Central Processor Unit
So you want to buy or build a desktop computer. Where do you start? Probably the Central Processor Unit or “CPU” because, as the name implies, the CPU is central to everything your computer does. It is the brains of the outfit. Regardless of what else you adorn your desktop system with, if engine is not powerful enough to do what you want you will suffer poor performance.
So how can we tell the performance of one CPU compared to another? A good while ago (talking early 1990’s here) judging a CPU’s performance was pretty simple. You judged how many clock cycles (known as frequency) it could perform per second, 1 frequency unit = 1 hertz. Back in those days it was run in Megahertz “MHz”, 1 Mhz = 1,000,000 hertz. So you saw one processor was 60 MHz and another was 75 MHz. No problem, obviously the 75 MHz would perform better.
Well, things have changed. Now not only do we measure cycles in Gigahertz “GHZ”, 1 GHz = 1,000,000,000 hertz, the cycles per second mean absolutely nothing when comparing one CPU to another. There are many reasons for this but significantly “multitasking” has a lot to do with it. The old CPU’s used to be single core, that means they could only process one bit of data at a time. Now there are two, four and more cores per processor enabling them to process data simultaneously. This means more done per cycle, so the GHz can be lower but more can be done.
So, a question! Why would we want to have lower GHz? Wouldn’t we want more performance, ergo why not push those cycle pedals as fast as we can? The same with anything in our world of physics, the faster you go, the more heat you generate and there are only three things that really kill off a computer, heat, heat and heat! So to make more powerful CPU’s for smaller devices (laptops, tablets, phones) without them leaving a smouldering hole in your table top (or lap) is to reduce the cycles per second, hence multitasking.
There are really only two viable options in the market now for CPU manufacturers, Intel and AMD. Both are doing the same thing, building higher performing CPU’s with low clock cycles. However, currently both these major players are taking different approaches.
Intel vs AMD - So, which is better?
It isn’t really a two car race anymore. It is more like one is going around a street circuit and the other is competing in a rally.
Keep in mind the multitasking and CPU speed discussion earlier, the only real way to check out how a processor performs is by actual real world, real task benchmarking. This is done by third party programs which test the performance of CPU's doing a variety of tasks.
Intel vs AMD - So, which is better for you?
Intel have concentrated on smaller CPU cores (less power, gives less heat) which bodes well for mobile devices although you do pay a big premium when buying high end desktop processors.
AMD on the other hand have stayed with four CPU cores but dedicated eight cores just to process graphics and given these cores equal access to data execution priority. If you cut video, play games or do anything that is heavily graphic reliant this is great stuff.
To sum up, in benchmarking tests the top line Intel and AMD perform pretty much the same in non graphic or single process tasks. When heavy graphics come into play however the AMD CPU’s perform as much as 50% better than their Intel counterparts! Given that the AMD chips are considerably cheaper, well, you will make up your own mind I am sure.