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Minimum CPU for modern gaming

With some recent forum talk about the viability of quad cores for gaming, I thought I'd have a poke around and see what the state of play is today. I did a random-ish search for games released in 2020 and picked some shown below. For each, I looked at the minimum and recommended CPUs. If you think I missed out a high profile demanding game that should be included, let me know.

 

  Minimum Minimum Recommended Recommended
  Intel AMD Intel AMD
Cyberpunk 2077 i5-3570k FX-8310 i7-4790 R3 3200G
Microsoft Flight Simulator i5-4460 R3 1200 i5-8400 R5 1500X
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War i3-4340 FX-6300 i5-2500k R5 1600X
Assassin's Creed Valhalla i5-4460 R3 1200 i7-4790 R5 1600
Watch Dogs: Legion i5-4460 R5 1400 i7-4790 R5 1600
DOOM Eternal i5@3.3GHz R3@3.1GHz i7-6700k R7 1800X

 

On the Intel CPU side, there's a clear trend that an i5 CPU with quad cores and no hyper-threading is the bare minimum, if we ignore CoD still listing a dual core. It is more complicated on the AMD side. We have 6-8 core FX series CPUs, with their significantly worse per-core performance, moving through the 4c4t Ryzen 1200, to the 4c8t Ryzen 1400.

 

If we move to the recommended CPUs, things generally move up a tier. On Intel side most need a 4c8t i7 Haswell, with MSFS instead going for a 6c6t recommendation. On average, 6c6t would be more performant than 4c8t assuming all else is equal. On the AMD side we have to move beyond the FX series and it is now Ryzen across the board. However there is quite a spread, randing from 4c4t through to 8c16t. Cyberpunk seems to suggest it prefers a slightly less old Zen+ architecture with fewer threads, whereas the others are more tolerant of the older Zen architecture but wanting more threads to chew on. Could be a mild indication of thread speed vs thread quantity preference?

 

So as it stands, you could play modern demanding games with a quad core, although it is very much on the minimum side. At 4 cores, the move from 4 threads to 8 threads in many cases moves you from minimum to recommended and gives more breathing space. The question remains, how long will this situation remain? Will game devs move up the minimum requirements at some point, and how far would the move? In raw CPU throughput terms, the difference between a 4c4t and 4c8t CPU is at best some low tens of percent. If there were to be a move, would be really make the difference or would they go for a bigger jump, for example, to 6c12t? My main two gaming systems at home are both 6c12t and I don't feel a need to upgrade them for gaming uses, although the want is always in the background.

 

I suppose the next question is, assuming the GPU isn't limiting, what sort of frame rate could you get out of these CPUs? Digging that out is beyond my motivation for now. Obviously it would be unrealistic to expect high end performance out of minimum specifications, but the goal will be to extract a playable configuration. As a further example, my current gaming laptop which I bought years ago has an i3-7300HQ in it. 4c4t, 2.5 GHz base, 3.5 GHz turbo. Due to the mobile power and thermal limits it is lower clocked than desktop counterparts. Paired with a 1050, it is feeling very much on the lower end of performance for modern games. In fact, Doom Eternal actually has a minimum requirement of a 1050Ti, so I'm below that with this laptop. This is listed specifically as for 1080p60 low settings.

 

A final look might be to see when did dual core start to drop off the minimum requirements list? That would be a more interesting indicator of how far we've moved on over the years.

Desktop Gaming system: Asrock Z370 Pro4, i7-8086k, Noctua D15, Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB 3200 4x16GB, Gigabyte 2070, NZXT E850 PSU, Cooler Master MasterBox 5, Optane 900p 280GB, Crucial MX200 1TB, Sandisk 960GB, Acer Predator XB241YU 1440p144 G-sync
TV Gaming system: Gigabyte Z490 Elite AC, i5-10600k, Noctua D15, Kingston HyperX RGB 4000@3600 2x8GB, MSI 3070 Gaming Trio X, EVGA Supernova G2L 850W, Corsair 230T, Crucial P1 1TB + MX500 1TB, LG OLED55B9PLA 4k120 G-Sync Compatible
Streaming system: Asus X299 TUF mark 2, i9-7920X, Noctua D15, Corsair Vengeance LPX RGB 3000 8x8GB, Asus Strix 1080Ti, Corsair HX1000i, GameMax Abyss, Samsung 970 Evo 500GB, Crucial BX500 1TB, BenQ XL2411 1080p144 + HP LP2475w 1200p60
Former Main system: Asus Maximus VIII Hero, i7-6700k, Noctua D14, G.Skill Ripjaws V 3200 2x8GB, GTX 980Ti FE, Corsair HX750i, In Win 303 NVIDIA, Samsung SM951 512GB, WD Blue 1TB, Acer RT280k 4k60 FreeSync [link]
Gaming laptop: Asus FX503VD, i5-7300HQ, DDR4 2133 2x8GB, GTX 1050, Sandisk 256GB + 480GB SSD [link]


 

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Such long post geez, this also got me thinking: you have CPUs that have similar specifications 4cores 3Ghz and yet they don't perform as good as others with literally same specs.. Is it the fact that they are old? Is it just bad perception and maybe there is some other component that's slowing things down?

