUs for gaming. The difference between a 6/12 CPU and a 12/24 CPU in gaming is 4-7%... and almost identical comparing to a 8/16. I think for most people choosing to spend the $100-200 difference between a 5600 and 5800 on a step up GPU is going to net them much more then 5% average improvement. (which would include streaming)
 
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If I was suggesting a build for a friend today... not taking into the account the buy what you can get advice. lol I would honestly say pick up a 5600x if you can get one... and spend whatever extra $ you can on the GPU. Even if your streaming and the like frankly the GPU offloads most of that work... I don't really see the advantage in 12 and 16 core CPUs for gaming. The difference between a 6/12 CPU and a 12/24 CPU in gaming is 4-7%... and almost identical comparing to a 8/16. I think for most people choosing to spend the $100-200 difference between a 5600 and 5800 on a step up GPU is going to net them much more then 5% average improvement. (which would include streaming)

This is exactly why I say that getting a 16 core CPU for gaming now would have been like getting an i7 CPU for gaming back in 2011 or so. This is precisely the justification people used for not going i7 and spending the money on a GPU at the time. Most of the games people were enjoying didn't take advantage of quad-core yet, let alone 8 threads. And that reasoning was absolutely fine if you were able to upgrade within 3 years... but if you got stuck with your CPU/motherboard longer for some reason, you might have wound up regretting it.

So really it's the same deal as before, it's just the core counts have all gone up. 16 cores is the new "I'm never going to need this for gaming, it won't even be relevant for 3 more years," 8 cores is the new "I want a little room to grow, but any more than this is not practical," and 6 cores is the new, "I want to spend my budget on the GPU for now."
 

ChadD

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This is exactly why I say that getting a 16 core CPU for gaming now would have been like getting an i7 CPU for gaming back in 2011 or so. This is precisely the justification people used for not going i7 and spending the money on a GPU at the time. Most of the games people were enjoying didn't take advantage of quad-core yet, let alone 8 threads. And that reasoning was absolutely fine if you were able to upgrade within 3 years... but if you got stuck with your CPU/motherboard longer for some reason, you might have wound up regretting it.

So really it's the same deal as before, it's just the core counts have all gone up. 16 cores is the new "I'm never going to need this for gaming, it won't even be relevant for 3 more years," 8 cores is the new "I want a little room to grow, but any more than this is not practical," and 6 cores is the new, "I want to spend my budget on the GPU for now."
The best reason to hold out for AMD if you can't find one right away. Nothing to regret if you can grab a higher core count CPU 2-3 years later as a drop in replacement. I know AMDs current socket is getting long in the tooth and DDR5 is coming so its perhaps harder to say go 5600 and then drop a 6800 in next year cause it may or may not be possible. However if you where like me and picked up a 3600x 2 years back.... you can easily drop a 5800/5900 ect in today. If your like me you probably have wives and kids computers that would be happy to get the hand me down anyway. But then again you can always just sell a 3600x today and probably get a nice resell premium.

If you have the extra money to burn though sure go with a 8 core... or even 12. But really as recent history has shown. Chances are in 3 years the current 6 core is going to outperform your 3 year old 8 core anyway. I could have went with a 2800 over my 3600 2 years ago as well but I'm glad I went with the Zen 2. Especially for gaming the 3600 is superior... for everything else its only a few edge cases where the older 8 core is any better.
 

JSHamlet234

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The best reason to hold out for AMD if you can't find one right away. Nothing to regret if you can grab a higher core count CPU 2-3 years later as a drop in replacement. I know AMDs current socket is getting long in the tooth and DDR5 is coming so its perhaps harder to say go 5600 and then drop a 6800 in next year cause it may or may not be possible. However if you where like me and picked up a 3600x 2 years back.... you can easily drop a 5800/5900 ect in today. If your like me you probably have wives and kids computers that would be happy to get the hand me down anyway. But then again you can always just sell a 3600x today and probably get a nice resell premium.

If you have the extra money to burn though sure go with a 8 core... or even 12. But really as recent history has shown. Chances are in 3 years the current 6 core is going to outperform your 3 year old 8 core anyway. I could have went with a 2800 over my 3600 2 years ago as well but I'm glad I went with the Zen 2. Especially for gaming the 3600 is superior... for everything else its only a few edge cases where the older 8 core is any better.

