Is having more cores good or better clock speed CPU Processor

Do I need lots of cores or a faster CPU clock speed? Cores, processors, GHz, multi-threading & hyper-threading explained

How many cores do I need in my Mac Pro? Is it better to have more cores of a faster processing speed? Processors explained

12 core 2.66GHz system or 3.46GHz 6 core, which is best? Is a 12 core 3.46GHz system worth it, or should I just get the 6 core? These are the questions we will help you answer today.

Processors (or CPUs, which stands for central processing unit) have come a long way since their humble beginnings. We have more cores and faster clock speeds than ever. If we cast our eyes back to the year 2000, and the release of the first Intel Pentium 4 chipsets, processor speeds topped out at 1.5GHz and you would have to wait until 2005 to see the first Intel dual core processor hit the market.

But what does this all mean? Clock speed, multi core, hyper-threading, dual processor systems. There is a lot to take in, thankfully we’re going to break it down in a way that everyone can understand. Hopefully this will help you decide which processor is right for your system.


Clock Speed

Single Mac Pro ProcessorMany people describe the CPU as the brains of your system. To make things easier to understand think of the CPU not as the brains but as the brawn. If computing is a car then the CPU is the engine. The higher the clock speed, the faster the car (system) will go. Clock speed is measured in GHz (gigahertz), a higher number means a faster clock speed.

To run your apps, your CPU must continually complete calculations, if you have a higher clock speed, you can compute these calculations quicker and applications will run faster and smoother as a result of this.

Multi Cores & Multi Processors 

Dual Mac Pro Processor

Up until 2005 virtually all processors on the market were single core. Clock speed ruled the roost and the fastest processor was always the best choice. Nowadays processors have multiple cores and systems such as the Mac Pro 5,1 can be built with multiple processors (each with multiple cores).

Multi core processors became popular as it became increasingly difficult to increase clock speed on single core processors due to technological limitations. Rather than working tirelessly for an extra 0.1GHz of clock speed, manufacturers instead added more identical processing units to single processors.

A core is a single processing unit, multi core processors have multiple processing units. So a dual core 3.0GHz processor has 2 processing units each with a clock speed of 3.0GHz. A 6 core 3.0GHz processor has 6 processing units each with a clock speed of 3.0GHz. The 6 core processor we just described has a total clock speed of 18.0GHz. That means your programs will run 6 times faster than with a single core 3.0GHz processor then? Well, not exactly…

Multi-threading & Hyper-threading

Mac Pro Multi Core Processor 2So we’ve talked about multi-cores and multi-processors and how they may help your apps run faster, this is where multi-threading and hyper-threading come in. Multi-threading is the ability of an application or operating system to utilise multiple cores for processing. When apps are written with multi-threading in mind they can benefit from the plethora of cores available in modern CPUs and see huge performance increases over using a single core processor.

So what if your app doesn’t support multi-threading? First off, this is a rarity in 2014, multi-core support is fantastic nowadays and will only continue to improve. However, if your applications by some chance don’t support multi-threading, you will still be better off with as many cores as possible. When your apps only support a single thread (and you are using a multi-core system), they will get a whole core to themselves (unless you are running more single threaded apps than you have cores), rather than sharing cores as they would on a single core system.

So more cores is a good thing, multi-threading support is even better. What’s hyper-threading? Hyper-threading is a proprietary Intel technology that allows a single core to split into a virtual and a logical core and share workload between the two. Hyper-threading is especially useful when apps are well optimised for multi-threading.

Higher Clock Speed vs. More Cores?

Mac Pro Multi Core Processor 1

Ok, so you now understand the benefits of a higher clock speed and the performance boosts more cores can offer. Do you go for a processor with a lower clock speed but more cores? Or one with less cores but a higher clock speed? First off, if possible, you want to go for the one with the highest clock speed and the highest amount of cores. Due to budgets, however, this isn’t always possible and there is usually a trade off between cores and clock speed.

More cores, slower clock speed

  • Pros
    • Applications that support multi-threading will greatly benefit from having a higher number of cores at their disposal
    • Increasing the amount of cores in your CPU is a cost effective way of increasing performance
    • Multi-threading support for applications will continue to improve over time
    • You will be able to run more apps at once without seeing performance drops
    • Great for running multiple virtual machines
  • Cons
    • Lower single threaded performance than a higher clock speed processor

Fewer cores, higher clock speed

  • Pros
    • Better single threaded performance
    • Lower cost option
  • Cons
    • Fewer cores to split between applications
    • Not as strong multi-threading performance

The best thing to do in most cases is to look into the support your applications of choice provide for multi-threading. Following this you can decide whether you’d be better off with, for example, a 3.46GHz 6 core system or a 2.66GHz 12 core system.

Also worth considering is GPGPU, OpenCL & CUDA. Basically, whether or not your GPU assist with processing tasks, again this is mainly a case of application specific support, read more on GPGPU here.

