Single Core vs Multi Core: What Matters When It Comes to Speed?

Single Core vs Multi Core

It all depends on how you use your laptop. There’s a difference between single core and multi core performance that’s important to understand, as well as the basics of how a CPU works to properly answer this question. When it comes to performance, fortunately we live in an age of the multiple core CPU. But multiple cores are only useful if the applications and programs you use are optimized to take advantage of all the resources it has to offer – there’s more to speed than just the number of cores. In what follows, we explore every part of a CPU that pertains to speed, including core count, clock speed and multithreading.

Core Count

Up until 2005, the CPU (Central Processing Unit) only had one core. Clock speed was important for performance. And the fastest CPU was often the best choice. But simply increasing core speed began to see a ceiling due to technological limitations.

Then, CPU manufacturers began adding more identical processing units to the single core CPU to increase performance. Today, modern CPUs have multiple cores that allow them to perform multiple instructions simultaneously. For instance, a 3GHz single-core CPU will have a solitary processor core running at 3GHz. A dual-core CPU running at the same 3GHz will have two processor cores both running at a 3GHz speed. To take this example even further, that means (all else being equal) that a six-core CPU with a 3GHz clock speed can run 6x faster than the single core CPU!

Furthermore, a single-core CPU is limited by the time it takes to communicate with cache and RAM. Approximately 75% of the time is wasted just waiting for memory access results. By contrast, a multicore CPU offers improved performance compared to a single-core CPU with the same clock speed.

To recap, a multicore CPU is one with two or more processor cores. Each core is capable of reading and executing program instructions.

Multiple cores allow your laptop to run multiple process at the same time. Thereby, increasing your productivity when multitasking under the demand of powerful apps and programs.

Let’s more into how clock speed figures into all this.

Clock Speed

In general, the higher a CPU’s clock speed, the faster your laptop will be.

The speed of modern CPUs is measured in GHz (gigahertz). This is the number of clock cycles the CPU completes every second. For instance, if you compare a quad-core CPU with a 3GHz clock speed against a dual-core CPU with 3.5GHz clock speed. The 3.5GHz dual-core CPU will be faster.

Similarly, if you have a single-threaded program, the dual-core CPU will indeed be more efficient. But if your program is designed to use all four cores. Then the quad-core CPU will be around 70% faster than the dual-core CPU in our example.

But as we said earlier, when it comes to performance, there are limitations on how much you can increase clock speed: These limits are heat and power. Once you get to a 3GHz CPU, power consumption and the amount of heat produced increase dramatically.

How does a CPU overcome this?

Multithreading

A thread is a sequence of instructions that executes in parallel with other threads that are part of the same root process. Therefore, multithreading allows multiple concurrent tasks to be performed within a single process. But this ability of the CPU has to be supported by the operating system and the program or application you’re sing to work.

Fortunately, many programs and apps support multithreading. Plus, multicore support is fantastic these days and will only continue to get better. If by some chance, however, your app doesn’t support multithreading. You can still benefit from having as many cores as possible. A single-threaded app can use a multicore CPU, each activity will get a core unto itself. Unless you have more single-threaded apps than cores.

Every application and program produces threads of information, which the CPU uses to carry out instructions. Again, a thread is string of data from a program or application that goes through the CPU cores. A single-core CPU can only manage one thread at a time. In order to multitask, the operating system must move between threads quickly to process the data. In this case, it’s ability to do so is solely dependent on the speed of the single-core CPU.

The advantage of multiple cores is that each one can handle a different thread simultaneously, which means a multicore processor can handle more data simultaneously. Allowing for a much quicker rate of data transfer compared to a single-core CPU.

How Does All This Help You?

A multicore CPU will help your laptop do more at the same time by breaking down complex computations into smaller pieces. This means that each piece of computation in the particular software you’re using can be solved by multiple cores.

And with multiple cores, you don’t need as much energy to get things done as you do with a single-core CPU – this translates to battery power conservation. This kind of energy savings can do wonders for your overall productivity.

Do you work with graphics rendering software? These programs need a rendering engine to preview animation sequences. The artificial intelligence manages characters, simulations and events in a virtual environment. With a single-core CPU, all these events have to work by alternating between processes. With a multicore processor, however, processes work without hang ups or extremely long processing times.

A multicore CPU is absolutely essential if the program or application you’re using supports it. Just how many cores should come with your laptop? A dual-core or quad-core CPU is sufficient for most tasks, including gaming. Fortunately, many laptops come with CPUs with these number of cores standard. Most use cases won’t require more than a dual-core CPU.

But if your work involves complex rendering, enormous data sets or video editing. You’ll easily see the benefits of a laptop that offers a multicore CPU.  

What Does All This Do for Gaming?

A game like Minecraft will run fine on a single core CPU. But a game like Call of Duty will require more than two cores to run smoothly and efficiently.

Multiple cores and threads in a CPU give a powerful experience to the latest games. Newer games are designed to take advantage of more than one core at a time. As such, even the latest gaming notebooks are designed with at least a quad-core CPU, which proves ideal for most gamers.

But it’s the performance of a single core that’s most important to gaming. That’s not to say that the performance of every core isn’t important for the smoothness of the game play.

Six-core CPUs are better for a middle-of-the-road gaming experience. The best CPUs in the market for this level of gaming is the Intel Hexa-Core i5-9600K CPU and the AMD Ryzen 5 3500x APU. Gaming laptops with these kinds of CPUs will of course be more expensive.

For that reason, a gaming laptop with a quad-core CPU provides a good experience for medium-range gaming with enough resources to run basic and mid-level games that don’t require high-end components.