How to Choose a CPU – A Complete Guide for Everyone

Furqan Shahid
Furqan Shahid
How to Choose a CPU

My foray into the world of PC gaming was not as smooth as one would want. I entered PC gaming when the internet was scarce and there was not much knowledge available to garner. For the most part, I had to rely on what my cousins told me about computers and what the shopkeepers of that time guided me. Therefore, I ran into a lot of substandard computers for the early years. My first proper processor was the Intel Core i3 4130, something I bought after doing a lot of research and while I thought it is something that I should be reading more about, the processor served me well but it was bought without much research.

However, when I had to eventually get my hands on the Intel Core i5 4690K, that is when I truly indulged in a lot of research and chose the right one. I had to make sure that I am fully aware of all the technologies that are available in the market, and I am also making the right decision rather than going for something that is substandard. From that point on, all the processors that I did get my hands on were after considerable research.

To my surprise, it is 2022 and people still go through the confusion when it comes to choosing a CPU. If you have been dealing with the woes of how to choose a CPU, do not worry as we are going to help you pick out the best chip that will be worth every penny you spend.

Whether you are looking for AMD or Intel, this guide is going to cover everything and will put all the confusions at rest.

How to Choose a CPU – A Definitive Guide for Everyone

I fully understand if you are going through any confusion while choosing the right CPU because in all honesty, we have all been there and it never really is an easy thing to deal with. The best way to handle this situation is by making sure that you are looking at all the right options so you do not end up getting something that simply is not good enough.

With that out of the way, below is a step by step guide or explanation of choosing a CPU. This definitely will make sure that you are not buying the wrong CPU because you were misguided.

I do understand that buying the right CPU has significantly become difficult as opposed to how it used to be. Gone are the days when Intel was the only player in the market with good enough CPUs to invest in. AMD has stepped up drastically and is now offering great CPUs, too.

I have extensively reviewed both Intel and AMD CPUs and yes, the competition is as real as one would claim but right now, I am just going to pen this guide down that will help you pick up the right CPU. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Intel or AMD

Intel or AMD

Up until 2017, the CPU market was more or less ruled by Intel and for all the right reasons, to be honest. The company had solidified itself as the best CPU maker in the market and while AMD was still active, nothing AMD offered was good enough to match the prowess that team blue was offering back then and to be honest, there is nothing wrong with that too.

However, in February 2017, AMD came out with the first generation of Ryzen processors that quickly took the CPU market by storm; these CPUs were based on an entirely new architecture, promised more cores, better performance, and lower price.

This was a sign that Intel cannot just go ahead and provide minor generational upgrades and has to do something that actually makes a dent. However, the first Ryzen generation was not as successful. You see, it did provide more cores and better pricing, but the single-threaded performance was, in many cases, abysmal at best and most gamers avoided it altogether.

However, 5 years have passed and AMD has stepped up, the Ryzen 5000 series is an excellent CPU series that contains pretty much everything for everyone. Everything ranging from basic tasks to high-end gaming can be done on Ryzen CPUs. 

On the other hand, Intel’s 12th generation Alder Lake CPUs are no slouch either as you get more features, better performance, and exceptional pricing.

If you are stuck between Intel and AMD, I would highly suggest you stick to Intel for now or wait for AMD’s Ryzen 6000 series which is due later this year.

What is Your Intended Use?

What is Your Intended Use

 Once you have decided between AMD and Intel, the next step is to talk about the intended use. This is as simple as anything can get when you are talking about choosing a CPU. Since both Intel and AMD provide CPUs that are meant for various use cases. This means that if you are not looking to use the CPU for something like gaming and you want more productivity power, you can spend the extra money and get that, too. The point here is to provide flexibility.

With that said, below is a small guide that will further break down the available CPUs for you.

  • Web Browsing, Streaming Videos, and Word Processing: A lot of people out there are using their computers just for the sake of web browsing, streaming videos, and word processing. Take my wife for example, she does not need all the horsepower my i7 12700K provides and that is why her laptop has a 6th generation i3, which works just fine for what her intended use is.
  • Gaming and Streaming: Next up, we are talking about perhaps the most common use-case of CPUs and that relates to gaming and streaming, to some extent. This range is mostly populated by Intel’s Core i5 and AMD’s Ryzen 5 series of processors that can range anywhere from $200 to $300. Many gamers as well as critics call this the sweet spot because the value of money here is unbeatable and you get some amazing experience out of the CPU you are about to get your hands on.
  • Creative Media and Rendering: Moving further, we are looking into creative media and rendering work. For this, you are obviously going to need something that can provide you with more cores and threads. Thankfully, both Intel and AMD are equipped with something that you can go for. You are looking at an i7 or a Ryzen 7 for these tasks. But do not worry, if you are looking to game on these CPUs, you would be more than capable of doing it with ease.
  • The Do It All: Some consumers have the need to get the CPU that can do it all, and there is nothing wrong with it. It actually is intuitive because it saves you from spending more and more money on various components. With that said, the i9 and Ryzen 9 CPUs are more or less the do-it-all of the industry, as these CPUs are powerful enough to handle all the tasks that are needed to be handled, and that too, with ease. So, if you have been looking for something along that range, be sure that you know what to buy.

