Gamers have always been pretty careful about quad-core processors. Most contemporary games can create one or two simultaneous computational threads at the most that is why the majority of users believe that higher working frequency is more efficient for gaming than multiple processor cores, so high-speed dual-core processor should be a better choice.
Nevertheless, stereotypes do not always reflect the ever changing situation correctly. Games still take their time in learning to use the advantages of multi-core technology. However, there are other factors that may affect the situation in the end of the day. Firstly, graphics card drives received fully fledged support of multi-core processors. Secondly, Windows Vista operating system manages to distribute computational threads among the cores quite intelligently (especially compared with Windows XP), which gives the games that don’t have four parallel threads the opportunity to benefit from larger L2 cache of the quad-core processors. And the gaming tests we performed this time illustrate this statement very clearly.
For our session we used five pretty contemporary games. The tests were run in 1024x768 resolution, without FSAA. The image quality settings were left at defaults.
Quake 4 supports only dual-core processors. True, Core 2 Duo E6850 with higher clock frequency defeats the competing quad-core solution. However, overclocking changes the situation dramatically. Although overclocked Core 2 Duo E6850 works at a little higher frequency than the overclocked Core 2 Quad Q6600, it is the quad-core CPU that wins here. The determinative factor in this case is the two L2 caches with the total capacity of 8MB.
F.E.A.R. is actually a single-thread game. Nevertheless, the overclocked to 3.6GHz Core 2 Quad Q6600 is considerably faster than the dual-core Core 2 Duo E6850 working at 3.85GHz. This time the graphics driver optimizations played a crucial role.
Another single-threaded game, Company of Heroes, finally lets the dual-core processor to take the lead in nominal and overclocked work modes.
However, the picture changes to just the opposite in Supreme Commander. No wonder, since this game is practically the only one in the market today that supports quad-core processors. That is why Core 2 Quad Q6600 leads the race even without any overclocking.
And finally, we see pretty common picture in Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. The game itself by default creates two computational threads, however larger L2 cache of the quad-core processor grants its victory in overclocked mode. In nominal work mode Core 2 Duo E6850 wins the first prize as it boasts considerably higher working frequency.
UPDATE: However, you can make Lost Planet: Extreme Condition game work on quad-core processors, too, where there are four threads created. There is an option called “Concurrent Operations” in the Options menu. By changing it from 2 to 4 you can obtain even more impressive results on Core 2 Quad Q6600.
Summing up the results we have just seen, I can conclude that if the gamers don’t feel like overclocking their processor, they shouldn’t go for CPUs with more than two cores. Gamers-overclockers should definitely decide in favor of the Core 2 Quad Q6600, although a strong opposite opinion exists these days.