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
- 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
- Very basic computers include a minimum of 1GB RAM; look for at least 8GB of RAM if you want to play video games. You can find computers with up to 32GB of RAM.
How Many Cores Does My Processor Need?
- Most people use numerous programs simultaneously
- This level of activity requires computers that can “think” quickly to match these multi-tasking habits
- 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 notebooks
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 notebooks. 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 8GB RAM
Home Theatre: For cinema buffs, power and memory is the key:
- 2GHz+ dual-core processor
- 8GB+ RAM
Gaming: Hardcore gamers need a powerful processor, sufficient memory and storage space:
- 2GHz to 3GHz+ dual-core or quad-core processor
- 8GB+ RAM
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