There is hardly any doubt in the fact that the CPU is one of the most important components of a computer. If your processor is overheated, has physical damage or suffered some bad fate, then your system is unlikely to open. Furthermore, a CPU costs more than other parts and hence it might cost you a lot to replace it as well.
So, while buying a computer, you have to give special attention to the specification of the processor. You will have to understand the brand, core clock speed, threads, Cache, thermal design, etc. before buying a CPU. Even before that, you should know for what purpose you are going to use the computer.
In this article, we are going to provide you a detailed guide on what to look for while choosing a CPU.
What Are The Parameters to Consider While Choosing a CPU?
The quality of a CPU depends on several factors such as its number of cores, threads, thermal design, etc. So, you should know about these factors first before choosing a CPU. It won’t do good for your experience as well as money if you chose the CPU with the feature incompatible with you.
Let’s go in detail about these features of the CPU.
The first thing you should see is if the CPU you are trying to choose is compatible with your motherboard or not. If the CPU is not compatible with other hardware, motherboard or the socket, then your plan will fail even before it starts. Whatever is the purpose for buying a CPU, you should look for a compatible one.
An Intel CPU will not be compatible with AMD board and vice versa. If you have a DDR5 RAM, then buying a CPU that recognized DDR3 RAM will not do the job.
Assuming you already have a motherboard, you will find the socket type, written on the motherboard. Similarly, on the official website of the motherboard, you will find the list of CPU compatible with it. You should see the list and find the name of the CPU that you will be selecting.
If you are first buying a CPU, then you should follow the process in reverse and select the motherboard and hardware compatible with it.
AMD or Intel
There are currently two big names for CPUs in the market; AMD and Intel. Earlier, Intel was far ahead of AMD and there was no place for comparison. But the tides have turned now. AMD’s latest Ryzen processors have outsmarted Intel in almost every aspect. Moreover, you can get AMD’s CPU for a lesser price as well.
It does not make much difference what you choose for basic household and official use. However, Intel wins in the case of gaming but the margin is really small. Similarly, AMD has the advantage of multi-threads for heavy video editing, simulation and big data analytics.
Choose wisely by analyzing why you want the CPU and most importantly, the compatibility.
Generation of the Processor
Generation basically means the recency of which CPU has been out in the market. Higher the generation, most recent is the processor. Generation of the Processor can be found easily by its name most of the time.
For instance, If the name of an Intel processor is Intel Core i5-6440HQ, it means it is a 6th generation i5 processor of 6th generation known by the first digit. The alphabets at the end are also important while choosing a CPU. But there are a lot of these alphabets.
So, you will be better off remembering the F, meaning Requires Discrete Graphics and K, meaning Unlocked or Can be Modified for the desktop models. Similarly, U, meaning Mobile Power Efficient and HK, meaning High Performance Optimized for Mobile (Unlocked) are enough to be remembered for mobile processors.
But AMD’s CPUs are quite complicated to identify by their names. Like the AMD Ryzen 5000 series CPUs are actually of fourth generation. Nevertheless, you might have already understood by now that the newer generation will definitely be better than the older one.
Number of Cores and Threads
The most considered features for a CPU are its number of cores and threads. Cores are the main processing unit of the CPU that performs the given task. Having a single core means one task is performed at one time and a multiple core means it can perform more tasks at once.
Threads are the codes that compute the task given to the CPU. When a CPU receives a work, it assigns one process to a thread. When it receives another work, the CPU assigns the task to another thread. We can understand threads as virtual cores. Threads utilize the unused portion of the core to perform another task.
When a CPU is a multi-core, multi-threaded one, it can do multitasking more smoothly. Nowadays, some software are even programmed such that a single program can use multiple cores and threads as well to run itself faster.
A higher CPU core can even outrun the CPU of the latest generation. For instance, the Intel Core i3 CPU of the 10th generation is much slower in multitasking than a Core i5 CPU of 8th generation.
But it does not always mean that more cores equals faster computers. It is true if you multitask a lot. But, other times, it entirely depends upon the capacity of your program. If the game or program only uses two-cores, then having six or eight cores won’t matter at all.
Similarly, programs carrying out heavy video edits and simulations can benefit from multi-threads and you can get the results much faster. We recommend you to use at least a quad-core CPU for gaming. Increasing cores and threads is definitely better but up to a point. A 16 cores AMD CPU provides only a slight advantage over a 8 cores one.
So, again, the purpose of your computer matters the most.
Core Clock Speed and Instructions Per Clock (IPC)
Clock Speed of the CPU core means the total number of tasks it can perform in a second. It is measured in Gigahertz (GHz) meaning it can perform 109 tasks in one second. Older CPUs had the capacity in Megahertz.
As we know from earlier discussion, the more the speed, the better is the CPU. In the priority tree, Clock Speed comes above the number of cores. That is, a CPU with higher clock speed is faster than that with lower even if both have the same number of cores.
For instance, the 10 cores Intel i9 CPU having more clock speed is faster for most programs requiring less core usage than an AMD CPU with 16 cores.
In the same way, the Instructions Per Clock (IPC) is even more important. It is the number of tasks performed by the CPU in one clock cycle. To make it clear, a CPU with a rating 3.2 GHz completes 3.2 billion cycles in one second. It takes less than a nanosecond to complete one cycle. IPC is the tasks performed by the CPU in that period.
So, if the IPC rating of a CPU is more, then it is faster than the one with lower IPC rating even if they have the same clock speed.
