Generally, the query execution plan's overall cost aligns with the statistical IOPs. However, I've run into a situation where this isn't the case; one plan, which uses no throttling of CPU, shows it's less expensive by 6%, yet the more expensive plan (which uses OPTION (MAXDOP 1)) has significantly fewer reads and requires less time. I tested the order of the query which came first and last and I continue to obtain the same results (even when running them independently).

The no maxdop option query is 6% faster by query execution plan, but has significantly more reads and takes more seconds regardless of whether it is run first or last over the MAXDOP 1 query.

In a situation where the query execution plan shows that one plan is smaller than the other overall, but the statistics show a lot more reads on the more expensive one and it takes a lot less time, what's the best way to determine which is more effective?


Just some numbers:

Plan one (no MAXDOP): 6% less cost by execution plan

Plan two OPTION (MAXDOP 1): Per Stats IO, fewer scans, logical reads,WorkTables involved; less time by 2 seconds overall.

  • 2
    Plan cost is just a number. I would rely on statistics IO and time for any optimization that I do.
    – Kin Shah
    Jun 30, 2016 at 13:11
  • @Kin Thanks for the feedback; that's generally what I do since that measures what the numerical hits are. Generally, these are similar (or very close like 50-50). Jun 30, 2016 at 13:14

1 Answer 1


SQL server uses a cost based optimization model. The exact cost will depend on the row size and distribution info which will be context-sensitive and dynamic. Even in actual execution plans, the cost figure is based on estimates.

From : An Introduction to Cost Estimation

In recent versions of SQL Server this cost should no longer be interpreted as seconds, milliseconds, or any other unit.

Back to your question :

what's the best way to determine which is more effective?

I used to rely on statistics time and IO. Any change I make e.g. create index, rewrite the query, use query hint, update / create statistics etc. I would measure the CPU time, reads and writes.

Since I purchased SQL Sentry's Plan Explorer PRO, I just use it to compare the before and after plans.

Also, you can get Multiple Plans for an "Identical" Query - check the SET options, any cAsE and whitespace or schema references as well.

Great references :

  • So without the tool, the IOPS are more accurate. With these queries the only difference is the MAXDOP 1. Good info @Kin. Jun 30, 2016 at 15:33

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