As a PC gamer, the CPU (along with the motherboard and RAM) used to be the last thing on my upgrade list. For most PC games, the CPU is still rarely the bottleneck. On average, I used to upgrade the GPU 3 times before doing a single CPU upgrade.
But that has changed with DCS in general and VR specifically. VR will bottleneck both your CPU and GPU. After quite a bit of testing and tinkering getting DCS to run optimally, I have shortlisted the following CPUs. But first, lets look at what DCS does to your CPU.
Do I even need to upgrade my CPU?
Even if Windows Task Manager doesn’t show your CPU to be bottle-necked, it still likely is. Know that Task Manager averages the CPU utilisation over the course of the tick time. So if you had 100% usage for the first half of the second and 0% for the second half, Task Manager will average it to 50% and show that. You can easily verify this using some advanced windows tools.
Check the following screenshot:
You are looking at CPU utilization over the course of 0.01 seconds (horizontal axis). As you can clearly see, the CPU is reaching 100% and bottlenecking for microseconds. But Task Manager will show the average and the average in this graph would probably be closer to 30% or something like that.
DCS still needs max single core performance. It does utilize the other cores for some very minor tasks, but the majority of stuff still happens on the main core.
The fact is that most game still use just one core heavily. Even if you see all cores being utilized, that is because of the same averaging effect mentioned earlier. Core1 gets used 100% for the first half of the second and then the task moves to Core2 (windows does this to allow cores to cool down). However, on Task Manager it will seem like Core1 was used 50% and Core2 was also used 50% because it will just average it!!
Which are the Best CPUs for DCS?
Based on all of this testing, the conclusion is that you still need the fastest possible single-core CPU for DCS (and most other games as well).
Based on all of these facts, here are my top recommendations:
1. Best Premium CPU
- 10 Cores / 20 Threads
- Socket type LGA 1200
The 10900K is the best consumer grade CPU for DCS right now. It over-clocks to 5.0 GHz easy-peasy and even goes beyond if you push it. That means you get the best single core performance and that is what you need.
It is indeed expensive and it gets hot, which means you’ll need a 240mm or 360mm radiator to cool it down. I have used the Corsair Hydro for almost 7 years now and it just keeps on kicking. This is the latest version of the Corsair Hydro ) .
But if you are looking for the best, this is it. Ryzen’s can’t compete in sheer single core performance although they offer better performance per dollar. The AMD 3900x does have more cores and can multi-task better, but that is not what you need for DCS or gaming in general. You need max single core performance.
2. “Sweet Spot” CPU Option
- 8 Cores / 8 Threads
- 3.60 GHz up to 4.90 GHz / 12 MB Cache
The 9700K hits the sweet spot in terms of price and performance. This is the default best option for most users. This is the chip that would be my final recommendation to a friend who was building a DCS rig.
The main difference between the 9700K and 9900K is that the 9700K does not have hyper threading. Buy you don’t actually need that for gaming. Hyper Threading splits a single physical core into two virtual cores but you don’t need more cores for gaming. You need the best single core performance. And the 9700K will give you almost 95% of the performance of the 9900K at a cheaper price point.
The Ryzen 3700K is a comparable option in this category if you want to go with AMD.
3. Value for Money Options
- The world's most advanced processor in the desktop PC gaming segment
- Can deliver ultra-fast 100+ FPS performance in the world's most popular games system memory...
Ryzens do offer the best performance per dollar. These options are the minimum I would urge you to consider for DCS if you intend to play in VR. You can of course go lower but there will be stuttering as the CPU gets bottlenecked quite a bit.
These chips can go up to 4.4 or 4.5 GHz and some push it a bit higher than that. But they have other limitations like cache that makes them slower than the other top end chips.
Another option in this range is the 9600K. The 9600K goes up to 4.6 GHz but some push it a tiny bit higher than that. It’s also a viable option and the decision boils down to your budget.