Today we are talking about CPU’s and why they are important. I’ve chosen to start with this part as it really controls many of the other components you’ll be able to put in, particularly the motherboard and RAM. CPU is an abbreviation of central processing unit and is essentially the brain of your computer. It executes all commands that are passed to it and passes the results of to other components of your computer. So let’s talk about the different kinds of CPU’s available today and which one might suit you best. The primary specifications you should care about when purchasing a CPU are:
Number of Cores
The number of cores available in modern CPU’s is between 2 and 8. Cores can be thought of a sections of the processor that execute calculations. This means that a processor with more cores can split the workload among more segments and theoretically do them quicker. Note that I say theoretically because it is entirely dependent on software developers to code their software in a way than can use these extra cores. Even as I write this many popular software programs are still using only a single core, so it is worth considering what software you use on your computer and match that software capability to the number of cores you need. Windows has some multi-core capabilities and almost all professional design packages to as well (Adobe’s suite, AutoCAD, etc). Even some games are now beginning to use more than a single core.
Socket compatibility is really just the idea that certain CPU’s will only fit into certain motherboards. As an example, the Intel i7-6700K only fits into LGA-1151 socketed motherboards. Fun Fact: the number at the end of the socket name is the number of physical pins that connect the CPU to the motherboard. So all that has to happen is to find a motherboard with the correct socket, using the above example we could use the ASUS H170-PRO motherboard.
Thermal Power Design (TDP)
This concept is of primary concern to power users of their computers. The TDP is the about of power that the processor will dissipate in a scenario where all its cores are utilised. The stock cooler (shown below) that comes with CPU’s are more than capable of handling normal day-to-day usage, however if playing games or doing any computationally complex task (rendering, image or video post-processing) than the standard cooler might not dissipate enough heat quickly enough and your processor will begin to heat up. A CPU in idle will be between 30-40 degrees C, while under load can get as hot as 100 degrees. When modern processors feel that they are at excessive temperature they will lower some of their specifications (notably the clock speed, and voltage multiplier) in an attempt to cool down. This means that they perform slower at higher temperatures.
With all this in mind it is worth considering a third-party cooling solution for your processor if you are doing the aforementioned tasks. I will discuss these solutions in an upcoming segment but I will briefly explain the CPU specific ones now. The first step up from the stock cooler is an aftermarket cooler, such as the one shown below. Due it is larger size and bigger fans it has the ability to dissipate more heat. From here the next step-up is the so called ‘all-in-one’ water coolers that (as you can guess) use water instead of air to cool the processor. Due to the superior thermal conductivity of water, this method usually keeps the CPU the coldest and has the added benefit of being quieter.
This brings us to the actual CPU you would put in your computer. As of 2016 there are only two companies that you can choose from for desktop processors, AMD or Intel. Both make multi-core processors that are directly comparable usually, however at the entry level price bracket AMD tends to do better while at the enthusiast level price range Intel has more choices and better performance. So I’ll break this up into three different use cases.
Entry Level (Internet browsing, office tasks, media consumption)
AMD FX-4350: Quad-Core, 4.2 GHz, 125W TDP
Intel i3-4170: Dual-Core, 3.7 GHz, 54W TDP
Mid-Range (Gaming, high level of multitasking, business applications)
AMD FX-8350: Quad-Core, 4.0 GHz, 125W TDP
Intel i5-6500: Quad-Core, 3.2 GHz, 65W TDP
Enthusiast (CPU-Intensive gaming, creative software suites)
Intel i5-6600K: Quad-Core, 3.5 GHz, 91W TDP
Intel i7-5820K: 6-Core, 3.3 GHz, 140W TDP
Note: modern day CPU’s are often many order of magnitude more powerful than the typical applications people use them for. For example, the primary difference between at i5 and an i7 is hyper-threading, which makes the operating system think their are twice as many physical cores are their really are. This technology however is only really utilised by video editing and 3D rending programs as they keep your CPU at 100% utilisation for extended periods of time