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What are CUDA Cores?

On the lookout for a new GPU and not totally sure what you should be looking for? Here is everything you need to know about CUDA Cores and why they’re so important.

If you’ve checked out the Nvidia website recently, you may have spotted CUDA Cores listed on any GeForce graphics card’s spec sheet, but what does it mean?

We’re going to give a simple run-through of what CUDA Cores are and how they differ from the other components in a PC, so you know exactly what CUDA Cores are and how many you may need for your next gaming set-up.

What are CUDA Cores?

CUDA, which stands for Compute Unified Device Architecture, Cores are the Nvidia GPU equivalent of CPU cores that have been designed to take on multiple calculations at the same time, which is significant when you’re playing a graphically demanding game.

One CUDA Core is very similar to a CPU Core. Generally, CUDA Cores are not as developed, though they are implemented in much greater numbers, with your standard gaming CPU coming with up to 16 cores, while CUDA Cores can easily get into the hundreds.

High-end CUDA Cores can come in the thousands, with the purpose of efficient and speedy parallel computing since more CUDA Cores mean more data can be processed in parallel.

CUDA Cores can also only be found on Nvidia GPUs from the G8X series onwards, including the GeForce, Quadro and Telsa lines. It will work with most operating systems.

You also have more choices than just Nvidia’s CUDA Cores, as AMD has its own technology, Stream Processors. While differing in terms of architecture and design, both CUDA and Stream Processors achieve the same thing, and there are no huge benefits to either technology when it comes to performance or graphics quality.

Why are CUDA Cores important?

Going back to basics, we know that the CPU is like the brain of a PC, as it controls the whole PC and tells the components of a computer what to do, according to the instructions from the software running on the computer.

Meanwhile, the GPU on a PC is used to create images on screen, from the start-up menu to the final cutscene in a game. Graphics processing requires a lot of complex calculations, which is why so many CUDA Cores are packed into GPUs, as they help to keep everything running smoothly.

Plus, CUDA Cores can come in much smaller sizes than CPU cores, since they have been optimised specifically for this purpose, which allows even more to be packed into a PC.

In laymen’s terms, any GPU that needs to be running calculations simultaneously will benefit from a high CUDA Core count, with ray tracing being a great example, as creating the correct shadows and lighting conditions require a lot of horsepower. Ray Tracing is a next generation feature that lets computers with compatible hardware and the latest PS5 and Xbox Series X/S games consoles render significantly more realistic lighting effects, including real-time reflections.

How many CUDA Cores do you need?

As we all know, even if you know the exact specs, it’s hard to predict what type of performance you will get from a piece of hardware, which is why it’s hard to recommend a set number of CUDA Cores. Other components in a PC will also impact the performance, such as VRAM capacity and what type of CPU your PC has.

One of the best ways to understand what your GPU is capable of is to check out UserBenchmark, which will test your machine’s hardware. You can also check out our PC Component Reviews section to see if we’ve reviewed your GPU previously. Plus, you can check out our pick of the best GPUs we’ve tested to find the best option for your gaming needs and budget.

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