Choosing a CPU is not as difficult as it used to be especially at the high end of the market. There are two manufactures of CPUs, Intel and AMD. However, recently AMD has fallen behind Intel in terms of performance and power consumption. This has meant that there is no AMD made CPU that can compete with Intel’s offerings at the mid-range and the enthusiast level. Therefore in this guide we will make suggestions for both AMD and Intel CPUs at the budget price range but once you start spending £140 and over you should really be looking for the performance that Intel CPUs can offer.
Before stating our recommendations there are a few things to know about CPUs. The first thing is that the CPU is like the brain of the computer. It is one of the most important parts of the PC and the better the CPU the faster the computer will carry out tasks from gaming to web browsing. CPUs also come with different numbers of cores and threads. The standard core counts of the current generation of processors are dual cores (two cores) and quad cores (four cores). However, while Intel have both dual core and quad core processors AMD has muddied the water in recent times by unveiling a CPU that has eight cores. While this may seem impressive, AMD has changed its definition of what a core is and therefore performance is still not as good as Intel’s four core processors. The impact of more cores is still somewhat limited in many applications although some games as well as video rendering programs certainly benefit from having more cores. Thus when looking at processors do not be fooled into thinking that more cores are always better, although with Intel that is often the case. Finally some processors can be overclocked, while others can’t. Overclocking is a means of running your CPUs faster in order to gain more performance out of it. Unfortunately overclocking does carry with it some risks and also requires an aftermarket cooler. Intel’s marks its CPUs with a “k” at the end if they can be overclocked whereas all of AMDs FX processors can be overclocked.
Budget: Intel Core i3-2100/AMD FX 4100
Selecting a budget CPU like any other component decision, although the point is especially pertinent here, is about the price to performance ratio. The core i3 2100 is excellent CPU for £90. It is a dual core processor and runs at 3.1Ghz. Unfortunately unlike Intel’s “k” processors this CPU is unable to be overclocked. Apart from that though there is very little to dislike about core i3 2100. Indeed as a Tom’s Hardware article showed it is a better gaming CPU than the FX 4100, although due to it only having two cores it will not be able to match the video rendering and multi core optimised program performance of the AMD FX 4100. However, it must also be noted that on 24th June Intel is set to release its Ivy Bridge core i3 processors. So if you are looking at the budget end of the market then it is probably worth waiting to see what Intel unveils in a weeks time.
The AMD FX 4100 is a quad core processor that runs at 3.6Ghz and for £80 is certainly excellent value. As previously stated it is not quite a match for the core i3 2100 in the gaming stakes although it is overclockable which is a nice feature for those of you hoping to get the most out of your CPU. Secondly being an AM3+ socket CPU, motherboards for this processor are slightly cheaper than for the Intel core i3 2100. Therefore while the processor is only £10 cheaper you may be able to save around £30-£40 overall when you factor in the cost of the motherboard (see part 4). Overall there really isn’t too much difference between the two CPUs. If you want a good gaming processor that will carry out most of the tasks you want then go with the i3 2100. If on the other hand you want to be able to overclock your processor and the more cores are of value to you then the AMD FX 4100 will adequately serve your needs.
Mid-Range: i5 3570k
There is only one option when choosing a mid-range CPU. The £170 Intel core i5 3570k is a quad core Ivy Bridge CPU that is perfect for gaming as well as offering the best performance per core ratio of any Intel CPU. Being a “k” processor the i5 3570k is capable of being overclocked, although if you are going to overclock you really should buy an aftermarket cooler. Intel’s Ivy bridge processors also have support for PCI express 3.0, which means if you have a compatible motherboard and are running two or more graphics cards you are unlikely to see performance decreasing due to the bandwidth available to each card. Being one of Intel’s brand new Ivy Bridge CPUs the 3570k also has around 15% better performance than the previous generation as well as using up less power with a TPD of 77w. Running at 3.6Ghz there is little that the 3570k can’t do and while it isn’t quite the best CPU for video editing, for the price it really is unbeatable. Finally it is also nice to see that Intel has kept to the same LGA 1155 socket as the previous generation of processors so if you want you can use your sandy bridge motherboard if you have one. Overall there isn’t much to say about the i5 3570k apart from that if you are looking for a mid-range or gaming CPU the 3570k is a must buy.
Enthusiast: i7 3770k
Like the i5 3570k, the i7 3770k is the only CPU that can be recommended for an enthusiast build. Unless of course you want to spend £1000 instead of the the £260 that the 3770k will set you back. Like the i5 3570k the i7 3770k is a quad core CPU, although it also comes with eight threads which means that it can carry out processes that benefit from having more cores more quickly. This isn’t really a benefit to gamers but for those of you who use photoshop regularly as well as edit videos it is certainly going to help to speed up the rendering process. The i7 3770k being a “k” processor is also overclockable if the base clock of 3.5Ghz isn’t enough for you already. Indeed the i7 3770k is Intel’s top Ivy Bridge processor and while performance is excellent if you don’t need the hyperthreading that the 3770k comes with that its probably best to buy the i5 3570k.