What Does Processor Count Mean?

Atif Liaqat | Last Updated On December 19th, 2021

There are a huge variety of CPUs on the market today, which reflects the wide array of uses to different grades of CPU.

Depending on whether you need a top-tier gaming PC or a simple computer to run basic work tasks off of, you really only need a certain processor count to get the job done.

Processor count represents the number of cores your CPU contains, which directly influences how many different tasks your CPU can handle at the same time.

In this guide, I’ll discuss the following to help you understand fully what does processor count mean:

  • How Do the Amount of Cores Affect Performance?
  • How Many Cores Do You Have?
  • How Many Cores Should You Have?
  • Core Performance

What Does Processor Count Mean and How Do the Amount of Cores Affect Performance?

The amount of cores your CPU contains directly affects the number of applications, or tasks, your processor can handle at once. For each core in a CPU, you can run one application, with each application running separate data streams on different threads.

The higher the processor count, the easier it is for your computer to multitask. In addition to the number of cores your CPU has, the number of threads the cores contain also affects CPU performance.

If you are trying to run more demanding tasks than your CPU can handle, you run the risk of overclocking your CPU, which can damage the processor and void your warranty.

When determining how much processing power you need and how much processing power a given CPU has, you’ll want to compare both the processor counts and the number of threads it contains.

So, what even are threads, and why do they matter?

Thread Count

Put simply, the processor count relates to the number of physical cores on your CPU, and thread count pertains to how many individual data streams, or application threads, can be simultaneously executed. Threads are also called “logical cores”.

Some applications require only a single thread, which means that that application needs only one available thread to execute commands. Other applications require multithreading, which means that the application uses several sub-threads to execute commands seamlessly.

There is also a form of threading called hyperthreading, which effectively means the CPU lets the OS see double the amount of threads, thus allowing it to run twice the amount of data streams as the actual thread count.

Bottlenecking

The main consequence of trying to run more demanding tasks than your CPU can technically handle is bottlenecking.

Bottlenecking happens when the capabilities of your CPU do not align with the capabilities of another component in your PC. For example, if you have a newer GPU and an older CPU, the GPU would be able to handle the load of a brand-new AAA title easily.

However, due to the CPU being older, it might be equipped with enough cores or threads to support the GPU’s performance, which creates a disparity between the speed that data is able to transfer from the CPU to the GPU.

To avoid this, you can either reduce the resolution or tamper with the video settings for the game you’re trying to play, or you can purchase a CPU and a GPU with similar processing power.

If you’re looking for more information about bottlenecking, as well as some recommendations for bottleneck calculators, check out this in-depth guide to bottlenecking.

How Many Cores Do You Have?

With your newfound understanding of what processor count means, you may be curious to find out how many cores your CPU has. There are a few different ways to go about this, but I’ve summarized the three easiest ways to check for you.

Note that there are a variety of ways to check your processor count, as well as other benchmarks and specifications for your CPU and PC as a whole; these are simply the three quickest ways.

Checking with Specifications

If you already know the make and model of your CPU, you can search for it on any search engine and visit the manufacturer’s website.

From there, simply navigate to the specification sheet for your CPU and look for the “Processor Count” or “Number of Cores”.

If you don’t know your CPU make and model, you can find that information in Task Manager (CTRL + SHIFT + ESC), or by examining the chip itself. If you’re disassembling your PC, check out this guide on how to safely remove your CPU from your motherboard.

Checking with Command Box

If your PC runs Windows, this is one of the quicker options for you. Simply press the Windows key + R to initiate the Run command.

Type msinfo32 into the box and hit Enter. Select Summary from the list and scroll until you see the number of cores.

Checking with Task Manager

To check processor count using Task Manager, press (CTRL + SHIFT + ESC) on your keyboard, which will open up the Task Manager.

From here, click on Performance, click on the CPU section, and you can see your processor count from there.

If you’re curious about your thread count, or the number of logical processors, you can find that information on the same pages that you found your core counts on by following the same steps and looking for thread information instead.

How Many Cores Should You Have?

In this day and age, PCs are a common piece of household equipment, though the needs for each person are different, and thus not everyone needs the same level of processing power.

