In this era of multi-core and multi-threaded processors, one would assume that modern videogames would be optimized to run across as many of those CPU cores and threads as possible. After all what is the point of having a $350 top of the line Intel i7-7700k if our games don’t even benefit from its full 4 cores and 8 threads? Logic might dictate that games will just use all the resources available to them, but the reality is that even today, Instructions-Per-Core (IPC) and single core performance are still more important than core count, at least for games anyway.
Too many CPU cores
You might be sporting an older AMD FX-8300 with eight cores, overclocked at 4.5 GHz or above; and on paper this might sound like a winning combo. But the reality about choosing a processor goes beyond those surface numbers. Modern games are only really optimised to use 4 CPU cores, focusing on how to get the most out of each of those cores. The most important aspect of a processor is still how well each of those cores perform. This is why modern processors from the Intel Sky Lake and Kaby Lake ranges perform a whole lot better in gaming benchmarks than their older counterparts. New processors are being optimized towards better per-core performance and power consumption, rather than trying to push their clock to the highest frequency. This is definitely the case for AMD’s new Ryzen processors, which don’t overclock to a very high frequency range; but whose per-core performance is night and day compared to their old FX range.
CPU core count and gaming
Game developers are trying to make use of multiple CPU cores, but most modern games are only really optimised for 4 cores, focusing instead on IPC. If you end up purchasing one of AMD’s 16 core / 32 thread Thread ripper; processors (to be released summer 2017); then it will be a bit of an overkill choice for just gaming. Now don’t get us wrong, there is nothing bad with a bit of future-proofing. But the truth is that these days if you’re only buying a processor for the purposes of gaming, then a processor from the AMD Ryzen 1500-1600 series will be more than enough for your needs. It will be a while before game developers optimize for more than 4 cores, simply because this is what most people will have in their computers.
GPU vs CPU
Games make a mixed use of your graphics (GPU) and you processor (CPU), and as such it is important that one doesn’t bottleneck the other. Some first person shooters (FPS) like Call of Duty – Infinite Warfare will tend to be more reliant on graphics; but strategy games like Civilization 6 or Ashes of the Singularity are much more CPU intensive as they require our processors to do a lot more calculations. As games get more complex, even basic shooters are starting to require more CPU power; so it is important that your processor is on par with your graphics card or you will see stutters and drops in frame-rate.
What is the use for all those CPU cores?
Simply put, those higher core and thread-count processors are good for work applications, and multi-tasking. You will want an expensive i7 or Ryzen processor with high core counts if you are a content creator; requiring you to export raw footage at the fastest speeds. Also, someone who is playing a video game whilst live-streaming whilst other workloads are taking place in the background will see the benefits of having those extra cores. As far as gaming goes, 4 cores is currently still the sweet spot. We can expect that to change into the future when the majority of people have processors with more than 4 cores and when 8 cores becomes the norm.