If you’re in the market for a new computer and you are planning on building your own system, the component you’ll likely choose first is your processor (CPU). But, if you’re new to building a computer, what to look for in a CPU might not be clear to you.
In this article, I discuss seven different factors that you should consider so that you can purchase the best processor for your budget and needs.
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If you’re looking to buy/build a new computer or laptop and you’re wondering what CPU you should get, you first need to consider what exactly you will be using your computer for.
If you’re looking for a new computer that you can use to browse the internet, send emails, or watch videos, you won’t need as powerful of a computer as if you were looking to play demanding games, or use your system as a workstation.
Or, if you’re a gamer, but you only play non-demanding games like League of Legends, you can save a bit of money by getting a more budget-friendly quad-core processor, and then either pocket the extra money, or use it to put into other components.
If you’re looking to build a high-end computer for video editing, graphics design work, or high-end gaming, you’ll want to look for a higher-end processor with more cores/threads. While most games still aren’t able to fully utilize CPUs with 4 or more cores, newer games are starting to utilize more cores. And, for graphics design, video editing, and other related use cases, the extra cores/threads will bring you more performance.
But, ultimately, the first thing you’ll want to consider when buying a new CPU is what exactly you will be using your system for.
The one factor that will be the most significant determining factor in what kind of processor you can get is how much money you have to spend. Whether you are building a computer or buying one pre-built, the more money you have to spend, the better processor you can get.
However, even if you have a lot of money to spend, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get the best processor money can buy. As we noted above, how you will use your system is also important to consider.
Again, if you’re only looking to build or buy a computer for light use (browsing the internet, sending emails, etc.), you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a machine that will do what you want it to.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to edit videos or do design work, you’re going to want to spend more money on your processor.
And, if you’re a gamer that is looking to play more demanding games, you’ll want to spend a moderate amount on your processor.
If you’ve been researching which components to choose for your gaming computer, then you have undoubtedly stumbled upon more than one article pitting Intel processors versus AMD processors.
The bottom line is that there are only two options you have for a CPU if you are in the market to build or buy a new computer: Intel or AMD.
Each CPU manufacturer brings something different to the table.
Intel typically offers CPUs that provide better single core performance and efficiency. As of right now, this translates into better overall performance. However, the extra performance comes at a premium, so, you can expect to pay more for an Intel CPU than you would for an AMD CPU.
AMD, on the other hand, typically offers less-expensive CPUs that have more cores. And, while their single core performance doesn’t quite match up to Intel’s single core performance, AMD chips do, in fact, narrow the performance gap by fitting more cores onto their chips.
Regarding gaming performance, in most scenarios, Intel’s processors hold an advantage over AMD’s processors. However, in real-world situations, the in-game performance difference between the latest processors from AMD and Intel is pretty narrow.
Ultimately, though, while there are many different angles in the battle between Intel and AMD for gaming-CPU supremacy, the bottom line is that both processor manufacturers present CPUs that are more than powerful enough to handle any of today’s games. So, whether your decision comes down to price, performance, or a little of both, both companies have something to offer.
Another thing you’ll want to consider if you are looking for the right processor for your needs is whether or not you want to have the ability to overclock.
Overclocking allows you to “turn-up” the speed on your processor, which can help you gain more performance.
For the majority of users, overclocking isn’t necessary. However, if you want to build a new gaming computer, or you’re doing graphics design-type work, sometimes the more processing power you can get your hands on, the better.
An overclockable processor also has the potential to remain relevant longer. So, if you are working with a smaller-to-medium-sized budget and you don’t want to have to upgrade your processor in 3-4 years, choosing a CPU that can be unlocked might be a good way to go.
If you do want to overclock, just note that you’ll need to spend more overall to get the most out of your overclocking endeavor. For instance, “unlocked” CPUs (CPUs that can be overclocked) are typically more expensive than “locked” CPUs (CPUs that cannot be overclocked.)
Unlocked CPUs also typically require more expensive motherboards and CPU coolers to accommodate them.
So, if you are working with a tight budget, overclocking may not be the route for you to go. But, if you’ve got a larger budget and you want to have the ability to overclock your processor, just make sure that you choose a motherboard and CPU cooler that will accommodate your processor.
If you’re building a computer, you want to make sure that the parts you are choosing are compatible with each other.
For your processor, there are a couple of things to consider on the compatibility front. The first is to ensure that you match the CPU you are choosing with a motherboard that has the correct CPU socket.
The CPU socket is the socket on the motherboard that the CPU gets plugged into. Not all CPUs can fit into all CPU sockets.
For instance, an AMD CPU cannot fit into any Intel-based CPU sockets and vice-versa.
Also, as Intel and AMD come out with new processor architecture, they also come out with new CPU sockets to accommodate the new architecture. This means that some older AMD and Intel processors are not compatible with the CPU sockets that are made for newer AMD and Intel sockets.