For some, a PC is needed for simple tasks for web-based applications and other light-usage tasks. For others, their PC needs to have enough processing power to run demanding programs that require the use of multiple cores.

The intended purpose of your PC will help you determine how many cores and threads your CPU needs to have at a minimum, which will help you choose the right CPU within your budget.

Read below to find out how many cores your CPU needs, at a minimum, to handle the tasks you anticipate needing to use your PC for.

Basic Task Handling (2-4 Cores)

Technically, you could get away with a dual-core processor like the Intel Celeron, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Essentially, your CPU would start experiencing limitations once you’ve opened more than one application.

For most basic home computers, you want at least four cores. The Intel Pentium and AMD Athlon are perfect low-budget quad-core CPUs that will allow you to run several browser windows at the same time, making it a great processor count for those working from home.

Mainstream Usage (4-6 Cores)

If you’re a casual gamer or use your PC for medium-grade tasks like editing and producing, six cores is a good place to start. Four cores will allow you to play popular games on low settings, but if you want mid-range or high settings, you’ll want the six-core processors.

The most popular six-core CPUs on the market today are the AMD Ryzen 5 or the Intel i5, though their predecessors (Ryzen 3 and i3, respectively), will get the job done as well for a little less money.

High-Level Performance (6-8 Cores)

If you are a professional gamer or use your PC for higher-grade tasks that require above-average processing power, you’ll want something with eight cores. Depending on what your specific needs are, six cores might work, but eight will ensure seamless execution.

The most popular eight-core CPUs out there now are the newer generations of Intel and AMD processors (see also if you can you use an Nvidia graphics card with an AMD processor), starting with the Intel i7 and AMD Ryzen 7.

Workstation-Grade (8-64 Cores)

If you use your PC for heavy-duty, demanding tasks like crypto-mining or industrial 3D printing, you’ll want a processor with as many cores as you can afford. Currently, the mainstream market stops at sixty-four cores, but those CPUs can go for a lot of money, which isn’t feasible for all.

For light 3D printing tasks, you’ll want at least eight cores; if you can afford more than that, you’ll be able to run multiple applications on your computer while also running those heavy-duty tasks.

Core Performance

Measuring the performance of both a single core on your processor and the combined performance of all the cores helps you determine how well your CPU can handle certain tasks.

Some applications rely solely on a single core, which means that you would want to make sure your processor’s single-core performance is capable enough to handle that specific application.

Other applications rely on all or multiple cores on your CPU, which means that if your combined performance isn’t high enough to handle the application, your cores will start showing limitations and slowing down your system.

Core performance is measured in Gigahertz (GHz), with lower values indicating slower execution speed and higher values representing a faster, smoother execution of commands.

While single-core processors haven’t been relevant for over two decades, the capabilities of a single-core are important to know when comparing CPU options.

Single-Core Performance

Your single-core performance dictates how well each individual core on your CPU performs, which is important to know when you intend to run single-core applications.

If you have a low single-core speed but a high multi-core speed, all hope is not lost. Your CPU might have a hard time running certain demanding applications, but by and large, it should be able to handle most applications that fall within your CPU’s capabilities.

If you want to check your processor’s single-core performance, simply download Cinebench, a benchmark test suite that allows you to view all of your system’s specifications and benchmarks.

Multi-Core Performance

Multi-core performance dictates how fast your processor can handle multitasking and demanding applications that require multiple cores to function.

A high multi-core speed doesn’t always mean that you have a high single-core speed, however. Sometimes, processors are designed to handle multitasking best, without much regard for demanding single-core applications.

You can find multi-core performance and speed data in the same place you found your processor and logical core information. Go to Task Manager (CTRL + SHIFT + ESC), click on Performance, and under the CPU section you can view your multi-core speed in GHz.

Conclusion

The amount of cores your processor has determines how many different tasks you can run on your PC at the same time, and the amount of threads, or “logical cores”, determines how many individual data streams can process on each core.

The lower your processor count, the less your PC can handle; conversely, the higher your processor count, the more demanding tasks your PC can accommodate.

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