Updated: Feb 1, 2021
When it comes to buying a new CPU, you might find all the terms and features they offer to be confusing, but understanding them doesn't need to be. The most important features will be touched on and explained so that you know what to look for when making your next purchase.
Choice of Brand
When buying a processor, your first choice will need to be which brand you want. Intel and AMD are the leading competitors and offer a variety of products. Intel is considered the more reliable and stable brand due to having been the leader in the CPU market for so long. AMD is the newer competitive option that often has better performance at a lower price.
The second most important thing to consider when purchasing a CPU is the socket type. Each CPU will have its socket type to match with a motherboard. If the socket types differ between the two, they will not fit together and be unable to work at all. AMD and Intel each have their series of socket types, and you cannot replace an AMD CPU with an Intel one without replacing the motherboard too.
Clock speed or core speed is the speed at which a single core on your CPU can handle tasks. The higher the number, the more it can process at any given time. It's a good idea to avoid anything below 3Ghz clock speed from older generations of CPUs and to keep with the newest generations if they have a low number. This is especially true with a gaming PC, where a higher clock speed will result in better performance most of the time.
Cores and Threads
A single core is essentially one processor. That one processor will be given tasks by threads and deal with them. Multiple cores will lessen the burden of a single core by having them each work on a process at the same time. Threads are logical cores. Their purpose is to split the load when handling tasks so that they can keep the cores busy while also making sure that any new tasks are being dealt with as they come. More threads do sound like the obvious choice, but as Intel has shown over the years, higher clock speeds on cores tend to perform better since they handle tasks much faster.
The cache on a CPU acts as a form of high-speed memory in which it stores data it uses most often. While having a larger cache is better, it's rare for cache size to be a performance bottleneck. For example, a gaming PC will rarely notice the difference in cache size. A workstation built for processing many tasks at once, on the other hand, could run into a bottleneck if used extensively.
APUs and Integrated Graphics
Accelerated processing units, known as APUs, are the AMD version of integrated graphics on their CPUs. They have superior graphical performance compared to their Intel counterparts. Integrated graphics processors, known as IGPs, are the Intel equivalent of integrated graphics. They are far behind AMD in terms of performance, which is why they are often not recommended. A drawback of having integrated graphics is that the CPUs are generally weaker to make up for the improved graphical performance.
Thermal Design Power
Known as TDP is the maximum amount of power needed for a component to work under heavy load. If the CPU calls for a lot of watts, you will need a more powerful power supply to have all your parts working optimally. When building a PC, you should add the TDP of all your parts together to figure out the minimum wattage you need on your power supply.
If you are planning on building a gaming PC, a good starting point would be a four-core CPU and preferably of the newest generation. Getting the most expensive CPUs on the market isn't recommended, as the current generation of games won't be able to utilize their full potential.
If you are building a workstation, you should make use of the more expensive CPUs with higher core and thread counts. These will offer you the best experience when performing CPU intensive tasks such as rendering graphics.