How to Select a CPU

You are ready to begin picking out components for your new computer. Where do you begin? By selecting a CPU! The microprocessor of a computer is the leading component, and it can be dangerous picking one out with little knowledge. Buying the wrong CPU can lead to broken parts, incompatible hardware or more commonly, not enough power.

1. Assess what you use your computer for. Make note of which applications you use. Do you do any gaming? Do you do video editing? 3D Modeling? Once you have a good idea of what you plan to do with your computer, move to the next step.

2. Decide on a number of cores. Modern microprocessors come with more than a single core. Each core is like its own processor, and they all work together as one processor. Processors with several cores have the capability to run more processes at the same time by splitting workloads among each core. It should be noted that you will only see performance gains from having more cores if you run applications that are optimized to take advantage of extra cores.

Typically if you plan to do things such as 3D modeling or video editing then you will want at least four cores. If you plan on gaming, despite popular belief very few games actually see any benefit from having more than four cores, although there are some games that do see performance improvements when you give them more than four. If you are just web browsing, depending on speed, one core should be fine for you. However, some programs and games require a minimum number of cores to even run, so make sure you choose a CPU that will be able to meet those requirements.

3. Research performance. Many people will tell you that higher clock speeds (measured in GHz) means better performance, but it cannot be stressed enough that GHz alone does not tell you anything about the performance of a microprocessor. Comparing CPU performance with GHz is like comparing the speed of cars with engine RPMs.
You also have to take into account how many actions a CPU can perform per clock cycle. If CPU A runs at 2.0GHz and can perform one action per clock cycle, and CPU B runs at 1.0GHz and can perform two actions per clock cycle, the performance is going to be the same regardless of the difference in clock speeds. Keep in mind that being able to perform more actions per clock cycle is not directly related to the number of cores you have. With that said, it really isn’t as simple as comparing a few numbers, and more research is involved than looking at the specifications.

It is recommended that you look online and see what other people report about the performance of the CPU you are considering. There are some great websites that publish benchmarks for different computer hardware, which shows the performance of the CPU under different types of workloads.

4. Don’t bottleneck other components! A bottleneck is when one of your components is too fast for another component, and the fast one has to slow down so the slower one can keep up. If you are running a GTX 1070 and are ready to play the latest games at maxed settings, “don’t get a cheap CPU!” If you have a dual-core at 2.0Ghz paired with the most expensive graphics card in the world, your CPU is going to weigh down your GPU, keeping you from playing those games on maxed settings. Be sure to keep your CPU cost and GPU cost close.

5. Keep it compatible! Do not buy an AMD motherboard with an Intel CPU! Make sure the CPU you are buying fits in the type of socket your motherboard has. If you look at the specifications of your motherboard and your processor online, they almost always have the socket type listed.