In this article, we'll be taking a deep dive into the role of core count and Hyperthreading (HT) in determining gaming performance. We'll be using two Ivy Bridge-based Intel CPUs, specifically the i3-3220 and i7-3770K, and to isolate the effect of cores and HT as much as possible, all benchmarks in this article will be performed at 3.3GHz on both CPUs, with the only variation being whether HT is enabled. Thus, our tests do not depict the actual stock or overclocked performance of the i7-3770K processor, but rather focus on the impact of cores and HT.

Our goal from the start was to give gamers a better understanding of how core count and Hyperthreading affect gaming performance in modern games, so they would have a better sense of what to invest their money in for gaming purposes. All of our games tests were performed at a resolution of 1920x1080, using settings that we felt were ideal for the video card in this test, a Geforce GTX670. While we considered doing these tests at 2560x1440, the truth is that most gamers still game at 1920x1080, and those who have access to a 2560x1440 monitor probably are not shopping for a dual-core processor to start with. 

These are the two test benches we used: 

  1. Core i3-3220 CPU, ASRock B75 Pro3-M Motherboard, 8GB DDR3-1600 8-8-8-24, EVGA GTX670 FTW@1189/6200
  2. Core i7-3770K CPU, Asus Maximus V Gene Motherboard, 8GB DDR3-1600 8-8-8-24, EVGA GTX670 FTW@1189/6200

The fact that the i3-3220 is on a B75 motherboard should not affect the results much if at all. The Maximus V Gene's biggest advantage is that as a Z77 motherboard, it can overclock Intel's "-K" procoessors. But in this article, the i7-3770K will in fact be underclocked to match the i3-3220's operating frequency of 3.3GHz. This is as close to a level playing field between dual- and quad-core CPUs that we can achieve, but it's not perfect - the i7-3770K has 4MB of cache per core as opposed to 3MB on the 3220, and while Intel's i5-3570K CPU would be more similar to the i3-3220 in that regard, it does not offer HT. Thus, we'll have to work with what we've got in terms of the Intel product stack.

While three of our four tested configurations are "simulated', in that they are not actual shipping processors, they very closely approximate shipping processors, as follows:

  1. i3-3220 @3.3GHz without HT ~ Intel Pentium G2130 @3.2GHz
  2. i3-3220 @3.3GHz with HT (as shipped)
  3. i7-3770K @3.3GHz without HT ~ Intel i5-3570K @3.4GHz
  4. i7-3770K @3.3GHz with HT ~ Intel i7-2600K @3.4GHz

As always, we try to account for variability as much as possible, so all of our tests were run three times, and we provide the mean result for both averages and minimums. Every benchmark in this article, other than 3DMark, was drawn from real-world runs in a game world, all in 60-second increments, all repeating the same loops, with the exception of Battlefield 3 Multiplayer, where we instead benched 5-minute increments. We used difficult to bench real-world runs because they accurately represent a gaming CPU load, whereas built-in benchmarks, which several of our games have, often over-emphasize graphical elements while requiring little CPU processing power.

As an aside, we'll mention that we ran into several difficulties during testing that anyone doing their own benchmarking should be aware of. First, a number of our Steam-based games simply would not load with FRAPS running, which was required to record benchmarks. For those games, including Tomb Raider and Deus Ex, we had to launch the game first and then launch FRAPS. Secondly, we found that the latest GeForce drivers (320.18), which did great things for performance in many of the new games we tested, actually caused graphical corruption in the venerable Battlefield 3, requiring us to revert to driver revision 314.22 for the BF3 benchmarks. 

So, with all of that introduction out of the way, on to the benchmarks!

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