What Are NVIDIA CUDA Cores And What Do They Mean For Gaming?

Shopping for a new graphics card but you're unsure about this certain entry on the spec sheet? No worries, we're here to offer a simple explanation as to what CUDA cores are and why they're important.


CUDA cores are an Nvidia GPU’s equivalent of CPU cores. They are optimized for running a large number of calculations simultaneously, something that is vital for modern graphics.

Naturally, the graphics settings affected the most by the GPU’s CUDA core count are the ones that require the most out of a GPU i.e. shadows and lighting, among others.

CUDA has long been one of the most standout entries on any GeForce graphics card’s spec sheet. However, not everyone is entirely clear on what CUDA cores are, nor what exactly they represent for gaming.

In this article, we mean to provide a short and simple answer to this very question. On top of that, we will briefly go over some other related questions that some users might have.

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What Are CUDA Cores?

CUDA is an acronym for one of Nvidia’s proprietary technologies: Compute Unified Device Architecture.

Its purpose? Efficient parallel computing.

A single CUDA core is analogous to a CPU core, with the primary difference being that it is less sophisticated but implemented in much greater numbers. A common gaming CPU has anywhere between 2 and 16 cores, but CUDA cores number in the hundreds, even in the lowliest of modern Nvidia GPUs. Meanwhile, high-end cards now have thousands of them.

cuda cores

What Do CUDA Cores Do In Gaming?

A GPU differs from a CPU in many ways, but to put it in layman’s terms: a CPU is more of an administrator, responsible for controlling the computer as a whole, while a GPU is best suited for doing the heavy lifting.

Graphics processing requires numerous complex calculations to be carried out simultaneously, which is why such humongous amounts of CUDA cores are implemented in GPUs. And seeing as how GPUs are designed and optimized specifically for this purpose, their cores can be much smaller than those of the far more versatile CPU.

what are cuda cores

And how do CUDA cores affect in-game performance?

Essentially, any graphics settings that require calculations to be carried out simultaneously will benefit greatly from a higher CUDA core count. The most obvious ones are lighting and shadows, but also included are physics, as well as some types of anti-aliasing and ambient occlusion.

CUDA Cores vs Stream Processors

Whereas Nvidia has CUDA cores, its primary competitor, AMD, has Stream Processors.

Now, these two technologies, as well as each company’s respective GPU architectures, are obviously different. However, fundamentally and function-wise, CUDA cores and Stream Processors are all the same thing.

CUDA cores are better optimized, as Nvidia’s hardware usually is compared to AMD, but there are no glaring differences in terms of performance or graphics quality that you need to worry about if you’re torn between getting an Nvidia or an AMD GPU.

How Many CUDA Cores Do You Need?

nvidia cuda cores

And here’s the tricky question. As is often the case with on-paper specifications, they are simply not a good indicator of what kind of performance you can expect from a piece of hardware.

Many other specifications, such as the VRAM capacity, are more important to consider than the CUDA core count, and there’s also the question of software optimization.

Because of this, the best way to ascertain a GPU’s performance is to take a look at some benchmarks. That way, you can know exactly what type of performance you can expect in a certain game.

For a general impression of how powerful a GPU is, we recommend checking out UserBenchmark. However, if you want to see some detailed, in-depth testing, there are multiple reliable sites such as GamersNexus, TrustedReviews, Tom’s Hardware, AnandTech, and several others.

The Final Word

And that’s the gist of it. Hopefully, this has helped shed some light on what CUDA cores actually are, what they do, and how significant they are. Most of all, we hope that we have helped dispel any misconceptions you may have had about the subject.

Finally, if you’re considering getting a new GPU now, we suggest checking out this article featuring the best graphics cards currently available.

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Samuel Stewart

Samuel is GamingScan's editor-in-chief. He describes himself as a dedicated gamer and programmer. He enjoys helping others discover the joys of gaming. Samuel closely follows the latest trends in the gaming industry in order to keep the visitors in the flow.

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