Important Tips You Need To Know Before Buying A New CPU / computer?

What do you need to know before buying a CPU ?


Important Tips You Need To Know Before Buying A New CPU / computer?Usually, PC building or upgrading begins with asking, “What do I want to do?” Not this time. For all intents and purposes, you can perform all the same tasks with a $100 CPU that you can with a $500 one—the biggest difference is in how well you’re able to perform them. Therefore, deciding your budget is the first step, for purposes of
managing expectations as much as anything else. If you know right out of the gate that you may need 10 minutes to render a video rather than 20 seconds, you won’t be disappointed when you discover your processor’s limitations. Figure out the most you can spend on one component, and then see where that figure lies between (approximately) $100 and $1,000. The closer the chip is to the former, the slower it’s probably going to be. There are exceptions to this we’ll get to shortly, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

AMD or Intel?

This question is vital when you’re upgrading, because AMD’s and Intel’s CPUs won’t work in the other standard’s motherboards, but it’s relatively inconsequential when you’re building a system for the first time. Though certain AMD and Intel CPUs do certain things better than others, those differences seldom matter much in terms of ordinary, everyday computing. So don’t worry that you’ll be cutting yourself off from certain tasks or aspirations if you choose one over the other. But one aspect of this choice is related to the previous issue: Every CPU in AMD’s consumer catalog is available for under $225, while the most expensive Intel chip runs $999. Does Intel deliver oomph to match the money? In most cases, yes—but you won’t necessarily be able to take advantage of it in every situation. Finding the right blend of performance and price for you may start with the CPU’s manufacturer, but never assume it ends there.


Once you know whether you’re buying an AMD or Intel CPU, and how much money you’ll have to spend, you need to think about the motherboard socket into which the processor will fit. These evolve over time as new technical developments and processes require new hardware, and the differences between them can be confusing. AMD currently has two main sockets: FM1 (for use with its APUs) and AM3+ (which, in addition to accommodating its current high-end Bulldozer-based CPUs, offer strong backward compatibility with several prior years’ releases). On the other hand, Intel’s mainstream processors now use the LGA1155 socket, whereas its enthusiast models use the LGA2011—and you can still find chips for older Intel sockets like LGA1166, LGA1366, and more. As mentioned, lower-priced CPUs for one socket type are usually going to be slower than others of that type, so if you think you may want to upgrade again soon, take a look at what else is available so you make the right decision.

Number of Cores

It wasn’t that long ago that the number of cores was an unheard-of attribute about processors—now, it’s the one you’ll want to focus on most. For all intents and purposes, every CPU these days feature from two to six processing cores, which all work together to crunch data and thus save you time. Not every software program supports this capability, and not all the ones that do support it equally. But software for particularly intensive tasks like photo and video editing will really benefit from a CPU with more cores. Of course, the more cores a processor has within the AMD and Intel families, the more it’s going to cost (AMD’s most expensive six-core CPU costs less hundreds than Intel’s cheapest, for example), but if you’re into heavy-duty computing you’ll probably find the investment worthwhile. It’s not impossible to find CPUs out there that have only one processing core, but on the off chance you do we’d recommend avoiding them. Sure, you’ll save a ton of money. But even dual-core CPUs are so ubiquitous and inexpensive now that it’s smarter to go with two or more cores than it is to select just a single-core chip.

Note: Related to the number of cores a processor has is the number of threads it can process. A thread is a string of instructions from one of the processing cores, and software programs that can manage more than one of these at a time will generally be faster than similar programs that can’t. (If you see the word “multithreaded” in a software review, this means the app can handle more than one thread simultaneously.) All AMD-based CPUs turn out one thread per core; some Intel processors use a technology called Hyper-Threading that mimics multiple threads within cores, giving you essentially twice the threads for your money. For example, though a four-core AMD CPU may be limited to four threads in an application, certain Intel quad-core models may be able to juggle eight in the same application—with a healthy performance boost (if not necessarily twice the speed).

Clock Speed

Back when all CPUs had just one core, clock speed (or operating frequency) was king, and the surest way to determine how fast a chip you were getting. Multiple processing cores are the most useful initial determiner now, but clock speed is still crucial. These days, it’s measured in gigahertz (GHz), or the number of billions of times per minute the CPU’s clock “pulses” into the microprocessor. A 3GHz CPU, then, pulses three billion times per second, and it’s generally safe to assume it will be faster than a processor with a similar number of cores that’s rated at only 2GHz (or two billion pulses per second). On multicore processors (and when using multithreaded software), the number of pulses stack, so you can expect a four-core 3GHz CPU to trounce a dual-core CPU running at 3.3GHz. That’s right—the CPU with the faster clock speed may actually be slower in practice, yet another example of why the number of cores matters so much.

