7 Important CPU Specifications Explained (Quickly)

CPU Specs
If you are in the market to get a new computer, whether by building it or buying it pre-built, you need to ensure that you choose the best processor for your budget. One thing that makes the task of choosing a processor difficult is all of the complex and confusing CPU specifications and terms.

However, with a little knowledge of the most common CPU specs, you will have a good idea on how to choose the best processor for your system.

In this article I will take a look at seven important CPU specifications and terms. Each term is important to understand and know when choosing a processor.

These aren’t every processor-related term, but they are the ones that will help you make the best decision possible. So, if you’re looking for a list of CPU specifications and terms to help you choose a processor, use this guide to help you make your selection.

1. Multi-Core

How Do CPUs Use Multiple Cores?

Multi-core technology is perhaps the best advancement in the early history of the processor.

Since the rule of thumb with technology is that it gets put into smaller containers as time goes on, it was safe to assume that multi-core technology was going to exist at some point. However, that doesn’t take away from the potential it brings to the table.

What is multi-core technology? To understand it, you first must realize that a single micro-processor is only able to carry out one task or calculation at a time.

Multi-core technology, then, is the ability to put multiple micro-processors (referred to as cores) on a single processing chip.

By doing so, a multi-core CPU is allowed to do two things at once, rather than having to process one thing at a time. This significantly increases a processor’s performance.

2. CPU Sockets

CPU Socket

As processing technology advances, the two main CPU manufacturers (Intel and AMD) continually come out with new series of CPUs.

With each series, we see a newer and more improved architecture that is capable of providing more performance.

Both Intel and AMD are usually working on multiple series of CPUs at the same time.

For instance, both manufacturers have their mainstream processors as well their server-oriented processors. And, newer series’ of CPUs are coming out at least once every couple of years.

Along with different series’ of processors, there are also different sockets. The CPU socket is where the processor will be installed on the motherboard.

Some series’ of CPUs can utilize the same socket. For instance, all of AMD’s Ryzen processors utilize the AMD4 socket.

On the other hand, some series of processors use new sockets when they are upgraded to a newer architecture. For instance, Intel’s Core series of CPUs have gone through many sockets, including LGA 1155, LGA 1150, LGA 1151, and most recently, LGA 1200.

Matching your CPU with a motherboard that hast the correct socket is crucial. If you get a motherboard that has a socket that isn’t compatible with your CPU, then you will have to send one or the other back because they will not work together. So, the main thing that you need to understand about CPU series’ and socket types is that you should find a processor/motherboard combination that have compatible sockets, but also a combination that features the most up-to-date series and architecture as is affordable.

3. Motherboard Chipsets

Just as you should be aware of what socket the CPU you are considering is compatible with, you should also note the different motherboard chipsets that are available for your CPU’s socket.

For instance, AMD’s new Ryzen processors utilize the AM4 socket. However, there are a couple of different types of AM4 motherboards.

There is the X470 & X570 chipset AM4 motherboards, and there is the B450 and B550 chipset AM4 motherboards. The “X” chipset AM4 motherboards are more “heavy-duty,” have more features/ports/ and are geared towards users who want to do serious overclocking on their CPUs.

On the other hand, the B450 & B550 AM4 motherboards have less features, but cost a lot less.

So, alot of picking the right chipset for your CPU comes down to what you want out of your system. For instance, if you want to overclock, you should get a CPU that can be overclocked as well as a motherboard chipset that accommodates overclocking, too.

It doesn’t make sense to pair a CPU that can overclock with a motherboard chipset that doesn’t allow for overclocking. On the flip side, if you don’t want to overclock, you can get a CPU that is locked (which means it can’t be overclocked) and pair it with a more affordable motherboard that isn’t meant for overclocking.

It’s also important to note that, in the majority of cases, the CPU socket determines whether a specific CPU is compatible with a specific motherboard.

However, in some instances, the chipset can also determine whether a specific CPU is compatible with a specific motherboard.

For example, with Intel’s Coffee Lake processors, despite the fact that they use the LGA 1151 socket, they are not compatible with older generation of LGA 1151 motherboards. Intel’s Coffee Lake processors can only be used on LGA 1151 motherboards that have a 300-series chipset.

This is rare and one of the few instances where a series of CPUs aren’t compatible with older generations of motherboards on the same socket. But, it is still important to note and something you should consider before buying a CPU so that you don’t end up with two components that aren’t compatible with each other.

4. Operating Frequency (GHz)

CPU operating frequency, or clock rate, (which is measured in hertz) is somewhat of a misunderstood concept among first-time builders. A lot of first-time builders consider the operating frequency to be the end-all-be-all of determining the value of a processor. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The operating frequency of a processor is how fast it can complete a single cycle of work. The higher the frequency, the faster it can complete a single cycle of work.

