The debate about how much CPU cache is needed for an optimal PC experience is still ongoing. And such debates can really throw off newcomers who are eager to build a decent rig for their daily use.
But let’s not delve into that debate anymore. Instead, we’re going to do an in-depth discussion & analysis to find out how much CPU cache you actually need in your computer.
What is CPU Cache & Why Is It Needed?
The CPU cache is a small amount of memory built within the processor die. While the system memory in your computer is Dynamic RAM or DRAM, the CPU cache is Static RAM or SRAM, which is more expensive but a helluva lot faster than the DRAM.
But why does a processor need its own memory since it already uses the system RAM to fetch data back & forth?
Well, the DRAM modules are indeed a lot faster than the internal storage(HDD or SSD), but the processor actually needs data much faster than the DRAM can provide. That makes the CPU and the RAM function synchronously.
So without faster memory, the CPU is just gonna sit around and do nothing as it waits for the necessary data. Hence, your PC will run into a bottleneck. This is where the CPU cache comes into play.
It’s easier for the processor to retrieve data from its own incredibly fast memory rather than fetch it from slower & distant storage. An average CPU only has a few megabytes of cache, but it makes tremendous use of this small memory to keep the processor fed with data.
Types of CPU Cache
The cache memory is divided into three levels of hierarchy; Level 1(L1 cache), Level 2(L2 cache), and Level 3(L3 cache). Each level has a different amount of memory clocked at different speeds.
Level 1 or L1 cache is the fastest onboard memory that the CPU hits first to retrieve data. It also has the lowest amount of memory of the bunch, usually ranging from a few kilobytes to 1 megabyte depending on the processor.
Level 2 or L2 cache is slower than the L1 cache but offers a bit more memory. The processor hits the Level 2 cache when it fails to retrieve data from L1. L2 cache can range from a few hundred kilobytes to 16 megabytes.
Level 3 or L3 cache is the slowest of the bunch but has a much higher memory pool. This is the last level of cache hierarchy where the CPU seeks data when it fails to retrieve from L1 & L2. The amount of L3 cache in a CPU can range from 1 MB to 128 MB.
Condensing the information above should give you a clear notion about the cache memory. But that should not confuse you with the register. Remember, there’s a dissimilarity between the cache and register.
How Much CPU Cache is Needed?
As we can see from the previous discussion, the amount of available CPU cache can vary significantly depending on the processor. Which can create confusion among users about what is the ideal amount of cache.
Unfortunately, it’s a very difficult question to answer. Not only does it depend on the user’s workflow, but it also depends on the brand and generation of the processor.
So in order to answer the question at hand, we need to categorize it depending on the use case scenario.
How Much CPU cache is Needed for Gaming?
In general, CPU clock speed, core counts, IPC, and core design are more important for a good gaming performance than the cache amount. To play all current-gen titles, you’ll need 8-16MB CPU cache.
But, does having more CPU cache mean more frames per second? Let’s find out together.
For this, I’m going to use 4 almost identical test benches, the only difference being the CPU. All the builds have MSI RTX 3060 Ventus, 16GB DDR4 RAM, and 512GB Samsung NVMe SSD. Each processor comes from a different SKU and offers a different amount of cache.
Among the 4 CPUs, the first two are from Intel & the other two are from AMD. In the Intel rigs, we have Core i9 11900K clocked at 5.30GHz, 8 cores/16 threads, and 16MB L3 cache. The second one is Core i5 12400F clocked at 4.40GHz, 6 cores/6 threads, and 18MB L3 cache.
In the AMD builds, I used Ryzen 5 5600X(Zen 3 architecture). It has 6 cores/12 threads clocked at 4.6GHz and 32MB L3 cache. And lastly, we have Ryzen 5 3600(Zen 2 architecture) with 6 cores/12 threads clocked at 4.2GHz and 32MB L3 cache.
Now, let’s run GTA 5 at 1080p ultra settings on all builds to see what kind of gaming performance we can get.
As you can see from the test runs, the CPU(i9 11900K) with the least amount of cache memory got the highest FPS.
Not only that, both AMD processors have the exact same amount of cache onboard. Despite that, the one with the newer Zen 3 architecture, higher IPC & clock speed got more FPS than the older Zen 2 counterpart with a lower IPC & core clock. So yeah, the gigahertz number in CPU matters while gaming.
But anyway, we can’t judge a CPU’s gaming performance based on its cache memory. Different brands offer different amounts of cache in their chip architecture. Not to mention, AMD processors generally come with a much higher L3 cache than Intel’s.
With all these being said and done, having a very low amount of cache memory can hamper gaming performance. So it’s ideal to have a decent amount of CPU cache(around 8-16MB) for optimal gaming performance and better future-proofing.
How Much CPU Cache is Needed for Productivity?
Now that we’ve settled the discourse about CPU cache for gaming, let’s discuss how much cache memory is needed to perform other tasks.
Around 8MB CPU cache is ideal for productivity. All current-gen CPUs offer around 12-32MB cache which is more than enough to get a satisfying performance in all sorts of multi-core workloads.
But, can we get more performance if the CPU has more cache memory? Let’s see.
We’re going to use the same CPU builds that we had for our gaming test. Now, let’s run some productivity suites to see whether there’s any impact based on the amount of cache memory.
From the chart shown above, it’s pretty clear that the amount of CPU cache has little to no performance impact on production workloads. Similar to the gaming chart, the CPU with the lowest amount of cache memory provided the best user experience.
Why? Because clock speed, core count, IPC, and core architecture have a more meaningful impact on overall performance than how much cache your processor has.
Don’t get me wrong, having a decent amount of CPU cache is crucial, but having more cache memory won’t always translate to better performance. So, you shouldn’t take your CPU purchase decision based solely on the cache amount.
How to Check CPU Cache Size on My PC?
Windows users can easily check the amount of CPU cache they have in their computers. You can use third-party apps or search for the specification of your computer’s processor, but the easiest way to know the CPU cache size is via the Task Manager.
Here’s how to check the CPU cache size of your PC:
- Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open the Task Manager.
- Click on More details.
- Navigate to the Performance tab.
Look in the bottom-right corner, and you’ll see the amount of cache for each level (L1, L2, and L3). This cache memory can’t be cleaned like other cache files on your PC.
Furthermore, don’t confuse it with CPU register, as processor cache memory & register are two completely different components.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a good CPU cache size?
The ideal CPU cache size is around 8 MB to 16 MB.
Does cache size affect performance?
Yes. Cache memory has a huge impact on overall system performance.
What is the highest CPU cache?
The AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D has the highest CPU cache size, coming in at a whopping 144 MB in total, with 128MB for the L3 cache alone.
How much cache do I need for programming?
For basic programming, 1-3MB L3 cache is more than enough. In case you use a lot of extensions for Visual Studio coding, you might need a much more powerful CPU that offers around 18-32MB cache memory.
That’s about it. Hopefully, this guide has provided you with the answer and all the necessary information you were looking for.
If there’s any question still lingering in your mind, feel free to let us know in the comment section below.