Integrated Graphics

Within the last couple of years, both AMD and Intel have unveiled new processing platforms that bring real video technology onto the processor die for the first time. This means that if you’re buying an AMD Fusion APU or an Intel second- or third-generation Core (“Sandy Bridge” or “Ivy Bridge”) CPU, and you have a compatible motherboard, you can get some of the best video quality and media-processing power yet seen in systems without discrete cards. If you’re planning on doing any sort of 3D gaming, or if you’re using higher-end AMD or Intel chips (which lack integrated video altogether), you’ll need to add a discrete card. But editing photos and transcoding video is now speedier on mainstream machines than it’s ever been. Different models of these processors have different levels of graphics hardware, like everything else basically scaling with chip price.


The six qualities listed above are the most worth keeping in mind when you’re shopping for a processor. But there are some other specifications that may not directly influence your buying decision, but that you’ll want to be aware of just in case.

Boost potential.

 Newer Intel and AMD releases incorporate a new technology that doesn’t limit clock speed to just the standard values. If one of these processor has sufficient power, and is sufficiently cooled, it can dynamically increase its speed for a period of time to give you even more performance than you started with. (Intel’s implementation of this is called Turbo Boost, AMD’s is Turbo Core.) Processors that support this feature will tell you what this new speed is—the 3.3GHz Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition, for example, is capable of Turbo Boosting up to 3.9GHz—and the jump you’ll get, unsurprisingly, tends to scale with processor price. You won’t always have much (if any) control over this, but if you want to know just what your chip can do, this number will tell you.

Manufacturing technology. 

This refers to the depth of the die from which the processor has been constructed. Over time, these tend to get smaller and more energy-efficient, and thus more powerful. The top-of-the-line CPUs on the market now use 22nm (Intel) or 32nm (AMD and Intel) technology, with older CPUs at 45nm or more. You’ll seldom have to worry about this, aside from making sure that your processor works with the motherboard into which you’ll be installing it.

64-bit support.

 Practically every CPU on the market today is a 64-bit model, which means it can process 64 bits (or eight bytes) of information at one time, as opposed to the 32 bits that were common until several years ago. This can mean significant performance improvements in 64-bit software (which is accelerating in popularity and availability). Because so many of today’s apps, from Windows to Photoshop, support 64-bit technology, you’re better off avoiding 32-bit processors should you happen to come across them.


Of all the numbers you may encounter when perusing CPUs, cache can be the most confusing—in no small part because there are three different kinds, and their names are all very similar: L1, L2, and L3. The “L” stands for “level,” and thinking about caches in those terms makes them easier to understand. L1 is the CPU’s primary cache, the fastest section of its memory and the one most closely responsible for a processor’s performance because it’s where instructions are stored while they’re waiting to be processed. L2 functions in almost exactly the same way, but instead of feeding instructions to the microprocessor itself, it feeds them to the L1 cache (and uses slower memory). The L3 cache feeds the L2, and is slower still. But in general, the more memory is in all of these, the more efficient the CPU will be.


 Just like everything else inside your computer, processors require electricity. A CPU’s Thermal Design Power (TDP) rating tells you how much you can expect it to require at full load. For most people, this isn’t going to be a huge problem, but if you’re already close to maxing out your power supply, it’s something you’ll want to think about: Processors using the LGA1155 socket range in TDP from 95 watts to 35 watts—but if you decide to splurge and upgrade to a {{ziffarticle id=”294495″}}Core i7-3930K{{/ziffarticle}} on the LGA2011 socket, its TDP is 130 watts. Many computer components will use more than this, so it’s probably not something you’ll need to worry about, but it’s worth your attention—as long as your motherboard can handle processors of at least the same TDP (this information is easily available when shopping online).


Overclocking your CPU (changing your motherboard’s settings to make the processor run faster than its standard speed) is too in-depth and complex to get into here. But if you’re interested in pushing your PC to its limits—and you don’t mind taking a few risks (overclocking can put serious stress on your components, and even cause damage if it’s not done properly)—you’ll want to look for CPUs with unlocked multipliers. These give you a great deal of freedom in just how high you can nudge your chip upward, and make the lengthy (and potentially tedious) process a more manageable and enjoyable one.


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