Higher clock speeds, and core count are the two most advertised specs on a CPU, but which one will you benefit from more when gaming?
Having a faster core clock speed will let the CPU finish a task faster, and having multiple cores will let the CPU perform multiple tasks at the same time. Games that are made with a lot of detail and movement will benefit from more cores, and smaller fast-paced games will see increased performance from a higher clock speed.
Knowing how Your CPUs clock speed, and how multiple cores work should provide you with enough information about what CPU you will benefit from most, so I will explain how both of these work, and what games, and programs will benefit from them.
What is CPU Clock Speed?
The CPU clock speed shows how fast your CPU can cycle through instructions in 1 second. This is shown in hertz, with 1 hertz equalling 1 cycle.
Most CPUs are advertised in Gigahertz (GHz), and one Gigahertz is equivalent to 1 billion hertz. That means that if your CPUs clock speed is advertised at 3.8GHz, then your CPU will go through 3.8 billion cycles every second.
You should also keep in mind that clock speed alone doesn’t determine how fast a CPU is. If you look back at older CPU versions, you can see that the clock speeds aren’t that much different compared to modern-day CPUs. This is because the CPUs architecture has been improved many times, with each release of a new CPU type.
The better the CPU architecture, the more instructions it can process in one cycle. So, even if your CPU had a faster clock speed, it may be slower than another CPU with a slower clock speed because it won’t be able to write as many instructions per cycle.
For example, if you had a CPU run at a 2 Gigahertz clock speed, but could only perform 1 instruction per cycle, and if you had another CPU running at 1 Gigahertz clock speed, but performed 2 instructions per cycle. Then, both CPUs will perform the task at the exact same speed.
That’s why modern CPUs can perform much faster than older CPUs even at similar clock speeds.
It is also, more beneficial to upgrade the architecture over the clock speed. This is because a higher clock speed will need to use more power, in order to perform at a higher speed, and this can cause your CPU to become very hot. Making your computer need a more expensive cooling system.
Therefore, upgrading the architecture will allow the CPU to become faster, whilst consuming less power and keeping a lower clock speed.
However, if you are comparing 2 CPUs of the same architecture, looking at the faster clock speed will determine which CPU is faster and will show what CPU provides better performance in a single core.
How Do Higher CPU Clock Speeds Affect Performance When Gaming?
No matter what game you play, the higher your clock speed, the better performance and FPS you will get out of your game.
Many games require a fast clock speed in order to execute a specific task, and each CPU core can only complete 1 task at a time, with the exception of multi-threading.
I’ve written another article that goes more in-depth on how CPU affects your FPS and performance.
Therefore, it depends on what kind of games you play, if you want to get the maximum benefit of a high clock speed CPU. Older less intensive games, like Esports titles such as CS:GO, Rainbow Six Siege, or League of Legends, are all games that will benefit from a higher clock speed CPU.
This is because these games require bigger, but fewer tasks to be done, and a CPU with a fast clock speed can execute this pretty efficiently. With fewer tasks to be done your CPU can complete the tasks in time to start the next task without bottlenecking your performance.
On the other hand, more and more AAA title games focus won’t benefit as much from fewer cores and a faster clock speed because they have multiple tasks to be completed at the same time. Due to this, your CPU will slow down the game because it can’t keep up to the number of tasks given in that time frame.
The solution to this would be to get a CPU with multiple cores, and we will explain how this works a little bit later.
How to Increase CPU Clock Speed
If you want to increase your CPUs clock speed to improve your performance, you can do this by overclocking your CPU.
Depending on what motherboard and CPU you have, overclocking will look slightly different for everyone. This is because each CPU has different specs, and every motherboard has a different BIOS, with different overclocking capabilities.
This is why it’s important to buy a motherboard that is designed for overclocking if that’s something you want to do. Higher end motherboards that are designed for overclocking will have more options to increase you CPUs performance.
Standard motherboards, on the other hand, will only allow you to do basic overclocking. This can still benefit your CPU performance, and can also be a more user-friendly experience for less experienced pc users.
At the same time, a higher-end motherboard will allow for more overclocking capability, but this will become more complex because it is targeted at more experienced overclockers, with more overclocking options.
Even so, basic overclocking will allow you to increase your CPUs overall clock speed, which will allow you to get better performance out of your CPU.
If you have a motherboard that allows you to do more complex overclocks, then you will be able to adjust the clock speed of each individual core of your CPU. This can take some time to get right and can cause some problems if your CPU becomes unstable, but if done right you can see an even bigger performance benefit from increasing each core’s clock speed.
If you are new to overclocking here is a guide on how to overclock your CPU.
You should also keep in mind that overclocking requires more power consumption, and will make your CPU heat up. If you’re thinking about buying a CPU to overclock you should also keep in mind that you will need a better cooling solution for your rig.