The above mentioned ranges will help you significantly when it comes to trying out the right CPU and that too, with ease.

What About the CPU Model Numbers and Names

What About the CPU Model Numbers and Names

You would be surprised if I tell you that understanding the model names and numbers of CPUs is something that has never been an easy thing to do. Why? Well, both Intel and AMD had a lot of SKUs from a lot of different series that they would release and it would always become confusing.

However, we are here to help you understand the model names and numbers for both Intel and AMD. So, let’s have a look at Intel first and then we can move onto AMD.

  • Core i3: This is Intel’s entry-level series of processors that started with dual cores back in the day but now you get more cores in the Intel i3 series. This is for basic tasks and you can even do light gaming on it without much hassle. However, pairing an i3 with a top-tier GPU is not what anyone would suggest.
  • Core i5: This is Intel’s mid-range, or sweet spot series of processors that is meant for mainstream gaming and great performance overall. If you are looking for value, this is where the value lies and you get great gaming performance as well.
  • Core i7: Next up we have Intel’s higher-end processors that are meant for both gaming and productivity. The i7 does everything the i5 does but with better performance in productivity oriented tasks.
  • Core i9: This is Intel’s flagship consumer grade PCs that are meant to take productivity performance up a notch by introducing more cores and more threads. However, these processors require better power and generate more heat, too.
  • Core X/XE/Xeon Series: This is Intel’s workhorse CPUs that are built with one intention and that is solving complex computational problems. Sure, you can game on them too, but I doubt I know anyone who openly games on these CPUs.

With Intel out of the way, we are now going to take a look at what AMD has to offer with their Ryzen processors.

  • Ryzen 3: Just like the Core i3, Ryzen 3 is meant for basic tasks with the processors aiming for great performance in basic tasks with some capabilities to perform in games.
  • Ryzen 5: Going against the likes of Intel’s Core i5, the Ryzen 5 series is for those who are looking for the best value, while getting great gaming performance, as well as some productivity chops, too.
  • Ryzen 7: Built for those who want to not only game but also render videos, and edit pictures with ease and no holds barred when it comes to performance. Provides almost the same gaming performance as Ryzen 5 but better productivity performance.
  • Ryzen 9: Those who are looking for better productivity and still stellar gaming performance, the Ryzen 9 series of processors is a great choice to go for and will deliver great overall performance, too.
  • Threadripper: To match Intel’s extreme series of processors, AMD has Threadripper, these are not meant for the general public that wants something to game on as these are processors meant for some serious workload. Sure, you can go ahead and game on these, too but generally, it would suit the workstation computers better.

The numbers/models listed above will help you a lot more than you might think in terms of getting your hands on a good CPU that suits what you are looking for.

Are You Into Overclocking?

Are You Into Overclocking

Going further, we are looking into something that a lot of people are on the fence about and this time around, it is whether you should be looking into overclocking or not. I say this because a lot of people overclock and at the same time, a lot of people do not.

Now, there are certainly risks involved in overclocking but at the same time, you are looking at some performance gains, too. Over the past couple of years the whole idea of overclocking has changed significantly. We have moved into a point where you are getting better performance overall and that too, without spending a lot of money.

If you are looking to overclock, still. You will need to spend on a good CPU cooler. Aside from that, you are going to need an Intel or AMD CPU with unlocked multiplier (these are the CPUs that end with either K or X for Intel and AMD respectively). Additionally, you are going to need a Z series motherboard for Intel and X series motherboard for AMD.

These are the essentials if you want to do proper overclocking on your CPU without any other complications coming in the way and ruining the overall experience.

However, the risks associated with overclocking must be known. An overclocked CPU is not only going to generate more heat but it is also going to cause other known issues such as drawing more power, and in the worst case scenario, running without stability, and that is always something that we would want everyone to avoid.

