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How Many CPU Cores Do I Need For Gaming?

Every time a new processor from AMD or Intel comes out, we can’t help but feel left out. Newer processors from both manufacturers are running multiple CPU cores, so much so that performance will never be an issue.

Not too long ago, we were so hyped about seeing a dual core processor in the market, but in the blink of an eye, the quad core processor took over. Since then, core count was one of the most important features that a lot of PC builders, especially gamers, are more concerned with.

When you’re doing video editing or even 3D animation, you’d need multiple cores as well. But the real question you’d probably be asking is this: how many CPU cores do I need for gaming and all the other heavy processing stuff?

That’s what we’re going to talk about in this article, but first…

What Are CPU Cores?

CPU Overview

How many CPU cores do I need for gaming or video editing? That’s probably a question that you’ll be asking first if you’re planning on buying a new CPU. You want to know how many CPU cores is enough so you don’t blow your budget, but at the same time, you don’t want to overpay for something.

We all know that the CPU or central processing unit or processor is the brains of the system unit. Your PC may function without a GPU, but it will not function without a CPU.

Back then, processors were only executing program instructions such as the adding or removing or moving of data. The first version of CPUs was only able to process one instruction at a time. Since then, operating systems, programs and even video games now process a lot of data, so the processor needs to be able to keep up. This is why we now have multiple processing units, or referred to as CPU cores, in one processor.

For better performance, CPU cores are split into threads, or what you’d commercially recognize as multithreading, or hyperthreading if it’s an Intel processor or simultaneous multithreading (SMT) for AMD processors. The operating system creates virtual cores to help utilize the CPU’s physical cores better.

What Are The Modern CPU Standards and Requirements?

How many CPU cores do you need? Well, it’s a challenge to find the exact number of cores but it’s a lot easier to spot a model that may be within range of the number of CPU cores that you need.

Simply put, if you think you need 5 CPU cores, you’re going to want to secure a 6-core (hexacore) processor. CPU cores only come in pair, so you have 2,4,6,8, and so on. If there were CPU cores with an odd core count, then that’d be a weird sell for both Intel and AMD.

For majority of CPUs, thread count is almost always double the core count (so a hexacore or 6 core processor would have 12 threads, theoretically). The only exception to this is the 12th generation Intel’s Alder Lake processors.

Intel Core i9-12900KS How Many CPU Cores Do I Need

To make your shopping for CPUs easier, we’ve created a short guide on common core/thread combinations and how they can affect your needs.

Single-Core Processors

While you won’t be finding any SINGLE CORE CPUs nowadays, it pays to know how it all began. You might chance upon a single core CPU in Intel’s Pentium Library, but there’s hardly any stock.

The reason why you won’t find any single core processor today is that operating systems and programs now run on multiple cores or threads, or at least they run smoothly because of the CPU’s multiple processing units.

If you think you’re going to be able to run any modern program on a single core processor, think again. It’ll probably be the most infuriating experience you’ll ever go through. Single core performance is just terrible in this day and age.

Dual-Core Processors

Intel Pentium Gold G6405 How Many CPU Cores Do I Need

While not as rare as single core CPU, dual core processors are just as uncommon. But you will find that Intel and AMD will still have them for new generation Pentiums and Athlon APUs respectively.

Today, dual core processors have four threads because of multithreading and if your CPU cores are fast, you’d be able to run productivity programs (like Microsoft Office) and some basic video games like League of Legends.

If you’re in the market for a dual core processor, then you might want to check these out:

  • Intel Pentium Gold G6405 – Powerful enough for basic productivity tasks, almost comparable to an Intel i3.
  • AMD Athlon 3000GE – Solid choice if you don’t have a dedicated GPU. The integrated GPU on the AMD Athlon is more powerful than Intel UHD.

Quad-Core Processors

Intel Core I7-7700K How Many CPU Cores Do I Need

Quad core processors are more common than dual core or single core processors, and good examples are the Intel i3 series. Intel i3 usually run with 4 cores and 8 threads, and they were all locked to 4 threads until AMD pushed for multithreading on their quad cores.

