By Michael Rushing, Technical Instructor
In my earlier article, “How to Build Your Own PC Part 1,” we covered selecting a computer case and motherboard. In part two, I will be covering what you need to know about choosing the Central Processing Unit for your new PC!
The Central Processing Unit
The CPU, or the central processing unit, processes hundreds of thousands of commands per minute and is the brain of your computer. When you build a PC, plan on the CPU to be your biggest expense. There are a few things you need to understand before you simply reach for the fastest one your budget will allow. There are two vendors to choose from, AMD and Intel. Each offers several ranges of processors. There are pros and cons with each brand. Intel’s chips tend to process faster than comparable AMD chips. However, AMD’s chips are available at a lower price and typically run much cooler.
So, how do you decide the best processor for your new computer?
It all depends on what you are looking for in a computer and how much you are willing to spend. AMD chips are not bad. In fact, they are perfect for saving a bit on the CPU to give you more to spend on other hardware components. Both vendors offer several ranges of processors, with varying numbers of cores and clock speed ratings. If your building a gaming machine that will have multiple Graphical Processor Units (which will heat up the inside of the computer) I’d go for an AMD CPU to cut down on the heat generation you will be dealing with. For any other type of machine, I’d go with an Intel CPU.
Do NOT fall into the trap of believing that a faster clock speed will automatically translate into a better performing computer! That simply isn’t always the case. A dual-core chip clocked the same as a quad-core chip will generally give a lower level of performance. Simply basing your decision on a CPU based on the number of cores isn’t very smart. Performance hits a plateau in CPUs where the benefits of the additional cores simply stop improving performance. There simply is not enough software out there that can make use of more than 1 core to spend excessively on a high-core count CPU. There are always exceptions to the rule. Google Chrome, for example, was written to make use of multiple cores. You may run across other proprietary applications out there that were developed to do so as well. And then you have the new dual core Pentium which processes faster than they old quad-core CPUs.
There is a simple trick in selecting a CPU, all current versions have what’s called a L3 cache. This is used to store data the processor needs to access at a moment’s notice. Lower-end CPUs usually max out at 4MB, while mid-tier and higher-end models have anywhere from 6MB to 15MB of L3 cache. Processors with 6MB or 8MB of cache should be more than sufficient for today’s games, which are typically used to judge a CPU by.
To future-proof the hardware of a computer, I usually go for the newest CPU model, or close to it. Remember, faster speeds and more cores translate to more money, more heat, and more electricity. A high-end quad-core processor is more than enough for the latest PC games.
Check back soon for the third installment where I will cover graphic card choices!
Have a contribution or recommendation? Leave your comment below!
Interested in Learning More About Hardware and Computers?
Turn your computer interests into an IT career! Our entry-level Computer User Support Specialist program will prepare you with the IT certifications you need to get a job in IT fast.