Selecting the Best CPU for a Gaming Computer

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The CPU is hands down the most important component of the computer. It is responsible for executing all the core functions that make computer "think." The best way to understand the role of a processor is to think of it as being analogous to a human brain. The processor reads all the information from the various other devices in the computer and must execute this information very quickly.

While a fast processor is not required for most applications such as surfing the internet, word processing, or listening to music, a gaming computer needs a quick CPU to handle all the calculations that modern games throw at it. The Modern Warfare 3 screenshot below showcases the need for a fast CPU. Vibrant colors, thunderous sounds, and lighting details all require a CPU that is fast enough to handle all the calculations required for such tasks.

Screenshot from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in action


As you might guess, an outdated processor cannot handle all the calculations required by modern computer games and as a result, slowdown and otherwise sluggishness can render the game unplayable. For this reason, having an up to date processor is essential for a gaming computer build. This article will break down the latest terms and technology being offered with today's processors.

CPU Producers: AMD and Intel

As you shop around for a CPU you might have noticed that there are two big names in processor production, namely Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Intel. Both deliver great processors for a gaming computer that are capable of handling the latest game requirements. However, there are some differences between them and we will explore this further.

First, and most importantly, AMD processors are noticeably less expensive than their Intel CPU counterparts. This information is of great interest for the budget-minded gamer. You can easily save $50 to $100 on your computer's cost by using an AMD processor over an Intel CPU. Take solace in the fact that despite their lower price, quality is not sacrificed in any way as AMD processors can tackle the latest game requirements with ease.

The downside to using an AMD processor is that they tend to produce more heat, especially in times of peak operation. Thankfully, there are ways to combat the extra heat generated. Using a high quality after market CPU fan, such as the Zalman CPU line iconand incorporating lots of case fans to help combat the higher heat production are a few ways that come to mind.

Using an Intel processor comes with its own merits as well. An Intel CPU uses less power than their AMD counterparts, making them ideal for use in laptops and netbooks where battery life is a top priority. The lower power consumption also leads to reduced heat production, which is always a concern for any computer, not just a gaming computer. Excessive heat can be the downfall of any great computer, no matter how powerful your CPU. Be sure to use plenty of case fans and a quality CPU fan with your gaming computer build.

Socket Type

Due to the fierce competition between the competitors, modern motherboards are designed to use either an Intel CPU or an AMD CPU. As a result, you cannot install an Intel CPU in a motherboard designed for an AMD processor and vice-versa. Motherboard manufacturer's decided to use different socket types to help consumers determine compatibility between a motherboard and processor. For example, AMD processors are of the AM2, AM2+ and AM3 socket variety and a motherboard will clearly display this on it's packaging. It is important to plan ahead and decide which processor you will use for you gaming computer and look for the appropriately compatible motherboard.

Overclocking the CPU

Without going into too much detail, the main idea behind overclocking the CPU is to gain performance by increasing the clock speed. In other words, you make the processor operate at a faster speed than was intended by the manufacturer. For a detailed guide on overclocking, please see our article.

64-bit Processing

It is worth mentioning the latest advancement in CPU technology, 64-bit processing. For years, microprocessors could only handle data delivered in 32 bit chunks at a time. Modern CPUs can now handle twice as much resulting in faster operation and execution of programs and games. In order make full use the 64 bit technology, a 64-bit designed CPU and an Operating System that supports the 64 bit architecture is required. With these requirements met, you can enjoy the the latest games and those in the future at the fastest speed. For a detailed guide on 64-bit processing, please see our article here.

Recommendations

As mentioned earlier, there are two main routes for a gaming computer processor, AMD or Intel. For the budget minder gamer, we recommended using an AMD quad core CPU icon. You'll save plenty of money and can put that money to other important components, such as the video card or memory. If money is not much of a concern, the Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 line of processors icon is absolutely fantastic. Game requirements will be of no concern for quite some time with one of those CPU's in charge. For a more detailed guide on the latest AMD and Intel CPUs, please see the CPU Buyer Guide 2012.




Other Articles of Interest

1. CPU Cooling Guide
2. CPU Installation Guide
3. 64 Bit Processing Guide


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