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Game Benchmarks

How Many CPU Cores Do You Need?

Back in 2005, when threading was first introduced to the desktop, there were no games available that would show any performance advantage with a multi-core CPU versus a single-core model. But times have changed. So what do multiple CPU cores offer the average gamer today? Let's try some popular titles and see. We ran these games at a low 1024x768 resolution with low details to minimize the impact of the graphics card so we could really see how CPU-core limited these game titles might be.

We'll start with Crysis. All details were at minimum except object detail, which was set to High, and Physics, which was set to Very High. This should create a CPU bottleneck, regardless of the graphics settings:

Crysis shows an incredible dependency on the quantity of CPU cores, which is really surprising since we thought it would be more of a graphics card-limited title. Essentially, a single-core CPU delivers half the frame rates of three or four CPU cores in Crysis (at these settings, bear in mind a more GPU-limited scenario will normalize CPU performance substantially). Also interesting is that the game only seems to take advantage of three CPU cores and that there is no performance benefit to using four cores.

But we know that Crysis is heavy on the in-game physics calculations, so let's see if this trend continues in a physics-light game such as Left 4 Dead:

Indeed, Left 4 Dead shows similar results, although the lion's share of the performance jump happens when the second core is added. There is a slight jump with three cores, and once again, the fourth CPU core seems unused. This is an interesting trend, so let's see if it continues in the real-time-strategy game, World in Conflict:

The results are once again similar, but we see a bit of a surprising twist in that three CPU cores seem to fare a bit better than four. This falls close to the margin of error but at the very least it indicates that the fourth core is unused in these game titles.

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