PC Processor Buying Guide

When you are upgrading or building a personal computer the processor (also known as the central processing unit or CPU) is one of the most important piece of hardware you should consider. As the motherboard is the heart of a computer, the CPU is the brain. It is responsible for telling your computer what to do and when by prioritizing tasks and relaying that information to the rest of the system. Because it is essential to your computer working as intended, it is very important that the processor you choose is the right on for your build. First choosing your central processing unit is a good place to start when building a brand new personal computer.

Types of Processors

Desktop Processors

As the name suggests, these processors were created specifically for desktop computers. These particular central processing units are capable of handling the demands of the other hardware inside of the system. They also have a higher thermal tolerance and are better suited for overclocking your system than their counterparts. Desktop CPUs can feature a single core all the way up to eight cores depending on how much processing power is needed to keep your computer running at maximum efficiency. Quad core processors have become the standard for modern personal computers.

Mobile Processors

Mobile processors are used in laptops and smaller mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets. They are slower and not as powerful as desktop CPUs in order to conserve battery life, but they have other unique capabilities. One of these unique features is Wireless Display (WiDi) technology. This allows users to stream an assortment of media from their mobile devices to compatible computers and televisions.

Server Processors

These types processors are built for high reliability, as keeping a server up and running is a top priority. Server processors are made to withstand high stress environments, such as elevated temperatures and heavy computing loads. The work about the same as desktop CPUs, but also feature a "fail over" in the event of the processor being fried. This fail over off puts the processor's job to a secondary processor to prevent total system failure.

Pay attention to


Your CPU cores are important to consider because they relate directly to how fast your computer will run. Cores are like workers. The more cores your CPU contains, the faster your processes will be. Basic computer builds will be able to run perfectly on a dual core processor, whereas computers that will be put under a high workload are better off with a quad core or higher type processor. The best way to determine how many cores your processor will need is to determine the type of software you will be using with your computer.


Processors have their own temporary memory storage, a cache, that allows your computer to retrieve files within it very quickly. The bigger a CPU is, the more cache capacity it will have, so it is important to decide how much temporary space you will need and choose your processor accordingly.

Socket compatibility

Since your processor is essential to your computer's functionality, it being compatible with your motherboard is the single most important thing to look out for. If your sockets are not compatible, your computer will be little more than a centerpiece.


Integrated graphics processing units are a feature of most modern CPUs. Without one, graphics will still display with a graphics card or a motherboard with on board video. Knowing how graphics intensive you will need your computer to be will help decide if a processor with or without an integrated GPU is the right fit. A computer that will be used for rendering high quality graphics will not need an integrated GPU.


CPU speed, also known as the frequency, is measured in hertz (Hz). In the past, a higher frequency would mean better processor performance, but that is no longer the case. It is important to consider the frequency you will need to keep your computer at your preferred speeds as well as looking at a processor's ???instructions per clock???. This will help to determine the average number of instructions your processor can output for each clock cycle.

Thermal Design Power

All computer hardware generates heat and your processor is no exception. It is essential to know how much heat your CPU will generate, as this will also determine which type of cooling system your build will need. Overheating can render your system useless, so be careful to choose a processor that will not crash your system with how much heat it is generating.

Top Brands and Product Lines


This brand is the most popular for computer processors. Their products are mainly sought out for gaming PC builds.


The close second in sought after processors. AMD is known for being cost effective, while still producing high end products.


While known primarily for their computer and mobile devices, ASUS' processors are made to handle a lot of stress. They are a more expensive brand, but most consider the cost an investment in their PCs future.


The best for mobile processing. Nvidia's processors fitted into laptops give the devices the processing power of a full PC while fitting into an average consumer budget.