Looking for processors in the market for your latest PC build is not a simple task. Depending on your budget and use case scenario, you must settle on a motherboard and a specific performance benchmark before proceeding. Therefore, the following guide will help you how to choose a CPU based on several use-case scenarios.
Also Read: What is a CPU?
- Before choosing the processor, decide on your budget and build around it.
- Your CPU manufacturer should be based on your budget and the processor’s performance.
- Overclocking won’t harm the PC; you might get extra performance when in a pinch. Overclocking variants aren’t a lot more expensive than their other siblings.
- Upgrading the processor based on the current motherboard in the PC can save motherboard costs. However, the CPU upgrade should have a substantial gain.
- Consider a few specifications before purchasing, such as the number of cores and threads, clock speeds, TDP, and amount of cache in the processor.
- The TDP decides the cooling solution required. Many processors can suffice with an air cooler, while some require custom water cooling. Consider the case size for the cooling solution.
- Performance per dollar value is important for those looking for budget options.
Consumers need to be wary of many factors before purchasing a processor. For example, the CPU manufacturer you choose will clearly define your budget and use case scenario. Moreover, your willingness to overclock, the motherboard you own, and upgradability are important factors to consider.
Of course, the processor’s specifications, such as its cores, threads, frequency speeds, cache, and TDP, will decide whether the CPU meets your demands. Other factors, such as the cooling solution required and MSRP prices against current prices, should also be considered.
AMD Vs Intel: Which One To Choose?
The first thing most consumers find when they enter the CPU market is which manufacturer they want to buy: AMD or Intel? The answer to the question depends on your budget and use case scenario. Neither manufacturer holds priority in all budget brackets, nor do both manufacturers have a huge performance gap.
If you want to utilize the CPU for light workloads, AMD or Intel work fine. Look for the best-performing processor within your budget bracket. On the other hand, Intel processors might be the better choice if you want to play games due to better single-core performance in most CPUs.
If you want to use your CPU for heavier workloads such as video rendering, AMD processors might be better because of faster Instructions Per Clock (IPC). Therefore, you must choose the manufacturer depending on how you want to utilize your PC.
If you want a practical demonstration of which manufacturer to consider, we recommend reading our article comparing the AMD Vs Intel processors for video editing.
Along with deciding whether you want to go AMD or Intel, you must allocate a budget for your processor. It’s relatively easy to do so based on your workload. If you’re building a PC for general work purposes, such as opening emails, light gaming, and software use, your processor should cost ~$100 to ~$200. You can get a Ryzen 5 5600X or an Intel Core i5-12600K processor in that price range.
On the other hand, if you want to play heavy games on your PC, you should buy a processor worth ~$200 to ~$400. In the following price range, you can lay your hands around a Ryzen 7 5800X3D or an Intel Core i9-12900K processor.
Lastly, if your use case scenario is geared toward high-end video rendering and animation processing, your budget should be around ~$400 to ~$600 for the processor. You should be able to find a Ryzen 9 7900X or an Intel Core i9-13900K processor.
However, when learning to choose a CPU, you should also know processors meant for enterprise workloads. For example, the AMD Ryzen Threadripper and Intel Xeon processors easily cost over ~$1,000 to ~$2,000 but provide users with otherworldly performance.
Another important aspect to consider when purchasing a processor is to know whether you want to overclock. Overclocking is when you allow your processor or graphics card to run above its stock or pre-designed settings. The following allows the components to achieve better results, but going haywire with the overclocks can be potentially hazardous.
Therefore, knowing whether you want to overclock your CPU is important. Because not every processor is overclockable, that is even more liable for Intel processors than AMD processors. Unlike the latter, only the “K” series Intel processors can be overclocked.
For that reason, if you want to overclock your future Intel processor, you’ll need to buy a “K” series variant. Otherwise, you won’t be able to achieve any overclocks. On the other hand, essentially all AMD processors are overclockable, so you can buy any to achieve an overclocked state.
If you want to learn more about overclocking, please read our article on what overclocking is. Also, if you’re excited to overclock your processor but are scared whether its lifespan will decrease, read through our discussion on whether overclocking reduces CPU lifespan.
