What is processor count? Processor count is a reference to the number of processing cores in a CPU. The modern central processing unit has more than one processing core (2 to 64). Whether you want to run basic programs or desire the most power from your new laptop. Knowing how many CPU cores you need is important. The number of cores can help determine how many programs your laptop can handle simultaneously and the type of software you can use. While planning the hardware your laptop needs can save time, frustration, and expense down the line. Knowing exactly how many cores you need can be challenging.
What Are Processor Cores?
A core is a small processor built into a larger chipset capable of independent computations. Each core has its own ALU, registers, cache and other CPU components. Each core is capable of handling one task, while another core handles another task. Effectively, more cores give you the power to work on more than one task seamlessly.
The Single Core Processor
Up until 2001, all CPUs were single core. In more detail, all the components that make up a CPU are the:
Arithmetic Logic Unit: This is where all the logical and arithmetic operations happen.
Floating Point Unit: It’s the supporting unit for the ALU used for performing calculations with complex decimal numbers.
Registers: Temporary storage for operation executions (also serves as status flags).
Control Unit: Works as the orchestrator for instruction execution.
Cache: Think of it as fast memory used for fetching data and instructions.
All these elements used to be contained in just one core. And since a single core CPU had only one set of all these components, it could only perform a single Fetch-Decode-Execute cycle at a time.
Manufacturers were able to achieve multitasking capabilities with single-core CPUs by tweaking the scheduling algorithms. So, in actuality the cores were able to handle different tasks by switching between them at an incredibly fast speed.
Single Core Performance
This metric is still important even in a multicore world because there are many applications and tasks that heavily rely on single core performance. Many games and professional software like AutoCAD heavily rely on single core performance. That’s why when you look at benchmark results for a CPU from test suites like Cinebench, you see results for Single and Multi-core performance.
CPU frequency is the common measurement for single core performance. Measured in GHz (gigahertz), higher values = a faster CPU. But clock speed is not the only measure of processor performance. The design of the core, the CPU architecture, transistor size and cache memory size are also important factors worth considering.
Limitations of the Single Core Processor
As demand for a faster CPU grew, the initial response was to increase the clock speed of the single core CPU. For example, the clock speed of the single core Pentium III (released in 1999) increased dramatically compared to the Pentium II two years prior.
But simply increasing CPU performance by increasing the speed of the core introduced three problems, 1) excess heat 2) Context Switch Overhead and 3) power consumption.
Context Switch Overhead is the delay that happens when a CPU switches from one task to another. For example, if you switched from working on spreadsheets in Excel to firing up an email in Google. There would be a delay.
A multicore CPU allows you the benefit of switching between tasks like working on a spreadsheet and an email by loading a program like Excel onto one core. And loading another program like Google email onto another core, thereby eliminating Context Switch Overhead.
Introduction of the Multi Core Processor
As the market demanded even better performance for multitasking and parallel processing gained momentum. CPU manufacturers responded with the multicore processor.
Initial attempts to increase CPU performance this time included redesigning motherboards to accommodate additional CPUs. But more CPUs on the motherboard meant that you needed more CPU sockets to connect them.
This had its own issues:
First, increased hardware requirements. Extra CPUs increased cooling requirements to deal with, again, higher temperatures. Second, these motherboards needed new tracks to connect all sockets to various I/O devices and controllers.
And all this extra hardware caused latency issues again. Needless to say, this attempt also proved to be an in-efficient way to increase CPU performance.
Then alas came the saving grace for CPU performance – miniaturization. This makes it possible to fit multiple processors onto a single silicon chip. Current Intel CPUs utilize a 10 nanometer build process in the architecture of its CPUs.
Processor Count Influences CPU Performance
Multitasking is a huge reason why you want a multicore processor. Multiple cores let you work with many browser tabs open, while watching a video and doing several other activities on your laptop.
Additionally, modern systems have numerous apps and services running in the background to make your laptop more efficient. Even if your device is idle, there are operating system related services running in the background that utilize CPU resources.
Since each core can handle a different stream of data (known as a thread). A higher core count lets you run multiple applications at the same time in different threads. The more threads the CPU in your laptop has. The more tasks it can perform with better performance (keep reading for more about CPU threads).
Professional activities like encoding, rendering and machine learning rely on massive amounts of computation. Multiple cores can eat away at small chunks of all that data simultaneously. Making the laptop much faster.
