Surely more than once you have asked yourself, how many cores do i need to play? It is a recurring theme in the PC world, but the truth is that deep down 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 base at the hardware level.
With the arrival of new generation consoles, and the release of some titles that bring improvements for PS5 and Xbox Series S and Series X, we have begun to see some improvement in the use of multithreaded processorsbut the truth is that, in the end, the transition has not been completed, and that is why we are still stuck in this regard, so much so that, today, it is still possible to play the latest titles perfectly with a processor of four cores and eight threads.
Yes, a modest quad-core, eight-thread processor is the answer to the question of how many cores do I need to play games, and no, these processors not only are they not dead, but they have had a new life thanks to the architectures 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 great champion of four cores 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 that is that This is not to say that they do not offer good performance.but they just don’t reach the same level as a processor with, say, 6 cores and 12 threads.
How many cores do I need to play? Previous considerations
The truth is that it depends on what you play, but in general you will have enough with a quad core processor and eight threadsprovided that it meets a series of minimum requirements that we must see in detail below:
- High CPI: We are talking about instructions per clock cycle. It is a way of referring to the raw performance that a specific processor is capable of offering without looking at its working frequencies, or the number of cores it integrates. A processor with a higher IPC than another will offer better performance, even if it is set to the same frequency and has the same number of cores. And where is the minimum? Well, from the Zen 2 and Skylake architectures.
- High working frequency: a processor with a high IPC but a low working frequency will end up losing 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 wonder where the minimum is, it is very simple, at 4 GHz. When we exceed this figure, the performance continues to grow, but the proportional improvement is less.
- Compatible with high speed DDR4 memory: The performance of the processor can be seriously affected by the speed of the RAM. If we accompany it with a slow memory, the communications between it and the processor will take longer to complete, and this will have a negative impact on the performance of the processor. 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 paired with two 3,600 MHz DDR4 modules.
From everything we have said we could put several examples of processors that would meet that minimum that we have established, and also 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 they lose a lot in their configurations of four cores and eight threads.
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 i3-12100F, the latter being the most powerful quad-core, eight-thread processor out there right now. Its performance is so good that it is capable of outperforming even 6-core, 12-thread processors that have a lower IPC, such as the Ryzen 5 1600, for example.
Is quad-core, eight-thread processors enough, will I have no problems?
In general, 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 that currently exist. What appears in this graph is the rate of use of the processor in three different games, expressed in average and maximum values. Mean 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 only having four cores and eight threads.
Does this mean that all quad-core, eight-thread processors will deliver such a good experience? Well no, and you should already know why. The Intel Core i7-11370H has a very high CPI and it has a fairly aggressive turbo mode that maintains high working 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 it improve performance in those games by using a six-core, twelve-thread processor? Well, the answer will surprise you, and it is that not only is it probably not, but also in some cases it could get worse. Again, the key is in the CPI. Continuing with the example that we have given above, use a Ryzen 5 1600, which has six cores and twelve threads, it would make us lose performance due to the IPC difference between it and the Intel Core i7-11370H.
In this regard, it is also very important to note that current games tend to prioritize, once we get to that optimal minimum of four cores and eight threads, the IPC of the processor. They are not designed to efficiently harness the real parallelizing power offered by a 6-core, 12-thread processor, and so it may lose performance to a 4-core, 8-thread processor, even with higher usage rates.
All in all, it is a given that when we complete the transition to the next generation of consoles there will be a jump in the requirements of games, and it is very likely that in the end we will no longer have enough with a quad-core processor and eight threads. So if you can afford it and want to get something that guarantees a long lifespan, but without wasting money, Ideally, you should get a 6-core, 12-thread processor that has a high IPC., such as the Core i5-12400F, which is one of the best in its category. If your budget is lower, even with a Core i5-10400F you can rest easy.
Background processes and do more than just play
Until now we had focused on a very particular approach, how many cores do I need to play, 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’re considering streaming while gamingthe thing changes completely, since you will not have enough to enjoy a really good experience with a quad-core processor and eight threads.
However, you will not have to spend a lot of money to get a top-of-the-range processor either, you will have enough with a six-core, twelve-thread processor like the ones we 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 point because, unfortunately, there are still those who insist on 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 one with four cores and eight threads, as long as we comply with all the premises that I have given you throughout this article.
Final notes: I already know how many cores I need to play, what processors do you recommend?
The truth is that today there are many interesting options, and with very reasonable prices, although it all depends on what you want to spend and your aspirations. For this reason, I am going to share with you a series of recommendations divided by price that will help you to be more clear about which option would best suit you.
- If you have a budget of less than 100 euros: the Intel Core i3-10105F is the best option, since it costs 84.40 euros, has a high IPC and has four cores and eight threads.
- In case you can spend a little more: The ideal would be the Intel Core i3-12100F, which maintains the four cores and eight threads, but has a much higher IPC and is built 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 for price-performance is the Core i5-12400F. You really don’t need to spend more money on a processor if you’re just 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 would already be at a very good level for gaming and streaming. However, if what you have in mind is 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 slightly better in multi-threaded applications. If gaming is your priority, the Intel Core i5-12600K would be a better choice.