Quad-Core vs Dual-Core CPU: What’s the Difference in Performance?

Quad-Core vs Dual-Core CPU

The days of the single core CPU have always been numbered. If you’re just looking to get basic tasks done efficiently, you can get away with a dual-core CPU.  But if you run a lot of applications at once or play complex games, you’ll be better off with a laptop that offers 4, or even 8 cores. If you’re shopping for a laptop, chances are you’ve heard the words quad-core and dual-core. Today, we’re sharing an in-depth quad-core vs dual-core CPU comparison to help you decide which processor is right for your laptop.

What Is the CPU?

Short for Central Processing Unit, the CPU is a small computer chip that sits atop the motherboard – the job it does is enormous in scale making it arguably the most important component in any computing system.

The CPU is responsible for processing and relaying all the commands from software, like the operating system. And hardware, like the graphics card, RAM, storage drive and peripherals.

Whether it’s opening documents, watching videos, viewing images, or playing games, everything you do on your laptop goes through the CPU.

Contributing factors to the performance of the modern CPU include features, like clock speed, CPU cache, hyper-threading, turbo boost and cores.

Clock Speed

Once upon a time, ‘clock speed’ was a CPU’s most important performance metric. Today, it’s still useful for determining the speed at which the CPU runs applications.

Measured in GHz (gigahertz), the higher the clock speed, the faster the CPU can run applications like games, thus making your laptop faster.

Some applications require a minimum “CPU Speed” to run smoothly. And if your setup doesn’t provide that speed, the application will lag and run slowly.

Turbo Boost

This is a technology exclusive to Intel processors. These CPUs operate on a range of clock speeds: the base clock speed and the max turbo speed, which are the two numbers you see in GHz on a laptop’s spec sheet describing the CPU.

‘Turbo boost’ works a bit like Honda’s vTec in that it only kicks in when the workload warrants the performance increase. You’ll know it’s working when the fans on your laptop get louder.

The technology increases the base clock speed of the CPU cores by a few increments to the boost clock speed, thereby enhancing performance.

CPU Cache

Okay, have you ever seen that little descriptor on a laptop’s spec sheet right by the CPU that reads, L1, L2 or L3 Cache? ‘Cache’ is yet another technological marvel that makes a CPU faster by providing a temporary holding place right on the CPU to store the data you use regularly.

Hyper Threading

One of the best secret weapons for un-locking a laptop’s multitasking potential lies in ‘hyper-threading’ technology.

When running multiple applications, CPU performance diminishes – that’s the delay you notice when trying to multitask with more than one application open.

Hyper-threading allows a single core to run two instruction streams (threads) simultaneously, thereby increasing CPU performance.

Some apps take better advantage of hyper-threading than others. Activities like video editing, 3D rendering, and heavy multitasking are great examples of operations and applications that can be optimized by hyper-threading.

The CPU Core

Do you need faster clock speed or more cores?

A processor core is an individual processor within a CPU – A processor chip can house multiple cores: one, two, four, six, or eight.

In the past, CPUs only had one core, which meant it could only focus on one task at a time. Performance relied heavily on a chip manufacturer’s ability to increase clock speed. Then in the early 2000s clock speeds began to plateau.

At first this was remedied by simply doubling the number of CPUs within a computer system. But this solution only served to inflate the cost of a laptop for the end user.

Manufacturers discovered that by combining CPU processors on a single chip instead, performance increased efficiently at a lower cost. The individual processing units became known simply as “cores” rather than processors. Then in the mid-2000s, dual-core and quad-core CPUs began replacing multi-CPU configurations.

Cores help run calculations and instructions associated with applications in the background. As such, the greater the number of cores a CPU has, the faster an application will run. That being said, only certain applications benefit from having multiple cores.

What Then is a Dual-Core CPU?

A dual-core CPU is a central processing unit that houses 2 cores. Each core is assigned to handle a different set of controllers, ultimately allowing the dual-core processor to work more efficiently and effectively compared to a single-core processor.

The presence of two cores means that the CPU can perform functions more quickly and smoothly. A couple of early examples of CPUs that featured a dual-core configuration is the Intel Core Duo and AMD X2.

Advantage

The advantage of using a dual-core processor is that it delivers better performance than a single-core processor. With a dual-core CPU, the data gets divided to be processed by multiple units. So, when your laptop has to run more than one process at a time, the extra core offers a helpful performance boost.

