Everything you need to know to find the right CPU for a custom PC

The best CPU is the computer’s (and most electrical gadgets’) brain, and it’s in charge of performing computations and handling pretty about anything else that requires processing power. It’s made up of a number of internal components that work together to carry out a series of stored instructions in cycles.
But all you really need to know is that it takes care of everything you need on a daily basis. When shopping for a CPU, consider things like clock speed, core count, socket type, and component support. Here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision.

Intel vs. AMD

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Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Intel are the two primary players in the PC CPU market. Both firms have been manufacturing desktop and notebook CPUs for decades and are very similar in many aspects. Installing an Intel or AMD CPU in a compatible motherboard will yield identical results for the average user: you’ll be able to run Windows 11 or a Linux distribution smoothly.
Apart from minor differences in pricing, performance, and reliability, there’s very nothing to distinguish the two companies, especially with the advent of AMD’s latest generation of processors, Ryzen. AMD has Ryzen and Threadripper, while Intel has the Core and Xenon series of performance-oriented CPUs, as well as the Celeron, Pentium, and Atom families for more budget-friendly configurations.
Let’s have a look at how they compare (in descending order of performance).

AMD

  • Threadripper
  • Ryzen 9
  • Ryzen 7
  • Ryzen 5
  • Ryzen 3
Everything you need to know to find the right CPU for a custom PC

MD Ryzen 5 5600X

The Ryzen 5 5600X is an excellent mid-tier processor for gamers and anyone else who need a powerful CPU. It’s also friendly to individuals who wish to experiment with overclocking, as long as your motherboard is capable of doing so.

Intel

  • Xenon
  • Core i9
  • Core i7
  • Core i5
  • Core i3
  • Pentium
  • Celeron
  • Atom
Everything you need to know to find the right CPU for a custom PC

Intel Core i5-12600K

Intel’s Core i5-12600K processor is a wonderful value, with 10 cores and 16 threads for less than $300. It’s odd that this level of performance is referred regarded as “mid-range.”

This is where things can get a bit confused, because each business has many processor families to pick from, and each family has multiple models with varied amounts of cores, threads, and speeds. We’ve got tutorials on how to choose the best AMD CPU and the best Intel CPU.

What exactly is a socket?

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The interconnection that links the CPU to the motherboard is known as a socket. Because not all CPU generations are created equal, it’s what defines which CPUs are supported by a motherboard. A 10th Generation Intel processor will not operate with a 12th Generation motherboard, but an 11th Generation motherboard will.

The reason for this is that the actual connection is made up of multiple configurations of contact pins. These pins are used to transport data to and from the mainboard when a CPU is inserted into a socket. Both AMD and Intel use a subset of these pins that are referred to as a socket. The number of pins in a socket is indicated by its designation; for example, the Intel LGA 1700 socket has 1,700 pins.

This is also why, because the underbelly of a processor (or the contacts on a motherboard) are extremely sensitive and critical, it is recommended that you avoid making touch with them. It’s also why, in the event of future CPU updates, you should carefully evaluate the socket. It’s possible that the next generation of processors will be incompatible, necessitating you to buy a new motherboard. However, depending on how Intel and AMD work on product revisions, a socket is often compatible with a number of CPU generations.

We’ve picked up the best motherboards for Core i5-12600K, best motherboards for Core i7-12700K, and best motherboards for Core i9-12900K to help you make the best option when it comes to coupling together a processor and motherboard. You’ll need to make sure the socket supports previous Intel processor generations if you want to use them.

The new AMD AM4 socket (also known as PGA 1331) features a total of 1,331 connections and was released alongside AMD’s latest Ryzen processors. It’s the only AMD socket you should be concerned about, as older FX processors won’t function with it, and you shouldn’t consider these CPUs in the first place, given how cost-effective the new Ryzen series is.

We’ve produced a list of recommendations for the best-selling AMD processors, just like Intel. For more information, see our best AMD Ryzen 5 5600X motherboards, best AMD Ryzen 7 5800X motherboards, and best AMD Ryzen 9 5950X motherboards recommendations.

Start with the processor when it comes to selecting a CPU, socket, and chipset. The socket and available chipsets will be filtered once you’ve decided on a CPU, making the whole procedure much easier. For a Core i5-12600K, for example, I would propose the Z690 chipset, which has the requisite LGA 1700 socket.

What exactly is a chipset?

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But what is the Z690 chipset, and what role does it play on the motherboard? This is the mainboard’s silicon backbone, and it manages the connection between the CPU and everything else connected to it. The CPU may use its PCIe lanes to communicate with the RAM and select peripherals, but the chipset will take care of the rest.

I’m referring to USB ports (on both the rear I/O and front chassis panels), internal SATA ports, M.2 storage slots, and other features. A chipset will be associated with a socket and a processor generation. The Z590 chipset is compatible with Intel’s 10th and 11th generation processors, while the Z690 is only compatible with Intel’s 12th generation processors.

Different chipsets can be used in the same socket. A520, B550, or X570 chipsets are available for AMD motherboards that support Ryzen 3000 and 5000 processors. These will all use the same processors and provide similar performance out of the box, but the available functionality and features will vary.

An A520 motherboard will not have any PCIe 4.0 lanes for fast storage and expansion/graphics cards, however a B550 or X570 motherboard will (B550 only supports one PCIe x16 slot and M.2 slot at PCIe 4.0; X570 has PCIe 4.0 on most or all available slots). USB ports, overclocking, and multi-GPU capabilities are examples of other variations.

Do you require a certain number of cores and threads?

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Processors handle instructions in cycles, while Intel and AMD (along with other CPU suppliers) use “cores” to allow a single chip to handle many instruction sets at once. Consider a core to be a CPU, and multi-core processors to be numerous CPUs together. If software is written to take use of this capability, more data can be processed at any one time.

In new PC designs, a quad-core CPU is recommended at the absolute least, with 6-core CPUs being the best option for future-proofing and performance, though more cores do not always equal increased performance. Threads, in addition to cores, should be considered. Multi-threaded cores allow the CPU to divide its resources even more, allowing it to handle two executions at the same time.

A single thread will be found on a single-core CPU, two on a dual-core processor, four on a dual-core processor with multi-threading, and so on. More cores may be more efficient than more threads, depending on what you plan to do. Physical cores may be used in some games, whereas hyperthreading may be used in video editing and other intensive activities.

It’s worth doing some study, however most new Intel and AMD CPUs start with six cores at the base level. Finally, take into account the processor’s speed. Megahertz (MHz) and gigahertz (GHz) are the units of measurement (GHz). Keeping in mind that a single MHz represents a million cycles per second and a GHz represents a billion cycles per second, a 3.4GHz processor can handle little under three and a half billion cycles per second. That’s a significant amount of processing power.

How do I choose the best CPU?

AMD

There are a variety of solutions available to suit various budgets and requirements. It’s worth doing some study on processors to determine which ones provide adequate power for your needs, and then building a system with suitable components from there. If you’re genuinely stumped, we’ve compiled a list of the finest CPUs for a custom PC to get you started.


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