The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the most important part of a laptop. But with every new generation CPU release from Intel and AMD introducing higher clock speeds, new technologies and even more cores. You’d be right to wonder, “How many cores do I need for my laptop these days?” It used to be that figuring out the best CPU was a simple matter of choosing the one with the best architecture and fastest clock speed. These days, however, the number of CPU cores is much more important for activities like gaming and productivity work than it used to be. In this article, we break down the difference between the number of CPU cores and how you can use them for different tasks so you can make the best choice for your new laptop.
What Are CPU Cores?
A CPU is the hardware in a laptop that allows the system to perform tasks through applications and deliver instructions stored in the hard drive to RAM (Random Access Memory). Back in 1971 when CPUs were first invented, they only had one core. And this was fine as long as they only had to work on one task at a time.
Since then, computing has become more complicated. Now, operating systems, programs and games have a lot more data and provide considerably more instructions for the CPU to manage.
A CPU needs to launch and run a variety of applications. This led to the introduction of multiple cores. Cores are effectively processing units. One processor core can process multiple instructions at a time which considerably increases the speed of one CPU. So that the more cores you have, the easier it is to work on a number of tasks at once.
For even more performance and better multi-tasking, cores are split into threads (if the operating system allows it). This is called multithreading, hyperthreading for Intel or simultaneous multithreading (SMT) for AMD. Basically, this means that virtual cores can be created to help the operating system better utilize the CPU’s physical cores.
How many of these cores or threads do you really need? Let’s have a look at some of today’s models and core counts.
A CPU with just one core is incredibly uncommon these days. If you happen to find a laptop supported by one of these CPUs, don’t expect to be able to open more than one program at a time. No laptop company we’ve seen is manufacturing machines with a single-core CPUs and that’s for good reason.
Most operating systems, including Windows 10, MacOS Big Sur or Linux run smoother on multiple cores and threads. Modern programs and apps can utilize multiple processing units. Needless to say, using any kind of program on a single core CPU will be an extremely frustrating experience. So, activities like gaming and productivity work are completely out of the question.
Dual-core is the sweet spot for most budget users. You can access email, create and edit documents and spreadsheets and have music playing without overloading your system. Don’t expect to render or edit video without crashing your system, tough. Also, you can probably play many games on lower settings, but if you are serious about your gaming, you will want to consider upgrading to a quad-core processor.
Dual-core CPUs are also uncommon, but they are definitely still present in new CPU generations such as Intel’s Pentium and i3 lineup and AMD’s Athlon APUs. CPUs with only two cores are quite outdated and even trying to run a browser may push it o the limits. Fortunately, today’s dual-core CPU have 4 threads to multithreading. If the cores are fast enough, 4 threads can make a user’s experience in running basic word processing programs, browsers and some games such as League of Legends or Counter-Strike Global Offensive much more satisfying. It is possible to run more demanding games, but the experience might not be as smooth and pleasant. Rendering or video encoding is also possible, but it will be slow goings.
Laptops with dual-core CPUs are the most budget-friendly option. The laptops with dual-core CPUs let you do multiple tasks but you cannot run heavy-duty applications. You can access your email, create spreadsheets, edit documents, listen to music and do similar light tasks without overloading the CPU. You can also play some games on such laptops but only those games that have lower graphics. If you upgrade your system from dual-core to quad-core CPU, you will have a better gaming experience.
A dual-core CPU is pretty straightforward for a laptop. It’s not going to be that taxing on your system. Tasks that you can perform include word processing, spreadsheets, emails, accounting software, making YouTube videos or watching Netflix as long as you get one with four threads. If future-proofing your system is important to you, you’ll want a quad-core CPU.
Laptops with a quad-core CPU are more popular than the dual-core ones. Quad-core CPUs allow you to render video (slowly) or play games (at lower resolutions) as long as they’re not processor-intensive games and you had a dedicated GPU in addition to all your regular work or school tasks.
Specifically, when it comes to gaming. If your aim is higher framerates (e.g. 144Hz or higher), you’ll need a more powerful CPU. Even though the GPU is handling 95 percent of the tasks, the CPU is still processing other complex instructions, such as AI and pathfinding, certain physics, object manipulation, netcode if the game is online and handling the transfer of data between components like the RAM, GPU, storage drive and peripherals like an external monitor. Basically, a higher FPS means the CPU is processing more data more frequently.
