Choosing a CPU
Your Central Processing Unit - also referred to as your processor or CPU - acts as the mastermind of your computer. The CPU processes thousands of instructions and calculations per second that happen inside a computer, with a speed measured in gigahertz (GHz). Thus, your CPU provides a great deal of the computational power behind everything from creating graphics in PC games to executing functions on Excel spreadsheets.
Other components such as RAM and GPUs help determine a computer's overall power. However, the CPU is ultimately the priority factor in your PCs performance. A CPU with sufficient processing power is important for avoiding the CPU bottleneck phenomenon, which can limit the performance of other hardware, such as your GPU. That is why selecting your CPU is a major decision, and why it is so important to have a wide selection of CPU models to choose from.
Computer processors are available from two major brands: AMD and Intel. Both offer cutting edge processing technologies in their latest and most powerful incarnations, including Intel 14th Gen and AMD Ryzen Zen 4. Coming as early as 2024, AMD will be releasing Zen 5. Both Intel and AMD offer a wide range of entry and mid level CPU options. Both companies use the same architecture, and their product series are named using a similar numbering scheme.
That said, the two brands are not interchangeable. Motherboards only support particular processors, making it very important to be mindful of component compatibility when building a PC. By choosing a processor first, you are setting up the foundation of your PC and eliminating much of the guesswork on your other PC components.
Ultimately, the best CPU for you will depend on your individual needs and budget.
What Do You Need From Your CPU?
The number of cores in a CPU plays a major role in determining its performance. For entry level PCs a quad or six core CPU may be all you need - for power users, we have options between 8 and 64 cores. Note that many processors now also include threading technologies - such as Intel's hyper threading and AMD's simultaneous multi threading - which create multiple logical threads within the same physical CPU core, greatly increasing the CPU's efficiency and parallel processing capability. Multi threaded CPUs are perfect for digital artists, gamers, streamers and anyone else who needs their machine to handle multiple simultaneous apps and processes with no sweat.
As previously noted, you may have the best graphics card on the market, but if you don't pair it with the appropriate CPU, you might not see the full potential of your GPU. However, the best CPU for gaming may not necessarily be the most powerful. When it comes to gaming, CPUs don't need to be the most powerful because the graphics card handles the majority of the workload for video encoding. Instead, gaming CPUs are designed to work with modern graphics cards to create high quality gaming experiences without steep initial costs.
Top of the line mobile and desktop processors can be higher in cost and are typically reserved for such professional tasks as advanced simulations or high resolution renderings. This is why you will often find the most high powered processors used in workstations and applications such as professional 4k video editing. Additionally, if you are planning on doing any streaming or content creation, it may be worth getting a slightly more powerful processor than you initially need, or one with integrated graphics.
Matching Your CPU and Other Computer Hardware
Finding a processor and compatible hardware can be challenging and time consuming when building a computer. CPU Motherboard Combos help alleviate the stress of component purchases and highlight part compatibility while saving money on initial costs.
On top of finding a compatible motherboard for your processor, you will need to find a CPU cooler that fits both components and your PC case. Luckily, some processors come with included coolers that ensure compatibility and provide quality performance for no additional costs. Both AMD's Wraith Stealth Cooler technology and Intel's stock cooling units can offer sufficient performance. However, when buying a separate CPU cooler, be sure to check the socket compatibility to make sure it matches your motherboard's socket and will work with your build.
Browse our whole selection of Intel and AMD processors right here. If you have more questions about component compatibility or need some help with your next build, you can always use our Micro Center Custom PC Builder.