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Hyper-Threading and Everything You Need to Know

Hyper-Threading and Everything You Need to Know

Sean Whaley
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No matter how fast your PC is, it can always be faster. If you’re unsatisfied with the processing output of your computer, it might be time to hyper-thread your central processing unit’s (CPU) cores. Hyper-threading can be a great way to improve the processing speed of your PC without having to go through a major hardware makeover.
There are some drawbacks to hyper-threading, however, so you need to proceed with caution. Keep reading to learn all about hyper-threading to see if it’s the right solution for your PC or whether it’s not worth your trouble.

What is hyper-threading?

Before you can understand what hyper-threading is, you first need to become familiar with how a central processing unit (CPU) works and processes information. The CPU decodes information, performs mathematical algorithms, and reads the strings of 0s and 1s that make up code at its most primitive form.
When you fire up an application, the code for that program is taken from the hard drive and stored in the random access memory (RAM) before being fed into the CPU. The CPU then reads the instructions from RAM to perform the task at hand. When tech companies refer to their CPUs as “dual-core,” that means there are 2 cores (individual processing units) within the CPU.
Intel® indicates the number of cores they use with i3, i5, i7, and so on. This is a bit misleading, considering an Intel i7 Core processor doesn’t come with 7 cores; it comes with four. There are some Intel i7 Core extreme processors that can come with 6 or 8 cores. You can always refer back to the product description if you’re unsure of the number of cores within your CPU.
Without digressing too far from hyper-threading, it’s important to first establish an understanding as to how cores handle data within the CPU. When data is sent from the RAM to the CPU, it’s separated and directed to different cores.
Imagine a train yard: programs like Microsoft Word and Excel are freight on trains moving through the station, but the train station (the core) only has one set of tracks. The “freights,” or program instructions, head down the tracks in succession. Simple, right?
So how does hyper-threading work? When you hyper-thread your cores, you essentially create two tracks at the depot. Instead of data travelling along a single track, it will be separated and processed at the depot, speeding up the time in which it travels. Rather than feeding one program at a time into a core, hyper-threading allows multiple programs to load at once. Essentially, each core becomes two processors instead of one.
The primary objective of hyper-threading is to increase the number of independent instructions on the “tracks” heading towards the core. This ability is the result of superscalar architecture, or parallel computing, in which the CPU manages multiple instruction pipelines to execute several instructions on a concurrent clock time.
Now that you understand how hyper-threading works, the advantages and potential speed boost it could bring your PC is pretty clear.

Will hyper-threading improve my computer’s performance?

According to Intel [1], hyper-threading your cores can result in a 30% increase in performance and speed when comparing two identical PCs, with one CPU hyper-threaded. In a study published on Forbes, hyper-threading an AMD® processor (Ryzen 5 1600) showed a 17% increase in overall processing performance [2].
Despite these results, hyper-threading your cores isn’t always the go-to solution. There will be tasks in which the speed of your processor does not increase despite hyper-threading. This is due in part to the fact that not all applications and strings of data can efficiently load into a multi-thread core.
In an experiment carried out by bit-tech.net, a hyper-threaded Intel i7 Core was compared to a single thread Intel i7 Core after being put through a few different tests [3]. When it came to image editing, multitasking, and power consumption, the hyper-threaded counterpart did worse than the single thread. However, it performed the same or better when it came to Handbrake Video Encoding, the Overall Custom PC Benchmark Score, and playing the popular game Crysis.
Hyper-threading the cores in your CPU improves performance and speed on a case by case basis depending on which tasks are compatible with a hyper-threaded core. If you’re looking to enhance your PC’s overall processing prowess, hyper-threading could be a step in the right direction.

How to enable hyper-threading

Before you can hyper-thread your cores, you need to find out if your CPU will allow it. Some CPU cores are hyper-threaded by default and won’t require you to do anything.
To enable hyper-threading, you will first need to go into your system’s BIOS settings. For those unfamiliar, BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. BIOS launches when you turn on your PC, connecting various components such as the hard disk, CPU, and keyboard, in addition to managing data flow.
Once you know that your CPU is compatible with hyper-threading and have learned how to get into your system’s BIOS settings, select the proper host for your system. There should be a configuration tab or menu for you to choose from. Select “Processor” and click “Properties.” A dialogue box should pop up and give you the option to turn hyper-threading on or off.
Some manufacturers and providers may label the option as “Logical processor” or “Enable Hyper-threading.” The process will vary by manufacturer. Enabling hyper-threading for an AMD processor, for example, will have slightly different verbiage than enabling hyper-threading for an Intel processor.
To recap; once in the BIOS select:

Processor

Properties

Logical processor/Enable Hyper-threading

Be sure to confirm that your CPU is compatible for hyper-threading before taking the time to follow an instruction manual. If you hyper-thread your core and don’t like the results, disabling the setting follows the same process. Navigate to your BIOS and turn the option off.