Understanding the CPU Terminology  

The next thing that I am going to shed some light on is the CPU terminology that is used very commonly in CPUs. Just like GPUs have their terminology, the same is found in CPUs but a bit different. Remembering a lot of detail is often confusing and therefore, we have to check how to look into it and get a proper one, too.

Below, you can find all the relevant information on what these terms mean and what they represent.

  • Clock Speeds: A CPU’s clock speed is measured in gigahertz and it refers to the speed at which the chip is going to operate. This means that the higher the clock speed, the better the CPU is. Most of the modern CPUs are able to adjust their clock speeds up and down based on the task at hand and temperatures.
  • Cores: This term represents the number of physical cores within a processor. Modern CPUs can range from 2 to 64 cores in total, with most common processors going from 6 to 10 cores. As one would imagine, each core is capable of handling its own tasks, and in most cases, you will need to have at least 6 cores and above.
  • Threads: A lot of people can confuse threads with cores but it is not like that. Threads refer to the number of independent processes that a chip is able to handle at once. This normally in theory is the same as the number of cores, however, both Intel and AMD have technologies such as Hyper-Threading and Simultaneous Multithreading which allows a single core to create two threads, allowing for better performance in multi-threaded applications.
  • TDP: For those wondering, TDP refers to Thermal Design Power/Profile and it refers to the maximum amount of heat a chip generates or should generate at stock speeds. This is measured in watts. So, for instance, if your CPU has 95W TDP, you need to get a CPU cooler that can cool 95W and more for ideal performance. Remember, TDP tends to increase when you are overclocking. Higher TDP also coincides with better performance and that is another important thing to keep in mind.
  • Cache: The on-board cache on a processor is used to speed up processor’s access to date and instructions between the CPU and RAM. You get three types of cache starting from L1, which is the fastest but is craped. Then you have L2, which is slower but has more room, then you have L3, which is the largest and the slowest. Every time the CPU is in need of the data that is not available in these caches, it goes to RAM for that data, which is slower, mainly because of how physically it is farther from the CPU. Thankfully, you do not have to pay too much attention to the cache size because it is hard to look into the real-world performance hiccups.
  • IPC: The last terminology that you need to look into is IPC. If you have two CPUs that are delivering the same clock speed and number of cores and threads, but are from different companies or belong to different architectures, the level of IPC delivered by these CPUs will be different. IPC stands for instructions per clock cycle and it depends heavily on the CPU’s architecture. Which means that the newer generation of CPUs will have better IPC. Now, the confusing part is that IPC is not usually listed as a spec, and is usually measured through benchmarks, and the best way is to read CPU reviews before you decide.

The Socket and Chipset Table 

The Socket and Chipset Table

The last part is going to explore the socket and chipset table that has most people confused. We are going to make it easier for those who are wondering about these sockets by listing them in a table below.

Intel MainstreamIntel Mainstream 
Intel Mainstream
AMD Mainstream
Intel HEDT
AMD HEDT

Current CPU SocketsLGA 1700LGA 1200LGA 1151AMD4LGA 2066TR4
Compatible ChipsetsZ690,H670,H610,B660,
W680,Q670
Z490/Z590, H470/H570, B460/B560, H410/H510Z390, Z370, Z370, Q370, H370, B365, B360, H310X570, X470, X370, B550, B450, B350, B450, A320, X300, A300X299X399

Conclusion

If you have been having trouble choosing the right CPU, it is completely understandable as we have all been there every now and then. The point here is that if you genuinely want a good CPU, then the best way is to do some research and then make your decision. This is the only way you can get your hands on something that delivers good performance and value for money.

This guide was not about Intel vs AMD, we have already covered that. This guide was to make it easier for users to pick up the CPU that they believe is good for their money so everyone can have an easier and simpler experience without much hassle.

Here is hoping that with the help of this guide, you are able to pick the CPU you want to get your hands on.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Choosing a CPU might not be as difficult as it used to be, however, the sheer abundance of options can easily confuse even the most well-versed consumers and with this guide, we aim to make things easier.

You simply have to choose a good CPU, then look at the performance of various CPUs in the market, and decide which one it is that suits your needs.

Yes, if you have been searching for an excellent value CPU that delivers great performance overall and does not cost a lot of money, the Core i5 is an excellent CPU.

Furqan Shahid

I have been gaming for almost 24 years with extensive knowledge of all platforms and the gaming industry, in general. With interests in literature, art, gaming, and PC hardware.

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