Whether you’re building your own PC, buying off-the-shelf, or buying from build-to-order manufacturers, it’s a good idea to have an adequate grasp of what CPU you should by buying. While it may seem that the notion of “faster is better” is the best advice, it’s not always about raw processing speed and power. In reality, a computer’s performance is not only dependent on the CPU’s clock speed. And in this case, buying the fastest CPU might just prove to be too expensive, that you tend to scrimp on memory, storage, and other options, which could prove to be bottlenecks to performance.
Extreme tech gives ten tips on choosing the right CPU here. This is meant for those building a family PC for home use (which may sometimes extend to work use, if you do take work home with you).
We’ve alluded to this concept of system balance throughout this article, but it’s good to close with a specific plea: build a balanced system.
By “balanced,” we mean “balanced for your needs.” Those needs, as we’ve seen, may differ. If you do a lot of video editing, then a midrange 3D graphics card, coupled with a beefy CPU and lots of memory, may be the right solution. If you’re really just doing web browsing, word processing, and light photo editing, your needs will be more modestâ€”you may even be able to get by with just integrated graphics.
A balanced system will maximize the cost/benefit ratio of all the components. Specific components won’t spend a lot of time idling, waiting for other subsystems to complete their individual tasks. Your system will work harmoniously, and you’ll feel a lot better about how much you spent.
Extreme tech asks prospective buyers and/or builders to consider primarily how the computer will be used. This way, you can pattern your purchase after your own (and your family’s) usage patterns, and also the applications that you use. For instance, high-end games might require a beefy CPU, but most of these would perform better with a high-end graphics card. If you’re a heavy multitasker, more memory will help improve performance, rather than a very fast CPU (going dual core or even more also helps). If you’re a heavy Photoshop user, you might benefit more with an additional hard drive for swap files, rather than a super fast CPU.
In the end, it’s all about your goal for the system. Sometimes, you cannot rely on marketing material, such as those that say you can get by on a slower processor and a smaller amount of RAM if you’re just doing documents and web browsing (since you’re likely to be a heavy multi-tasker, too). So choosing the right CPU takes smarts to decide on that right balance.