How Do Multi-Core CPUs Work?
You can find a variety of CPUs with different core counts. The most common CPU core counts you will find in modern-day CPUs are quad-core, 6-core, 8-core, and even 12-core CPUs.
A single core can only perform one task at a time, so if you have multiple cores you can perform multiple tasks at the same time. An exception to this, is if your CPU supports multi-threading.
Multi or Hyper-threading is when a single core is treated as 2. Essentially, creating a fake core, allowing a single core to perform two tasks at the same time. Therefore, 8-core CPUs will be able to perform 16 tasks at the same given time, and 12-core CPUs will be able to perform 24 tasks.
having multiple cores will allow you to split up multiple tasks or use multiple programs at the same time simultaneously. For example, if you need to render a video, a CPU with 4 cores can split that video up into 4 parts and render the 4 parts separately. Thus, rendering the video 4 times faster than only using 1 core.
A more simple way to explain this is using a math equation like 1 x 1 + 2 x 2 + 3 x 3 + 4 x 4. With a single-core CPU, it would have to solve the equation by solving 1 x 1, then 2 x 2, then 3 x 3, then 3 x 3, and finally adding them together. With a 4-core CPU, it would be able to solve the task by separating the equation into parts. It would do this by separating the problem into 4, solving each multiplication problem at the same time, and then adding them together.
This way is much more efficient.
Multiple cores will also allow you to have multiple programs running at the same time, such as Discord, Spotify, and a game. When your CPU doesn’t have enough cores to run these programs simultaneously, the programs will be forced to stop when they are in the background and will have to start up again when you decide to use them. With multiple cores, you can keep multiple programs and tabs running for maximum efficiency.
How Do More Cores Affect Performance When Gaming?
More cores can benefit your performance and increase FPS when playing heavy AAA games. The reason for this is that your CPU can execute multiple tasks at the same time, such as game audio, and AI movement.
If your CPU doesn’t have enough cores, the cores will be forced to alternate between tasks. Even with a fast core speed, it will still make your game become choppy because the core will work on one task and have to switch to another task.
The CPU will do this multiple times in a second, but you will still see an FPS drop because it is pausing the task at hand for another.
This can especially become an issue if you have multiple applications running because the cores would have to rotate cycle through all the tasks in-game, in addition to all the tasks the other applications have. As for having multiple cores, your CPU will be able to designate a core for each task and application making your gaming experience smoother and increasing FPS.
Having multiple cores can also be very beneficial if you’re a streamer or content creator because you will be able to render videos way faster, and your computer will also allow you to run your streaming programs simultaneously to your game causing no delay, and no FPS drops when your game needs to perform a heavy task.
Here is a more in-depth guide I’ve written on how CPU cores affect FPS and performance when gaming.
What Games Benefit From Higher Clock Speeds
Having a high core clock speed is very beneficial to have and can improve your performance in most games, but some games will benefit more from a single core with higher clock speeds.
- Rainbow Six Siege
- Rocket League
- League of Legends
- Dota 2
As you can see a lot of older, Esports games focus more on single-core and higher clock speeds.
The reason why higher clock speeds benefit from these games more is that the maps are pre-generated and your CPU doesn’t have to focus on loading many tasks, other than, movement, and collisions. All the other tasks are most likely handled by the GPU, which means the CPU doesn’t need very many cores in order to get the best performance out of these games.
What Games Benefit From Higher Core Counts
Pretty much all games will benefit from having more cores, but there are a variety of games that were made to take advantage of multi-core CPUs, and here’s a list
Games That Take Advantage of Multiple Cores
- Battlefield 1
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Half Life: Alyx
- Forza Horizon 4
- Call of Duty Warzone
Most AAA games take advantage of multi-core use in-game and are designed around using multiple cores to the maximum potential. More recent games are trying to benefit from multiple cores, as more and more CPUs are built with a larger core count.
If you are looking to play a variety of games going for a CPU with a decent clock speed, and a good amount of cores is something that won’t fall behind in many tasks.
If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of content creation spending more money on a CPU with extra cores is something worth investing in because it will save you a lot of time, and will allow you to multi-task without seeing a performance decrease.
On the other hand, if you are more a hardcore gamer only playing a hand full of competitive games, buying a CPU that focuses more on clock speed is probably the better option for you.
With all this in mind, you should know that there should still be a balance between clock speed and core count. Having fewer than 4 cores is not ideal and is out of date by today’s standards. At the same time having a slow clock speed can cause your pc to be slow even if you have multiple cores in your CPU.
This article is part of a series click here to get the full guide on how your can increase your CPU performance.
You also might want to read this next article in the series on how GHz affects CPU Performance.