 

How does these jumps in performance need due to more detailed graphics and complicated game engines affect budget users?

If they upped the engine and graphics so much it's not playable on low budget with a quad wouldn't it mean that less people would buy and play the game since they can't run it?

And how would the game developers react to such effect? Not care? Change the engine or graphics?

 

This thing (releasing more demanding game) is a double edged sword, you have a beautiful game, more beautiful than others, but you also have people who are not willing to upgrade their systems for whatever reason...

When I give advice I use my experience and google, I know alot, but not everything.

Have a question? - quote me = I'll respond either instantly or within a day or 2

Specs I have experience with: (highlited build is being used)

Pentium G4500 | 4GB/8GB DDR4 2133Mhz | H110 | GTX 1050

Ryzen 3 1200 3,5Ghz / OC:4Ghz | 8GB DDR4 2133Mhz / 16GB 3000Mhz | B450 | GTX 1050

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a 4C 8T like the 7700k paired with something like a 2080ti (or 3060 ti assuming it actually exists) will have at most 10 fps lower than newer CPUs, and that's in 1080p. The more GPU bound you make it, the less difference the CPU makes as long as it's fairly modern. There are special cases such as RDR2 where you can see something like this:

image.thumb.png.e7f54c35f69b44a48f71ff2ccd4bf4e6.png

 

But overall, CPUs are starting to make less and less difference when it comes to gaming.

There is no doubt that cores and threads make a huge difference in other tasks, but in games it's incredible how much you can cheap out on the CPU nowadays.

It would indeed be interesting to see how this changes in the future, but at the same time, 6C is becoming as affordable as 4C used to be, so if the C/T minimum starts moving up, it won't be much of a problem for gamers who want to run the latest games.

Just look at it, i5 9400f is a 6C (yes it has only 6T, but it still brings insane performance). The point here is not that the i5 9400f is a beast CPU, no, the point is that in my country you can get this CPU for 100 euro already. The fact that people on a budget can get this CPU for 100 euros is just a blessing. I remember paying 200 euro for the i5 6500, how things have changed..

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14 minutes ago, podkall said:

4cores 3Ghz and yet they don't perform as good as others with literally same specs.. Is it the fact that they are old? Is it just bad perception and maybe there is some other component that's slowing things down?

cores and frequency aren't the whole thing, there's also IPC (instructions per clock), which means how many operations can the cpu do per clock cycle. most cpus have improved IPC in the last 10 years, rather than frequency.

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11 minutes ago, podkall said:

Such long post geez

This barely scratches the surface of the topic. If I was a paid journalist I could go much deeper than this.

 

11 minutes ago, podkall said:

you have CPUs that have similar specifications 4cores 3Ghz and yet they don't perform as good as others with literally same specs.. Is it the fact that they are old? Is it just bad perception and maybe there is some other component that's slowing things down?

Bit of both. Generally speaking newer generation CPUs can do more work per clock. Also platform updates can lead to other improvements. For example, the older CPUs listed above are DDR3 era. Typically this went to around 1600 speed in mainstream (2400 at really high end). Moving to DDR4 era bought you 2133 at baseline with 3000 common as at the higher end even early on, and today we're talking about 3600 as normal.

 

11 minutes ago, podkall said:

If they upped the engine and graphics so much it's not playable on low budget with a quad wouldn't it mean that less people would buy and play the game since they can't run it?

And how would the game developers react to such effect? Not care? Change the engine or graphics?

The engine delivers the graphics, but at the end of the day it is the game dev how much resource they want to use. They can scale up or down as much as they like, and they often do. This is why we can get something running on low end hardware, while high end hardware can deliver more. The question remains where do they draw the line. At some point they have to decide what is the minimum worth doing. That is the wider question being asked here.

