The question of the effect of core count on games is one we have looked at many times before in our Gamer's Bench, but so far with a focus on dual-cores, quad-cores, and Hyperthreaded virtual cores. We've previously found that quad-cores offer significant advantages over dual-cores, and that Hyperthreading can help in certain games, especially on dual-core processors. These results begged an obvious question: what if you have more than six cores, along with Hyperthreading? Would that be the ultimate gaming setup? Well, we're here to answer that question, as we pit our six-core i7-5820K processor against an i7-4790K.

Core i7-4790K

It's an interesting matchup in more than one way. Both chips are based on the Haswell microarchitecture (the 5820K is technically "Haswell-E"), meaning each of their cores is essentially identical. The only major difference between the two designs is that the 5820K has 2.5MB of cache per core, while the 4790K has 2MB of cache per core. Both feature Hyperthreading, which brings the 5820K up to 12 total logical cores and the 4790K up to 8 cores. That being said, the 4790K is clocked at 4.0 GHz out of the box, with Turboboost to 4.4GHz, while the 5820K is clocked at 3.3GHz with Turboboost to 3.7GHz. To even the playing field, we overclocked both processors to 4.4GHz for our benchmark tests. 

Of course, there's one other major difference between the two processors, and that is the platform. The 4790K uses the Z97 platform, while the 5820K uses the X99 platform, the latter which features a more robust quad-channel DDR4-based memory architecture. One would think that the added memory bandwidth, in combination with the extra cache, should be enough to push the 5820K ahead of the 4790K in all gaming scenarios, even where extra cores aren't helpful. We shall soon see if that proves to be true!

Test Setup

We performed our quad-core benchmarks on the following test system:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K (overclocked to 4.4GHz)
  2. Motherboard: ASRock Z97 Extreme 4
  3. Video Card #1: Sapphire Radeon R9 290 4GB (representing mid-range)
  4. Video Card #2: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB (representing high-end)
  5. Memory: 4x4GB G.Skill DDR3-2400 @ 2133MHz
  6. Solid-State Drive: Crucial MX100 512GB
  7. Power Supply: EVGA Supernova G2 850W
  8. Case: NZXT S340
  9. CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U12S
  10. Operating System: Windows 10

Our hex-core test system consisted of the following components:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i7-5820K (overclocked to 4.4GHz)
  2. Motherboard: Asus X99-Pro/USB3.1
  3. Video Card #1: Sapphire Radeon R9 290 4GB (representing mid-range)
  4. Video Card #2: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB (representing high-end)
  5. RAM: G.Skill 4x4GB Ripjaws4 DDR4-3000 @ 2666MHz
  6. SSD #1: Samsung SM951 M.2 256GB
  7. SSD #2: 2x Samsung 850 Evo 500GB in RAID0
  8. Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 1000 PS
  9. Case: Corsair Carbide 500R
  10. CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H100i
  11. Operating System: Windows 10

We ran all tests at a resolution of 1920 x 1080, except where specified, and our video cards were set to reference speeds, which translates to 947MHz/5000MHz for the Radeon R9 290 and 1000/7000 for the GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Note that due to Nvidia's GPU Boost 2.0 feature, the 980 Ti operated at 1202MHz/7000MHz at almost all times. The drivers utilized for the Radeon card were Catalyst 15.7.1 for Windows 10, and the drivers utilized for the GeForce card were GeForce 353.62 for Windows 10. We used two different cards not just to speak to different segments of the gaming market, but also to highlight whether AMD or Nvidia might benefit more from the extra cores.

We'll be providing results for one synthetic benchmark and six games, as follows:

  • 3DMark Fire Strike
  • Grid 2
  • Tomb Raider
  • Crysis 3
  • Battlefield 4
  • Thief
  • Far Cry 4

By choosing a variety of both older and newer games, we hope to find out whether one or the other is more dependent on extra cores, and perhaps whether specific game engines would benefit more from more cores, if at all.

All righty, then, hopefully we've made clear how we performed our tests. There's lots of data to go through, but let's start off easy, with an exploration of our 3DMark results, shall we?

3DMark Fire Strike


Yes, we know, 3DMark isn't a game. But it's a fairly popular benchmark, and it just so happens to have separate Graphics and Physics tests that focus on video card and CPU performance, respectively. And that's critical here, because we want to know whether the extra cores of the 5820K are having an effect. Well, right off the bat, we see that the 5820K-based systems have higher overall scores, along with much higher Physics computation scores. But delve a bit more deeply into the data and you'll see that something's amiss here. In terms of the Graphics score, which should be GPU-dependent, both of our video cards perform worse when paired with a 5820K. We're only talking a 1% difference here, so it's barely significant, but it's not quite what you'd predict.

Based on these results, we might expect that actual game benchmarks will run slower on the 5820K. On the next few pages, we'll see if the 3DMark Graphics Score was just a fluke...

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