What you need for gaming
BEN HARDWIDGE / FROM THE EDITOR
WHAT YOU NEED FOR GAMING – Threadripper offers awesome multithreaded power for the money, but you don’t need it for gaming, says Ben Hardwidge
The GPU is where you should allocate your budget if gaming is your top priority
A mid all the clamor about 18-core and 16-core CPUs, Intel has just announced what it describes as its ‘best gaming desktop processor ever’. It doesn’t have 18 cores. It doesn’t even have eight cores. It has six cores, and two of them aren’t likely to get used in most games. What’s more, the main reason it’s Intel’s best ever gaming CPU isn’t because it has six cores, but because one of its cores can boost to 4.7GHz. Just one of them. That’s how many cores get really stressed by most games, even today.
I say this because,’while plenty of enthusiasts know what sort of spec you need for gaming, the comments I’ve seen in various PC gaming Facebook groups recently suggest that many, many people really misunderstand the situation. Threadripper and Skylake-X are marketed heavily at enthusiasts, but it’s crucial not to read ‘enthusiast’ as ‘gamer’.
You can play games on a Threadripper system, of course. That’s part of the beauty of this workstation tech making it to the consumer desktop -you can build a PC that can do everything, from heavily multithreaded video encoding and rendering, through to 4K gaming. But you don’t need it for gaming.
In fact, in many cases a much cheaper Core i7-7700K system will be faster in games. The only exceptions are games optimized for many cores, such as Ashes of the Singularity, but even now, these games are few and far between.
The situation will likely change over time, as console tech catches up and new APIs such as DirectX12 become more widely used, but it will be a long, long time before you need an 18-core CPU to play games.
It’s also important not to overstate the role of the CPU in most games. It’s true that single-core clock speed is the primary factor, but that doesn’t mean you need a heavily overclocked Kaby Lake system to get decent gaming performance. The GPU now handles so much of the graphics pipeline that the CPU’s role is really minimal. The difference between a 3.5GHz CPU and a 4.5GHz CPU is only going to be a few frames per second.
The main factor for gaming is the GPU, more than any other component. Having a CPU with a high clock speed, as well as fast memory, will give you a small gaming performance boost, but the GPU is where you should allocate your budget if gaming is your top priority It doesn’t help that, for a long time in the PC’s history, the CPU was the crucial component for gaming, and was still a primary factor when the first 3D accelerators were introduced. It still plays a role in frame setup, as well as handling areas such as AI (strategy games often use your CPU more than first-person shooters), but the bottom line is that if you just want to play games, and don’t use much in the way of heavily multithreaded software, you don’t need a Threadripper or a Core i9 CPU. You’ll be much better off buying a cheaper CPU and putting the spare cash towards a more powerful GPU.
Like many enthusiasts, I use my PC for much more than gaming, and I love the fact that Threadripper is bringing huge multithreaded CPU power to desktop PCs. My next PC upgrade will likely be to a Ryzen 7 or Threadripper system-the Threadripper rig Antony built this month is just awesome. If I just wanted to build a gaming PC, though, I could do it for much cheaper.