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Whether you are building or upgrading your computer or buying a new one, one of the most important components to consider when perusing through system specifications is the processor. Effectively the brain of any computer, the processor determines how smoothly a computer runs and what sort of tasks it may be used for. A better processor means faster performance overall, as well as the ability to run more demanding software, such as video editing programs or modern 3D video games.
The following takes a look at some of the more important processor specifications which buyers should keep in mind whether they are buying a new computer, upgrading a desktop or even building their own one.
AMD or Intel?
There are only two companies which manufacture desktop processors, and there has long been a debate regarding which one is the best. AMD’s processors often boast what appear to be higher specifications, but Intel processors usually outperform them in many situations. AMD has long been a popular choice among budget-conscious gamers, since they tend to excel in gaming while being considerably cheaper than competing Intel processors. On the other hand, Intel processors generally offer better overall performance combined with increased reliability and less power consumption and heat generation.
Both Intel and AMD use different processor socket types, meaning that you cannot install an Intel processor in a motherboard designed for an AMD CPU and vice versa. However, each manufacturer has several processor socket types of their own, which in most cases are not compatible with each other either. If you are upgrading your existing computer or building a new one, you’ll need to ensure that both the processor and motherboard are compatible with one another. As of January, 2014, mainstream Intel processors use the Intel 1155 socket, while some high-end processors use the Intel 2011 socket. AMD processors usually use the AM3 or AM3+ sockets which are both compatible with the same processors. AMD’s line of processors with integrated graphics currently use the FM2 socket.
Not long ago, all desktop processors were single-core. Today’s processors usually come with two to eight cores. Each core effectively functions as a separate processor, making things like multitasking, high-end productivity and gaming much smoother. Generally speaking, the more cores a processor has, the more work it can handle. However, many applications and games are only designed to make use of a limited number of cores, in which case the additional cores won’t boost performance at all for those tasks. Most of today’s desktop processors provide four cores, although the best models provide six or eight.
Clock speed, measured in gigahertz, was everything when all desktop processors only had one core. However, while clock speed is still important when determining what a processor is capable of, it is no longer the only essential consideration when choosing a new CPU or computer. It is important to remember that a higher clock speed doesn’t necessarily mean higher performance. Performance largely depends on the particular program you are running. For programs and video games designed only to use one core, the clock speed is much more important. On the other hand, those designed for multicore processing will perform better with multicore CPUs, even if they have significantly lower clock speeds.
Thermal Design Power (TDP)
The TDP is another important specification which you should pay attention to when replacing your processor. As is the case with any other component inside your computer, the CPU requires a certain amount of power. A higher TDP also means more heat generation, so you will need to have suitable cooling. Fortunately, all retail processors come with adequate cooling, although those wanting to overclock their systems may need a better cooling system. If you’re upgrading to the latest processor, be aware that it might have a significantly higher TDP than your current one, in which case it will be more taxing on the power supply unit. For this reason, you may also need to upgrade your PSU, particularly if you also have a powerful dedicated graphics card.