How Many Processor Cores Do You Need?
Giving a definitive answer is hard. It depends on you really. What do we mean? Well, different computing activities require different resources. But the number one factor determining whether programs will run smoothly is the core count of the CPU.
If you just want to create text documents, browse the internet, or complete basic tasks. Then you only need a basic device which usually come with dual-core CPUs. Think Chromebooks and Windows equivalent notebooks. But running multiple apps simultaneously or resource-intensive programs will require a device with a multicore CPU.
If you’re a budget user, you can’t go wrong with a dual-core CPU. You’ll be able to do basic tasks like accessing email and creating and editing documents and spreadsheets. You can also queue up your favorite songs to play in the background on programs like Spotify.
Depending on the dual-core processor in the laptop you choose. There’s even enough power for you to play many games on lower settings. That said, activities like 3D modeling and rendering will crash your system. And if you expect to do any serious gaming, you’ll want to upgrade to at least a system with a quad-core CPU.
A quad-core laptop will allow you to render videos; slowly anyway. It also opens you up to way more games to play at lower resolutions. As long as you have a dedicated GPU and stay away from processor-intensive games. You’ll be fine with this setup.
Video editing, graphic design, 3D rendering and sound editing all require more cores, however. And that’s due to the design of the programs used for such activities. The applications required for this kind of work use more processing power. Not to mention other hardware like a dedicated GPU, more storage space and at least 16 GB of RAM.
CPUs with this processor count are perfect for activities like video and audio editing. They’re a good choice too for advanced AAA games and programs. This is also the type of CPU you want if you run multiple applications at the same time. For example, if you like to stream while gaming. A laptop with a six-core CPU is invaluable. And if you work with other forms of media, you’ll have plenty of power on tap to get things done.
Pro gaming, video editing and engineering are all activities that benefit from an octa-core CPU. When it comes to laptops featuring an octa-core CPU, you’re going to want to look at mobile workstations. If you’re a gamer that likes to record and stream intensive games. Or if you routinely use power-intensive software like VR or AutoCAD, you’ll love the power of an octa-core CPU.
Cores, Threads and Logical Processor Counts
Where Multicore Performance Matters
Activities like 3D modeling and rendering require a lot of parallel computing. A multicore processor makes multitasking a seamless endeavor with better performance.
With several processors on-board, one core can handle one instruction while another awaits resources to carry out other instructions, and you get to reap all the performance benefits.
Virtualization, simulation, video editing, encoding and even some games can benefit from multiple cores. Many simulation games, for instance, require fast and complex calculations and can benefit from a multicore CPU.
But be sure to keep things in perspective. A multicore processor is only a boon if the application, software or website you’re using is designed to take advantage of a higher core count. If your computational requirements are basic, you’ll never realize the full potential of a CPU with many cores.
Benefits of Multithreading
AMD calls this technology Clustered Multithreading, while Intel calls Hyperthreading. Either way multithreading is when a CPU core breaks down processes into threads – it’s a way of tricking the operating system into thinking that there are more cores than the CPU actually has available.
The way this works is that every process the CPU performs gets assigned a thread (which is a virtual CPU core). Each physical core has either one or two threads if the multithreading capability is enabled. So, a dual-core CPU with multithreading enabled can operate as if it has four cores. This is multithreading which improves CPU performance.
The operating system will even read the threads as physical cores on a program like Task Manager. But again, they’re not physical cores. They’re what’s technically referred to as logical processor cores. Unlike cores, threads aren’t a physical part of the processor. They’re logical units of processing. Whereas cores are physical processor on the CPU chip.
Adding several cores to a single CPU offers significant benefits thanks to the multitasking capabilities of modern operating systems. But there’s limits to how many cores yield improvements, relative to the cost of purchasing a machine with multiple cores.
In general, a higher clock speed means a faster CPU. But multiple cores give into thermal restrictions, which means that they’ll be running at lower speeds. For example, while a dual-core CPU is capable of speeds of 2.2 GHz for each processor core. A quad-core CPU from the same manufacturer might be limited to 1.8 GHz to prevent thermal throttling due to the extra number of cores.
As we’ve said, whether or not multiple cores is advantageous to you depends on whether or not the programs you use are able to take advantage of more cores. If the program you’re using is single-threaded, the dual-core CPU above will be more efficient. But if the software can use all four processor cores, then the quad-core CPU will be way faster for this scenario.