CPU | A Guide to Computer Processing Units

CPU | A Guide to Computer Processing Units

What does a CPU do?

A CPU is the central processing unit or processor of a laptop or PC. CPU’s can be found in a range of electronics like smartphones and TV’s. You can think of a processor as being the brain of a computer; it communicates with the other components within the body of the PC and interacts with applications and programs. The most-up-to-date CPU the better, as technology evolves and new generations of processors are released. The CPU will sit on the motherboard of your laptop or PC, drawing power from the PSU (power supply unit). Most processors will have a fan above them to cool them as they can get hot from the amount of work they do. Overheating can cause the PC to shut down as the CPU reaches a critical temperature. In older laptops, as the fans begin to fail or slow down, overheating can be more common. The CPU connects to the motherboard via small pins, the arrangement is called the Pin Grid Array (PGA). New and faster processors have more pins. It’s important to note that you need to match your motherboard to your CPU and vice versa. Some CPU’s, especially newer generations, have various PGA’s which means the type of socket on the motherboard has to be exact. Intel’s newest CPU uses an LGA (Lan Grid Array) which has the pins as part of the motherboard socket.

CPU Central Processing Unit

Who makes CPU’s?

You will notice on our product listings we have either Intel or AMD CPU’s inside our refurbished laptops. These are the biggest players in the market and have been for many years. Intel is perhaps the most recognizable of the two and have dominated this sector of the technology industry for decades. This is why most of our units have Intel processors inside. They have been favored by many manufacturers such as Dell and Apple for a long time. The tides however are starting to shift as the newer AMD processors are performing better than Intel Core processors. This coupled with a new contender, Apple, means that Intel is losing its superiority. You may be wandering what the differences are between all these brands. The computer manufacturers are the likes of Dell, HP and Apple. Whereas, the CPU manufacturers are AMD and Intel. The CPU being just one component in the overall build of the laptop. You may then also have manufacturers of hard drives like Seagate and RAM like Samsung or Corsair.

Intel vs AMD | CPU Comparison

At this point you might wonder, is AMD better than Intel? This is a very difficult question and comes down to what you are using your computer for. For example, the newer AMD Ryzen 9 5th gen CPU’s have higher core and thread counts making them much better at multi-tasking than Intel processors. More recent generations of AMD processors have started to outperform Intel on various benchmarks (such as efficiency). For this reason. AMD is typically recommended for content creators that need to use several programs simultaneously for their work. But Intel processors tend to have high clock speeds which make them faster at processing single tasks and are better for gaming. In general, however, the casual user would notice very little difference between the two types when comparing similar generations. They are closely matched, but should you want to get quite granular, you can always Google the CPU model and find a CPU benchmark site to compare against similar processors. There are many online resources that compare various generations against different tasks that will give you a good idea of what you need.

CPU Intel vs AMD and Apple

Intel vs Apple

Enter the new competitor. Since around 2005 Apple has used Intel as their provider for CPU’s in all Macbook and iMac’s. Before that they used PowerPC processors which were created by Apple, IBM and Motorola within their alliance group known as AIM. Quite an interesting story there, which we may explore another time. Intel however, has been the main supplier until 2020. Now Apple is producing the Apple M1 chip, which is an ARM based CPU. What that means is that it’s a different architecture to most CPU’s that are designed based on what’s called a x86 architecture. What Apple has been able to do is consolidate different chips and integrate them into the same ARM system-on-a-chip. This means that instead of having to add chips like the security chip, CPU, GPU and memory controller separately to the motherboard, Apple can create one chip with all these components. This drastically maximizes the CPU as a whole and allows for much greater efficiency. It provides Apple with the same level of control over their device as they have with iPhones and really tailors the CPU to the laptop as a whole. While there is some dispute with Intel and Apple as to which newer generation CPU’s are best out of the two, early tests from third party tech companies has shown the Apple M1 chip to be superior to all other new CPU’s on the market across most tests.

Apple M1 ARM CPU layout

Source: https://www.apple.com/uk/mac/m1/

What CPU should I get?

As mentioned previously this really depends on your usage. You should always try to match your computer or components to your work or lifestyle. Casual users using mainly one program or internet browsing only can use Intel i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 processors. Multi-tasking, work devices and gaming would require Intel i5/i7 and AMD Ryzen 5/7 CPU’s. And for demanding video editing, high end gaming PC’s and complex computing Intel i9 and Ryzen 9 would be required. Lets dive in a bit more around the technology.

Computer CPU Guide

CPU Generations

By now if you have been researching laptops and processors you will have come to realize just how many variations and generations there are. It can get quite technological, but simply put, the newer the generation the more efficient and powerful the processor. First generation Intel processors are prefixed with 3 digits i.e. Intel Core i5-650. From there, you can tell what generation an Intel processor is from the first number within the 4 digit tag i.e. i5-4258U is a 4 generation CPU. A 4th gen i5 is better than a 3rd gen i5 even if the clock speed may be listed as higher in the 3rd gen unit.

Clock Speed

The clock speed determines how quickly the processor can retrieve and interpret instructions. It is a rough calculation of how many calculations the processor can make each second. This is measured in gigahertz (GHz), which you would have seen on our listings. You may notice that some i3 CPU’s will have a higher clock speed to some i5 CPU’s. This does not mean however that they are better. Newer generation CPU’s are much more efficient with the way they use power, therefore, requiring lower speeds to operate the same tasks. High clock speeds are broadly speaking the most important factor in gaming. It’s better to have a higher clock speed then to have many cores, as multi-tasking is not necessary when playing a single game.

Cores

This also affects how quickly your CPU can process data. A core can be considered a mini processor in itself. If the CPU is the brain, the cores are brain cells each working together to process the data a certain program requires to run. The more cores the better a CPU is as processing the data as more brain cells are working on it. Most modern CPU’s will have between 2 and 4 cores. Some higher spec units will have processors with 4-8 cores. Some high-end CPU’s can have 16 or even more in some cases. Having more cores is helpful for those who use many different programs, such as video editing or digital marketers.

Threads

Threads are more complex, they are essentially virtual cores that divide the physical core of a CPU into multiple virtual ones. Every time an application is opened, it creates a thread which handles the tasks of the specific application. So, the more applications you open the more threads are made. Typically, there are 2 threads per core. So, if you have a quad core processor, it’s likely you have 8 threads. Ultimately, the more you have the more efficient your CPU is at multitasking. Again, high core and thread counts isn’t necessarily better. It just depends on your usage.

Conclusion

Now you know the basics of computer processing units, you can make more informed decisions around what CPU you will need. This is always useful knowledge when you are looking for a laptop or PC for a specific purpose. It’s especially handy to know this if you are building your own PC. If you are an everyday user that requires a device for everyday use, you may not need to know all this. All you need to know if the newer the generation, the better. Hopefully, we have helped you with how you can identify the generation(s)? on our listings and on other sites. We would recommend 4th gen CPU’s and above in any given unit as these are better suited to the demands of new programs and applications. Older generations will struggle with newer programs as technology advances and tech developers optimize their products for more efficient CPU’s. As always, feel free to contact us with further questions or advice on your next model or look at our current Chromebook, Windows and Apple offerings to find the right laptop for you.

Apr 21, 2021 Sergio Osorio

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