How Does Clock Speed Affect Gaming?

Before the advent of multi-core CPUs, clock speed was viewed as the key spec for comparing single-core processors. Today, it’s taken into consideration alongside number of cores, CPU cache, and power consumption.

The impact of clock speed on an individual game depends on the game’s engine and the tools used to create it. Benchmarking sites like Tom’s Hardware have found that some game engines, like Far Cry: Primal’s Dunia, benefit more from strong single-thread performance than multithreading.3 On the other hand, many newer AAA games, especially in multithreading-friendly engines like Unreal Engine 4, can benefit both from extra cores and increased clock.4

Specific benchmarks are the best way to assess CPU performance in a particular game engine, but clock speed is a good general guide to the relative performance of processors within a product family.

What Does Turbo Frequency Mean?

Intel CPU specifications list both Max Turbo Frequency and Processor Base Frequency. The processor base frequency refers to the CPU’s regular operating point, while the Max Turbo Frequency refers to the maximum speed the processor can achieve using Intel® Turbo Boost Technology.

Intel® Turbo Boost Technology is a tool that enhances clock speed dynamically to deal with heavy workloads. It works without requiring any installation or configuration by the user. The technology judges the amount of thermal headroom the processor has, as well as the number of cores in use, and then boosts clock speed to the maximum safe level. Read more about the technology here.

Which number is more important for gaming? The turbo frequency. Given adequate cooling, this is the speed your CPU will operate at when dealing with heavy workloads (such as traveling through a city, or calculating the AI behavior on an enemy turn in a strategy game) in the most CPU-intensive titles.

How Do You Adjust Your CPU Clock Speed?

The term “overclocking”5 refers to speeding up the CPU clock for more processing power. Intel CPUs with a “K” in the name have an unlocked “multiplier” for easy overclocking when paired with a motherboard chipset that supports overclocking.

Overclocking can yield improved FPS6, even for high-end CPUs like the latest Intel® Core™ i9 processor. Learn more about how to find a stable overclock and get more out of the hardware you already own here.