The “brains” of your computer, a processor or CPU is the single most important component in your build. The processor is what decides how quickly your computer can do things and what kind of applications it can run. CPUs are the workhorses behind running huge excel spreadsheets, complicated simulations, and – of course – playing games.
Table Of Contents
- 1 The Best Gaming CPUs of 2017 Reviewed
- 2 Single Core Performance
- 3 Multi-Core Performance And Where It Matters
- 4 Let’s Talk GHz
- 5 Boost Or Turbo – How It Works
- 6 Should You Even Consider Integrated Graphics?
- 7 Current Manufacturing Technology
- 8 Cache
- 9 Power Consumption aka TDP
- 10 Overclocking Abilities
The Best Gaming CPUs of 2017 Reviewed
As with many consumer product markets, CPU performance and longevity depend heavily on how much you’re willing to spend. That being said, there are some gems out there that cost much less and give you fantastic returns. Higher priced processors generally are good at every kind of task, but lower priced CPUs can be more choosy in processes they excel at and activities that push them to the limits.
When comparing processors, there are several factors one must look at. It is not enough just comparing the prices. The number of physical cores, thread count, L3/L2 cache, clock speeds and overclocking abilities all play a major role in determining the worth of any CPU. Finally, there is the human element to any computer component. In other words, what exactly will you use your computer for? This is probably the most important consideration of all, unless money is not a concern for you.
Single Core Performance
In a world where processors have at least two cores and several threads, why does single core performance still matter? The simple answer is that only a handful of programs require the abilities of multi-core parallelization.
Servers and high-performance computing tasks alone probably rely on multicore operations at all times but for desktop applications, single core performance still matters.
In applications that are not parallelized, the speed of the program and all its aspects relies heavily on a single thread, single core performance. This has nothing to do with how many cores your processor has or the socket and board design.
It is for this reason that Intel continues to peddle high clock speed fewer cores to the desktop market while positioning its higher core count – lower clock speed processors for the server market where parallelization is the paramount factor.
The next question therefore is, “Why not AMD?”
Well, until Ryzen series of processors, AMD had severely fallen behind Intel in its single core performance. While they either matched or outperformed Intel in the desktop range of CPUs when it came to multi-threaded benchmarks, their single core performance was significantly poorer. Because the majority of desktop applications rely heavily on single core efficiency, Intel naturally won the race.
The Best single core performance at an affordable price tag currently available in the market is the Core i3 7350K. This is the first time a Core i3 has been designed to handle overclocking and has a base clock speed of over 4.2GHz. Everything remaining the same, the 7350K single core performance is at par with that of the Core i7 7700K. In fact, the only true difference between the two is that the latter has two extra physical cores plus eight threads.
Multi-Core Performance And Where It Matters
With Ryzen 7 making a splash and dramatically outperforming Intel in multi-thread performance, the processor market is trying to figure out where these AMD chipsets settle in. In our opinion, they are a perfect replacement for higher core Intel processors where pricing is a concern but multi-thread performance is a major requirement.
Yes, even in desktops multi-thread performance counts for something. Programs such as Blender, virtualization, 3D designing, encoding, decoding, video editing and several other applications all rely heavily on the number of cores/threads. Naturally, AMD with its lower cost processors and better multithread performance wins the race.
However, if we speak solely on performance levels without taking cost into account then there are processors from Intel that dominate the benchmarks. These eight core Intel processors though cost upwards of $1000 and aren’t feasible for the majority of buyers.
If you need pure multitasking, then the Ryzen 7 series is what you should consider. We reviewed the Ryzen 1700, lowest among the 7 series AMD processors and were pleasantly surprised by its overall performance. Nearly 50% better multithread scores over Intel Core i7 7700K and good single core scores at an affordable price tag makes this the perfect CPU for folks who need the power of multi-threading.
Let’s Talk GHz
Back during the early days of the CPU wars, when processors had only one core, clock speed was the single most important factor in determining the quickness and performance of a chip. Today, with multiple cores in a single processor, speed is no longer the only factor though it continues to be an important factor.
Processor speeds are measured in GHz or Gigahertz, which in layman’s term refers to the number of simple operations a processor can do per second. Naturally, high clock speeds allow a processor to complete a lot more operations. But all this talk holds true for a single core.
With multicore processors when used by multithreaded software, all tasks get stacked up and distributed between the cores so a four-core 3GHz processor will always beat a 4GHz dual-core processor. Hence, in today’s scenario, clock speed isn’t everything. A processor with faster clock speeds might actually be slower in certain applications because of its limited core count.
However, with a majority of desktop programs and games still depending on single core performance, it is safe to assume that a processor with higher clock speeds will give better results on a desktop.
We feel the Intel Core i5 7500 is perfectly priced with excellent clock speeds for most users. It fairs well in gaming, everyday applications and even manages to hold up on processor intensive applications thanks to four physical cores.
Boost Or Turbo – How It Works
Modern day processors all have two clock speeds, one is the base clock speed another is the boost speed. What is this boost or turbo speed? Have you ever wondered if that makes any difference to your overall user experience?