Socket Compatibility And Motherboard Chipset
Before you choose a CPU, you must know whether it is compatible with your other components. For example, a processor might not be compatible with an older motherboard chipset and sometimes even CPU coolers.
To explain further, Intel’s socket compatibility lifespan is significantly shorter than AMD’s. In Intel’s case, a socket is used for two processor generations, after which you must buy a new motherboard. So, Intel’s 12th and 13th gen processors are compatible with the 600 series motherboard chipset, but Intel’s 14th gen processors will require a new motherboard.
On the other hand, AMD offers greater socket compatibility. Going from the Ryzen 2000 series processors to the Ryzen 5000 series processors, you potentially don’t need to upgrade your motherboard. However, you might need to update the BIOS of an extremely old AM4 chipset motherboard.
Starting from the Ryzen 7000 series processors, AMD finally changed its socket from a Pin Grid Array (PGA) to Land Grid Array (LGA), similar to Intel. Therefore, if you’re considering upgrading from a Ryzen 5000 series processor to a Ryzen 7000 series processor, you’ll need to upgrade from an AM4 to an AM5 motherboard.
Here’s a table regarding supported chipsets and CPU sockets for some of the latest workstations and consumer-grade processors.
|CPU Name||Intel 12th Gen||Intel 13th Gen||AMD Ryzen 5000 Series||AMD Ryzen 7000 Series||Intel HEDT Sapphire Rapids||AMD Threadripper 5000 WX Series|
|CPU Socket||LGA 1700||LGA 1700||AM4||AM5||LGA 4677||sWRX8|
|Chipset||Z790, B760, Z690, B660, H610||Z790, B760, Z690, B660, H610||X570, B550, A520, X470, B450, X370, B350, A320||X670E, X670, B650E, B650||C741, W790||WRX80, MC62|
There are more things to consider when buying a motherboard. For that reason, we recommend you read our guide on buying the perfect motherboard for your build.
Specifications To Consider
One of the most important things to look for when you choose a CPU is its specifications. While you can find an entire list of specifications on AMD and Intel’s official websites, there are a few specs, in particular, we’ll look at.
For example, the number of cores and threads, the amount of cache, the frequency speeds, and the Thermal Design Power (TDP) of processors are the most important specifications a consumer must know before purchasing.
Cores are one of the most important aspects of a processor. Gamers, especially, tend to buy processors with greater core counts. However, the number of cores can increase performance to a certain extent. A core is essentially designed to fetch, decode and execute various functions.
To increase the speed of these functions, alongside the number of cores, we need faster Instructions Per Cycle (IPC). While there aren’t any numerical values for IPC speeds, we can measure a processor’s IPC improvements through productivity benchmarks.
Threads are directly connected to the number of cores within a processor. To explain, a thread is a data string in every computer program. A single core can only have a single thread. So, to increase the thread count, manufacturers started producing processors with more cores.
Due to hyperthreading technology, a single core has two threads. So a processor with eight cores has 16 threads, and so on. Although, the concept is slightly different following Intel’s 12th and 13th gen processors, which utilize big.LITTLE technology. Users gain two threads for every Performance (P) core, but for every Efficiency (E) core, users gain a single thread.
The amount of cache present in a processor also improves gaming performance. The cache is divided into three levels: L1 cache, present in the least amounts but the fastest; L2 cache; and L3 cache, present in the highest amounts but the slowest.
L1 cache stores data addresses most commonly used in a processor, making access faster. L2 cache, on the other hand, acts as a bridge between processes and memory performance gaps. Lastly, the L3 cache is mostly used in games to load maps and game surroundings.
AMD’s 3D V-Cache technology thrives on increasing the L3 cache of processors significantly, improving gaming performance. However, doing so also increases latency timings, reducing productivity performance.
A widely misunderstood gimmick, consumers believe faster frequency speeds of processors equate to more performance. While the statement is somewhat true, there is a limit to the performance increment. The frequency speed of a processor is the number of data cycles it can complete in a second.
