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Last I checked, almost all PC games were not noticeably faster with more than 1 or 2 cpu cores (the engines weren't very multi-threaded, apparently).

Are most games and game engines coming out now able to take advantage of more than 2 cores?

(If not, can you suggest a few that do?)

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None? A lot of games are still single threaded. Maybe if you pick some games in particular we can give you better advice. –  tzenes Sep 9 '10 at 2:15
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Would it matter? Since your more likely being bound by your GPU (depending on the screen resolution) or your hard drive, so I would worry the least about your CPU influencing the performance –  Ivo Flipse Sep 9 '10 at 8:02
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@Ivo Is not 100% correct. First: HDDs only involve loading times not FPS (frame per second) performances. Second: CPU is not so marginal as people think (I tried recently on my skin). Using the same GPU as base you can have 10-30% FPS difference between various CPU (it depends also on the engine). –  Drake Sep 9 '10 at 21:30
    
@tzenes: A lot of games in the past maybe. None of the bigger games released in the last two years uses less than two cores. Even some games (Black Ops, if I remember correctly) fail to start on single core machines. –  DrFish Dec 13 '10 at 14:28
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Check this out: tomshardware.com/reviews/multi-core-cpu,2280-10.html Seems triple-core is the sweet spot. –  DrFish Dec 13 '10 at 17:06
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Almost all new engines or recent engines have been programmed with the multi-core in mind.

I am speaking about Unreal Engine 3, Source Engine, CryTek Engine, ID Tech Engine and more.

So, if you would asked this question 2 years ago, I would answered you to go with dual-core CPU and get the highest clock frequency that your budget would allow you.

But nowadays 4-core is the way. Of course puzzle, indie or casual games will not benefit too much from multi-core. But FPS, RPG and even RTS games will do.

Choose an Intel i7 is not necessary. Intel Core i5 and AMD Phenom II X4 are great for games, bundled with a good GPU (of course).

The rule of highest as-your-budget-allow CPU clock is still valid in the 4-core CPU selection. But consider that Intel compared to AMD at the same clock frequency will win.

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Note that Source Engine may have it disabled by default. It's strangely in Settings' Video options tab as "Multicore rendering" (at least on CS:S/TF2). –  user2974 Sep 9 '10 at 13:43
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@Powerlord yes, correct. And indeed I found that apply this setting for a 3-core o 4-core CPU can boost your performance of from 5% to 15%. Not bad for a CPU-based setting modification :) –  Drake Sep 9 '10 at 21:24
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If you look at it logically: Speedup in computers is done through parallelizing only (at least significantly). If you want to publish a game that takes advantage of current computers (and that's what most games want to do) you have to make your game ready for multithreading (see also this blog post).

Obviously parts like physics engine or KI can easily run each in a single process (if written like that!) which makes it easy to at least use some of the additional cores.

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