Is hyper-threading good for gaming?

Whether or not hyper-threading is good for gaming is dependent on your existing number of cores. Most advanced games demand either 2 or 4 cores for the best performance. Learn about the best CPUs for gaming and top ways overclocking improves gaming.

Playing

If you’ve ever tried to play games with intense graphics on an Intel i3 Core processor, then you’re probably familiar with how many problems are caused due to the limited number of cores. Lagging and ghosting just scratch the surface on the list of problems caused by insufficient processing power.
Intel i5 hyper-threading and i3 hyper-threading can be extremely advantageous for gaming considering these processors don’t have a ton of power to begin with. When playing games like Crysis, you’ll notice a dramatic improvement and competitive advantage. Intel i7 hyper-threading might be excessive. Unless you’re playing multiple games at the same time or running multiple applications in the background, you probably won’t need so much added power.

Streaming

If you stream your game play, hyper-threading your cores can be extremely advantageous. When you need to run a game on top of a handful of applications necessary to record and upload videos, the superscalar architecture will keep your system running smoothly.
If you’re streaming on a top-of-the-line Intel i7 Core processor, you probably won’t notice a major difference. Advanced CPUs are incredibly fast as-is. However, processors with 2 or 4 cores might not give you enough juice for game play, even after hyper-threading.

The best processors for hyper-threading

The majority of triple-A (AAA) titles tend to target processors with 4 cores or more. If gaming is your goal, shoot for an AMD Ryzen or Intel i5 or better.
The Intel i5-8400, which you can find in the HP OMEN 870 gaming desktop, is a great place to start if you’re on a budget. Complete with 6 cores and 6 threads, this CPU has a base clock of 3.8 GHz and a turbo clock speed of 4.0 GHz. Although this CPU doesn’t allow for overclocking, it should provide more than enough power to play games at their highest settings.
The Intel i7-8700K comes with 6 cores and 12 threads on which you can run a multitude of background tasks while you get your game on. You can find this processor in the HP Pavilion gaming desktop.
In a similar price range as the Intel i7-8700K, the AMD Ryzen 7 2700 offers 8 cores, 16 threads, and overclocking capabilities. Often overlooked, AMD makes incredible processors for computers, laptops, and dedicated gaming PCs. Whether you’re interested in building a gaming PC from scratch or purchasing an pre-built system, you should seriously consider an AMD processor for advanced gaming.
The AMD Ryzen 3 2200G is an extremely affordable CPU considering how much you can get out of it. Four cores, a base clock at 3.5 GHz, plus overclocking capabilities lets you push your PC’s limits. The HP OMEN 875 Obelisk gaming desktop boasts three AMD Ryzen processors to choose from to customize your purchase.
If you really want to go all out and build a supercomputer, the Intel Core i9 7900X is in a league of its own. While the price tag definitely reflects its advanced components, its performance is hard to beat. With 10 cores and 20 threads, you can expect to juggle tons of tasks all at the same time.

Is hyper-threading good for VR gaming?

VR games eat up a ton of your processing power and you’ll be much better off by upgrading your CPU than trying to strain your existing one. The most popular VR games use massive amounts of data, and without a high-performance graphics card, you won’t be able to enjoy them.
If you buy a PC with an advanced graphics card befitting immersive VR games, your CPU is probably equipped to keep up. Be sure to choose a system that’s up to speed or prepare to build you own system if VR games are a top priority. Otherwise, you might be left scrambling to overclock your CPU or hyper-thread your cores to get in on the VR craze.
There’s a lot of talk circulating around the AMD Zen in terms of its VR capabilities. Companies like Intel and AMD are currently gearing up for the future of gaming to deliver epic experiences like never before.

Summary

At the rate that hardware for gaming PCs continues to improve, you might be tempted to hold off on a big purchase, but the best AAA titles will make you want to splurge on CPU power that will get the most out of the game.
If you’re considering hyper-threading the cores in your CPU, make sure it’s worth your while and that your processor is capable. Hyper-threading is a relatively simple PC upgrade that’s easy to enable. If it doesn’t suit your needs, you can simply go into your BIOS and turn it off again.
You have much to gain and not much to lose, why not give it a go?
About the Author: Sean Whaley is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Sean is a content creation specialist with a literature degree from SDSU. He has a wide breadth of knowledge when it comes to computer hardware and programming.