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Build a PC Part 2 – the Central Processing Unit

Build a PC Part 2 – the Central Processing Unit

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.

Build a PC with Intel or AMD

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!

 


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How to Build your Own PC (Part 1)

How to Build your Own PC (Part 1)

By Michael Rushing, Technical Instructor

So you need (or want) a new computer tower. The reasons that you want or need this new machine will help you determine the form factor you need. So you begin looking at the sales circulars, retail stores, and websites of vendors to see what is out there in prepackaged machines. Lo and behold, there just isn’t a computer out there that provides everything you’re looking for so you are left with building a computer yourself.

Before you go shopping you need to do some research to find the specific computer components you want to use to build your new machine. In this multi-part blog, I will be discussing what the components of a computer are, what they do, and the options available for each PC component.

Computer Cases

There are many types of computer cases, from a horizontal desktop, sometimes called a Pizza Box, to standard PC towers including Mini, Midi, Mid, and Full. There are even some specialty cases out there outside of the normal range of shapes and sizes. One of the important things to remember is that a larger computer case will allow for more upgrade options of the system. It is also generally a given that a larger computer case will allow for a cooler running computer.

Computer Case Examples

Look for a computer case with ventilation on both sides and the back. Note that the case must be compatible with the motherboard you want to use. Motherboards come in Extended ATX, ATX, Micro ATX, and Mini-ITX sizes. Make sure you select a case with space for all the drives and readers you are going to want in your machine.

Custom computerComputer cases are usually made of steel, aluminum, and/or plastic with a steel frame. I once built a custom PC for a friend where I took the metal frame from a Mid-tower PC case and added a Teak Wood exterior to match the interior trim of their 90 foot Ketch sailboat! I have also seen a gaming PC with an outer case shell made of glass.

Remember that one of the benefits of building your own computer is that you are limited only by your own imagination!

Choosing a Motherboard

If the CPU is the brain of a computer, the motherboard is the heart and soul. Every computer component connects to the motherboard, which then pumps commands to others parts of the system. When choosing the correct motherboard there are certain rules that must be followed: socket compatibility, size, slots, and ports.

The first consideration should be to select a motherboard that fits inside the case you choose. This is easy, as both use the same size nomenclature, Mini-ITX, Micro ATX, ATX, and Extended ATX. Next, you need to make sure it is compatible with your chosen CPU brand (AMD or Intel) and your specific processor model.

Each size offers different features, for example, a larger Extended ATX motherboard will have more sockets and ports than a smaller Mini-ITX motherboard. Some might want to make things easier on themselves and buy a Motherboard with a CPU already installed.

Some of the top computer motherboard brands include ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, ASRock, and EVGA.

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!

 


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Interested in Learning More About Hardware and Computers?

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