For instance, an Intel Core i7-4770K is meant to work with the LGA 1150 socket, whereas an Intel Core i7-8700K is intended to work with the LGA 1151 socket. You cannot use an i7-4770K in an LGA 1151 socket motherboard and vice-versa.
So, the bottom line is that, when you choose your processor, you need to understand what CPU socket it is intended to work for so that when you go to select a motherboard, you pick the right one.
Along with ensuring that you understand that your CPU can only go into a specific socket, you also need to understand that the CPU you choose needs to be paired with a motherboard that has a chipset that accommodates your CPU.
First, there are different types of motherboards available on a given socket. They are separated by chipsets. Essentially, chipsets determine what features come on the motherboard.
Some chipsets have more features/ports/are better-built. And, some chipsets have fewer features but are less expensive.
But, it’s important to note that the processor you choose will likely have a chipset that it goes best with.
For instance, an Intel CPU that can be overclocked is going to need to be paired with a motherboard that is built for overclocking. If you are getting an Intel Core i7-8700K LGA 1151 processor, you are choosing a processor that can be overclocked (designated by the ‘K’) and, you’ll want to pair it with an LGA 1151 motherboard chipset that is designed for overclocking.
There are the Z370 chipset motherboards that are designed for overclocking. And, then there are the B360, H370, and H310 motherboards on the LGA 1151 that are not designed for overclocking.
And, so, if you’re getting an i7-8700K, you’ll want to go with a Z370 motherboard so that you can overclock your processor. If you don’t want to overclock your processor, you can go with the Intel Core i7-8700 (no ‘K’) and a B360 motherboard.
Of course, you could pair an i7-8700K with a non-overclocking B360 chipset motherboard. Technically speaking, those two would work together.
However, the disadvantage here is that, since hardware that accommodates overclocking costs more, it is wasteful spending to pair an overclockable CPU with a motherboard that doesn’t allow overclocking.
So, the right CPU and motherboard chipset for you comes mostly down to how much money you have to spend and whether or not you want to overclock. Both AMD and Intel offer a variety of chipsets for their processors. They provide higher-end chipsets for overclocking, as well as more budget-friendly options as well.
The other important thing to note on chipsets is that, although most CPU sockets are backward and forwards compatible, issues can arise when you pair older CPUs with newer generation chipsets and vice-versa—even if they are technically compatible with each other.
The main issue is that, in some cases, if you pair a newer CPU with an older motherboard chipset on the same socket, they may work together, but you may have to flash the BIOS of the motherboard so that it is compatible with the newer processor.
And, in some cases, a newer generation processor is not compatible with older chipsets—even if they are on the same socket. This is rarer but is the case with Intel’s new Coffee lake chips. Despite the fact that Intel’s Coffee Lake processors are LGA 1151 processors, you cannot use them on older LGA 1151 motherboards, and you cannot use older LGA 1151 processors (Skylake and Kaby Lake) on newer LGA 1151 motherboards.
This might all sound confusing, but a good rule of thumb is to always pair your processor with a motherboard of the same generation. While most motherboards on the same socket are backward and forwards compatible, you’ll have a much easier time getting them to work together if you stick to a CPU-motherboard combination from the same generation.
Finally, if you are going with a processor that can be overclocked, you’ll probably want to consider getting a better cooling solution.
To overclock your processor, you essentially force it to run faster than it runs out of the box. And, to make it run faster, you have to send more power to it. But, the more power you send it, the hotter it will get.
Processors can only get so hot before they are forced to slow down. However, if you can match the rise in the processor’s temperature when you overclock it with a superior cooling solution, you can keep your CPUs temperature in a moderate range.
Also, the better you can cool your processor, the higher you can overclock it (to an extent.)
Most CPUs come with a stock CPU cooler. Typically, the stock cooler isn’t good enough for any kind of significant overclocking. (Although, AMD’s new Ryzen processors come with capable stock coolers.)
Fortunately, there are a ton of third party coolers that are designed to offer better cooling for your processor should you choose to overclock it. You can take a look at our CPU Cooler Buyer’s Guide for some of the better options currently available.
If you don’t want to overclock, you can stick with the stock cooler. Stock coolers (especially Intel’s) aren’t very aesthetically pleasing, though, and so if you are looking to build a computer that looks good, a third party cooler might be the better option for you—even if you aren’t planning on overclocking.
Also, if you do go with a third party CPU cooler, you’ll want to make sure that it is compatible with your motherboard. Most third-party coolers offer a variety of brackets and are compatible with most modern motherboards. However, there are a few instances where certain CPU coolers aren’t compatible with certain motherboard sockets.
So, before you make your purchase, just double-check that the cooler you are considering is compatible with the processor you have chosen.
Choosing the Right Processor For You
While these seven factors aren’t the only things to consider before you buy a new processor, they are some of the most important. For more information, you might also want to check out our post on the most common CPU Specifications to Know.