The processor is an integral part of any desktop computer or laptop. An element that many experts refer to as the heart, i.e. the brain of the entire system. It is this component that takes care of the complete performance, affects the speed of computing processes, affects the performance of the graphics card and, last but not least, is connected with the optimization of the computer’s electrical energy.
It is therefore understandable that you should pay enough attention to its selection, because investing in a suitable process will affect the performance characteristics of your home or business computer technology.
Of course, the processor is connected to a number of different parameters, which must be given due weight. So, if you are facing the choice of a new processor for your desktop computer or laptop, read this article first.
How to choose a processor
The processor is the brain of any device based on computing power. It processes those famous ones and zeroes, collects information from other components, evaluates them and sends them on. It is clear from the above statement that it is one of the most important parts of any computer.
We have had only two processor suppliers for a long time, and only one of them has its own production. You can find Intel and AMD processors on the market. Each of these suppliers has a slightly different approach to their development, which is why the product lines also differ. In general, it is impossible to say which processor is better, the situation often changes.
Each of the processor lines has its undeniable advantages and disadvantages, and it is certainly not the case that the more expensive the processor, the more advantageous it will be. The choice always depends on what activity you will use this piece of silicon for. One example for all, a processor for 200,000 CZK does not match the gaming performance of a suitably chosen processor with a price of around 5,000 CZK. We will discuss why this is so in the next few lines.
How to choose a processor in brief:
- Looking for a processor for your existing computer? – Before choosing a suitable processor, check which socket and chipset your motherboard supports.
- Consider the way of use – Focus on what parameters are important to you. Rendering requires high overall performance, games and CAD applications often require single-core performance.
- Also take the price into account – Set a financial limit, consider that the processor is a long-term investment.
- Focus on temperatures – With a new, more powerful processor, you may also need a more powerful cooler.
Intel processors are divided into several product lines, each of which is targeted at a different type of work. Among them are gaming processors, models intended for workstations, office, but also server products. Intel’s history stretches back to 1968, making it the oldest active producer of processors for the general public and industry in the world.
Recently, Intel processors are characterized by high single- core performance and frequency, which is especially appreciated by gamers and users of CAD applications that require a high clock rate. By 2021, the manufacturer was lagging behind AMD due to delayed better manufacturing processes. However, in view of the company’s new strategy, at the beginning of 2022, the situation changed noticeably, and in the segment of consumer computers, Intel was the ideal choice.
Intel divides processors into several model lines. Each of them has a specific use and is not entirely suitable for the purposes for which it is not intended. We can distinguish 3 basic series. In the table below, we list suitable applications for individual processors.
Intel Celeron and Pentium
Very basic performance for a basic amount of finance. As a rule, they are intended for basic office work in spreadsheets or text programs and other simple software. They typically have a smaller number of cores, a lower frequency and an older manufacturing process. They are also often used in crypto currency mining stations due to their low acquisition costs.
Processors designed for all operations that ordinary users need. They are characterized by a higher number of cores and especially a high frequency. Models labeled as Intel Core i3 are especially suitable for multimedia and office work, but they will also suit non-competitive game players. The categories labeled i5 and i7 will suit more demanding gamers and also for work tasks. Processors from the i9 series are intended for the most demanding users.
In general, this class of processors can be characterized as models designed for server use, but they are also suitable for workstations. Frequencies are lower than in the case of Intel Core models, on the contrary, the number of cores is higher.
However, there are also models that contradict this and more or less correspond to the Intel Core series in the number of cores and frequencies. In general, these processors are equipped with additional functions that increase their reliability and reduce the error rate of calculations.
Processors produced by AMD used to be advantageous in the past, mainly due to their price. With the arrival of the FX series, difficulties arose in AMD, their models were not competitive. Next came the Ryzen models, which significantly changed the whole situation. They are characterized by their higher multi-core performance.
Like Intel, AMD divides its processors into product lines. Each of them has its specific use, which we describe in more detail below. You can read the suitability of individual processor series from the following table.
AMD Athlon processors are among the least powerful range of this manufacturer. They find their use mainly in the office or in computers intended for multimedia entertainment. They do not have the gaming or performance for professional work. Also the core count is low.
The Ryzen series was originally designed especially for gamers. The number of processor cores of this series is higher, as well as the frequency. Ryzen 5 is suitable for moderately demanding work or playing games. Ryzen 7 and 9 are already very powerful models intended for the most demanding users.
Threadripper means “thread splitter”. The name is an allusion to the high number of cores these processors have. The clock speed is lower than in the Ryzen series, but still quite high. Typically, these models are used for rendering and video editing or work that requires a higher number of cores. They are a suitable variant for computational simulation models.
The EPYC product line is intended primarily for server use. Characteristically, these are models with a very high number of cores, low frequency, high reliability and low error rate during calculations. Of course, it can also virtualize. A fundamental benefit is also provided by the maximum operating memory that can be installed in the system. This value ranges in the order of terabytes.
