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Are 6 Core CPUs Enough for PC Gaming?

A week ago, we were discussing the misconception that CPU performance doesn’t matter for 4K gaming. We showed that although sometimes it doesn’t matter – as you will indeed end up GPU limited – that’s not always the case. So, one might say “it depends.” In short, the point was that resolution shouldn’t be the focus of CPU performance; rather, the frame rate is more important. Can your CPU achieve your desired frame rate in a given title?

This is exactly what you learn from low-resolution testing, such as 1080p, where ultra-quality settings at 4K typically just reveal how many frames a flagship GPU can render, and not how many frames the CPU can handle. It’s a straightforward concept, yet, unfortunately, many gamers don’t seem to grasp it.

For the most part, the article was well-received, and we were thrilled to hear from so many of you who gained a better understanding of the topic. That’s really the goal here, so good stuff. There were, however, a surprising number of readers who had a different takeaway – an unintended one – and that leads us into an entirely different topic.

To best illustrate the point, we used an aging but extremely popular 6-core CPU, the Ryzen 5 3600, and compared it to the new Ryzen 7 7800X3D, an 8-core 3D V-Cache enabled part. We mention the core count as that’s key to why we’re here. A few readers seemed to think that the previous article was evidence that 6-core CPUs aren’t very good for gaming, and you need a minimum of 8 cores, or ideally more. But that’s not true, and although we’ve discussed this multiple times in the past, we’re going to do it again.

In short, core count (within reason) doesn’t matter for gaming; what really matters is overall CPU performance. For example, if a quad-core processor existed that could deliver the same multi-core performance as the Ryzen 9 7950X, there’s a good chance it would actually be the faster gaming CPU, as the individual cores would be significantly faster. With games mostly still dependent on a primary thread, this results in CPUs with strong single-core performance generally delivering the best gaming performance. This is also why the 7800X3D is a much faster gaming CPU than the 7950X.

Therefore, claiming that 6-core processors aren’t fast enough for modern gaming is wrong, and probably more inaccurate than saying “6 cores is all you need for gaming.”

There are plenty of really fast 6-core gaming CPUs that outperform relatively new 8, 10, 12, and even 16-core processors. For example, the Ryzen 5 5600X3D is a better gaming CPU than the Ryzen 9 5950X, and even in demanding games such as Cyberpunk 2077, the 6-core part is around 15-20% faster.

Meanwhile, the Ryzen 5 7600, which is also a 6-core processor, is typically faster than the 5600X3D and much faster than the 5950X. It’s also significantly faster than Intel’s Core i9-10900K, a 10-core processor. Thus, selecting a gaming CPU based solely on core count is a bad idea. Again, what really matters is overall CPU performance, though even that can be tricky to measure when it comes to gaming, as factors like L3 cache capacity also play a significant role.

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