What to Look for In A CPU: 9 Factors to Consider – The Ultimate Guide

CPUs are necessary for any computer, but if you’re new to building your own system and want the best processor possible without spending too much money on it then be forewarned – there’s a lot of information out there. 

This article will help clear things up by discussing nine factors that need consideration when purchasing this crucial part!

1- Intended Use
2- Price Point
3- Overclocking
4- Processor Socket Type
5- CPU Cooler
6- Availability and Longevity
7- Motherboard Chipset
8- Intel vs AMD
9- what to look for in CPU specifications
9.1- Clock Speed
9.2- Cores/Threads
9.3- Cache Memory/Cache Level
9.4- Hyperthreading (SMT)
9.5- TDP
What to do next

1- Intended Use

The first thing to consider is, what do you want the CPU for?

Are you a programmer who often works with complex data and algorithms? Then a high clock speed processor will be useful for applications such as video rendering or graphics design.

Are you a gamer? Then gaming CPUs running at high clock speeds are favorable.

Are you an average person who uses the computer for basic applications such as web surfing, video watching, or word processing? In this case, a low-power processor will be sufficient since it will use less power and generate less heat.

The first thing you should think about when buying a new computer is what you will use it for.

2- Price Point

Typically, faster is more expensive. However, you can’t just go by that rule of thumb because there are other factors involved.

You need to consider your budget when choosing your CPU.

Do you want to buy the best available in the market? If so, aim for one in the upper price range (e.g., Intel Core i7-3770K). Otherwise, choose a slightly cheaper one (e.g., Intel Core i3-3220) if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to spend much money on this purchase right now in order to maximize your ROI (return of investment).

Are you building an entry-level gaming computer or upgrading parts of an old PC? Then buy something in the lower price range (e.g., Intel Celeron G530). This one will be sufficient for your needs as a gamer and is also more economical, saving you money over time.

3- Overclocking

Another factor to consider is whether you’ll overclock your CPU or not. Whether overclocking is important depends on what you’re using the computer for since it provides better performance by speeding up the clock speed of a certain part of the processor so it can carry out more tasks in less time. If overclocking matters, then Intel offers greater control over its processors while AMD’s are easier to handle provided they have an unlocked multiplier.

4- Processor Socket Type

A crucial factor to consider when buying a CPU is the socket type it uses. Because most CPUs come in different sizes, you can’t simply put any CPU with any motherboard even if they share the same socket type designation (e.g., LGA 1155) since there are different types of sockets (e.g., Socket LGA 1150) for different sized CPUs. You should look at the motherboard’s socket type (e.g., Intel H61 Express Chipset, Socket LGA 1155) when buying a processor to determine whether or not it will fit your system.

So, to choose your processor, you need to know which CPU socket it will work with. Then when you are picking the motherboard, pick the right one that matches that socket.

5- CPU Cooler

Many people forget that a CPU requires a device to keep it cool.

This is one of the first things you should consider before buying a new processor if your computer case doesn’t have an available slot for installing one because you’ll need to buy the right cooler first, then install it before putting in the new CPU. Otherwise, you risk damaging your computer’s motherboard if temperatures rise too high since heat will damage the sensitive components on the board.

There are air coolers and liquid coolers for this purpose. Air coolers are cheaper but not as efficient as liquid ones, which run quieter yet work better at dissipating heat from inside your machine. The choice here depends on your preference and budget.

However, before you buy the cooler, make sure that it is compatible with your processor. To get more details about CPU cooler compatibility read our article about How to Choose A CPU Cooler.

6- Availability and Longevity

However, when choosing your CPU, you should consider its longevity since it determines how long it will give its best performance in your system.

If you want to be able to resell or upgrade your computer later in life, then you need to choose a processor that is readily available in the market and has multiple manufacturers making them because this means there are more people who can fix it if something happens when compared to one that only comes from one manufacturer (e.g., Intel’s Ivy Bridge i7). You also cannot use processors like AMD Phenom II X6 1090T or Intel Xeon E5-2670, which are more powerful than you need for your gaming needs.

AMD Phenom II X6 1090T vs Intel Xeon E5-2670: You can see that the AMD processor is better despite its older chipsets because it has six cores compared to the Xeon’s four yet still runs on a higher clock speed (3.20 GHz). However, you’ll notice that it consumes more power (125W) which means an increased electricity bill and heat generation if overclocked due to its poor Turbo feature. The Xeon, on the other hand, comes at a lower price point with similar specs but less performance.