Quad core processors, or any CPU with higher core counts, will have at least 8 threads, and their performance is just a league of its own compared to single core and dual core processors.

Video editing/rendering and gaming is faster, but you get more performance and speed from higher core counts. Ideally, an eight core CPU would be more than enough for your video editing or gaming needs.

For gaming, a CPU with quad cores is decent enough for gaming. You should be able to use Intel i7-7700k, albeit they’re outdated compared to the more recent processors. Still, they’re powerful enough.

Aside from the Intel i7-7700k, we also put these processors up for your consideration:

  • Intel i3-10300 – Cheaper than the Intel i7-7700k with the same core and thread count. There’s a six core version as well, which we recommend checking out first.
  • Ryzen 5300G – Relatively faster than the two quad core processors mentioned above. But these are only found in OEM systems, so locating this particular quad core processor might be a challenge.

Hexa-Core Processors

Intel® Core™ i5-11600K How Many CPU Cores Do I Need

Hexacore or hexa-core refers to the six core CPUs, which are midrange processors by today’s standards. Processors such as AMD Ryzen 5 3600 and the Intel i5-10400K are good examples of hexacore processors with great performance at budget pricing. For less than $200, you’re getting the best processors around for gaming and it’s a deal that you just can’t refuse.

A lot of gamers, streamers, content creators, and video editors are already satisfied with a six core processor’s power. Most modern games are doing well and to be honest, you don’t really see a massive FPS jump when you go up to 8 cores or higher. Running multiple programs at one time isn’t a hurdle with much CPU resources.

If you’re in the market for a six core processor, here’s our recommendation:

  • Intel i5-11600K – Slower than the Ryzen 5600X, but not that much. It’s cheaper by about $40, so it’s a solid choice if you’re on a tight budget.
  • Ryzen 3600/X – Considered as the best value purchase on the market as you’d find this processor for about $180 or less. The non-X version will cost less than the X version too, which isn’t a bad purchase.
  • Ryzen 5600X – The fastest hexacore processor in the market right now but it’s worth the price tag (currently about $300 or so).

Octa-Core Processors

Intel Core i7-10700KF How Many CPU Cores Do I Need

Eight core CPUs are relatively more expensive compared to the hexacore counterparts, but with Intel and AMD constantly at each other’s throats, we’ll hopefully see these prices go down.

As mentioned earlier, gaming doesn’t really see a lot of improvement when you transition to an octacore processor from a hexa core processor. You don’t really see the need to increase your physical CPU core past six unless you need more processing power for 3D animation or rendering.

If you do want to go for 8 CPU core count, then here is our short list:

  • Intel i7-10700K/11700K – Identical in performance, so getting either isn’t a bad choice. They’re the best bang for your buck, so go for the one that’s more accessible (budget-wise and stock-wise).
  • AMD Ryzen 5800X More expensive than the 11700K, but it is the fastest CPU in the market right now.
  • AMD Ryzen 3700X – Another affordable octacore CPU and relatively cheaper by about $100 compared to the two other octacores.

The Wrap Up

If you want a TL:DR (too long, did not read) version of the article, here’s a short guide on how many cores you need:

  • Single core processors are obsolete and hard to find. You don’t want to use them.
  • Dual core processors are more than enough for basic tasks, word processing, and some light gaming.
  • Quad core processors are good enough for gaming and productivity tasks, but you’ll need more.
  • Hexacore processors are what you really want for gaming, and they’re also powerful enough for video rendering and heavy processing tasks.
  • Octacore processors are the pinnacle of processing power, at least from a practical point-of-view. You don’t need more cores, honestly.
  • But if you want ten or more cores, you’ll pay more for them, but these are just intended for 3D animation or heavier-than-normal processing power.
James Stephenson

james stephenson profile picJames is a gaming and tech enthusiast. He has been playing computer games since the Commodore 64 days in the 80s. He has worked as a Broadcast Engineer with BBC News and knows a thing or two about building, fixing, and playing with PCs.