If the _subject_ contains utf-8 sequences the 'u' modifier should be set, otherwise a pattern such as /./ could match a utf-8 sequence as two to four individual ASCII characters. It is not a requirement, however, as you may have a need to break apart utf-8 sequences into single bytes. Most of the time, though, if you're working with utf-8 strings you should use the 'u' modifier.
If the subject doesn't contain any utf-8 sequences (i.e. characters in the range 0x00-0x7F only) but the pattern does, as far as I can work out, setting the 'u' modifier would have no effect on the result.