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.
DCS is not like those other games
The vast majority of games out there are bound by your GPU (graphics card). The higher the resolution, the truer this becomes. But this is not the case for DCS. DCS still uses a very outdated engine that does things very differently. What this means is that CPU choice for DCS, especially in VR, matters a lot.
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 CPU for DCS (Premium)
- The world's fastest gaming desktop processor and first gaming processor with 3D stacking technology
- 8 Cores and 16 processing threads with AMD 3D V-Cache technology
- The processor features Socket LGA-1700 socket for installation on the PCB
- 30 MB of L3 cache memory provides excellent hit rate in short access time enabling improved system...
The 12900K 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 or get lucky with the silicon lottery. 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 over 8 years now and it just keeps on kicking. This is the latest version of the Corsair Hydro ) . If you are looking for the best, this is it.
AMD’s Ryzens are actually better in many applciaitons but for such a core limited game like DCS, Intel is still king. However, you are paying a lot of extra dough for that last 2-3% of extra performance. The Ryzens have an advantage in terms of price-performance and they are also more upgrade-friendly. Which essentially means you don’t have to buy a new motherboard as often with AMD as you have to with Intel. The bottomline is you won’t go wrong with a top end AMD chip either.
2. Best CPU for DCS (Mid-range)
- Intel® Core® i5 Deca-core (10 Core) 3.70 GHz processor offers hyper-threading architecture that...
- The Socket LGA-1700 socket allows processor to be placed on the PCB without soldering
- AMD's fastest 6 core processor for mainstream desktop, with 12 processing threads
- Can deliver elite 100 plus FPS performance in the world's most popular games
The 12600K 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. This chip has been one of the most popular gaming processors and with good reason. It gives you performance that is only slightly lower than the top dogs, but it does that at less than half the price. You can overclock to 5.1 Ghz (maybe more or less depending on silicon lottery) without worrying about the tremendous heat that the i9 chips generate.
AMD also has a contender in this range and it offers even better price performance than the Intel. AMD has shaken up the CPU market quite a bit and in the mid range they actually outperform Intel these days. The benefit is not just in the price performance of the chip itself but also in motherboard longevity and saving on electricity costs. That might not seem like much, but if it adds up over time.
3. Best CPU for DCS (Entry Level)
- Intel Core i3-12100F Desktop Processor 4 (4P-0E) Cores Up to 4.3 GHz Turbo Frequency LGA1700 600...
- Can deliver fast 100 plus FPS performance in the world's most popular games, discrete graphics card...
- 6 Cores and 12 processing threads, bundled with the AMD Wraith Stealth cooler
The older Ryzens still 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 budget 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.
Intel also has a few offerings at this price point. The 12100F goes up to 4.3 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.