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CPU Cores vs Threads: What are the Key Differences?

By: Henz Llarves | Date Posted: July 5, 2022

CPU Cores vs Threads: What are the Key Differences?

The number of cores on CPUs has increased dramatically in recent years. This is due to the fact that cores have grown considerably more powerful and efficient. There are, however, still some significant differences between cores and threads that you should be aware of. We’ll look at CPU cores/threads and the advantages they provide for today’s computer in this post.

CPU Cores Explained

A CPU core is an independent computational unit on a single integrated circuit. A core can independently follow the program’s instructions and operate on data to produce results for the system. A multi-core CPU is a single computing component with two or more independent cores.

A core can be thought of as an engine that performs instructions, while the other components in the CPU are the chassis that allows this engine to communicate to everything else it needs to do its job effectively.

At the end of the day, all modern CPUs are made up of one or more cores, operating on data in some way. This means virtually all computing tasks will need to take advantage of multiple cores at some point, making them vital for effective performance.

Advantages of Having More Cores

When you buy a new computer, it has a number of different elements which make up its processing power. One of the most essential elements is the number of cores that are fitted into it. So, what does this mean?

CPU with multiple cores

If you think about your computer as a car, then each core would be equivalent to one cylinder in the engine; an engine with four cylinders would provide more power than an engine with two cylinders.

The reason why it can be beneficial to have more than one core is that CPUs operate on chunks of data at a time – for example, if you wanted your computer to run an app or open a file, it will likely do so by reading the whole thing into memory before splitting it up into sections which are then worked on by different cores simultaneously. This allows instructions to be carried out faster as different elements are able to process instructions in parallel instead of having to wait for the other to finish first.

In some cases, having more cores can directly equate to faster speeds as each core becomes responsible for a smaller piece of the puzzle. In others, it can improve speed indirectly as tasks are able to be split up more effectively and run in parallel – which is why you may hear that multi-core CPUs are better at multitasking.

CPU Threads Explained

On a very basic level, a thread is a series of computer instructions that are part of a larger program and can be executed independently from other threads within the same process. In practice, these threads are scheduled by the operating system and share specific resources such as memory, but they don’t take up additional space when they’re stored in memory unless needed for their execution.

The reason why we split programs and data up into different sections and load them onto memory is that it allows us to make the most of our computer’s resources – if every thread had to be loaded into memory before running, then we wouldn’t see much benefit from having more than one core.

The number of threads that a program can run at any given time has a direct impact on its speed as they’re able to be worked on simultaneously instead of in sequence like instructions on a single core would be. However, even with multiple cores, this isn’t always the case as there will likely only ever be one core working on each individual thread at any given time. The key difference between cores and threads is that while a thread will only ever execute the exact same instruction again, a core can work on multiple different threads at any given time.

If you think of a thread as a single road, then it would be restricted to accessing certain things such as houses and shops on that road. If you were to introduce multiple threads for different houses along the same road, they would each need to take turns in accessing these objects – which is very similar to how they would work on a single core. However, if you introduce more roads along the same stretch of land, these are able to access all of the houses at once – just like working with multiple cores.

Threads allow for a program to take advantage of multi-core CPUs as they can be executed at the same time as each other, unlike instructions that have to be processed in sequence. In practice, this makes them vital for improved speeds as their presence allows a program to run more effectively on computers with multiple cores.

What are Multithreading and Hyper-Threading?

An explanation of Multithreading and hyper-threading

Multithreading is from AMD, while Hyper-Threading is Intel’s concept. Both are a technique that is used to allow a program to work on multiple different threads at the same time – which means it will be able to take advantage of more than one core if they’re available. This is often used by programs designed for multi-core processors as a way of improving speeds and allowing them to do more without having to wait for the next instruction or chunk of data to come through.

The idea behind Hyper-Threading is that it creates “virtual cores” which allow the operating system to schedule multiple threads on the same physical core. Theoretically, this should give more processing power even if there are no more than two actual cores available – although some tests have shown that it doesn’t always work like this due to the overhead of running different programs and processes simultaneously.

