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20th December 2017

Do I Need Lots of Cores or a Faster CPU Clock Speed?

Is having more cores good or better clock speed CPU Processor

How many cores do I need in my Mac Pro? Is it better to have more cores of a faster processing speed?
In this latest article, all will be explained. So, from cores, processors, GHz, multi-threading & hyper-threading, we’ve got you covered!

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 two processing units each with a clock speed of 3.0GHz. A six-core 3.0GHz processor has six processing units each with a clock speed of 3.0GHz. The six core processor we just described has a total clock speed of 18.0GHz. That means your programs will run six 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; 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 fewer 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 number 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.

Comments on this article (32)

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.:)

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • I want to assemble a pc on budget. I’ll mostly use it for photo editing. However, being an a mature I do not need pro grade editing. I’ll most probably use an older generation photoshop and light room. Could you suggest a good configuration? What about AMD?

  • Hello there,
    First of all thank you for your in dept explaination. This helped me understand CPU’s a lot better 🙂
    I came acros this article when I was searching for a new smarthpone to buy. Although this article was very helpfull, I still can’t decide which of 2 smarthphones to pick..
    Situation is as following: I need to chose between the Wileyfox Swift X and the Huawei P9 Lite. (both are priced at 199) These are there specs, cpu wise:
    Swift X: 1 primairy cpu with 8 cores running at 1.4 Ghz
    =total of 11.2 GHz)
    Huawei P9: 1 primaire cpu with 4 cores running at 2.1 Ghz
    1 secondairy cpu with 4 cores running at 1.7 Ghz
    = total of 15.2 Ghz
    The second cpu is only turned on when you’re using heavy apps like games etc. This to save energy.
    My prefrence goes to the Swift because it uses USB C and will charge to 100% in 1 hour. The difference in GHz however is a big concern to me.
    Also the fact that the Huawei is more energy efficiënt bothers me. But is this true? Ive been told that IOS freezes aps that are opened but you’re not using atm. This so they would barely be using any cpu. In this case the secondary core seems useless to me since the primaire would be idle for a portion due to the apps that are frozen. The smartphones above hower are both running on androit. Does androit also freeze its apps? Is there realy a big advantage in using 2 cpu’s? Or is one cpu with double the amount of cores sufficient?
    So my question is: Which one will perform better and which one is more energy efficiënt?
    I’m everything but a computer specialist so I hope this made any sence. Thank you in advance for your reply.
    ps: I’m not a native speaker so I apologise for any grammar/spelling errors.

    • Hi Tim,
      Mobile CPUs are very different and highly optimised for their device.
      Please also note multiplying the cores by the GHZ does not give you an accurate representation of the CPU performance and is bad practise.
      In all honest with mobile devices I wouldn’t worry to much about the internal components as most devices are within 8-10% performance of each other.
      Many thanks

  • Hi Tom,
    I am confused with the selection of processors. My requirement is to run ANSYS-FLUENT engineering analysis software (with parallel processing option). From your blog, I can appreciate the importance of clock speed as long as processors are identical. In my case, I have three parameters, i.e,. Cores-Threads-GHz. It is but obvious that a processor with 6 cores is better than that with 4 cores. But its combination with thread and clock speed is something which creates confusion.
    So my specific question is: Xeon E-2274G 4C/8T/4.0GHz/8MB/83W/DDR4-2666 is better or Xeon E-2226G 6C/6T/3.4GHz/12MB/80W/DDR4-2666?

    Thanks a lot. 🙂

  • hello, I want to ask about windows 11. it has a minimum specification to use “1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with 2 or more cores”, I have an Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU @2.800GHz (8 CPUs), ~2.8GHz. Can I have the minimum specification to get windows 11? thank you for your explanation

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