If you know anything about computers, you will probably be familiar with the term “CPU frequency“. The CPU’s clock speed is one of the most important specs when buying a new CPU, much like the core and thread count. So how does clock speed affect the CPU performance?
We first need to clarify what clock speed even means. Both core speed and core count affect the CPU’s overall performance. They are the two main things to consider when buying a new CPU, along with the cache size, TDP, and transistor count. The clock speed of the CPU is relevant because it tells us how many times your CPU can retrieve and interpret new instructions. Clock speed is measured in hertz (Hz) or, more specifically, gigahertz (GHz). The higher the number, the faster the performance.
The clock speed tells us how many times the transistors open and close inside the processor. That is called a cycle, and it is synchronized by an internal clock. For example, a CPU that has a clock speed of 4.0 GHz will execute 4 billion cycles per second. The clock speed of the CPU will directly affect the performance, but it is not always the most accurate measurement.
Generally, a CPU of the same generation will outperform other CPUs if it has the same number of cores and threads but a higher clock speed. This is why so many enthusiasts love to overclock. But a newer CPU with a lower clock speed will beat the older, faster CPU most of the time as it is more efficient thanks to other improvements in technology.
So, what does all this mean to you? How does clock speed affect the CPU performance? You will find the answers to these questions below.
How Does Clock Speed Affect The CPU Performance?
Clock speed will always have a direct impact on performance. Simply put, a faster clock speed will result in more FPS in games and faster rendering times in synthetic benchmarks. However, it is important to note that comparing two processors from different generations by looking at the clock speed is not a good idea. Newer CPUs will have better performance thanks to the improvements in their architecture.
This is why we haven’t really seen CPU clock speeds go up by much over the past generations. Let’s look at the Intel Core i7 as an example. The Core i7-4790K from 2014 was built on the 22 nm. It had 8 cores and 8 threads clocked at 4.00 GHz with a max turbo of 4.40 GHz. The newer Core i7-9700K from 2018 is built on the much more efficient 14 nm lithography. It is also an 8-core 8-thread CPU but it is clocked at only 3.60 GHz and boosts up to 4.90 GHz.
You can see that the clock speed got hardly increased over four years, but the performance increase is over 30%. What this means for you is that you shouldn’t trust clock speed as a defining factor. It is only relevant when comparing two very similar CPUs like the Ryzen 5 3600 and the 3600X. The slightly higher clock speed of the 3600X makes it perform better in both gaming and productivity.
But bear in mind that overclocking is also an option. Overclocking the Ryzen 5 3600 can close the gap between the two CPUs without affecting the temps too much. You can expect overclocking to increase your CPU performance by 5-20%, depending on what you use your computer for and on the specific CPU model. A higher clock speed will increase single-threaded performance, which is relevant for gamers that want the best FPS. Having more slower cores is still much better for productivity tasks.
Clock speed is an important aspect of choosing the right CPU, but it does not matter as much as it did many years ago. How does clock speed affect the CPU performance? Higher clock speeds mean better single-threaded performance, which is relevant for gamers. Remember that the difference in clock speed between two CPUs is only relevant if they are using the same architecture. Otherwise, it is not relevant as newer and slower CPUs will outperform older, faster ones thanks to improvements in technology.