Blog Catalog Blog Directory Do it yourself gaming computer: Understanding gaming PC processor / CPU

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Understanding gaming PC processor / CPU

This component along with the motherboard, memory and video card is responsible for the performance in 3D games and applications in your gaming computer. CPU stands for Central Processor Unit and is responsible to process the machine code necessary to load the operating system, and then run the instructions the OS sends to it in your computer. Is one of the most important components in any computer because it controls all the other components in the computer. There are two main brands competing in this industry, Intel and AMD. We should choose this component carefully and always think about keeping enough room in our budget to choose a good video card because a combination of a high performance video card and a middle range CPU is always better than a combination of a high end CPU and a middle range video card in a gaming computer. Both brands have a wide selection of models suitable for every budget. Intel has the Intel Celeron processor, Intel Celeron Dual-Core, Intel Pentium processor, Intel Pentium Dual-Core, Intel Pentium Core 2 Duo processor, Intel Pentium Core 2 Quad processor, Intel i5 and Intel i7 CPU's while AMD has the AMD Athlon, AMD Athlon 64, AMD Athlon 64 X2, AMD Athlon II X2, AMD Athlon II X3, AMD Athlon II X4 processor, AMD Opteron, AMD Sempron, AMD Sempron LE, AMD Phenom X3, AMD Phenom X4 processor, AMD Phenom II X2, AMD Phenom II X3 and AMD Phenom II X4 processor CPU's. Not all of them are suited for a gaming computer because they all have different features. Keep reading because we are about to explain those features and give advise about which ones will improve your gaming experience in the best possible way.

Features to look when choosing a gaming CPU

1) brand - is important to know which brand is your CPU so you can choose the right motherboard. An Intel CPU doesn't fit into a AMD motherboard and vice versa so take this into account when choosing your CPU.

2) socket type - even if you have a motherboard manufactured to work with a given brand of CPU it’ll not fit into the motherboard if it's socket type is different. Intel has the 478, 775, 1156 and 1366 socket types while AMD has the AM2, AM2+, AM3 and F socket types. You should buy a CPU and motherboard with the same socket type.

3) Clock speed/Operating Frequency - the speed determine the number of instructions a CPU can perform per cycle. Obviously the faster the speed the better the performance of 3D games and applications. It is measured in MHZ and GHZ with GHZ being the more common in the present. Clock speed perform in a different way in both brands, AMD CPU’s have a tendency to achieve similar performance as Intel CPU’s at lower clock speeds. For example: a AMD CPU clocked at 1.73 GHZ has a similar performance as a Intel CPU clocked at 2.1 GHZ. We definitely want a CPU with a high clock speed on our gaming machine.

4) FSB (front side bus) – is the speed at which the CPU communicate with the other components and it carries data between them. i7 and i5 CPU’s now use QPI (Quick Path Interconnect) instead of the FSB. The higher the FSB the better the performance so we should pick a CPU with a large FSB.

5) Cache – a cache is a little memory, faster than system memory, located inside the processor core and its purpose it to store the most frequently used instructions so the CPU doesn’t have to access the RAM so frequently. The result of this is an improvement in performance. There are different levels of caches, L1, L2 and L3 caches with L1 cache being the smallest and L3 cache being the biggest. Not all processors have L3 cache. Obviously the largest the cache the better so we should have a CPU with a large cache in our gaming computer.

6) Manufacturing process/Process type – is the width of the wiring that connects the components inside the processor. Present processors use 90 nm, 65 nm and 45 nm manufacturing process. The smaller the value the higher the clock speeds. The smallest the value the lowest the power consumption and heat production. We should get a CPU with a 45nm architecture.

7) Single-Core/Multi-Core – when the costs of manufacturing processors with higher clock speeds became too expensive, both Intel and AMD decided to put more than one core inside the same processor. That gave birth to the first multi-core processors. Actually there are processors with up to four cores and CPU’s with up to eight cores are being developed. Having more than one core improves performance specially when running more than one application at the same time because more instructions are being executed per cycle. Not always the performance improvement is linear because not all applications and 3D games are optimized to work with more than one core. Multi-Core processors also come handy when you encode movies and use 3D rendering software. We definitely should get a multi-core CPU for our gaming computer.

8) 64 bit support – older operating systems and CPU’s were designed to work with no more than 4GB of RAM/System Memory, this is commonly called a 32 bit operating system and CPU. Today’s operating systems and CPU’s comes with 64 bit support which allows the operating system and CPU’s to work with more than 4GB of RAM. Maybe you’re asking yourself why do I need more than 4GB of RAM? Well, today’s games use a lot of RAM like 1GB and sometimes more so you’ll need enough RAM to run them. Another reason is that modern operating systems are designed to work with at least 2GB of RAM leaving not enough space to run other applications if you don't have enough of it. Also we should build our machine thinking about the future and believe me when I tell you that at least 4GB of RAM will come very handy when we try to run those resource hungry 3D games and applications in our computer. We should choose a CPU with 64 bit support.

9) Hyper-Threading/Hyper-Transport – these technologies enables multi-threaded applications to run in a single core CPU. Hyper-Threading is an Intel technology while Hyper-Transport is an AMD technology. This is a single-core CPU technology so multi-core CPU’s don’t need it.

10) Retail vs OEM – retail CPU’s come with a cooling fan/heatsink and a three year warranty while OEM CPU’s come with no fan or heatsink and a one year warranty. We should choose a retail CPU.

That’s pretty much the most important features you should take into consideration when choosing a CPU for your gaming computer. We tried to explain this in a manner simple enough so readers without an extensive technical knowledge can understand it and be able to make their own CPU’s choices as wisely as possible. Now that we know how to choose our CPU is time to learn how to choose our next component which is the motherboard. Keep reading so you can benefit from our simple but descriptive explanations.

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