Intel has disclosed more about how Alder Lake processors will work for gamers, and as we’ve heard in the past via the rumor mill, the power-efficient (‘little’) cores should more than pull their weight even for gaming on a desktop PC – in certain scenarios.
Team Blue has already explained how these 12th-gen CPUs, with their mix of performance (normal) and efficient (low-power) cores, will work with Windows 11 to get the most out of the processor’s abilities. Alder Lake will have a Thread Director, a hardware-based scheduler to work in tandem with Windows 11’s thread scheduler, enabling the operating system to fully optimize CPU performance for different workloads.
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And when it comes to gaming workloads, as PC Gamer reports, Intel’s Ran Berenson, GM of Core and Client Development Group, laid out the advantages of Alder Lake in no uncertain terms: “The best example that we have in the lab is gaming in parallel to whatever other workloads that you’re running. Can be streaming, can be web browsing.”
Intel gives an example of playing and recording a game, a scenario in which the beefy powerful cores are running the actual game, with the low-power cores providing the wherewithal to tackle recording duties. Similarly, if you’re running Discord during a gaming session, the small cores could handle that.
Alder Lake’s little cores won’t just be about dealing with tasks on the side for gamers, though, and separately Intel detailed the way in which these cores – which are shaping up to be surprisingly powerful, beating out a Skylake (6th-gen) core in terms of IPC (instructions per clock), but with better power-efficiency – could boost gaming frame rates.
Games will have to be optimized for Alder Lake silicon to do so, of course, and to take advantage of the full amount of threads on offer, which will be 24-threads with the flagship (8 full-power cores, amounting to 16-threads with hyperthreading, with a further 8 low-power cores without hyperthreading).
Berenson told PC Gamer: “If the game is optimized to use a lot of threads and it’s not the old old games today, yes, it will be very beneficial for the game, you know, to run physics on a specific core and run audio announcements on the other core.”
So, while existing games won’t be able to squeeze the full potential from the 24-threads of the Alder Lake flagship, titles coming down the line will – providing the developer optimizes for them.
Intel makes it clear that there’s a “lot of room for optimization” when it comes to gaming on 12th-gen CPUs.
Analysis: Cores and effect
How excited should we be about Alder Lake’s gaming potential in light of this new info? Well, there are lots of promising noises being made for sure, but certainly the question of how well 12th-gen silicon might fly in terms of game devs making use of the full capabilities of all those threads, including the low-power ones, is something only those with access to a working crystal ball (and suitable divinatory skills) will be able to foresee.
In general, though, with contemporary games we are seeing a shift towards more cores being used – thanks to AMD pushing swiftly forward with multi-core Ryzen CPUs. Certainly, the days when Intel took a stance against driving for more and more cores for gaming (rather than maximizing clock speeds) appear to be well and truly in the rear-view mirror.
As we’ve seen in recent times, much greater numbers of gamers now own 6-core or 8-core processors, and with that trend in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine many more threads being put to good use by game developers in the maybe-not-too-distant future – particularly if Alder Lake is offering a lot of scope for optimization, as claimed.
In the nearer future, though, expect those small cores to be making more of a difference for the likes of game streamers, or other side jobs like running Discord.
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Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).