Unlike single-core computer processors, dual-core CPUs don’t stop when they switch between different threads. That’s because dual-core processors can deal with two threads at the same time instead of just one. This is called hyper-threading. 

What’s more, dual-core CPUs usually offer higher clock speeds and better battery life compared to a multi-core CPU. A laptop with a dual-core CPU, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon reduces time wasted waiting for the CPU to open and handles general tasks.

Disadvantage

As for the drawbacks of dual-core processors, one of them is that a single-core processor can outrun a dual-core processor since the former tends to have a higher clock speed. Consequently, a 3.8 GHz single-core CPU can work more smoothly than a 1.8 GHz dual-core CPU when it comes to performing a single task.

This is also why a dual-core CPU can’t run some programs; dual-core processors aren’t designed to simultaneously run multiple tasks the way multi-core processors can. A CPU with four cores can perform hyper-threading at a much higher speed than a dual-core processor.

What’s a Quad-Core CPU?

A quad-core CPU is a central processing unit that houses 4 cores. The presence of multiple cores allows chip manufacturers to deliver improved performance without having to increase the clock speed.

This way, the operating system can divide the processing load between the four cores so that the work gets done more smoothly and in less time. Early examples of CPUs that featured a quad-core configuration is the Intel Core 2 Quad and the AMD Phenom X4.

Advantage

To better understand the advantages of quad-core CPUs, we have to mention how quad-core processors boost the processing performance of a laptop. Not just as a result of higher speeds, but also thanks to a quad-core CPU’s ability to perform more tasks at the same time.

Multitasking is one of the quad-core processors’ strongest suits. As such, it can handle robust programs, like VLC, that use up a lot of resources – something a single-core processor just can’t do.

Additionally, quad-core CPUs can manage non-processing intensive tasks, and some are considered relatively energy-efficient with how very little power they use.

Disadvantage

As for the drawbacks of a quad-core processor, the more powerful ones use large amounts of energy compared to single or dual-core CPUs. This results in more heat production, which makes it more expensive because if your laptop wasn’t built with adequate cooling measures, you’ll have to buy cooling systems to prevent overheating.

Another disadvantage here is how costly it can be to achieve sufficient cache. You see, quad-core processors are connected to one bus that features one pool of cache.

Since a good processor should be able to hold up to 8MB of cache in a core, and a quad-core CPU can hold only 2MB in each core. You’d have to spend more money on a quad-core with enough cache.

What’s the Difference between a Quad-Core vs Dual-Core CPU?

Now that you’re more familiar with quad-core and dual-core processors in general. Let’s look into the differences between both CPUs in terms of design and performance.

1. Composition

First, let’s recap the composition: A dual-core processor houses 2 cores which can perform more effectively compared to a single-core CPU. Similarly, a quad-core processor houses 4 cores, making it faster and more efficient than a dual-core.

2. Speed

Generally speaking, dual-core processors aren’t as quick as quad-core CPUs because there aren’t as many core units to divide the processing load compared to the latter. Also, quad-core processors are faster because of their ability to multitask, which boosts the speed of operations.

As such, you may think that more cores result in a faster processor. The correlation seems obvious, but it’s not necessarily the case. The overall speed of a processor is a little more complicated.

More cores mean quicker processing. But only if a program is optimized to split its calculations and instruction between the cores. Unfortunately, not all programs are developed to do that.

Another factor to keep in mind is the clock speed of each core. This, along with the construction of the CPU, has a crucial impact on overall processing speed.

This explains how a newer model of an Intel Dual-Core CPU with a higher clock speed can outperform an older version of an Intel Quad-Core CPU with a lower clock speed.

3. Heat Production

Another aspect worth comparison is heat production; more cores equal more heat. While there is some truth to that, there are other factors that are more significant to a processor’s generation of heat.

More cores do produce more heat. As a result, laptop manufacturers have added more effective cooling solutions to modern laptops such as heat sinks and fans. A dual-core CPUs won’t heat up a device the way a quad-core CPU can.

4. Power Consumption

Unlike, desktop processors, mobile CPUs need to strike a balance between performance and power consumption. TDP (Thermal Design Power) measures the maximum power a microprocessor consumes in Watts. It’s an important metric for determining how cool your laptop will stay during intense use.

