CPU cores vs threads is a question that still gnaws at PC enthusiasts and amateurs. What’s more important for a good processor, core count or thread count? Well, as you would expect, the question can’t be answered in a straightforward manner. Threads basically help the cores process information in a more efficient manner. That being said, CPU threads bring actual, visible performance in very specific tasks, so a hyper-threaded CPU might not always help you achieve better results.
What is the Difference Between a Core and a Thread?
Think of the core as a person’s mouth and the threads as the hands. The mouth does all of the eating, while the hands just help organize the ‘workload’. The thread helps deliver the workload to the CPU more efficiently. More threads translates into a better-organized work queue, hence more efficiency in processing the information.
There’s a lot of confusion going around because of each manufacturer’s specific technologies. CPU cores refer to the actual hardware component. Threads refer to the virtual component that manages the tasks. There are a lot of different variations regarding how the CPU interacts with multiple threads. Basically, the CPU is fed tasks from a thread. It only accesses the second thread when the information sent by the first thread is slow or unreliable (like a cache miss).
You can find cores and threads in both AMD and Intel processors. Multithreading and hyper-threading are slightly different concepts. Hyper-threading is a technology that’s only available to Intel processors. While it’s still multithreading, it uses the threads more efficiently. That being said, AMD cores, namely the new (new-ish) Ryzen product line gets around this issue by adding more physical cores, delivering comparable results without having access to this technology.
Multithreading and Hyper-threading and Cache Misses
Cache misses are the processor’s attempts at reading memory loaded in the CPU cache. If the processor fails, then it has to access information from different types of memory modules, like RAM or permanent storage, which causes latency. This can definitely hinder your CPU’s performance. Running two parallel threads allows the processor to get information scheduled in the parallel thread, minimizing idle times. This increases performance regardless of what type of application you’re running, so it’s increased performance across the board.
What is Hyper-threading
Hyper-threading debuted in 2002 and was Intel’s attempt at bringing parallel computation to consumers. It’s a bit of a gimmick, as the OS recognizes the threads as separate CPU cores. When you’re running an Intel Chip, your task manager will show you double the number of cores and treat them as such. This allows them to share information and speed up the decoding process by sharing resources between cores. Intel claims that this technology can bring up to a 30% increase in performance.
How do CPU Cores and Threads work?
CPU cores are hardware. They do all the heavy lifting. Threads are used to help the CPU schedule their tasks more efficiently. If a CPU doesn’t have hyper-threading or multithreading, the tasks will be scheduled less efficiently, causing it to work overtime to access the information that’s relevant for running certain applications.
One core can work on one task at a time. Multiple cores help you run different applications more smoothly. If you’re planning on running a video game, for example, it will take a number of cores to run the game, while the other cores can run background apps, like Skype, Spotify, Chrome, or whatever else you might be running. Multithreading just makes processing more efficient. This, of course, will translate into better performance. It will also cause the processor to draw more power, but multithreading is already enabled on chips so that’s no cause for concern. While it draws more power, this rarely causes the temperatures to rise.
In a nutshell, when you’re considering upgrading, more threads equals more performance or better multitasking, depending on what applications you’re running. If you’re running multiple software at a time, it will definitely translate into increased performance. If you’re heart’s set on gaming, then multithreading might yield better results, but only with very particular titles.
Cores vs Threads When Gaming
Cores will always be more important when gaming. Gaming itself isn’t too much of an intense task for a processor. Even modern games can run smoothly on a quad-core, 4-threaded CPU, depending on the processor’s cache and clock speed. Threads are actually useful when you’re running multiple tasks. Say you’re gaming and you plan on streaming. A multithreaded or hyper-threaded processor will help you run the games within playable frame rates while also handling all of the encoding tasks that are associated with recording/streaming.
If you plan on recording game footage and uploading it to sites like Twitch.tv or Youtube.com, more threads help the processor run 2D video-processing software (such as Adobe Premiere, OBS, After Effects), so investing in a multithreaded, hyper-threading-capable processor makes sense if you’re planning on using your recorded gaming footage.
That being said, we’ve reached a crossroads in gaming. AAA developers keep pushing the boundaries of the PC’s current capabilities and keep designing games that are much more CPU-intensive. Games like the new Assassin’s Creed (Odyssey and Origins) are already pushing obsolete processors to their limit. The more ambitious game design means that the games will be more resource-hungry and less-optimized. While for esports titles (such as Overwatch and League of Legends) don’t really take advantage of the multiple threads, single-player, narrative-driven titles keep getting more and more ambitious.
Basically, more cores and more threads will always mean better performance. Some productivity-oriented software, like video editing, will benefit more from multiple threads, while only certain games will take advantage of these features.
If your workload involves intensive tasks such as video editing, then multi-threaded processors are a must for you. Both Intel and AMD provide plenty of multi-core, multi-threaded, consumer-level processors. The Ryzen product line is more value-oriented, while Intel holds the flagship chips, namely the i9. For gaming, you can probably get steady 60+ frames with a quad-core with eight threads. If you plan on streaming or recording gaming footage, then you should definitely consider upgrading to a six or eight-core processor if you can’t invest in a dedicated system. You can check out our articles on the best processors for streaming or best video editing processors to find the right one for your needs.