Understanding Physical CPUs, Cores, and Threads on Linux

Understanding the relationship between physical CPUs, cores, and threads on a Linux system involves several steps. Here’s a comprehensive guide to finding this information and understanding the allocation of resources:

Finding Physical CPUs, Cores, and Threads on Linux

  1. Identifying Physical CPUs:

    The number of physical CPUs (sockets) can be determined using the /proc/cpuinfo file or the lscpu command.

    • Using /proc/cpuinfo:

      grep "physical id" /proc/cpuinfo | sort -u | wc -l
    • Using lscpu:

      lscpu | grep 'Socket(s):'
  2. Identifying CPU Cores:

    Each physical CPU can have multiple cores. The number of cores per CPU can be found using:

    • Using /proc/cpuinfo:

      grep "core id" /proc/cpuinfo | sort -u | wc -l
    • Using lscpu:

      lscpu | grep 'Core(s) per socket:'
  3. Identifying Logical CPUs (Threads):

    Each core can run multiple threads, typically via hyper-threading. The total number of logical CPUs can be found using:

    • Using /proc/cpuinfo:

      grep -c ^processor /proc/cpuinfo
    • Using lscpu:

      lscpu | grep '^CPU(s):'

Example Analysis

Let’s break down the output of the lscpu command for better understanding:


Example output:

Architecture: x86_64 CPU op-mode(s): 32-bit, 64-bit Byte Order: Little Endian CPU(s): 8 On-line CPU(s) list: 0-7 Thread(s) per core: 2 Core(s) per socket: 4 Socket(s): 1 NUMA node(s): 1 Vendor ID: GenuineIntel CPU family: 6 Model: 158 Model name: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-7700HQ CPU @ 2.80GHz Stepping: 9 CPU MHz: 2808.004 BogoMIPS: 5616.01 Virtualization: VT-x L1d cache: 32K L1i cache: 32K L2 cache: 256K L3 cache: 6144K NUMA node0 CPU(s): 0-7

From this output:

  • Socket(s): 1 — There is 1 physical CPU.
  • Core(s) per socket: 4 — Each physical CPU has 4 cores.
  • Thread(s) per core: 2 — Each core can run 2 threads (via hyper-threading).
  • CPU(s): 8 — Total number of logical CPUs (threads).

Understanding Resource Allocation

  1. Physical CPUs (Sockets):

    • Represent the actual physical CPU hardware.
    • Each physical CPU can have multiple cores.
  2. Cores:

    • A core is an individual processing unit within a physical CPU.
    • Modern CPUs have multiple cores, which allows for parallel processing.
    • Each core can independently execute tasks.
  3. Threads (Logical CPUs):

    • Threads are the smallest unit of processing that the operating system can schedule.
    • With technologies like hyper-threading, each core can handle multiple threads simultaneously.
    • Logical CPUs represent the number of threads the system can run at once.

Relation Between Physical CPUs, Cores, and Threads

  • Physical CPUs -> Consist of multiple Cores -> Each core can execute multiple Threads.
  • Example from the lscpu output:
    • 1 Physical CPU (Socket)
    • 4 Cores per Socket
    • 2 Threads per Core
    • Total: 1 * 4 * 2 = 8 Logical CPUs (Threads)

Resource Allocation in Practice

  1. Single-Threaded Applications:

    • Utilize only one thread at a time.
    • Performance is limited by the speed of a single core.
  2. Multi-Threaded Applications:

    • Utilize multiple threads simultaneously.
    • Can run on multiple cores, improving performance significantly.
  3. Hyper-Threading:

    • Allows more efficient use of CPU resources.
    • Each physical core appears as two logical processors to the operating system.
    • Can improve performance for certain types of workloads.

Monitoring CPU Utilization

You can monitor CPU utilization to understand how resources are being used:

  • Using top or htop:

  • Using mpstat:

    mpstat -P ALL 1
  • Using sar:

    sar -u 1 3

These tools provide real-time insights into CPU usage, helping you understand how threads are being utilized across cores and physical CPUs.


To find the number of physical CPUs, cores, and threads on a Linux system, you can use commands like lscpu and inspect /proc/cpuinfo. Understanding the relationship between these elements is crucial for optimizing performance and resource allocation in both single-threaded and multi-threaded applications. Monitoring tools like top, htop, mpstat, and sar can help you track CPU utilization and make informed decisions about workload distribution and system tuning.

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