In this article, we’ll take a very basic look at what CPU is and what to look for when selecting one for your build.
The CPU (Central Processing Unit) or simply “Processor”, plays a critical role in any PC build.
The processor is the brains of your computer and is responsible for processing instructions sent to it by computer programs.
A fast processor is critical to allow for a good user experience. If the processor can’t keep up with the instructions being sent to it, other components will be waiting on the processor and the performance of your system will suffer. It’s important to select a processor that suits the intended use of your PC.
The two main brands of PC CPUs are Intel and AMD. Selection considerations for processors include:
- Socket type – make sure you select a CPU that’s compatible with your motherboard. Intel and AMD use different motherboard sockets and each brand has several variants of their own sockets. Look for names such as LGA 1150 (Intel) or AM3+ (AMD) and ensure the CPU matches your motherboard.
- Performance – The most reliable way of determining how a CPU will perform is to research performance benchmarks in the type of workload you’ll be performing. If you’re building a gaming PC, look for gaming benchmarks. If you’re build a video editing or code compiling machine, look for relevant benchmarks. There are far to many advertised features such as clock speed, manufacturing process/die size, instruction sets, pipeline depth etc to compare one processor to another. Simple evaluating the number of cores or clock speed is not a reliable measure of performance.
- Number of Cores – As mentioned above, there’s much more to evaluating CPU performance than the number of cores. However, you’ll most likely want at least 4 cores for any sort of heavy workload. If you’re building a budget/everyday computer that won’t be performing any CPU intensive workloads then you may opt for a dual core.
- Hyperthreading – CPUs which support this feature essentially split each core into two logical cores. If a program supports Hyperthreading, it may utilize the logical cores to run additional processes and improve performance. Check if your programs support or benefit from Hyperthreading before assuming, as many of them don’t.
- Power consumption – The power usage of a CPU can vary quite a bit. If you’re concerned about the power consumption of your PC (a home theater build for example), make sure you check the power usage of each CPU you consider.
- Heat – This usually goes hand in hand with power consumption. If your CPU uses a lot of power, it most likely generates a lot of heat. Thankfully, the stock coolers usually go a good job of keeping the CPU within operating temperatures. If you live in a very hot environment, don’t have good airflow in your case or plan to overclock, you may choose to install an aftermarket CPU cooler.
- Price – Of course, your budget may limit which CPU you choose for your build but it’s also important to not over-spec here. For example, if you’re building a gaming machine, it may be wise to choose a 4 core CPU without Hyperthreading. Games rarely benefit from this feature and you can put the price difference towards a more powerful graphics card which will have a much greater impact in performance.