Whenever someone considers building a new PC, the question always comes up: dual or quad?

It’s well known that games aren’t the pinnacle of multi-threaded software, understandably so. Dual core processors out-sell their quad core counterparts many times over, not to mention that Windows isn’t that great at juggling multiple cores.

Looking at local prices, a PhenomII x2 550 (3.1Ghz dual core with 6MB L3 cache) goes for between R1200 and R1300, while the Phenom II x4 945 (3.0Ghz also with 6MB L3 cache) goes for between R2600 and R2700. The argument could be made that, when speaking about a gaming PC, the extra spent money on the quad could rather be spent on a better graphics card. That ~R1300 could make the difference between a 4850 and a 4890.

So, if you only use your PC for gaming, a 3.1Ghz dual with a Radeon 4890 or Nvidia GTX 260, will give you better frames per second (FPS) than a quad with a 4850 or a GTS 250. Who only plays games on their PCs though? To anyone who does a lot of video editing or 3D rendering, the quad would be far more useful. While you are busy with other tasks, your graphics card sits there twiddling its thumbs, it’s your CPU that gets the work done, crunching those ones and zeros.

AMD_Phenom_X3_logoWhat makes things more interesting are the triple core processors. A PhenomIIx3 920 (2.8Ghz tri-core with 6MB L3 cache) can be had for between R1700-R1800.

Let’s compare identically-clocked dual, triple, and quad core processors. When encoding a song with iTunes, they all perform identically. Converting a video using MainConcept Reference shows  the triple core as being 33% faster and the quad core 48% faster than the dual. In AutoDesk 3Ds MAX 2009, the quad completed rendering a 1920*1080 frame 46% faster, while the triple core was 23% faster. An AVG scan completes 42% quicker using a quad and 23% quicker using the triple. In Winrar, the quad performs 25% quicker and the triple  20% quicker.

When it comes to gaming, things are slightly different. In Crysis, the triple core performed 17.4% better, with the quad giving virtually identical results. In Left 4 Dead, the triple core performed 9.7% better, with the quad improving marginally. World in Conflict showed virtually no difference; it is only when an AVG scan is performed concurrently with the World in Conflict benchmark does the quad really shine. The triple performed 6.25% better, while the quad showed a massive 156% increase in the minimum FPS over the dual.

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So when it games to gaming, the quad really isn’t necessary, a triple core would be my recommendation. Although I haven’t listed the percentage improvements, GTA IV and Far Cry 2 are two games that make use of the extra core that a triple core provides. With DirectX 11 also bringing improved multi-threading support, a triple core is the perfect middle ground if you, like me, want the best bang for your buck.

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