7- Motherboard Chipset

The motherboard chipset is what dictates compatibility for both motherboards and CPUs. If you don’t get a compatible motherboard and CPU, your computer will not work. The motherboard chipset is the foundation on which your computer is built; when considering a new CPU it is important to consider what that chipset’s compatibility is with when purchasing a new motherboard or vice versa. Keep in mind that CPUs feature different levels of performance.

If you’re looking for top-of-the-line performance, go with an Intel “S” series chipset (Z77, Z87, etc.) or X99 if you want more PCI Express lanes and ECC RAM support. If you’re building an AMD-based rig make sure the AM3+/AM3 socket has a 970 or 990 chipset. You’ll need to know which processors you want when deciding on your motherboard.

Your computer will only work with CPUs and motherboards from the same brand/company, so if you have an Intel CPU with a Z77 chipset in it, you will have the best compatibility when purchasing a new processor from Intel’s “S” series lineup. The same can be said for AMD computers that feature AM3/AM3+ sockets and older motherboards. If your motherboard is based on one chipset but contains different internals (different size heatsinks) within, they may not be compatible together; also keep in mind that some chipsets support newer versions of Windows while others do not (for obvious reasons); make sure to find a motherboard with a compatible chipset.

The motherboard chipset will dictate the price of your CPU, as it is one of, if not the most important factor when selecting your computer’s main processor. A motherboard will not work with a CPU brand/series that it wasn’t designed for, so make sure the CPU you’re looking for is compatible with your desired motherboard before making a purchase.

8- Intel vs AMD

The next thing you have to do is decide between Intel Core or AMD.

AMD chips are generally cheaper, but they’re also inferior to their Intel counterparts in terms of both performance and efficiency. They are however more affordable, which might be better for you if you don’t need the best possible speeds money can buy. You’ll have to sacrifice power for the price when going with AMD, while Intel has more price-efficient CPUs with comparable levels of performance. If you want your computer to have top-of-the-line capabilities but at a lower cost, then go with an AMD processor instead of an Intel one. Your choice will depend on what exactly you’re looking for in regards to speed and price range.

9- what to look for in CPU specifications

With the above knowledge in hand, you have to look at a few different things when deciding on a CPU.

9.1- Clock Speed

The clock speed is an expression of how fast a given processor core will run, measured in gigahertz (GHz). The higher the GHz rating, the faster that specific CPU can process data and execute instructions. It’s important to note that some processors have two or more processing cores within it; this means they can do more than one thing at once.

9.2- Cores/Threads

All modern CPUs operate on a multicore system; this means your computer uses multiple processors to accomplish what would normally take up all of its power and resources by itself. The operating system decides which applications you use the most often and runs those processes individually on their own cores while putting less-used programs into other available cores for maximizing efficiency. The more cores available, the faster tasks can be completed.

9.3- Cache Memory/Cache Level

Cache memory is a small amount of memory (in KB or MB) built into the CPU used to store frequently accessed information. This speeds up your computer because these frequently-accessed files can be processed faster, which means that programs and functions will open faster too. If you’re looking for a laptop or tablet, this isn’t something you should worry about because most tablets don’t have cache/cache levels (and regular laptops usually only have 1 level of cache). Cache Level refers to how many layers of cache the CPU has available. For example, CPUs without L3 cache lack the third layer in their hierarchy so they take longer to access cached data than those with 3 levels of cache. Generally speaking, having more levels of cache leads to faster performance, but not all CPUs with more levels of cache are better than those with less.

9.4- Hyperthreading (SMT)

You’re also going to want a CPU that has the ability to hyperthread; this means it can complete tasks using multiple cores at one time to improve its responsiveness and efficiency during real-world usage. AMD processors do not support hyperthreading; if you want SMT then you’ll have to go with Intel’s offerings instead. Some budget CPUs from both brands don’t offer this feature either because they weren’t designed for it or it wasn’t enabled by default in them during production runs/software tweaks by the manufacturer. This may be an important factor for programs that require quicker speeds, especially if you’re doing things like rendering 3D models or encoding large videos.

9.5- TDP

The TDP tells you how much heat the CPU will generate when it’s in use. For example, a TDP of 55W means that the CPU will produce heat equivalent to pushing 55 watts worth of energy through it – which can make cooling your computer more difficult if you don’t have good airflow or an effective cooler. CPUs with low TDPs are better suited for laptops/tablets since they’re usually designed to be compact and because laptops tend to lack effective cooling systems unless you pay extra for one (which defeats the purpose).

What to do next

Choosing the right processor for your needs can be a tricky thing. There are many factors to consider, but these nine will help you narrow down the options so that you’re not lost in all of them.

We have some advice on How to Choose A PC Case for your new system too. Stay tuned!