How important is a dual core processor?

I’ve been going on an ancient Athlon 64 3500, which is surprisingly competent with a decent video card. How much of a boost (if any) am I likely to get by moving to a dual core processor of similar speed? I’m playing WoW, Fallout 3, Stalker and maybe a little Crysis.

I’ve got the dual core right here so I guess I could just TRY IT OUT AND SEE but some recent nightmarish computer maintenance excursions have made me keen not to crack the box on a nicely working system unless I have to.

I noticed a pretty large difference in all of the above games going from a single core to dual core.

Short answer: quite a bit. A lot of games and programs now support multiple cores. I you have a very old and unpatched version of XP (before service pack 2) be sure and patch up completely afterward, since there are a few fixes for multi-core processors that have been patched into XP.

A64 3500+ vs A64 X2 4400+ - same clock speed and per-core cache size, so the only difference is the second core. You can see that the extra core makes a big difference in some games. If you’ve already got the CPU, I’d go ahead and pop it in.

Multiple cores are useful for a lot of things. They definitely make the computer more responsive in general.

This is absolutely true. Obviously the biggest gains will be in apps and games that support multi-threading, but even for older single-threaded games/apps you’ll see a modest performance boost (as long as the multi-core chip is of similar or faster clock speed) just because you’ve got an extra core to run all of the background tasks that are always running on any modern OS.

Thanks for the advice, it’s exactly the performance boost I was looking for. Now to overclock it…

Thanks for the link unbogwah… I’ve been doing pretty well on an old Athlon64 3000+ paired with a 9600GT, but I now see how big of a jump it is to a dual core. With low-end/mid-range chips (e5200 @ $70 or e7400 @ $120) at decent prices, that would be quite the upgrade. I think even the e5200 is better than the referenced X2 4400+ (at least when OC’d if not at stock?)

Yeah, dual core is definitely a no-brainer at this point. The benefits of going from 2 to 4 are a lot less clear, unless the 2 and 4 core versions are exactly the same price.

If the 2- and 4-cores are the same price, then the 2-core is probably faster per core, which matters more in the weakly multi-threaded games we still get :)

If games are your only concern then maybe more than 2 cores is questionable but if you run more than 2 apps at a time on your computer for reasons other than gaming, it’s totally worth it. Every core is a processor that an individual app can run on. There’s little reason not to get as many cores as possible, price permitting.

Every core is a processor that an individual app can run on.

God forbid we ever live in a world where GMail, iTunes, and do not have their own dedicated CPU core for maximum performance! :P

Unless you run server-class workloads (and I mean this literally) on your desktop, it’s highly unlikely you’ll saturate two fast cores, much less four.

Just sayin’. If the price of the 2 and 4 core are identical for the same speed, go with the 4. Otherwise, get the fastest dual core out there and you’ll generally do better (edge conditions of c++ compiling, raytracing/rendering, and video encoding notwithstanding).

Well, when I compile here at work, all 8 of my cores leap into action and they’re pretty saturated. Seems worth it. It means I can compile quickly and still be able to check my email at the same time (which, since we use Outlook, can be problematic on a non-beastly computer).

Obviously, it depends on what you’re doing but more processor cycles free = more responsiveness from the computer. In my book, anyway. It’s nice to have the power and not need it - because then when you need it, it’s there.

Yeah, but I see Wumpus’s point. Anyone who does the technical stuff that makes use of 4 or more cores (software developers, 3d artists, video transcoders, and so on) already knows how they can benefit from multiple cores.

The only people on qt3 I’ve seen ask this question are gamers who would be served just as well and more cheaply with a dual core.

Sure. I agree it all depends on your personal use patterns. If you play games and surf the web primarily, dual core is fine.

Y…y…you have deployed the OCTOCORE??!

I wish they had an 8 core. I’d like to deploy it in our servers… so much cheaper and easier to go with a single-socket solution!

(It’s coming, obviously, just not there yet)

Sun makes a beastly 8-core machine, with some pretty sweet 1-cycle thread switching, allowing 32 hardware threads.

Well, I also have an “octocore”, but really it’s two quad-cores (Xeon E5440’s). One guy just rewrote our build system for more optimal parallelism. Ahh, it’s nice to have an 80 minute build go to 40…

We have something like that. But in my experience, each thread runs at quarter speed. So you really are only getting an 800% improvement in running time. I guess if each thread does not saturate the cpu, you can get some gain out of multi-threading one core. But that only happens when you are running sissy code that doesn’t do anything. And then you don’t deserve 8 cores.