CUDA Cores: What Does They Mean And Where Are They Used?


Developed by Nvidia for graphics processing units (GPUs), Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA) is a technology platform that accelerates GPU computation processes. Nvidia cores are parallel or separate processing units within the GPU, with more cores generally equating to better performance. Let us dig deeper in this article of CUDA Cores.

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

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 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.

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 carrying out simultaneously, which is why such humongous amounts of CUDA cores are implement in GPUs. And seeing as how GPUs are design and optimize specifically for this purpose, their cores can be much smaller than those of the far more versatile CPU.

And How Do This Affect In-game Performance?

Essentially, any graphics settings that require calculations to be carrying 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

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 optimize, as Nvidia’s hardware usually is compare 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 Cores Do You Need?

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 GamersNexusTrustedReviewsTom’s HardwareAnandTech, and several others.

Choosing a Video Card With Such Cores

A higher number typically means the video card provides faster performance overall. But the number of CUDA cores is only one of several factors to consider when choosing a video card. Nvidia offers a range of cards featuring as few as eight CUDA cores to as many as 5,760 CUDA cores in the GeForce GTX TITAN Z.

What’s The Difference Between CUDA Cores And Stream Processors?

If you’re an AMD fan, then you’re probably aware of AMD’s stream processors. Most people know stream processors as AMD’s version of CUDA cores, which is true for the most part.

Stream processors have the same purpose as CUDAs, but both cores go about it in different ways. CUDA cores and stream processors are definitely not equal to each other—100 CUDA isn’t equivalent to 100 stream processors.

So, what makes stream processors so different from CUDA? It’s mostly due to the way the GPU is built. The structure of AMD and Nvidia GPUs differ greatly, and that causes the cores to behave differently as well.

CUDA Cores


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.

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