First of all, Intel and AMD both provide this functionality though the former calls it Turbo Boost and the latter calls it Turbo Core. Boosting is basically increasing the clock speeds dynamically for a short period of time for a performance increase. Naturally, this is not in your control. When the processor senses a need for a performance boost, it intuitively increases the clock speeds to the required level. Hence, boost speed is not the same thing as overclocking. In Overclocking you are manually increasing the clock speeds but boost speed is the CPU automatically improving its clock speeds based on the work it has been tasked with.
Naturally, the more money you pay for a processor, greater is its boost potential. Some can jump as far as 4.8GHz while others manage with minor boosts of just 3.2 to 3.6GHz. Nevertheless, this minor improvement in clock speeds does make a difference in day to day activities. Especially in games and demanding software that do not always need such high speeds but occasionally require a slight improvement.
Frankly speaking, almost all modern day processors provide boost capabilities. Other than Intel’s Core i3 lineup, which operates at a fixed base speed, every other modern day processor comes with some sort of boost capability. Our preference though is the Intel Core i7 7700K. With speeds this processor can achieve in Turbo Boost and its numerous cores/threads, no program should feel limited running on it.
Should You Even Consider Integrated Graphics?
There was a time when integrated graphics received just as much attention as the processor itself. Back then an integrated graphics could power some low to medium level games so it naturally was a deciding factor for budget desktops.
Today, integrated graphics are hardly ever a deciding factor. Either you need a discrete graphics card because your game and design stuff or you don’t need one, in which case integrated is what you should get.
Intel is the only company that offers integrated graphics on all their processors. AMD decided to take a more streamlined approach concentrating on processor performance at the lowest cost while leaving graphics abilities to its ATI compatriots.
For those on a budget build any of the 7th generation Intel processors will suffice as far as graphics performance goes. AMD, unfortunately, will require the purchase of an external graphics cards. However, if you plan on making a gaming rig but do not want to invest into a graphics card at present, you could opt for the Intel Core i5 7600K. This processor is powerful enough for 1440p gaming while its integrated graphics will let you do everything else.
Current Manufacturing Technology
All modern day chips today are made with 14nm technology. Over time, chips tend to get smaller and more power efficient. Back in the good old days of single core processors, the manufacturing technology used was 45nm. Today, with a dramatic reduction in the size of chips, manufacturers can squeeze in 8 cores at once without increasing power usage and thus quadruple performance.
The cache of a processor is where all instructions are stored in the queue. Consider it the CPU’s personal memory that it relies on to quickly fetch instructions from and operate on them. There are three types of cache namely, L1, L2, and L3. The L refers to level and naturally, dL1 is the cache that feeds the CPU directly.
While it is true that the cache plays a major role in determining the processing abilities of a CPU, today this is not the only factor and hence its role isn’t that huge. Nevertheless, processors with greater L2 and L3 cache are often more powerful and therefore expensive too.
In terms of cache, nothing comes close to the cache offered by the Intel Core i7 7700K and the Ryzen 7 1700. While the latter offers greater overall L3 and L2 cache, the former having less physical cores has more per core cache.
Power Consumption aka TDP
Processors are just semi-conductor bricks if they receive no power. It is electricity that makes a processor tick and hence, the power a CPU uses to achieve its tasks is an important consideration. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the more efficient a processor is, the greater its performance. Secondly, with lower power consumption, the processor tends to retain a lower temperature reading thus making it stable.
To be honest, almost all modern day processors tend to be efficient in the power department. What you should look at though is the power consumption of unlocked processors when they overclock because overclocking is basically increasing the input voltage of the processors.
Typical TDP ranges anywhere from 35W to 125W and with laptop grade processors this can get even lower albeit at the cost of performance.
We do not consider overclocking as a major requirement because today’s processors are all naturally adept at performing 99% of all desktop tasks at blazing speeds. Even the toughest games do not manage to task processors unless they run at 1440p and that is where overclocking comes handy in the consumer sector.
Enthusiasts naturally prefer unlocked processors but what are these CPUs and how are they different from entry-level processors? Well, for starters all CPUs can be overclocked because it is a simple matter of increasing multipliers on a compatible motherboard or manually tweaking the voltage and other settings of the processor.
However, there are specific processor models from the two main manufacturers that are designed for overclocking. 99% of the design remains the same with only minute changes. The biggest difference though is that on unlocked processors, overclocking does not void the warranty. Naturally, the manufacturers have conducted sufficient tests to confirm the integrity of these chips so they will overclock with greater stability.
Any of the K series processors from Intel or the X series from AMD’s latest Ryzen platform should suffice for overclocking. These processors pack in a lot of speed and have the potential to even reach high 4GHz speeds when cooled properly.
Remember that if you plan on overclocking then do yourself a favor and get a good compatible motherboard and a CPU cooler. Temperatures can rise quickly when a processor is overclocked and this also affects the motherboard as well as RAM stability.