How Modern Operating Systems Handle Threads and Cores

When you’re running a program, Windows (and other operating systems) will keep track of everything that’s going on through what’s called a “thread pool” – i.e., it keeps all threads in memory whether they’re actually running or not and can prioritize them to get started based on their importance. This ensures that threads that need to be dealt with immediately will always run while leaving other tasks for later if they’ll take longer than usual to complete.

This is why processes may sometimes appear hung when you use your computer: the thread which needs to be worked on right away might still be waiting in the thread pool for its turn to become active, even though it’s done everything it can to have its instructions executed.

One of the important things to remember is that when you have a single-core CPU, you’ll always only ever be able to run one instruction on it at any given time – this means that processes that use multiple threads will obviously take longer than those which just have a single core working on them. However, if your CPU has more cores then tasks will be able to be worked on in parallel making them go faster as they’re handled by different engines simultaneously.

Threads allow a program to take advantage of multi-core CPUs as they can be executed at the same time as each other, unlike instructions that have to be processed in sequence. In practice, this makes them vital for improved speeds as their presence allows a program to run more effectively on computers with multiple cores.

Which One Matters Most in Gaming?

First person shooter gaming

Much of the time, it won’t really matter whether you have a multi-core CPU or not as most games are limited by other factors. However, some PC games can put certain constraints on your system which may require additional cores in order to work effectively. According to their requirements, for example, Battlefield 1 requires at least 4 Cores and 8 Threads while StarCraft II seems to be limited by single-core performance (making use of 3-4).

Other games (such as Overwatch) work best on CPUs with high clock speeds rather than the number of cores to keep them running at a good speed. Having extra cores, in this case, is not crucial, but it can still help in some cases when there are other applications running simultaneously which may impact the game’s performance even if you meet all other system requirements.

CPU manufacturers have started to push this idea that games will run better when they’re used with CPUs that have more cores, but it’s still debatable whether there’s actually any significant improvement in speeds when running these types of titles. In any case, it’s always worth doing a little research into the requirements of a game before you buy a CPU to make sure that it can handle all of your favorite titles as well as possible.

Cores and Threads Impact on Productivity

Coding on a big computer screen

As well as games, more cores can also be useful if you use programs that make heavy demands on your CPU. This is mainly due to the fact that there’s a lot of code written for computers with multiple cores and it can get executed faster (and in parallel) when this is available.

This means that video editors will get better speeds from processors which have higher core counts than those that don’t – although clock speed still plays an important part here too. A good example of this would be the difference between Intel and AMD: while the latter tend to offer high core counts but lower frequencies, the former usually has fewer cores but works them at a higher rate.

As we’ve mentioned above though, some newer programs actually put greater emphasis on using more threads over having higher frequencies, allowing them to make use of multi-core CPUs. Nevertheless, high core counts are still useful for increased speeds whether this is due to the frequency or the number of cores that are working on each instruction.

Last Words

In general, multi-core CPUs are better at handling multiple tasks but may not make a big difference when you’re just playing games. However, it’s always worth having a high number of cores as your CPU will be able to handle more programs and processes at the same time without slowing down. Be sure to check how many cores your favorite games require though as they can vary significantly depending on the program.

If you want a CPU that’ll be able to handle multitasking and multi-core programs then you should certainly look for one with more than four cores. This will help if you use programs like Photoshop, AutoCAD, or Premiere Pro and may even improve speeds in some modern titles too – although it is still debatable whether this makes much difference overall. On the other hand, if most of your games don’t require so many cores (or any at all) then it’s also okay to go for a cheaper CPU with fewer cores as long as it has a high clock speed as this will work fine for single-threaded applications.

Whichever route you decide to go, it is always important to do your research first in order to make sure that the CPU can handle all of the activities that you need it to. I hope this has helped to answer some of the questions you might have had about CPU cores and threads.

Henz Llarves

Henz Llarves

I'm Henz Llarves and I'm passionate about writing and gaming. I've been building gaming PCs for a long time, and I've been writing about them as well.

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