Intel’s Core i3 lineup is full of quad core, eight thread CPUs. In the past, Core i3s were locked to four threads. That is until AMD began pushing for multithreading on all their APUs, forcing Intel to respond in kind. A CPU capable of eight threads will give you a complexly different experience compared to one with only four threads. AAA games today, for instance, take advantage of multi-threading much better than they did even three years ago. Activities like Video encoding or rendering with basic software also benefit from a multithreaded Quad Core CPU.
Activities like video editing, graphic design, 3D rendering, and sound editing are better served by more cores. The software used requires more processing power. You should definitely opt for a laptop with at least six cores.
A laptop with a hexa-core CPU works well for all the aforementioned tasks – they’re today’s mid-range standard. It’s also a good choice for more advanced games and programs like for video and audio editing. You’ll even have more headroom to run multiple applications at once. You’ll be able to run and stream games. And if you work with other forms of media will have plenty of power to get the job done.
Many users are jumping to six cores. They’re satisfied with this number of cores with good reason. CPUs like Intel’s i5-10600K and AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 offer amazing performance for a relatively affordable price. A hexa-core system offering twelve threads is a considerable upgrade to eight threads. Many of the latest games run extremely well on six cores without much significant improvement in FPS with more cores.
Productivity work is significantly faster though. Programs like Blender, Adobe Premier and Photoshop benefit a lot from the two extra cores. Laptops with a hexa-core CPU is an ideal choice for graphics designers and gaming.
Intel and AMD are in the thick of it, constantly pushing down prices, increasing frequency, core count and more. This strong competition means eight-core CPUs might slowly become a lot more affordable and maybe even the standard in a few years.
Octa-core CPUs are a fantastic option for pro gaming, video editing and engineering. Why? Because these activities use heavy-duty software. And if you play complex games, record, stream intensive games, routinely use power-intensive software like VR or AutoCAD. You should opt for more cores to get as much power as possible to avoid freezing or crashing.
It may be worth spending a little more to beef up your laptop. But the performance improvement in games isn’t as noticeable when jumping from six to eight cores as it is from four to six cores. However, performance improvement in productivity work is considerable.
How Many CPU Cores Do I Need?
When it comes to buying a new laptop, you many not know how many CPU cores you actually need. Different activities require different resources. The number one factor that’ll determine whether the programs you use run smoothly is the number of cores in the CPU of the laptop you choose.
Running multiple apps at once or resource-intensive programs requires multiple CPU cores. But if you’re just creating text documents, browsing the web, or working on other basic tasks. Then a dual-core laptop is sufficient. On the other hand, if you’re a programmer or a graphics designer, you need higher core CPU. Using software like Photoshop and AutoCAD also requires a CPU with a higher core count.
Cores vs Threads
Processors use process called simultaneous multithreading, also known as hyper-threading on Intel processors. This is the splitting of a core into several virtual threads. A core will utilize threads in order to offer more power to specific programs, and most processors can provide twice as many threads as cores.
You can speed up the processing time of your laptop by opting for one with more CPU cores. Another more cost-effective way to get more power from a limited number of cores, however, is by overclocking the CPU. But be careful. Overclocking Overclocking can void your warranty and wear out laptop components fast.
CPU speed tells you how quickly the CPU can process information. It can also help you see whether or not you have enough cores available, where to make improvements in terms of RAM, graphics and other key components in your laptop. Higher clock speeds all but ensures that your laptop can run well across multiple applications.
CPU speed today is often measured in GHz (gigahertz). A CPU speed of 3.5GHz, for example, is more than enough for most users to run their preferred software. Activities like gaming, video editing and other applications we highlighted that require lots of cores. aim for a laptop with a CPU speed of 3.5GHz to 4.0GHz if you want the best experience.
Cores and clock speed are two aspects of a CPU you’ll need to evaluate together to determine if the laptop you want runs at optimal speed for the activities you do.
Higher CPU Speed or More Cores?
The answer to this question lies in what you expect your laptop to do. A faster CPU loads applications faster. More cores allows you to work with more programs running at the same time. You’ll also be able to switch from one program to another without hang ups.
- If your activities have you routinely loading lots of software and running multiple programs simultaneously, you’ll want to have more cores and a lower CPU speed.
- If you play CPU intensive games or need to run programs that render large amounts of information at a fast pace, then you’ll want a fast CPU speed with fewer cores.
Newer CPUs typically run much more efficiently than older ones. So, keep this in mind as you shop laptops. Also, freeing up space in the local drive can make it easier for the CPU to access information – consider cloud storage.