More cores also cause the processor to consume more power: When you switch on your laptop, the processor demands a supply of power to all the cores, even if they’re not all working at the same time to do a job.

Processor manufacturers have been trying to find ways to reduce power consumption to make their chips more energy-efficient. Still, as a rule of thumb, a quad-core CPU will consume more power and generate more heat than a dual-core processor.

5. Multitasking

Multitasking isn’t possible in a dual-core CPU because it houses only 2 two core processors. Consequently, they can easily choke when running a program that requires a lot of resources.

On the flip side, a quad-core CPU has no issues when it comes to multitasking. Again, the fact that it features 4 core processors allows it to smoothly run programs with large resources.

6. Graphics

When it comes to graphics, dual-core CPUs just can’t handle it. If you want to improve your graphics, you’re better off investing in a higher-performing processor. Quad-core CPUs fit the criteria and are graphically acceptable due to the presence of 4 data-processing cores.

7. Price

Many people wonder: are quad-core CPUs more expensive than dual-core ones? Well, a CPU with more cores doesn’t necessarily have to cost extra money. There are various other factors to consider when it comes to pricing such as clock speed and construction versions. But for the sake of our comparison, if all other parameters are the same, then a quad-core CPU will cost more than a dual-core.

Which Software Makes Use of Multiple Cores?

As we mentioned above, not all programs are optimized to take advantage of multiple cores. It’s not because the software is cheap or poorly made. But because designing these programs is very complicated.

The following are some software that can make use of a multiple-core CPU:

Basic Tasks

Word editing, watching videos, web browsing, chatting, video calling, and other basic tasks don’t make use of multiple core processors. But if you plan on running all of these applications simultaneously, then a quad-core processor would serve well to boost the overall performance of your device.

Animation & 3D Modeling

Most programs specializing in applying effects and modeling don’t really benefit much from multiple cores. Here, the most important thing to consider is the clock speed.

But when it comes to rendering projects, the more cores you have, the faster the rendering process will be.

Video Editing

Generally speaking, editing is a single-threaded task. This means there won’t be much of a difference in performance if you use a quad-core CPU instead of a dual-core CPU.

In this case, the clock speed is what will boost the time required to apply effects and edit your videos. However, once again, aspects such as rendering, encoding, and previews will benefit from a quad-core processor or higher.

Image Editing

Image editing applications such as PhotoShop, Lightroom, and Corel PaintShop also won’t show much of a difference performance-wise whether you opt for a dual-core, a quad-core, or even an octa-core CPU.

As we mentioned earlier, applying effects and performing actions are mainly affected by the clock speed of your CPU more than the number of cores it houses.

Granted, there are a few effects that do take advantage of multiple cores, but most of them are single-threaded so a dual-core processor should provide sufficient processing power to get the job done.

Music Production

When we talk about music production, we mean serious music production software that musicians use to create and mix their songs such as Ableton, FL Studio, and Logic Pro.

Such programs can benefit a lot from a CPU with multiple cores. The more tracks you have on your editing software, the more processing power you’ll need from your CPU, which will require more cores.

Yes, each channel or track will have a designated single-core, but if the base frequency of each core falls below the minimum requirements of the VST and plugins being used on the respective channel, then having multiple cores won’t be that helpful.

That’s because, once again, base frequency/speed is way more important than the number of cores. If you can get a multiple core CPU with the same base frequency or higher than a lower number core processor, then the increase in performance will be worth your while.

Gaming

Finally, let’s talk about gaming. Since game engines often require synchronization, a lot of manufacturer sites will claim that extra cores will boost your gaming performance.

This may be a bit misleading since it’s typically the clock speed of the CPU that matters. A processor with a higher clock speed will almost always perform better compared to a multiple core CPU with a lower clock speed.

Wrap Up

There are few things more annoying than a slow laptop. Could it be that the secret to a faster CPU depends on the number of cores? To wrap up our quad-core vs dual-core CPUs guide, let’s answer the question “which one is better?” Bottom line? It depends on the type of applications you’re planning to run. More cores allow you to perform multiple tasks simultaneously without slowing down your computer. However, having more than 2 cores won’t show much of a difference in performance with daily tasks and basic multitasking. Most laptops have a dual-core CPU, which meet the needs of daily computing. Quad-core CPU laptops are becoming more popular among power users.