That's a really good point. In my mind Zen 3 vs Rocket Lake is pretty much a wash for gaming EXCEPT for the fact that if you get a 5600/5800 today, you will probably be able to grab a 16-core for cheap by the time you actually need the cores. This happened with X99 as well, the 5960X was $1000 at launch, and the 6950X was $1700, while the 6-core parts were only $370. 5 years laster, the 8-core is $150 and the 10-core is $300. It's a nice option to have, and it increases the resale value of your board if you decide to sell it and step up to a newer platform instead.
 
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Ebernanut

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To me a newer 6 core CPU is in the good enough category for gaming right now and I'd take a faster 6 core over a slower 8+ core, for instance I'd take a 5600x over my 2700x. 8 cores is generally plenty for now and with the new consoles having that it should be good enough for quite a while however I'd personally like at least a couple extra cores beyond that to allow some headroom for multitasking.

I'm planning to upgrade my 2700x to a 5900x but if I wasn't waiting to pick up a new gpu first I might have grabbed one of the 5800x I've seen at msrp and I doubt that I would have been disappointed.
 

HAL_404

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I use a Ryzen 5 2600, can OC to 4.2 GHz stable but haven't had the need too. If I spent twice as much for a Ryzen 7 5800X I don't think I'd see enough fps improvement to warrant spending that much (instead, put it towards a better GPU card)
 

OutOfPhase

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6 is actually quite fine for now.

But yes, if you're building a system, don't target that - go for 8. It will not expand dramatically beyond that in the lifetime of that system.
 

TheSlySyl

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I can saturate all 24 threads of my 3900X pretty damn easily, but if I'm *just* gaming with no background transcoding then I can say from experience that I normally don't use ALL of my 24 threads.
However doing something like Cyberpunk 2077, Monster Hunter World or a newer Assassin's Creed + stream transcoding leads to a considerable amount of dropped frames unless I make a noticeable drop in quality settings. (Such as 1080p, yuck!)
 

XenIneX

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If you anticipate upgrading again within a year or two, dance as close to the razor's edge of bang-for-the-buck as you please. Although, I expect that anyone upgrading at that cadence is probably going blingy anyway, so this feels like a moot point.

However, if you expect to ride your new hog until the wheels fall off, I'd say the smart play is to match or exceed current-gen consoles. They're going to be the low-water mark going forward for the next half-decade or more, and you're gonna be disappointed if the next engine trick du jour involves peculiar threading which doesn't play nice with sub-8c/16t CPUs. And given what's happened (or not) with CPUs over the past decade, it's entirely possible that a new CPU could remain otherwise acceptable for way longer than you expect it will.
 

NattyKathy

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8/16 seems to be the sweet spot right now. I almost went 6/12 when I upgraded last month and I'm glad I went with the higher core count because I do content creation and am getting into streaming and the extra corez are nice to have. For gaming only though, it's probably not worth... Cyberpunk 2077 is the only one I've tried so far that can actually use all those cores and some like Control are basically still doing everything on a single core, while most seem to use around 4-6 cores. Still for longevity I wouldn't want anything less than 8/16 going forward.
 

Comixbooks

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Battlefield 6 will probably be optimized to use 10 cores or more. One if they few games coded to do just that.
 

chameleoneel

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Battlefield 6 will probably be optimized to use 10 cores or more. One if they few games coded to do just that.
The multplayer, yes. BF multiplayer has loved extra cores since BF3.

The singleplayer (when they have them) usually doesn't care much about cores.
 

primetime

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Whew! ...just upgraded to the 5800x from a 5600x ... that was close!
aparently cyberpunk players need 24 thread cpus :)
Capture.JPG
 

Lumpus

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My old 2700X did just fine for nearly two years playing any game I had at acceptable frame rates.
Have the 5900X now, but haven't played anything really cpu demanding yet, other than 7D2D
 

filip

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I think the only processor i actually had to update to play games was the 2 core G2030. The games required 4 cores min. I was running a gtx1080 with the G2030.
 

cybereality

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Still getting good perf on my 6/12 CPU. I think that is still a good spot to be in today, but I would definitely go high when building a new rig.
 
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