Buying Guide: Processors
The processor is the "brain" of the computer, controlling everything it does and determining how fast it works. Our buying guide explains how they work and what to consider when purchasing desktop, laptop (notebook) or netbook computers.
What Is A Processor?
A processor — otherwise known as the Central Processing Unit (CPU) or "chip" — has the biggest influence on the overall performance of your PC or Mac. It obtains information, interprets it, and then sends that information to a suitable storage area, like a hard drive. The processor determines how fast software runs, how smoothly games play, how quickly videos load and how energy efficient the computer is.
Is Processor Speed Important?
The speed of the processor is measured in gigahertz (GHz). This indicates how many instructions the computer can complete and its overall computing power.
Here's what can be done with different processor speeds:
- 2.0GHz – Run Windows 8 and most of its applications.
- 3.0GHz – Use more processor-hungry applications, like gaming.
It's important to select a processor with enough power to run your everyday programs easily. The greater the GHz, the better your desktop or laptop will perform; that is, a high-speed processor equals a high-performance computer. It's always safest to go with the fastest processor you can afford.
What Is RAM?
RAM (Random Access Memory) is where information is stored temporarily so the processor doesn't have to access the hard drive. The more RAM you have, the more programs you can keep open at once, and the faster your computer will run. It's essential that you have more than the minimum requirement of RAM for your software and operating system. Very basic computers include a minimum of 1GB RAM; look for at least 2GB of RAM if you want to play video games.
How Many Cores Does My Processor Need?
Most people use numerous programs simultaneously: browsing the Internet, sending and receiving email, downloading music, working on documents or spreadsheets, and running security and anti-virus software. This level of activity requires computers that can "think" quickly to match these multi-tasking habits. As a result, most modern computers feature two or even four processing "cores" — it's like having more than one brain — so they can handle several tasks at once. Multi-core processors also run cooler and quieter, offer reduced power consumption and longer battery life (for laptops and netbooks).
Are All Processors The Same?
There is a wide range of different processor types to suit every type of computer, from high-performance desktop PCs to lightweight laptops and entry-level netbooks. Once you have made your decision about the processor, it is important to understand that surrounding it with the right combination of components will make your new PC or Mac right for your needs. See below for our guide to processors from the big two manufacturers: Intel and AMD.
Let's Talk About Intel Processors
Intel Core i7: As Intel's top processor, the 3rd Generation Core i7 delivers fast, efficient performance for serious multi-tasking, gaming or multimedia use. Features include two or four cores, Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost Technologies, as well as more cache for faster performance. The Core i7 Extreme is for users who demand even higher performance.
Intel Core i5: Ideal for most users, delivering solid performance for everyday applications, plus the ability to increase speed as needed for demanding tasks. 3rd Generation Intel Core i5 processors feature two or four cores, Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost Technologies, plus Intel HD Graphics.
Intel Core i3: The perfect entry point for a fast, responsive PC experience. Intel's 3rd Generation Core i3 is great for basic computing needs, like surfing the Internet, and running Microsoft Office and iTunes. Core i3 processors feature two cores, Hyper-Threading Technology and Intel HD Graphics.
Let's Look At AMD Processors
Phenom: High-performance processors for desktops, Phenom processors combine smooth operation and multi-tasking in an energy efficient design; they are able to scale their performance to the specific tasks at hand.
Turion: Designed specifically for high-performance laptops, the Turion range is ideal for people who want quality Blu-ray playback, smooth performance of the latest games and quality audio.
Athlon: AMD's mid-range Athlon series offers strong performance and energy efficiency for computers without the premium price tag.
Sempron: The Sempron is AMD's range for entry-level notebooks, which balances processing power, good graphics capabilities and wireless performance.
All-rounder: To cater for the needs of the whole family – email, web, Excel, games – look for good value and versatility:
- 2GHz processor
- 1GB to 2GB RAM
Home Theatre: For cinema buffs, power and memory is the key:
- 2GHz+ dual-core processor
- 2GB+ RAM
Gaming: Hardcore gamers need a powerful processor, sufficient memory and storage space:
- 2GHz to 3GHz+ dual-core or quad-core processor
- 4GB+ RAM