Graphics chips provide the biggest gee-whiz performance in a game computer. But Intel argues that the microprocessors that it makes make their contribution as well. The company is making that case with its latest processor, the Intel Core i7-980X processor Extreme Edition.

The new chip is based on Intel’s 32-nanometer manufacturing process, which produces chips that are faster, smaller and cheaper than prior versions. It has six processing cores, or computing brains, and each core is capable of processing two pieces of code at once. Intel says it is ideal for tasks such as digital content creation, 3-D rendering, multitasking and gaming.

Of course, this kind of performance gain you get from a microprocessor is infinitessimal compared to the gains you can get with adding multiple graphics chips. And the people who care about this kind of performance are a small piece of the market. I happen to be one of those nuts, and I think it’s cool that these chips can make a visible difference in how a demanding game, such as the new Napoleon: Total War, runs on a PC.

Bobby Oh, an Intel game manager, showed me the difference between how the Napoleon game looks with or without the Intel processor. With the Intel processor, the individual soliders in a column of musketeers can behave more uniquely, reflecting artificial intelligence that is a step up from other games. You can also see how the sails of Man of War ships billow with the wind in the seafaring part of the game. Games such as Sega’s Napoleon: Total War are highly threaded, meaning they’re designed to take advantage of the multiple cores. Others recently shown at the Game Developers Conference include Ubisoft’s R.U.S.E. and Cakewalk Sonar Producer.