Friday’s Useful Facts: Basics of PC Performance – CPUs

picture of a generic cpu

When evaluating a new computer’s hardware, I consider these parts to be the most important (generally speaking) in this order:

  1. CPU
  2. RAM (memory)
  3. Video RAM & model of video card
  4. Windows version & whether or not the monitor has a touch screen
  5. Hard disk drive type – SSD or mechanical HD (SSD preferred).

In this post I’m going to give you some general advice when choosing one computer over another based on the CPU.

What’s a CPU

A CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the “brain” of the computer and the details about what makes one better than another can be very confusing.  I’m going to simplify things quite a bit for you.

Basically there are two major PC CPU manufacturers. They are AMD and Intel. In general I prefer Intel CPUs. I used to be a huge fan of AMD, but, they haven’t put out a cost & performance competitive CPU that I like in a long time.

The Best Intel CPU

Intel makes several different types of CPUs. The mainstream ones for personal computer use are, in order of power and performance from highest to lowest:

  1. Core i7
  2. Core i5
  3. Core i3
  4. Pentium
  5. Celeron
  6. Atom

For personal computer use I can’t for the life of me find a good reason to recommend anything less than an i3 CPU, unless you really enjoy waiting a lot for your computer to do even simple tasks.  Sure, there are reasons for the slower processors to exist, but, in my opinion they aren’t price/performance competitive enough to justify the minimal price difference.

Core i3 – Light Duty/Occasional Use

The i3 is fine if you are not really concerned with performance.  Perhaps you just want to occasionally read email or browse webpages and don’t mind longer screen refresh times when browsing websites and possibly even lower quality videos.

Core i5 – Daily Use/Basic Business Class

The i5 is really the basic business class CPU in my opinion. If you use your computer for more than an hour or two a day and actually care about getting things done without pulling your hair out in frustration this is where you start.

Core i7 – Daily Use/Performance Oriented

The i7 is the fastest CPU for personal computers.  Anyone who believes that “time is money” should focus on an i7.  Also, people that want to enjoy multimedia and games should look for an i7 CPU.  

Strangely enough I can often find computers with i7 CPUs at the same price as those with i5’s.  I often start my search with i7’s, and if I don’t like the pricing I’m finding then I’ll add i5’s to the search.

Granted this post is an over-simplification, and I’ve left out a lot of intermediate information and even sub-classes of several CPU’s, but, armed with even just these basics you should be able to make a much better decision when you are shopping for your own computer.

I Can Help You

Market Street will help find you the best computer in your budget for your specific needs as one of our many consulting services. I do NOT make commissions or get kickbacks on anything I recommend, and I do my utmost to find the best deal that is available for you.  Most research I do takes a couple of days and involves combing dozens of websites and vendors that I consider to be reliable to find the best device for your needs at the best price.  All for a small $35 fee (as of January 2017 – this may change).

You are welcome to contact me anytime you want help deciding what to do with your technology needs, computers, printers, network equipment, you name it. Put my 25+ years of professional experience to use and let me help you get the best tools for your specific needs.