Desktop Gaming system: Asrock Z370 Pro4, i7-8086k, Noctua D15, Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB 3200 4x16GB, Gigabyte 2070, NZXT E850 PSU, Cooler Master MasterBox 5, Optane 900p 280GB, Crucial MX200 1TB, Sandisk 960GB, Acer Predator XB241YU 1440p144 G-sync
TV Gaming system: Gigabyte Z490 Elite AC, i5-10600k, Noctua D15, Kingston HyperX RGB 4000@3600 2x8GB, MSI 3070 Gaming Trio X, EVGA Supernova G2L 850W, Corsair 230T, Crucial P1 1TB + MX500 1TB, LG OLED55B9PLA 4k120 G-Sync Compatible
Streaming system: Asus X299 TUF mark 2, i9-7920X, Noctua D15, Corsair Vengeance LPX RGB 3000 8x8GB, Asus Strix 1080Ti, Corsair HX1000i, GameMax Abyss, Samsung 970 Evo 500GB, Crucial BX500 1TB, BenQ XL2411 1080p144 + HP LP2475w 1200p60
Former Main system: Asus Maximus VIII Hero, i7-6700k, Noctua D14, G.Skill Ripjaws V 3200 2x8GB, GTX 980Ti FE, Corsair HX750i, In Win 303 NVIDIA, Samsung SM951 512GB, WD Blue 1TB, Acer RT280k 4k60 FreeSync [link]
Gaming laptop: Asus FX503VD, i5-7300HQ, DDR4 2133 2x8GB, GTX 1050, Sandisk 256GB + 480GB SSD [link]


 

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3 minutes ago, porina said:

This barely scratches the surface of the topic. If I was a paid journalist I could go much deeper than this.

 

Bit of both. Generally speaking newer generation CPUs can do more work per clock. Also platform updates can lead to other improvements. For example, the older CPUs listed above are DDR3 era. Typically this went to around 1600 speed in mainstream (2400 at really high end). Moving to DDR4 era bought you 2133 at baseline with 3000 common as at the higher end even early on, and today we're talking about 3600 as normal.

 

The engine delivers the graphics, but at the end of the day it is the game dev how much resource they want to use. They can scale up or down as much as they like, and they often do. This is why we can get something running on low end hardware, while high end hardware can deliver more. The question remains where do they draw the line. At some point they have to decide what is the minimum worth doing. That is the wider question being asked here.

so you're saying a game can require power equivelent to GTX 1080 despite being able to run smoothly at for example on Intel HD Graphics 1000?

When I give advice I use my experience and google, I know alot, but not everything.

Have a question? - quote me = I'll respond either instantly or within a day or 2

Specs I have experience with: (highlited build is being used)

Pentium G4500 | 4GB/8GB DDR4 2133Mhz | H110 | GTX 1050

Ryzen 3 1200 3,5Ghz / OC:4Ghz | 8GB DDR4 2133Mhz / 16GB 3000Mhz | B450 | GTX 1050

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2 minutes ago, podkall said:

so you're saying a game can require power equivelent to GTX 1080 despite being able to run smoothly at for example on Intel HD Graphics 1000?

I'm not even sure what you mean by that. If you're trying to say: if a game can run well on Intel iGPU, can it scale up to run on 1080 (presumably at higher speed and/or quality)? Then yes.

 

9 minutes ago, Entityy said:

But overall, CPUs are starting to make less and less difference when it comes to gaming.

There is no doubt that cores and threads make a huge difference in other tasks, but in games it's incredible how much you can cheap out on the CPU nowadays.

Ah, this is something else I wasn't going to touch on this thread. Since you bought it up, I really hate "bottlenecking" questions for the above reason. I view that, once you get "enough" CPU, does it really matter any more if to balanced the system? Especially as that balance point will vary a lot depending on settings and chosen game. It isn't a static target.

 

9 minutes ago, Entityy said:

Just look at it, i5 9400f is a 6C (yes it has only 6T, but it still brings insane performance). The point here is not that the i5 9400f is a beast CPU, no, the point is that in my country you can get this CPU for 100 euro already. The fact that people on a budget can get this CPU for 100 euros is just a blessing. I remember paying 200 euro for the i5 6500, how things have changed..

Technology moves on, and what you can get for a given budget generally improves. I suppose this is the other part of the question. Is there some point when people stop buying quad cores for gaming systems? Certainly the 3100 and 3300X were still popular on the budget end even last year, so I'm not sure we've moved out of that zone yet.