However, a higher operating frequency does not equal more performance. This is because CPUs have a set number of instructions per clock cycle that they can process (Intructions Per Clock, or IPC). For example, if a processor can complete one million instructions per clock cycle and each clock cycle has a frequency of 4.0 GHz, it will still not perform as well as a CPU operating at 3.7 GHz that is completing two million instructions per clock cycle.

However, if you can get that same CPU operating at 5.0 GHz or higher, then the performance difference between it and the 3.7 GHz will become much closer. This is why overclocking is so popular among performance enthusiasts.

Ultimately, you should be looking for the CPU that brings the most cores, the highest frequency, and the most instructions per clock cycle as possible according to your budget.

5. Hyperthreading (Intel) & Clustered Multithreading (AMD)

What the Heck is Hyper-Threading?!

We’ve already talked about the importance of cores and how they help the CPU multi-task. Hyperthreading or Clustered Multithreading is another technology that allows processors to be more efficient in certain CPU-intensive tasks.

Hyperthreading and Clustered Multithreading are basically the same thing, but Hyperthreading was the term coined by Intel and Clustered Multithreading chosen by AMD.

Basically, multithreading allows the CPU to work on two different threads (sequences of instructions for the CPU to carry out) at the same time. Unlike core technology, multithreading doesn’t enable the micro-processor to do multiple things at once. Instead, it allows the processor to work on two different things simultaneously.

To better understand this, imagine working on an assembly line at a toy factory. On your assembly line, you need to install the head-piece onto an action figure’s body. The conveyor belt spits out a new headless action figure every three minutes and it takes you about 10 seconds to install the head.

That leaves about 2 minutes and 50 seconds of time where you are doing nothing but waiting for the next headless action figure to come down the belt. If the toy factory was smart, they would have you work another assembly line (which would be added behind you and you would stand in between the two assembly lines).

On this assembly line, the conveyor belt would produce a toy doll every three minutes and your task would be to install the doll’s arms. If the second assembly line was staggered so that it was producing a toy doll one minute and 30 seconds after each headless action figure was produced, then you would effectively be able to work both assembly lines without any kind of interruption.

This, in a sense, is how multithreading works. It doesn’t allow your CPU to do multiple things at once, but it does delegate tasks more efficiently to the point to where it can give a small performance increase in certain scenarios.

Multithreading is becoming more and more utilized in game development. So, if you’re in the market for a new gaming processor, multithreading is something to consider—and, for the most part, most consumer-level processors will come with some level of multithreading capabilities.

6. Cache

In terms of computer storage, there are three different types. The first kind of storage is your hard drive or solid state drive. Both of these options provide large permanent storage spaces, but in relation to the next two storage types, they are not accessed as quickly.

The second kind of storage is your memory, or RAM. Random Access Memory doesn’t offer as much storage space as your hard drive or solid state drive and the information on the RAM is only temporary, but the data and information on your RAM is not only highly relevant to what you are doing on your computer at the time of use, but it can also be retrieved a lot more quickly than data on your hard drive/solid state drive.

Also Read: What is RAM and What Does it Do?

Finally, there is cache. Cache is on-board memory for your processor. It’s like RAM, but it offers even quicker access, since it’s located directly on your processor. While it only presents a small fraction of storage space as compared to your RAM and your hard drive, it is extremely fast and is used for the most important data relative to the tasks you are carrying out on your computer.

So, the more cache your processor has, the better overall it will perform.

7. Thermal Design Power

What is TDP or Thermal Design Power as Fast As Possible

Thermal Design Power, or TDP, is the measure of the average maximum power a processor can dissipate while running software in watts. Essentially, it’s an indicator of the quality of cooling system you will need in order to keep your CPU at an acceptable temperature.

The lower the TDP of a processor, the less cooling it will need in order to operate at acceptable temperature levels. The higher the TDP of a CPU and the more cooling you will need.

Know Your CPU Specifications and Terms and Choose the Right Processor for Your Computer

There are a number of different CPU specs that you should be familiar with before you go to buy a new processor. By knowing and understanding the different CPU specifications out there you will be better informed to make a decision on your gaming computer’s processor.

Further Reading:

Hey, I’m Brent. I’ve been building PCs and writing about building PCs for a long time. Through TechGuided.com, I've helped thousands of people learn how to build their own computers. I’m an avid gamer and tech enthusiast, too. On YouTube, I build PCs, review laptops, components, and peripherals, and hold giveaways.

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