The clock speed is one of the most important factors when considering a processor, this is because it’s one of the main ways of gauging the performance of a CPU. A CPUs clock speed is the most important metric for users that are into gaming, this is because games benefit the most from having faster clock speeds.
A processor that has a clock speed of 5GHz will cycle 5 billion times a second, but this isn’t enough to tell how strong a processor is, there is IPC and core-core count that influence the performance. In this post, we’re going to go over what the best clock speed is & other performance metrics to watch out for.
Answer: A good CPU clock speed for Intel CPUs is around 5GHz, and a good Ryzen clock speed is around 4.7GHz. Intel typically has faster clock speeds, and Ryzen will have better multi-core performance, for gaming you will want to go with the CPU with the highest clock speed.
The CPU Clock Speed Matters For Gaming
Most games benefit from having faster clock speeds than having more cores, this is because games are really hard to multithreaded, and some game developers wonder if it’s completely possible. Games will actually offload a lot of tasks that can happen in parallel, this includes audio, but the actual game logic is really hard to run in parallel. Doing this can cause a buggy experience and cause things to run out of sync.
With that being said, a CPU with good single-core performance is the best processor for gaming, and we all know that clock speed has a huge impact on single-core performance. This is one of the reasons why Intel makes the best gaming chips, it’s because Ryzen processors are typically slower when it comes to single-core performance. Ryzen processors are still great CPUs for gaming, the Ryzen 5 5600x is actually a strong budget gaming CPU.
Cores are still important for gaming and the overall performance of your system, you cannot have a single-core processor and expect it to game well. You still need more than one core for multitasking purposes, this is because tasks such as the operating system need cores. This is why we recommend at least 6 cores for a decent gaming system. We wouldn’t worry too much about Hyperthreading or other SMT techniques because it won’t make an impact on gaming performance.
Does Boost Clock Speed Matter
CPUs no longer have fixed clock speeds, the clock speeds are more dynamic and they can change depending on a few factors. Firstly, there is a base clock speed which is featured in Ryzen and Intel CPUs, and the base clock speed is around the 3GHz mark. All processing cores are expected to meet this baseline clock speed, and not go any lower.
The boost clock speed refers to a clock speed increase when certain requirements are met, it is usually activated for a quick burst of performance. This is heavily beneficial in CPU-intensive tasks and gaming. The boost clock speed will activate when the CPU notices there is enough thermal headroom for more processing power, this means you need decent cooling for effective boosts.
Boost clock speeds can be seen as an automatic overclock that the user has no input in whereas a manual overclock requires the user to input their specific clock multipliers. The boost clock seems to activate when necessary and does not last forever, so when you’re not doing CPU intensive applications it has no need to boost. Keeping a CPU at its boost clock speed forever can reduce its lifespan
Is Having More Cores Better Than Clock Speed
For multithreaded applications having more cores is seemingly the better way to increase performance, tasks that fit in this category are streaming and video editing. For multithreaded tasks, they will usually use as many cores as possible making the clock speed the less important metric, Ryzen CPUs are often preferred for these types of tasks.
The most popular form of streaming is CPU intensive due to it using software encoders, so if you use OBS you can expect to use the x264 codec. The x264 codec is responsible for encoding the stream, and the x264 codec will leverage as many CPU cores as possible, this results in a smoother and less laggy stream. Hardware encoders will not use the CPU at all, and will mostly focus on using the GPU.
Video editing also benefits from having a decent number of cores, you will typically want more cores for higher resolutions. Software such as Adobe Premiere Pro is a multithreaded task that will benefit from having a huge number of cores and threads, we recommend at least 8 cores for video editing. Video editing software such as Davinci Resolve will actually use the GPU to some extent.
You Can’t Focus On Just Clock Speed
Focusing on just clock speed is a good way to mislead yourself because the clock speed tells half the story. If the clock speed only mattered, then old CPUs that can reach speeds of 5.5GHz would be the best CPUs to use, but that isn’t the case. The clock speed of the CPU refers to how many times the CPU can cycle per second.
When a CPU cycles, an amount of work will be done and this amount of work refers to the IPC or Instructions Per Cycle. CPUs with greater IPCs will perform more work per clock than CPUs with lower IPCs, you will often find newer processors featuring higher IPCs. Newer processors will have higher IPCs due to more efficient architectures.
A processor with a lower clock speed and a higher IPC can sometimes perform faster than a CPU with a higher clock speed and lower IPC. You can see this with the Ryzen 5000 series and the Intel 10th gen. The Ryzen 5000 series featured a 15% increase of IPC compared to Intels 10th generation processors, this actually made Ryzen the better choice for gaming.
The verdict is that the clock speed of the CPU is just one metric of measuring the performance of the CPU, and higher clock speeds won’t always be as beneficial as you’d think. For gaming, higher clock speeds make more sense since games are single-core optimized, but for video editing and streaming, more cores make more sense.
Keep in mind, focusing just on clock speed is an easy way to purchase a really bad CPU, this is because the single-core performance of a CPU depends on two factors, clock speed and IPC. Newer CPUs will have higher IPC gains compared to older CPUs making them better for gaming.