If you’re looking for a Mac Pro 5,1 system with a multi-core processor then head over to our ‘Configure Your Mac Pro‘ page to put a system together or email us at

24 thoughts on “Do I need lots of cores or a faster CPU clock speed? Cores, processors, GHz, multi-threading & hyper-threading explained

  1. Very Well Explained..Thanks….

    Since you have good knowledge could you please help here –
    I am trying to build a PC and I am confused between which processor will be good. There is i3 4150 which has a clock speed of 3.5 ghz(hyperthreaded), i5 4440 with a clock speed of 3.1Ghz(turbo boost of 3.3ghz) and i5 4590 with a clock speed of 3.3 ghz(turbo boost of 3.7ghz).

    I see that i3 has 2 cores but is hyperthreaded to act as 4 cores(Does this makes any difference with the i5 actual 4 cores).
    I also see that the clock speed of i3 is more which means I will be able to run applications demanding such speed(Is there many applications that demand such speed). Assuming i need to keep it for next 3-5 years.

    Lastly the differnce between the i3 and i5 4440 is 65$ and the difference between the i5(4440) and the i54590 is 50$.(Is it worth spending these extra money).

    Could you please tell which one could be better(mainly for which i would not say “ohh well these application/game is not working in it.” or “Wel this pc is too slow to perform.”)

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Sagar,

      It is true that hyper-threading will help your performance with the dual core i3, however, physical cores will always provide a better performance boost than virtual ones. Personally if you want to keep the system for 5 years I think it would be wise to go for the i5 4590 as it is a decent performer and good value.

      Clock speed has hit a bit of a brick wall now, applications are moving towards multi-threading support and therefore more cores is always a good choice when thinking about the future. Any programs that only employ a single core will take advantage of your turbo-boost up to 3.7GHz.

      Hope that helps.


      1. OK..So I was going for the i54440 but now I think I should move towards the i5-4590.

        My config:
        intel-dh87rl motherboard
        intel- i54590
        Corsair Vengeance 8GB DDR3 Memory Kit

        Do you think any change that I should make?(Ram I will upgrade to 32 gb later on.)

        Also How much effect will the Ram cause if I upgrade it from 1 X 8gb -> 4 X 8gb(later on). Do I even need to even if the processor or motherboard supports it. Thanks.

        1. What are you using the system for Sagar?

          Unless it’s heavy professional work, I don’t think you will need more than 8GB RAM for the minute. Upgrading to 32GB will only make a difference if you are running lots of programs which are using large files at the same time. Or, as I mentioned, doing professional work such as HD/UHD video editing or pro audio.

          Other than that it looks like a great budget system.


          1. I will be using it for running Visual Studio, Photoshop, some other applications similar to this, web browsing, watching movies. Sometimes would even play games…That should be enough I guess.

  2. Thanks a lot..

    But just for one final query on the gpu side. I see gtx 650 is the basic gtx graphics card. What graphics card would you recommend(at the lowest price) that will go with that motherboard, keeping in mind that I would not struggle for most of the games, be it modern or old. May be to spend some more $ to install a better one?

  3. Ok, I see Gtx – 750 is the nearest option there..around 30$ more(may be wait for some more time so can add a better one later).

    I will now be ready to buy and assemble my PC.
    Thanks a ton for the answers.:)

  4. I need a laptop….for gaming,my budget is 50000 rs.
    I planned on..
    2gb graphics,4 gb ram(will add another 4 gb later),non OS( can save 5000 ).
    The problem is about processor…
    All d laptops of this budget is having i5 with only 2 cores and less than 3 it good?

    1. Hi there,

      For a budget gaming computer, I would recommend a desktop rather than laptop. It will be much more powerful for the price.

      If you must go with a laptop then i5 is going to be ok for most older games, World of Warcraft, Minecraft, League of Legends etc.

      Hope that helps.

  5. My laptop is dying and I’m shopping for a new one. The article only seems to talk about i3, i5, and i7 processors, but can anyone give me feedback on how other Intel processors compare? Specifically, I can get (#1) Toshiba Satellite L55-C5346 laptop with a 1.6GHz Intel Pentium quad-core N3700 processor with 2MB cache, up to 2.4GHz (which according to the article would have a total of 6.4GHz capability?) and 8GB DDR3L SDRAM — Or for $100 more (#2) Aspire E5-573 laptop with a 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200U processor with 3MB L3 cache (which according to Intel’s site has only 2 cores, so would seem to have a total of only 4.4GHz capability?), up to 2.7GHz with Turbo, and 8GB DDR3L RAM. Given that one is an i5, can anyone suggest which of these would be more powerful and/or will allow me to multitask more without lag? Especially with Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, which seem to use a lot of memory… Thanks in advance, and sorry if this is not the right place to post this.

  6. Something wrong here :

    “Do you go for a processor with a lower clock speed but more cores? Or one with more cores but a lower clock speed?”

  7. “Hyper-threading is a proprietary Intel technology that allows a single core to split into a virtual and a logical core”

    Virual core == Logical Core

    You mean split into a logical and a physical core.

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