Whether you are building a new computer or want to improve your existing one, the most important selection criterion is the socket. If you were to choose a socket different from the one on your computer’s motherboard, not only would the computer not start at all, but the processor probably wouldn’t even fit dimensionally into the slot. Also pay attention to the supported chipsets.
Do you want to build a computer and have you chosen a motherboard? Do you already have a computer at home and want to improve it? Before buying a processor, always check what chipset your motherboard has and whether this chipset supports the selected processor. If it is not, the computer will not work.
Number and execution of cores
Each processor consists of two or more cores. These cores are the builders of the computing power itself and take care of the processing of individual tasks. Some applications and software can evaluate information in multiple cores at once. This results in only one thing. Much faster processing of the task and presentation of the desired result.
It follows from the logic of the matter that the more cores a processor contains, the more powerful it is. For example, dual-core processors are only suitable for office use. If you’re going to stick to graphics as well, it’s better to invest in four or more cores. On the other hand, it is not advisable to choose only according to the number, although more cores significantly increase performance, not every program or game can use this benefit.
Typically, a higher number of cores is suitable for rendering. However, game developers have also started to take the increasing number of cores into account. Some of the latest game titles can use as many as they are available. However, it still remains true that the most significant benefit for gamers is a powerful graphics card.
Intel was the first to bring big.LITTLE technology to the desktop processor market in 2021. Intel processors in higher model series use a combination of large, powerful, but also energy-intensive, and small, less powerful, but very efficient cores. While large cores take care of the most demanding tasks, small ones work on less important operations. Thanks to this, the processor can achieve significantly higher performance with lower consumption.
A typical scenario is when small cores take over the work of background processes such as a running browser, streamer, and messenger, while large ones struggle with a running game. Thanks to this design, it is also possible to place an overall higher number of threads in the processor.
The second fundamental parameter affecting the performance of the processor is its frequency or clock speed. It is given in units of gigahertz (GHz) and exceeds 5 GHz in the most powerful models. However, it cannot be said that a processor with a higher frequency will automatically be more powerful. The overall performance depends on three basic parameters, namely the number of cores, frequency and IPC (Instructions Per Cycle).
Manufacturers define a clock range, for example 4.4 – 5.3 GHz. This means that the processor will still run at 4.4 GHz and can accelerate up to 5.3 GHz for a short time. Even here, however, the situation is not entirely clear. In order to achieve the maximum frequency, it is necessary to obtain a quality processor cooler and to have a PC case with good air flow.
The maximum frequency also does not apply to all processor cores. In most cases, one or two cores reach the maximum frequency, while the others reach lower rates. We will not deal with processor acceleration technologies in detail, because they are meaningless to the layman, and readers who will use the knowledge of their principles already know how they work.
Computer technology is a relatively complex and demanding discipline for the literate, so we list some of the concepts and parameters that are directly related to processors and can influence the choice.
The principle of this concept can be explained by the fact that the product will allow the user to change the clock speed of the processor on a suitable motherboard. This will be especially appreciated by players with a quality cooler and PC case. Increasing the clock speed can positively affect the overall performance, but you need to work very carefully when adjusting the frequency. It is also true that ill-advised interventions in processor settings can damage not only the silicon itself, but also the components of the motherboard (VRM).
While AMD allows overclocking of all its Ryzen, Threadripper and EPYC series processors, Intel designates open-multiplier models with the K designation (for example, the Intel Core i9-12900K).
The third most important parameter affecting performance, the value of which you cannot read anywhere and varies from application to application. The term can be translated as the number of instructions that the processor can evaluate in one cycle. You will come across this term, especially when a manufacturer releases a new generation of processors and promises an IPC increase of, for example, 20%. If the frequency and the number of cores remained the same, an overall increase in performance of approximately 20% can be expected.
Deciphering this shortcut is not easy, but the principle of the parameter is simple. TDP (Thermal Design Power) is a term that defines how much energy the processor will consume, or how much heat it will generate. The importance of the parameter lies mainly in enabling the selection of a suitable processor cooler.
PL1 and PL2
Behind the abbreviation stands, as is often the case in the world of technology, the relatively vague term “Power Level”. While PL1 defines what the continuous consumption of the processor should be (for example 125 W), PL2 determines the maximum short-term consumption. This is achieved by the processor in boost (when the clock speed is increased to the maximum) and has a precisely defined duration (for example, 56 seconds).
Why should you care about this parameter? It is precisely the value of PL2 that you should choose the TDP of coolers according to. If PL1 will be 125 watts and PL2 250 watts, then it is advisable to choose a cooler with a TDP of 250 watts. If you buy a cooler with a lower performance, your processor will not reach its maximum, or will reach it for a very short period of time.