To explain, 1GHz equals one billion data cycles in a second. So, a processor with a base clock speed of 4.5GHz completes 4.5 billion data cycles in one second. However, to complete 4.5 billion cycles in one second requires IPC improvements of a similar level. If the processor can’t produce the instructions required, it can’t complete the data cycles either.
Therefore, before you choose a CPU for its amazing frequency speeds, go through a few productivity tests to notice whether its IPC is on par with its clock speed.
Thermal Design Power
The Thermal Design Power (TDP) is another misrepresented processor and CPU cooler value. The TDP of a CPU does not mean the amount of wattage it consumes. Rather, the TDP value is an estimated amount of heat the processor exudes, which needs to be cooled by a CPU cooler with an even greater TDP value.
Processors with higher TDP values can be less efficient but perform better. In contrast, processors with lower TDP values can be more efficient and perform worse. To learn more about TDP, please read our guide on understanding TDP and the factors that affect it.
Extra Things To Consider
After looking at the specifications of a processor, we have to look at a few extra things to consider before we choose a CPU. These considerations will improve the performance of your PC while also ensuring your processor’s performance per dollar value is good.
The extra factors we will discuss are the cooling solution required for certain processors and MSRP vs. street prices of the CPU you want to buy.
Depending on the advertised TDP of the processor, you will need relevant cooling solutions. For example, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 dissipates ~60W of heat which can easily be cooled using an aftermarket air cooler.
However, the Intel Core i9-13900K dissipates ~121W of heat which might require an All-in-One (AIO) cooler. Of course, depending on the size of your chassis, you will also need to consider the radiator size of the AIO cooler, which may affect the cooling within the case.
Moreover, if you want to overclock your processor, looking into custom water cooling is recommended. While custom water cooling kits can be expensive, they guarantee extremely low temperatures, resulting in better and more stable overclocks.
Therefore, you must adapt your cooling solution depending on the chassis size, processor, and use case scenario. Of course, you can always attempt to cool your PC using a lot of case fans and a good aftermarket CPU cooler, such as the Be Quiet Dark Rock Pro 4, but mixing it with water cooling will yield better results.
MSRP Vs Street Prices
The price of a processor plays a vital role in the decision of a consumer to buy it. That’s why the official MSRP prices are usually slightly higher than those in retail stores. The same can’t be said for new releases, but it’s usually true for products that have been in the market for a few months.
For example, the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X has an MSRP of $699; you can currently find it for ~$570 on online platforms such as Amazon. Of course, these retail prices can also be higher than MSRP prices, which has been the case since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. But most processes have resumed normally, and prices have dropped significantly.
When you choose the CPU you want to buy, ensure you confirm its performance per dollar value against your 2nd option. Using the street prices, you can calculate both processors’ performance per dollar value by using the average FPS achieved in a few games. First, calculate the percentage difference between the prices and then the percentage difference of the average FPS. The processor costs less and has greater performance has a better performance per dollar ratio.
Also Read: AMD Ryzen 9 7950X Vs AMD Ryzen 9 7900X
In short, choosing a CPU for your build isn’t extremely difficult but can take some time. First, you want to figure out whether you want to go with an AMD or Intel processor. Secondly, decide your budget and your use case scenario. Consider overclocking and checking whether your current motherboard supports the processor you wish to purchase.
After knowing the processor, you want to buy, look through its specifications and determine whether they’re enough for your use case scenario. Research the number of cores and threads it has, the clock speeds, cache, and TDP. Based on the TDP, you can decide on the cooling solution you need.
Lastly, compare the prices of your 1st option and 2nd option and gather the percentages of the prices and their gaming performance to calculate the processor’s performance per dollar value. The value will be even more important if you seek a budget option.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can head over to our Comparison section and go through the gaming benchmarks of the CPUs you have selected.
Due to enhancements in today’s programs, you require at least 8GB of DDR4 RAM for day-to-day tasks. However, if you want to play games, you’ll need 16GB to 32GB of DDR4 RAM for a smooth experience.
While clock speeds do improve the performance of a processor, the Instructions Per Cycle (IPC) speed greatly matters as well. If a processor only has a fast clock speed but a slow IPC, it will only be bottlenecked.
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