Desktop Gaming system: Asrock Z370 Pro4, i7-8086k, Noctua D15, Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB 3200 4x16GB, Gigabyte 2070, NZXT E850 PSU, Cooler Master MasterBox 5, Optane 900p 280GB, Crucial MX200 1TB, Sandisk 960GB, Acer Predator XB241YU 1440p144 G-sync
TV Gaming system: Gigabyte Z490 Elite AC, i5-10600k, Noctua D15, Kingston HyperX RGB 4000@3600 2x8GB, MSI 3070 Gaming Trio X, EVGA Supernova G2L 850W, Corsair 230T, Crucial P1 1TB + MX500 1TB, LG OLED55B9PLA 4k120 G-Sync Compatible
Streaming system: Asus X299 TUF mark 2, i9-7920X, Noctua D15, Corsair Vengeance LPX RGB 3000 8x8GB, Asus Strix 1080Ti, Corsair HX1000i, GameMax Abyss, Samsung 970 Evo 500GB, Crucial BX500 1TB, BenQ XL2411 1080p144 + HP LP2475w 1200p60
Former Main system: Asus Maximus VIII Hero, i7-6700k, Noctua D14, G.Skill Ripjaws V 3200 2x8GB, GTX 980Ti FE, Corsair HX750i, In Win 303 NVIDIA, Samsung SM951 512GB, WD Blue 1TB, Acer RT280k 4k60 FreeSync [link]
Gaming laptop: Asus FX503VD, i5-7300HQ, DDR4 2133 2x8GB, GTX 1050, Sandisk 256GB + 480GB SSD [link]


 

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2 minutes ago, porina said:

Technology moves on, and what you can get for a given budget generally improves. I suppose this is the other part of the question. Is there some point when people stop buying quad cores for gaming systems? Certainly the 3100 and 3300X were still popular on the budget end even last year, so I'm not sure we've moved out of that zone yet.

I agree. I was just pointing out how cheap it is to play even the most demanding games at 1080p these days. And it IS cheaper than it used to be.

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1 minute ago, Entityy said:

I agree. I was just pointing out how cheap it is to play even the most demanding games at 1080p these days. And it IS cheaper than it used to be.

Ah yes the old days.

I had pc with 2c2t cpu and I was pretty fine running 1080p, reaching 60fps was easy.

Than one day I decided to upgrade, because I wanted to play a game and the game literally can't run on dual core. (*cough* R6 Siege *cough*)

I decided to go AMD because Ryzen has risen and the prices have fallen (or were low already).

 

Oh the point of story? I bought 4c4t and the price was slightly cheaper than the previous cpu. (bought it on discount, but still).

"I bought roughtly 2x faster (if not more) CPU for similar price"

 

Makes you think that we "could" "one day" reach a point where we could get these (low end) things for free or for a price of as cheap as grocery shopping...

When I give advice I use my experience and google, I know alot, but not everything.

Have a question? - quote me = I'll respond either instantly or within a day or 2

Specs I have experience with: (highlited build is being used)

Pentium G4500 | 4GB/8GB DDR4 2133Mhz | H110 | GTX 1050

Ryzen 3 1200 3,5Ghz / OC:4Ghz | 8GB DDR4 2133Mhz / 16GB 3000Mhz | B450 | GTX 1050

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12 minutes ago, podkall said:

Makes you think that we "could" "one day" reach a point where we could get these (low end) things for free or for a price of as cheap as grocery shopping...

It is happening already, if you ignore x86. Embedded computers are in many things, and continue to get more powerful. I probably should back this up with an example but I'm not in a position to look it up right now.

Desktop Gaming system: Asrock Z370 Pro4, i7-8086k, Noctua D15, Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB 3200 4x16GB, Gigabyte 2070, NZXT E850 PSU, Cooler Master MasterBox 5, Optane 900p 280GB, Crucial MX200 1TB, Sandisk 960GB, Acer Predator XB241YU 1440p144 G-sync
TV Gaming system: Gigabyte Z490 Elite AC, i5-10600k, Noctua D15, Kingston HyperX RGB 4000@3600 2x8GB, MSI 3070 Gaming Trio X, EVGA Supernova G2L 850W, Corsair 230T, Crucial P1 1TB + MX500 1TB, LG OLED55B9PLA 4k120 G-Sync Compatible
Streaming system: Asus X299 TUF mark 2, i9-7920X, Noctua D15, Corsair Vengeance LPX RGB 3000 8x8GB, Asus Strix 1080Ti, Corsair HX1000i, GameMax Abyss, Samsung 970 Evo 500GB, Crucial BX500 1TB, BenQ XL2411 1080p144 + HP LP2475w 1200p60
Former Main system: Asus Maximus VIII Hero, i7-6700k, Noctua D14, G.Skill Ripjaws V 3200 2x8GB, GTX 980Ti FE, Corsair HX750i, In Win 303 NVIDIA, Samsung SM951 512GB, WD Blue 1TB, Acer RT280k 4k60 FreeSync [link]
Gaming laptop: Asus FX503VD, i5-7300HQ, DDR4 2133 2x8GB, GTX 1050, Sandisk 256GB + 480GB SSD [link]


 

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