6-core vs. 8-core CPUs: What’s better for gaming?

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Just five years ago, debating the merits of a 6-core CPU versus an 8-core model wasn’t possible. We were all stuck with 4-core chips at a consumer level—to break past that barrier, you had to pay serious bucks for a high-end desktop (“big socket”) CPU. Not that you needed to go that extreme for gaming.

Nowadays, game developers have begun adapting to the new normal of high core-count processors. And if you’re going to have a PC for years, you want one that’s going to comfortably see you through the duration.

But choosing between a mid-tier 6-core CPU and a higher-tier 8-core CPU isn’t a simple matter of more cores equaling better performance. It’s actually a nuanced decision, one that you should come to after considering four major factors. Here’s how it shakes out. 

Performance

cyberpunk 2077 rtx on Nvidia

Cyberpunk 2077 is an example of an open-world game that makes use of multi-core processors, with performance scaling up to eight cores.

Core count doesn’t tell the whole story of performance. The games you play and the resolution you play at also influence the real-world outcome.

In games that don’t take advantage of multicore processors, single-core performance will matter more. You’ll see smaller, often negligible differences in framerates between 6-core and 8-core processors from the same generation.

Other games—think blockbuster-level games, especially those with open-world environments—make more use of available cores, sometimes even scaling performance with core count. Benchmark results for lower core-count CPUs can begin to trail their high-tier siblings, and in some games you can see as much as a 10 to 15 percent difference between 6-core and 8-core processors.

However, you can’t assume you should choose the 8-core processor and call it a day if you’re a fan of big open-world games. Game optimization can also affect performance. For one family of CPUs, you might see the 6-core processor outperform the 8-core version in a specific title, and then the exact opposite in the rival family.

You also won’t see as much of a difference the higher you go in resolution. Move up from 1080p, and gaps in performance shrink to virtually zero by 1440p in some games. Reach 4K and the burden is often completely on the graphics card. In the end, you’ll have the clearest picture about the chips you’re comparing after looking at specific test results.



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