PC*Base #6 – CPU

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the brains of the operation.  Without getting too technical, the processor does just what the name says.  It processes all information it receives.  While this is one of the most important choices you will make when deciding to build a PC, there aren’t that many choices compared to everything else you could buy.

One topic that will come up repeatedly in this article is integrated graphics.  Most CPU’s now have integrated graphics on the processor.  This means that you don’t need a separate video card for your computer.  If you are a hardcore gamer you will still want to purchase one.  Otherwise a CPU with integrated graphics will be just fine.  They will play movies, and low-end games without a hiccup.

There are several companies that make CPU’s, but the only ones we care about are Intel and AMD.  The CPU’s they make will be very similar.  A while back you could use the same motherboard for either processor, but now motherboards work with either Intel or AMD.  It will tell you right on the box of the motherboard so don’t worry about any confusion.  Most places will sell motherboard/CPU combo packages at a decent discount.

Intel
Intel has been the defacto standard at making CPU’s for a long time.   They are more expensive than AMD processors, but they usually offer more stability, and better performance for non gaming applications.  Intel processors are also good for video editing.  Newer Intel processors use less electricity and run cooler than AMD chips.   Basically if you want real performance then I recommend an Intel processor.  Intel currently makes three different types of CPU’s

  • Celeron – These are low-end processors.  If you aren’t building a PC, but instead buying one, and it says Celeron on it, stay away.  This will start to feel slow and clunky fairly quickly.  Current Celeron processors have integrated graphics built-in so you don’t need a separate graphics card.
  • Xeon – These are the high-end processors usually used in high-end work computers or servers.  They are expensive, but good processors.  Some have integrated graphics, but not all.  Chances are you won’t be buying one of these for home use unless you make a living on photo and video editing.
  • Ivy Bridge – These are the processors you should concern yourself with.  All Ivy Bridge processors have integrated graphics on-board. They come in multiple SKU’s:
    • Core i3 – These are generally lower end processors good for standard work (MS Office, Email, and Internet).
    • Core i5 – These range from the mid to high-end good for work, but also good for gaming.
    • Core i7 – These are high-end processors good for all the above plus video, and photo editing.

If I was going to make a recommendation on an Intel processor for a gaming machine, or general use, I would recommend the i5-3570k.  It has great performance for the price.  If you want to do more video editing and work, I recommend the i7-3770k.  It will run you a pretty penny, but the performance is well worth it.  I think if you buy either of those processors you won’t feel the need to upgrade for years to come.

AMD
AMD makes cheaper chips, but overall I don’t find them to be as stable of a product.   The two clear places where AMD beats Intel is the price, and mid-tier gaming.  AMD doesn’t have integrated graphics on all of their processors, but the ones that do have them, do gaming really well.  That’s because several years ago AMD acquired ATI, a giant in the video card market.   If you want to save a ton of money, by buying a system that you can run standard applications on, and play games decently then check out the AMD processors.

  • Phenom II / Athlon II / Sempron – These are three different low-end processor types that AMD sells.  In general I would stay away from these.  The performance is pretty shoddy, and they don’t have integrated graphics, but they are extremely cheap.
  • A-Series – These have integrated graphics and offer pretty decent gaming performance.  Unfortunately they don’t hold up when it comes to other tasks.  A high-end A-series processor will perform about as well as a low-end Ivy bridge processor at many tasks.  Its still not a bad option if you want to play games and save money, however it might feel outdated a lot sooner.
  • FX – The FX series of processors is supposed to be AMD’s top of the line processor.  Unfortunately they don’t have integrated graphics in them.  This is a big miss in my opinion   It would have been nice for them to combine decent performance with decent gaming, but they failed to do so.  The other big miss is that AMD’s newest FX chips that were just released don’t perform as well as Intel’s new Ivy bridge processors that were released 6 months ago.  The one plus with these chips is that you can easily overclock them and make them much faster.  Overclocking is a topic I will cover in the future.

If I was going to buy an AMD processor I would lean towards the A10-5800K for decent gaming performance, and OK application performance.   If you are building a gaming machine on a budget then I would consider an FX chip.  The FX-8350 is the newest FX processor with standard performance on normal applications.  Then you will have to pair it with a good video card.

Conclusion

If you’re a standard computer user, that isn’t doing anything too crazy, and you don’t want your computer to feel obsolete any time soon, go with the i5-3570K.

If you’re a bit of a gamer, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money then the AMD A10-5800K is a safe bet.  However keep in mind that it might start to feel obsolete in a few years.

If you’re a real hardcore gamer, but you don’t need crazy apps, then you should buy a separate video card, and go with the i5-3570K, or the FX-8350.

If you do video editing and other hardcore applications then buy the Intel i7-3770K.  I bought one of these myself, and I plan on using it until at least 2016 barring some freak accident.  I’m also a hardcore gamer so I bought a separate video card.

In the next installment of PC Base, we’ll cover RAM, and finally install the completed motherboard combo into the case!

So, what do you think?

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