Ok, just to get it out of our system. This question was asked so many times that I feel like throw up but we have to do this anyway. Many people ask themselves – and it’s the right thing to do – if they need a quad (or more) cpu. In the gaming context, most of the games you would probably play do not utilize efficiently more than two or three cores. Actually, I can’t think of any FPS game that has a good scaling with more than two cores. The games that will benefit from such a CPU are games or application that parallel computing is native to them. One example is the case of intensive parallel AI applications, like Chess, where multi course solutions are native – you can check several different moves options and compare them to one another all at once.
Generally, from the best-gaming-performance point of view, you should prefer a better GPU than a better CPU but it’s not always true as some CPUs difference has a bigger impact on the application/game than the difference between GPUs due to a big difference in core clock or efficiency. For example, an old Intel I3-330M 2.13MHZ with a Radeon 6750M might not have advantage over an I5-2450M 2.5-3.1GHZ with a Radeon 6650M although the 6750M is considerably faster. That’s because many games will lust for the exatra 800-1000MHZ the I5-2450M provdies in single or dual threaded situations. I cannot go over all the possible combinations, but I’ll give some key cases.
Intel I3 vs I5 vs Intel I7 for general gaming use
From the bottom up.
I3 vs I5: Better go with an I5 if you can. The ‘Turbo Boost’ addition is a great boost, especially for more single threaded scenarious. With the I5-2430M, for exmaple, you get additional 600MHZ when only one core is on use which is 25% boost – that’s great. Even with two cores you get 20%-25% higher clocks. I3 does not have Turbo boost. ‘Turbo’ – what a funny word.
I5 vs I7: Well, actually, there are some mobile I7 cpus which are only dual core cpus, like the I5 ones. The cpus with the “QM” or “QE” or “XM” postfix are thq real quad ones, the others, usually with only an “M” as postfix (but not only), are dual core cpus. Take a look in this comparison from Intel site. You can see that the I7-2640M is a dual core (plus two HT cores) like in the I5 cpu. What’s the difference? (a) It has much higher clock frequency for both the base clock frequency and the Turbo frequency and (b) It has some more features like virtualiztion technologies and staff – look in the comparison list.
About I7 dual vs quad – The I7-2670QM has 4/8 cores (4 ‘real’ and 4additional HT cores) but considerably lower core clocks. In that case you probably better take the I7-2640M, unless you know you’ll use the 4/8 cores configuration.
Final word – If you gonna play all kinds of games, better take the higher clocked dual core cpu even if the clocks are very close to the quad core cpu if it saves you money. You’ll get much more from an 50-60$ SSD for your OS than another cores.
AMD Quad vs Intel I3 or I5
That’s an interesting case. As in the explaination above – as general gaming preference, take the higher clocked dual core CPU. AMDs CPUs are not clocked higher than their intel rivals and more than that – Currenly, the Intel implementation has an advantage core vs core for the same clock speed so generally you better take the Intel CPU. However, and that’s a big however, with AMD you can find laptops with Radeon 7690M or 6750M for even for 500$-550$ and that’s a something you won’t find in Intel case almost surely. The HP Pavilion dv6zqe is now selling for 565$ and you get a Radeon 7690M and AMD A6 or A8 CPU while with Intel you’ll usually find some GT 540M / GT 630M and an I5 for 650$-700$. In that case, you’ll get more performance for your buck with the AMD solution. You should watch for deals, sometimes there is an Intel based laptop with a good GPU for good money.
Some Exceptions – specific games that do benefit from more than two cores
If you’ll check many triple and quad core CPUs reviews, you’ll find that in some cases of games that truly benefit from having another core. For example, in this Anandtech AMD Athlon II x3 455 review you can see that Dragon Age Origin do get about 50% (and more) FPS when using the X3 455 (triple 3.3GHZ) instead of the X2 255 (dual 3.1GHZ) – the scaling is great. Another example is the X3 445 vs X2 255 in Dirt2 (both 3.1GHZ per core) – you see about 50% performance gain which is great.
So, if you have very specific game or games you want to play then you better try and find some review that talks about them and check the results of dual vs triple and up cpu.
That’s all for now, I hope I made some things clear and other a little less a mess. Ask if you need something