The CPU, or Central Processing Unit is the brain of any PC, the single most important component of any computer and, in some cases, it could be the most expensive component of the entire machine. Practically, the CPU is a microchip that is capable of completing millions of mathematical operations per second, all done in binary code (the one with the 1 and 0).intel_penryn_quadcore_processor

Also, the CPU is the part of the PC that handles all the number crunching, and with modern CPUs, we see that they are starting to handle graphics rendering as well. A technology that has been adopted by both the two world leading manufacturers of CPUs, Intel and AMD.

What are CPUs?

This is how Wikipedia describes a CPU:

A central processing unit (CPU), also referred to as a central processor unit,is the hardware within a computer system which carries out the instructions of a computer program by performing the basic arithmetical, logical, and input/output operations of the system.

But inshort, a CPU is a chip that has embedded in its circuit billions of tiny transistors (the scale of these transistors is so small, it’s hard to imagine them, some going down as 22 nm in the case of Intel’s Ivy Bridge CPUs or even smaller in other concepts). This silicone chip is what allows your PC to “think”, giving it the power to read information and send information to the other components, in a sense, organizing them much like the human brain works, but with one big difference: it only works on the basis of laws and it cannot learn and operate on itself.

Nonetheless, the CPU gives your computer the power to make calculations and, as you might of guessed by now, the more powerful the CPU is, the better a computer will operate. Sometimes, if you upgrade your CPU on an old computer, it might provide you with a serious boost in performance, this technique also works if you have an old laptop and you want to give it some new life.

Higher numbers do not mean higher performance

When on the market for a CPU, some retailers might blow big numbers in your face so that they can convince you that one CPU is better than others. Although in some cases, bigger is better, you must not let yourself be fooled by these seemingly random numbers. Keep in mind that all CPUs differ from each other, and so, some that have a big clock speed, might be less powerful a CPU that has a lower clock speed, but with technologies like Hyper Threading or multiple cores.

Here is a quick list of some of the specifications you will find when buying a CPU. I will try to explain them as best I can without going into technical detail and make it as simple as I can:

Socket – Motherboards, as we saw offer support for one type of CPU. Depending on which manufacturer you choose, you can use several of their CPUs. For example, Intel processors come on a wide variety of sockets:

  • 775
  • 1156
  • 1155

AMD has:

  • AM
  • AM2
  • AM2+
  • AM3

These are basically the interface your CPU connects to your motherboard.

Clock Speed – This is the actual speed of your computer. The clock speed, measured in Hertz (nowadays, they are GHz) and what it means is the number of operations a CPU can execute in a time period, usually a second. Usually, these OPS (operations per second) come in the millions or billions and in the past, the higher the clock speed, the faster the CPU. Nowadays, with the multiple core designs, you have to take to account the number of cores as well as the clock rate.

Number of cores – Multi core CPUs are the latest technology in the CPU world. These designs have appeared due to the miniaturization process of the transistors and they have allowed the designers to mount several CPU’s (in this case, called “cores”) in one microchip. They offer vastly superior performance than single core designs and are far more faster and can handle a much higher workload.

Hyper Threading – A technology developed by Intel that gives users more power from the same CPU. This allows each physical core to be viewed as a two logical cores, giving a boost of performance to any task.


Cache – Cache Memory is a kind of RAM memory that stores the most frequently used instructions. It’s much smaller (a few MB) and a lot faster than usual memory. As you might imagine, with a bigger cache memory, the CPU can store more instructions and thus, work faster. The cache memory is divided into layers (L3 being the biggest layer) and the information is stored in these layers in the order of importance.

Heat Generation – As we all know, in any computer, the cooler it is, the better it performs. And the CPU generates massive amounts of heat. This becomes a problem when you have only a stock cooler and not an aftermarket CPU cooler, capable of efficiently driving the heat away from the CPU. A good cooling system and a good airflow in your case is something that can take care of this issue.

Architecture: The CPU’s architecture can be one of two: 32 bit (X86) OR 64 bit (x64). Today’s CPUs almost all have 64 bit architecture, they allow you to install more RAM memory on your computer and can handle a much bigger data stream.

After understanding these technical specifications, you can see which processor has the bigger potential and when you will want to upgrade your CPU, you will know how to choose the best one, depending on what configuration you have and what level of power you need.

Intel vs. AMD



The age-long question, which is better? The answer to this question is not as straightforward as you might aspect. Nowadays, technologies have evolved quite a lot, and with Moore’s Law (the observation that states that the number of transistors on an integrated chip doubles once every 18 months) still working like a charm, both manufacturers of PC microprocessors have quite a lot to offer.

As an Intel fan, I can say that all Intel processors have a massive amount of power under their hoods, and for raw power, the kind that is needed for video encoding for example, they offer the best results. This does not mean that AMD processors are not powerful, their biggest advantage is their price, which in comparison with Intel’s prices, are next to nothing. They still operate very well under stress, and for the average user or for the hardcore gamer, they offer top of the line performance. Also, they have multiple cores (up to 6 or 8) which gives them lots of processing power and speed, this is a feature used by both Intel and AMD.

Top 6 CPUs to choose

Although the choice is up to you, depending on what type of computer you want to build, we will give you a helping hand in choosing the right processor. These are a few examples of some of the best CPUs from both Intel and AMD. Keep in mind to pay attention to what socket your motherboard has, so you don’t end up with a processor that won’t fit.

Intel Core i7 3770K 3.5 GHz

  • Clock Speed: 3.5 GHz
  • Number of cores: 4
  • L2 Cache: 4x 256 KB
  • Price: $325

Intel Core i5 3570k 3.4GHz

  • Clock Speed: 3.4 GHz
  • Number of cores: 4
  • L2 Cache: 4x 256 KB
  • Price: $230

Intel Core i3 3225 3.3GHz

  • Clock Speed: 3.3 GHz
  • Number of cores: 2
  • Cache: Intel Smart Cache 3072 KB
  • Price: $161

AMD FX-8150 3.6GHz

  • Clock Speed: 3.6 GHz
  • Number of cores: 8
  • L3 Cache: 8192 KB
  • Price: $170

AMD FX-8120 3.1GHz

  • Clock Speed: 3.1 GHz
  • Number of cores: 8
  • L3 Cache: 8192 KB
  • Price: $155.5

AMD Phenom II X4 975 Black Edition 3.60GHz

  • Clock Speed: 3.6 GHz
  • Number of cores: 4
  • L3 Cache: 6144 KB
  • Price: $175


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I often wonder, where is technology heading? What do all of these advances mean for us and for our future? I sometimes miss the days when I didn’t know how to use a floppy disk, or how a computer CPU works, but now, until I find an answer to my questions, I’ll keep tracking these advances and show everything I find to those who share my interests.