Choosing Your Processor
Presently there are two main manufacturers of Processor, AMD and Intel.
The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the brain of your computer. Faster the better to some extent although there is no point in going for the top spec / extremely expensive models on offer if all you are going to be doing is surfing the internet, emailing or word processing.
If its games and graphics you're into then yes, you'll need something faster and more powerful.
Most of the latest offerings are dual or quad core types which basically mean they have two or four processing units residing within the same chip which allows multiple processes to be handled more efficiently.
All of the latest chips are 64 bit which means that they will support the 64 bit editions of the Windows Vista operating syatem.
What's the latest?
The latest offerings from both of these companies are the quad core topologies with, yes you guessed it, four processors within the same chip.
These are the Kings for multimedia, gaming and highly productive multitasking and for running intensive applications at the same time.
To be honest, at the present time Intel would appear to have the edge in performance and power consumption but AMD is catching up with its latest Phenom II X4 Series.
More and more games and applications will be coming along that will make use of the four core topology but for most people it is still not a necessity.
Presently, for good all round performance versus price we would recommend the Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 as our current favorite from the latest 45nm process devices.
Newer models are being built using the 45nm process which gives greater speed and performance at reduced power consumption over the older 65nm process.
Processor Speed Ratings
This is a tricky one to clarify!
The quoted speed is generally the frequency that the processor clock will be running at, i.e. an Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 has a quoted clock speed of 2.66 GHz.
But different devices run different ways in relation to the clock speed.
For our example processor, the clock speed is 2.66 GHz. This equates to 2,660,000,000 clock cycles for every second!
At least one clock cycle is required for any process to be started and different models need differing numbers of clock cycles to complete a particular process containing many instruction cycles as they are called.
A process, made up of a number of instruction cycles, may be the transfer of data to the memory for instance.
A modern Core 2 / Athlon X2 CPU can perform multiple instructions per clock cycle and the dual core and quad core variants even more!
Older versions may take many more clock cycles per instruction, this is a little bit like a car doing so many miles per gallon against one taking gallons per mile!
So, because of this fact and due to different processors of a similar level differing on clock cycles per instruction, it is difficult to compare like for like.
In order to get a handle on all this there are a number of performance benchmarking programs available to enable comparison of operating system, and hardware components etc.
SYSmark is a commercially available program that benchmarks computer systems using various programs such as office type applications, games etc to obtain a comparison rating.
Choosing A Processor
So what exactly do we have on offer from the great Intel and AMD?
There really are a plethora of offerings and it can be very confusing to pick and choose amongst them.
Basically, Intel have 6 ranges to choose from as follows
Intel CeleronIntel PentiumIntel Core 2 DuoIntel Core 2 QuadIntel Core 2 ExtremeIntel Core I7
AMD have the following 6 comparative ranges
AMD Athlon X2AMD Phenom X2AMD Phenom X3AMD Phenom II X3AMD Phenom X4AMD Phenom II X4
As you can see, its already getting quite confusing for the beginner. Just wait!
Within each range is a selection of devices with different operating frequencies and other characteristics.
Click here to examine the Intel range in more detail
Click here to examine the AMD range in more detail
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