CPU Cache is a small memory unit used by the CPU to access the instructions faster. The Cache is situated near the CPU core and supplies the data at a much faster rate than the main memory.
Whenever you open a program, it creates much smaller instances or micro-tasks. The data you require is stored in the HDD or secondary memory. Similarly, the micro-tasks or instructions to run the program are sent to RAM for faster retrieval. But the RAM is still slower to supply information to CPU processing information at such a faster clock speed.
Hence, the system sends some information to the Cache memory. The CPU first checks if the instruction is available in the Cache. If it finds the required data, then it runs the programs faster reducing the load.
Hence, the CPU can store more such instructions in the Cache memory if it is higher. Hence, it can retrieve the program information quickly making the system much faster.
Integrated Graphics Unit
Most of the CPU consists of an Integrated Graphics Unit. It uses some portion of primary memory to render images and videos on the computer. It is not very powerful and can be used to run games and programs with lower graphical requirements.
A system can run without an Integrated Graphics. Furthermore, you might have already decided to use a dedicated GPU if you are an avid gamer, designer or video-editor. If so, you do not essentially need it.
But, if you use your system for regular browsing, watching movies and some low-end works, then it is better to choose a CPU with Integrated Graphics. It is because you might need a rendering device sometimes for some simple programs. It is not worth at all to spend additional money on a GPU if you are such a user.
Hence, having an Integrated Graphics Unit can be a precaution.
Thermal Design Power (TDP)
Every electronic unit is bound to heat after receiving power. The CPU works at such a high speed continuously that heating of it is inevitable. And, if the CPU heats more than the limit, then it directly impacts its performance.
So, to limit heating up of your CPU, you will need a cooling fan, thermal paste, and so on. But, before employing a cooling system, you will have to know how much thermal power the CPU generates. It will help you to determine the cooling capacity necessary for the CPU.
This power is known as TDP or Thermal Design Power which is measured in Watts. If you do not need a demanding PC and want a quieter system, you can choose a CPU with low TDP.
However, for heavy gaming and designing, the TDP goes to a maximum of 125 Watts and you will need similar kinds of cooling mechanisms.
Hence, you can also consult other people who have reviewed the working of the CPU regarding the TDP to finalize if you need it.
Now that you know the factors to look for, let’s summarize the features to see which CPU is suitable for you and your work.
For What Purpose You Want To Use Your System?
We all want to buy the latest CPU model to make our system faster. But sometimes, we just tend to underestimate the capacity of older ones. The older ones may still be best suited to your needs and can be affordable as well.
So, your selection of CPU should entirely depend upon the purpose you will use it for. It is because the CPUs are costly and it is not worth buying a higher end processor if you just watch Netflix all day.
Let’s identify some of the processors you could look after based on your work preferences.
If you are only inclined towards regular browsing, watching videos and doing simple typing duties, then most of the low-end CPU will work for you. If so, you might also be looking to spend only a few pennies for it.
For simple tasks, you would not need higher cores, multithreaded as well as clock speed. You can get a dual core CPU with clock speed of around 1.8 GHz. You can find this generally in Intel core i3 processors or AMD Ryzen 3 series. A CPU below $100 will be enough for you.
Similarly, you can also go for the CPU such as Intel Pentium G4560 for a lower budget. Intel Celeron or AMD Athlon series might also do the job but nowadays, you can get a better one for their price. Hence, we recommend you a i3 or Ryzen 3 1000 series processor.
Gaming computers do not require that much CPU power. It is because the games mostly channel the power and rendering services from the GPU. If you have a good GPU, then it will suffice for the job.
Nevertheless, there should be good compatibility between the CPU and the GPU. You should not choose a super cheap and slow CPU even if you have a great GPU. A Celeron CPU will definitely bottleneck if you use it with RTX graphics and run heavy games.
Similarly, there are some games that require power from the CPU. But, it also does not mean you have to get an Intel core i9 processor. It will just be a waste of money. You can run a great game with a good GPU and a i5 or Ryzen 5 CPU.
If you have an office or a business, then you must be looking towards the optimum one remaining within a budget.
The Intel core i3 series or AMD Ryzen 3 series is also the best for lower-end office jobs such as word processing and excel sheet preparation. It can also work for regular photo-editing jobs. You can work out with the same budget as for the basic work.
But you might have a business, office or even personal work that is high-end such as programming, designing or video streaming, then you will need to have a higher generation Intel Core i5 series or Intel Core i7 CPU for better performance. Similarly, you can also use AMD Ryzen 5’s 3000 to 5000 series or even a Ryzen 7 processor.
Video Streaming or Designing puts a lot of load on CPU and a higher-end CPU should be present to prevent CPU bottleneck. In addition, if you tend to overclock your CPU, then we would always recommend you to get an i7 or Ryzen 7 for that purpose. This section can raise your budget to around $350.
Heavy Editing and Simulation Use
Finally, if you are a video editor or an engineer performing heavy computations, then you will need to have a really powerful CPU.
Video-Editing and simulation benefits from more cores, faster core speeds and most importantly higher number of threads. So, like we said earlier, AMD has left Intel behind in such works. The higher threads and cores of AMD CPUs can be of much advantage here.
You should choose a CPU of at least six cores. For a Ryzen processor, a six core Ryzen 5 CPU has 12 threads. It can easily handle the workload of editing even higher resolution videos. For videos such as 4K, you have the options to go for Ryzen 7’s 5000 Series as well as Intel’s i7 or i9 CPU.