Being the brains of every PC, the CPU isn’t an element that you should skimp on. And while picking a GPU is usually relatively straightforward, it’s a somewhat different story with the CPU. It’s not exactly difficult per se, but all the specs and the numbers can be quite confusing. So you need to know about CPU important specifications.
So, what’s important in a CPU’s spec sheet, and what isn’t? What purpose does the cache serve, how significant is the core count, are clock speeds reasonable performance estimates?
Manufacturers: AMD and Intel
Over the past decade, Intel generally came to be known as the premium option, offering high-quality CPUs with superb performance and advanced features, making Intel CPUs the best choice for mid-range and high-end gaming rigs. Intel was a synonym for quality, so their processors came with a slightly higher price tag, plus they all but had a monopoly when it came to high-end solutions.
AMD, on the other hand, had developed a reputation as a more budget-friendly option, offering high core counts and good raw performance at an affordable price point. However, they could never really measure up to Intel when it came to more serious processing solutions.
For example, in AMD’s camp, there are the Athlon and the A-series models, while Intel has Pentium and Celeron.
These, CPU Important Specifications, are intended for a simple home or office PCs, so they are affordable and have no trouble running Windows and most applications, but they are rarely good enough for gaming.
And then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the likes of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper, the Intel Core X-series, and the Intel Xeon series, intended for workstations and servers.
All in all, we advise sticking with the main AMD Ryzen and Intel Core lines if you’re building a gaming PC. As mentioned above, the Ryzen 3/i3 models are suitable for budget builds that use low-end GPUs, the Ryzen 5 and i5 models tend to be the best for mid-range and upper mid-range configurations.
Socket Type: CPU Important Specifications
When buying a CPU, you need to make sure that you’re also getting a motherboard with the appropriate socket. But what is a socket? This is one of the CPU Important Specifications.
Essentially, it is just the interface via which the CPU connects and communicates with other components via the motherboard. Different sockets have different pin configurations and can differ in terms of size as well. Needless to say, if the motherboard doesn’t have the right socket, the CPU just won’t physically fit.
In any case, you don’t need to worry about the socket affecting performance, as it’s all just a matter of compatibility. As mentioned above, all Ryzen models from the 1st generation onward use the AM4 socket, but if you’re getting an Intel CPU, there are some compatibility issues to consider since the LGA 1151 socket has recently been revised – more on that below!
We are mentioning that a CPU interfaces with a motherboard via the socket, but it actually communicates with other components via the chipset. To put it simply, a chipset is a system of circuits that connects all the different parts of the motherboard, and some chipsets offer certain features and capabilities that aren’t available in others. Motherboards are CPU Important Specifications.
For example, the number of USB ports, RAM slots, SATA connectors, and PCIe slots is determined by the chipset. Moreover, the chipset also determines whether some features such as CPU overclocking, AMD Crossfire, AMD StoreMI, Nvidia SLI, and Intel Optane will be supporting.
The core count is the spec most commonly flaunted by CPU manufacturers today, so what are cores, what purpose do higher core counts serve, and is a high core count important for gaming?
To put it simply, a core is a processor. In the past, CPUs had only one core. However, after the processing capabilities of single-core CPUs were pushed to their limits, AMD and Intel started designing mainstream desktop CPUs with two cores.
Soon enough, they went from dual-core to quad-core, from quad-core to hexa-core, and from hexa-core to octa-core. Of course, it didn’t stop there – while most mainstream desktop CPUs today usually have anywhere from 4 to 8 cores, there are CPUs out there that take the core count way further. For example, the most powerful Ryzen 9 model – the Ryzen 9 3950X – features 16 cores, all the while the high-end Threadripper and Xeon models can have as many as 32!
But, as we have mentioned before, such high-end processors are hardly necessary for gaming, so what purpose does a higher core count serve, and how many cores do you need for gaming in 2020?
Well, since each core is a processor in itself, multiple cores can significantly enhance a PC’s multitasking capabilities. And while single-core performance is generally more important for gaming, more and more developers are optimizing their games in such a way to improve in-game performance by utilizing multiple CPU cores.
Multithreading: CPU Important Specifications
Hyperthreading and multithreading have become a big deal over the past couple of years. The former is an Intel technology, and the latter is an AMD technology. Still, fundamentally, they are the same thing – they allow a single CPU core to function as two logical cores, or “threads,” as they are more commonly referred to.
That said, hyperthreading and multithreading can essentially double a CPUs core count by allowing each core to handle two separate tasks simultaneously. Today, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9 CPUs all come with multithreading, while Intel currently keeps hyperthreading reserved for i7 and i9 models.
That said, are multiple threads as important as physical cores?
Well, yes and no. We have already mentioned that single-core performance is more important for gaming than multi-core performance. Of course, the high thread counts of Ryzen models are always a good thing as they will inevitably help the system run smoother overall, but it’s just not something you need to prioritize for gaming.
Clock Speed and Overclocking: CPU Important Specifications
The clock speed, CPU Important Specifications, measured in Hz (usually expressed in GHz today), indicates how many instructions the CPU can process each second. One hertz corresponds to one cycle per second, so a CPU core operating at, say, 4 GHz can handle 4 billion instructions per second.
That said, it’s evident that a higher clock speed means better overall performance, and it’s the raw performance we’re talking about. Any program can benefit from an increased clock speed, which is precisely why overclocking is so popular when it comes to gaming.
Usually, a CPU spec sheet lists the base frequency at which the CPU operates, along with the maximum rate it can achieve with overclocking, provided that the PC is equipped with adequate cooling.
And speaking of overclocking, you’re probably wondering how it works, as well as what you need for overclocking and how much extra performance you can squeeze out of a CPU that way.
Intel has the upper hand when it comes to overclocking since the unlocked Intel Core CPUs can usually be boosted to significantly higher clock speeds than their Ryzen counterparts can. This is part of the reason why Intel still overshadows Ryzen in the high-end, especially when it comes to single-core performance.
But of course, if you want to get any meaningful performance out of overclocking, then it would require a pricey additional investment. While the more advanced AMD stock coolers are generally good enough for some light overclocking, you will need a good aftermarket cooler (preferably liquid) if you want to push an Intel CPU to its limits.
However, it’s important to note that the clock speed in itself is not exactly a good way to evaluate performance. Lots of factors can affect actual real-life performance, from the CPU architecture and core count to the optimization of the game/software that you’re running.
Just because an Intel CPU has a higher clock speed on paper than a Ryzen model, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can offer better performance, and the same goes for the higher thread count of Ryzen models.
Next, we get to the cache, CPU Important Specifications, and this is a high-speed memory cache assigned to the CPU to facilitate future retrieval of data and instructions before processing. It’s very similar to RAM in the sense that it acts as a means of temporary storage. But unlike RAM, the cache memory is integrated into the CPU itself so that it can be accessed faster.
Much like with core and thread counts, the benefits of a larger cache will primarily reflect on multitasking performance. As such, more equals better, but how big of a boost a larger cache can provide will ultimately depend on the software. Modern CPUs have an L1, an L2, and an L3 cache (which is called the Smart Cache with Intel CPUs), and each level boasts more memory than the previous one, but the smaller caches can operate faster.
In any case, the cache isn’t something you need to worry about too much when gaming is concerned. As mentioned above, more is ostensibly better, but you aren’t going to be getting an i7 CPU over a more affordable i5 just because it has more cache memory.
And there you have it, an explanation of all the relevant specs that you need to keep an eye out for when shopping for a new CPU. If you feel that we have overlooked anything or made any mistakes, feel free to let us know in the comments below, and we’ll fix the problem ASAP.