Some processor models are also equipped with an integrated graphics unit (Integrated Graphics Processing Unit), popularly known as integrated graphics. The advantage of this solution lies in saving energy, acquisition costs and space. However, integrated graphics are only suitable for office work, multimedia entertainment or simple photo editing. More demanding tasks require dedicated graphics.
TIP: Although the integrated graphics are not suitable for playing games in general, you can play undemanding titles like League of Legends on FullHD without any problems.
In addition to the number of cores, you can find in the definition of each processor model how many threads it uses. As a rule, there are two threads per core, so in the description you can come across, for example, 8 cores / 16 threads. This division of cores into a double number is made possible by HyperThreading and MultiThreading technologies. Some of the processors do not have this function, so consider buying them.
In the past, it was common practice for all processors to come with a cooler in the box. The latter was able to keep the processor functional, but mostly it was a cooler of very below average performance. The result of using such a cooler is usually noisy computer operation. If you are buying any higher-end processor (over 5,000 CZK), we recommend buying a cooler separately.
TIP: In terms of price and performance, the SilentiumPC Fera 3 and Fera 5 coolers have long been the best coolers for lower and lower mid-range processors.
Readers who are interested in technology issues have surely already heard about production processes and their efficiency. Processors are made from silicon, and their individual lines and cores are built by a process with a certain finesse/resolution. The manufacturing process is evaluated in nanometers, and in 2021 the best one used for processors reached 7 nanometers.
Intel Deep Link
At CES 2022 (Computer Electronics Show), Intel introduced the new Deep Link technology, which is related to Intel’s integrated and dedicated graphics cards. This feature allows both graphics cards to work together on the same task, such as video decoding, and speed up the process by up to tens of percent of the time.
Processors generate a relatively non-negligible amount of heat during calculations. In order for them to work well, they need to be cooled. Each processor operates within a certain temperature range, and if it reaches the upper limit, it limits performance to keep up with cooling. To keep the performance high, it is advisable to use a powerful cooler. The working temperature of the processor under load should not exceed 90 °C.
We can distinguish between air and water cooling. It has long been no longer true that air cooling is less efficient than water cooling. On the contrary, a quality air cooler often ensures quieter and more stable operation and is also less prone to breakdowns. Water cooling pays off especially if a custom-made water circuit is installed.
How to choose a CPU cooler:
- Socket – just like the processor, the cooler must be compatible with the given socket, otherwise you won’t be able to put it on the processor.
- TDP – the cooler should have a TDP at least 20% higher than the PL1 of the processor. Ideally, the TDP of the cooler should match the PL2 of the processor.
- Heat sink height – remember that not every heat sink is suitable for every PC case.
- Thermal paste – apply a thin layer of high-quality paste to the processor. Bad application of the paste can fundamentally affect the cooling capabilities.
TIP: If your computer assembled at the dealer or manufacturer is overheating, repaste the processor.
How to apply thermal paste
Avid gamers and tech buffs love to build computers themselves, and it’s not rocket science. The process only requires a certain amount of caution, following the component suppliers’ manual and patience. Part of this process is also the necessary application of thermal paste. If you are not building a computer, but the existing one is starting to overheat, you probably need to upgrade the processor.
Please note that any damage caused by improper or careless handling of components is not covered by the manufacturers’ or sellers’ warranty. If you are not sure that you can handle the application of the paste yourself, leave the work to more experienced friends or a professional service. In the following instructions, we assume that the computer is already assembled and that you will be repasting the processor.
Paste application procedure
- Turn off the computer and disconnect the power cable leading to the power source.
- Unscrew and remove the left side of the computer case.
- Lay the computer face down with the open side facing up.
- Disconnect the cable leading to the fan on the CPU cooler. Disconnect the cable by gently pulling on the connector, not the cable.
- Do not touch any other components inside the computer, especially the motherboard and gold-plated connector terminals.
- Loosen and remove the screws on the CPU cooler. Two of these are usually used.
- Remove the heatsink from the processor. In no case do not use force or prying movements, the processor could be damaged. Place the cooler on the table.
- Wipe off the old paste from the processor and the cooler with the tissue that comes with the newly purchased paste (for example, Arctic MX-5).
- Use a vacuum cleaner or compressed air to remove dust from the radiator.
- Apply thermal paste to the processor. A pea -sized ball will do.
- Spread the paste with the plastic spatula included with the paste. The layer should not be transparent, but it should be very thin.
- Carefully place the cooler and screw it. Tighten the screws, but do not use too much force.
- Connect the radiator fan to the connector where it was previously connected.
- Place and screw the side panel on the computer, stand it up and connect the cable. It is possible that the computer will start correctly only the second time. The process is complete.
Before building the computer itself, evaluate which components are important to you. Gamers often invest an unnecessarily high amount in a processor, and thus lack a more powerful graphics card. On the other hand, professionals with requirements for processing power of the processor should focus primarily on the processor.