Every computer needs a processor (or CPU - Central Processing Unit). This vital bit of equipment determines how much data a computer can handle at one time and how quickly it can handle that data. This guide will help you decide which processor is right for you. We will be looking at the main things to consider such as what you will be using your computer for, what software you will want to run and help you understand the jargon!
First we will at the three main types of processor - desktop, mobile and server.
As the name suggests desktop processors are designed to be used in desktop computers. These processors essentially perform the same functions as a mobile processor, they are designed a little differently to handle the needs of a desktop computer. One main difference between a desktop and mobile processor is the ability to handle a higher thermal threshold.
Mobile processors are designed for use in laptops, tablets and smart phones. These processors tend to be slower and have less power than desktop processors, mainly to conserve energy. Some mobile processors offer features that do not appear on the desktop versions such as Wireless Display technology (WiDi). WiDi allows data transmission to compatible televisions.
Server processors are built for high reliability and designed to be always running. When these processors are tested they are put under stressful conditions such as high temperatures and high computing loads. The main difference between server processors and other types is what are called "failovers". If your desktop or mobile processor stops working, your computer stops working, but a server processor with failovers where standby equipment with automatically takeover should the main system fail. A common type of failover is a dual CPU system. Server processors are also designed to run at higher frequencies, allowing the to process much more data at a time.
Now we are going to look at the different features of a processor such as number of cores, size of cache and socket compatibility.
In recent years it has become the norm to have a multi-core processor, single core processors are not as common as they used to be. Newer software is often designed to take advantage of these multi-core processors and can often struggle to run properly on a single core processor. Multi-core processors common run from the 2 core (dual-core) up to the 8 core (octa-core) version. Before deciding just to get the higher amount of cores thinking more is better, you must consider what a core is and how your machine and software will use each core.
When processors were running on a single core, that one core was responsible for handling all the data sent to the processor. As more cores are integrated into a processor, those cores are able to split up the tasks. This makes the processor faster and more efficient. However, it is important to remember that a processor can only perform as well as the existing software running it. If the software is only able to utilize three of the eight cores, then five cores are going to be unused. To maximize cost and use, it is best to match system requirements with core availability. If you think of it as a workplace and you are the boss - would you employ 20 people if you only had the workload and space for 5 people?
A processor’s cache is similar to the memory of a computer. A processor’s cache is a small amount of very fast memory that is used for temporary storage. This allows a computer to retrieve the files that are in the processor’s cache very quickly. Modern processors often have multiple levels of cache. You will see these called L!, L2 and L3. The larger a processor’s cache, the more files it will be able to store for that quick retrieval.
Socket compatibility is a primary concern when it comes to buying a processor. The socket compatibility enables the interface between a motherboard and its CPU. If a motherboard has already been acquired, make sure that the processor installed is compatible with the motherboard’s socket. Alternately, when building a computer around the processor, make sure that the motherboard is compatible with the existing processor. A simple way to put it, a square peg will not fit in a round hole! If you are not building a computer yourself, you can generally ignore the socket type/compatibility.
Ok, enough learning, which one should i get?
We will always recommend a processor that suits your budget, what you want to do with a computer and our personal experience. AMD processors are usually cheaper so if you are on a tight budget, one of these might suit you better, however in recent years they have fallen behind Intel in terms of power. To make sure you have something that will last you a few years, we will often recommend a minimum of the latest Intel i3 processor with a speed around 2GHz if you just want a basic machine to browse the internet send emails and do word processing. If you want to get a gaming machine we would look at a higher end Intel i5 or i7 with overclocking capabilities. We are able to supply and recommend nearly every processor on the market. One thing to remember if you wish to chose one yourself if that a bigger number in the processor name does not always mean better. Remember to look at the number of cores and amount of cache memory. A good website to compare different processors is CPUBoss