How Many CPU Cores Do I need for Gaming?

Choosing the best CPU for gaming is a relatively simple process. To determine the performance you may expect for the amount of money you’re willing to pay, you simply need to look at some performance benchmarks. CPUs, though, are a little bit of a different story. It is true that a CPU’s specifications also affect how well it performs but still, there are several other factors as well to better know about the processor. Evaluating a CPU’s gaming performance can be challenging because it differs significantly from game to game and also depends on the GPU it is paired with. 

In order to have the best performance, choosing a CPU with adequate cores for gaming is a crucial step. Your FPS will increase as your processing speed does. However, a quick processor is not required for casual players. You don’t need a powerful CPU to get the most out of your games unless you intend to save a lot of content or play AAA games. However, the number of cores on a CPU is one feature that frequently stands out so it’s important to know how many CPU cores do I need for gaming. In this post, we are going to discuss this statement in detail. 

What is a CPU core?

In simple words, a CPU core is like a pathway via which the processor can perform certain operations. The number of cores, or how many jobs a CPU can execute simultaneously, is expressed in simple terms. Single-core CPUs weren’t able to multitask back then. Instead, they would quickly cycle between jobs that were of the highest priority. It goes without saying that the performance wasn’t particularly fluid. This changed in 2005 when the first commercial dual-core CPUs were released, opening the door for additional multi-core processors. 

Over the ensuing decade, CPUs with 4, 6, 8, and more cores quickly entered the market. In this way, the current-era processors come with a wide number of cores to be suitable for all types of users. In addition, multi-threading is another important feature to support the cores’ performance and get the most out of the system. Nevertheless, even though multi-core CPUs can significantly increase multitasking and a variety of professional software, how much of a difference does a higher core count make when it comes to gaming?

Single-core vs Multi-core processors

ParameterSingle-coreMulti-core
No. of coresOne primary coreTwo or more separate cores
ProcessingSequential Parallel
SMTNot possiblePossible
PowerLowHigh
SpeedSlowFast
EfficiencyLowHigh
OperationOne task at a timeMultitasking

Having a CPU with a high core count in the past didn’t always mean much because many games weren’t designed to fully utilize many CPU cores. However, in recent years, we have seen a significant change in the situation. Since multi-core CPUs have been widely used for well over a decade at this time, it only seems sensible that game creators have started to utilize these CPUs’ capabilities effectively by tuning their games for multi-core speed. If you’re planning to purchase a high-core CPU, make sure to utilize its true potential. 

For gaming, single-core performance is still more crucial than multi-core performance. Nevertheless, the core count shouldn’t be overlooked either because the majority of games played today will eventually make use of several CPU cores. However, if we were to generalize, we’d say that choosing six CPU cores is the optimal compromise for gaming in 2022. The Intel Core i5-9600K (Amazon) or AMD Ryzen 5 3600X (Amazon) is the ideal CPU choice for the majority of mid-range configurations. But, you can even go for top-tier processors. 

Logical vs. Physical Cores: what is the difference? 

While we’re talking about CPU cores, we also need to talk about logical cores, or threads as they are more often known. A single physical core may handle two tasks at once, acting as two different logical cores, thanks to Intel’s hyperthreading and AMD’s multithreading technology. So, how useful are multithreading and hyperthreading? Without a doubt, the answer is yes.

Multithreading is present in the majority of AMD’s Ryzen products, from entry-level to mid-range variants. Plus it’s very beneficial to get peak performance from any system. 

Hyperthreading will be included in the future 10th generation Comet Lake machines, though, to better compete with AMD in that regard. The precise in-game performance will obviously differ from game to game, even though a greater thread/core count aids in overall performance. It’s not a given that the Ryzen 5 3600X will perform better in games simply because it has 12 threads whereas the i5-9600K only has six. As we’ve previously stated, it largely depends on the game’s coding and the GPU in question. Remember this fact as well. 

Bottlenecking

Bottlenecking is a topic we’ve already discussed, and you might be wondering what it implies. In short, you have a bottleneck if the CPU is too slow and cannot send instructions quickly enough, preventing the GPU from operating at its full potential. The same holds true when a powerful CPU like the i7-9700K is paired with a weaker, less expensive GPU like the GTX 1650 Super (Amazon). In such a case, a more potent CPU wouldn’t benefit your in-game performance at all, and you would have wasted your money. Make sure to prevent bottlenecks as much as possible. 

If we were to draw some broad conclusions:

  • Budget CPUs like the Ryzen 3 and i3 are adequate for these GPUs. GTX 1650 Super or Radeon RX 580
  • The Ryzen 5 and i5 CPUs work well with mid-range GPUs, such as Radeon RTX 2060 Super or RX 5600 XT
  • The Ryzen 7 and i7 CPUs work well with powerful GPUs, such as the RTX 2070 Super or the RTX 2080 Super

In the end, it is impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy how much a given CPU would bottleneck a given GPU. Although they are far from being completely accurate, bottleneck calculators can give you a reasonable sense of what a good CPU/GPU combination would look like. With regard to the more potent Ryzen 9 or i9 CPUs, unless you want to use some CPU-intensive professional program or set up a multi-GPU system, they are typically overkill for gaming PCs.

Conclusion

As you can see, the main query does not have a clear-cut or simple solution. Dual-core CPUs were still usable in some builds up to a few years ago. But due to the quick rise in core and thread counts today, quad-cores are already close to becoming outdated. To sum up, in 2022, Hexa-core CPUs will frequently be your best pick for mid-range systems, while quad-core CPUs will typically only really cut it for budget designs. In the meantime, high-end PCs can use octa-core CPUs. But you must know your usage before purchasing a processor with certain cores.

Well, how many CPU cores do I need for gaming? I suggest having at least a six-core processor or more since gaming can be really taxing. The highest CPU performance is needed for the games you play, even though video encoding might be distributed over several cores. For instance, certain games need top-notch graphics to run at the fastest frame rate possible. It’s always a good idea to seek up some benchmarks because, as was noted in the post, those are simply generalizations and the actual performance you get will vary from model to model.

Arslan Ashraf
Arslan Ashraf is Computer Expert. He developed his passion for reviewing the latest tech products. He likes to review every single piece of Hardware. If you have any questions related to Tech Products. He'll be happy to answer you.