IV: Give it a brain, the CPU (and how to cool it)


The CPU (central processing unit) or also usually called microprocessor (although this is not entirely correct) is the brain of your computer. It handles all your data and, makes calculations and gives you the processed results. The best way to look for a CPU is usually to read the performance declared by previous users. These reviews help you because the technical insides of a CPU can be really hard to understand and only useful for particular purposes and it saves you time comparing components. If the product is widely reviewed you can assume that it has been tested under several different situations.

People think that in general a CPU with more cores and faster will be better than other with the same cores and slightly lower. This is in general true, specially for the number of cores, but you have to think if your programs or games actually make use of the additional number of cores for example. Also, the speed is related to the clock of the processor, but the truth is more complex when we are talking about processing data. I’ll put an example to explain why speed is not the most important thing: Imagine two children, Alice and Bob. Alice knows addition and multiplication, Bob is slightly younger so he is only able to sum numbers. Both of them are able to find the result of getting 5×2, but Alice only will do one step to solve it. Bob needs to convert the multiplication into the sum 5+5 and then calculate the result. So it will take two steps at least for Bob to solve this problem. You can see now that if Bob is not twice as fast as Alice, the same calculation will take more time to Bob even if he is able to do each individual step faster than Alice.

Something similar also happens inside a CPU, modern CPUs are not faster than CPUs 10 years old, but they can do some difficult calculations in just one step, and the previous generations can’t. Also, if you add more cores to the CPU, you can know do for example two or more calculations in one step (parallel configuration) or split the calculations between more than one core (series configuration).

Key concepts in choosing your CPU:

Known overall performance, number of cores and speed, int his order. The reasoning is easy here: if we see that everybody praises a component, it is because is probably very good and performs well in many different situations. And for the rest, usually look for the higher number.

The key things you will look for in the CPU:

  • Data width: Tells you how much data can enter in the CPU at the same time. It is important because to get the maximum of your computer you need to put software that works with this.
  • Socket: Where it fits is required to know if it is compatible with the motherboard
  • Number of Cores: With more cores, the CPU can handle more processes at the same time.
  • Speed of each core: how many operations can each of the cores do each second.
  • Cache memory: This is a special type of memory similar than RAM memory, but the access is quicker because it is inside the chip.

What CPU you need when you are a gamer and your focus is to play computer games at the highest quality:

You need the best CPU you can find, with the maximum number of cores and as fast as you can. If you look around you will find that none of the games or programs nowadays use the full amount of cores, so you may wonder why do you need to go for higher number of cores if you are not going to use it. The answer is that I bet that you will want to use the computer next year or the year after without (if possible) changing it completely. A good CPU will last you more time and will be able to handle future games without effort. You don’t want a CPU that is used as its full capacity now because you won’t be able to get a good performance in the near future.

What type of CPU you need when you are a professional and use the computer for high-demanding task as video editing, Photoshop…:

Pretty much the same as before, if you need your computer to perform a lot of task, get a CPU that can handle everything that you through in it.

What type of CPU you need when you use your computer to watch movies, surfing the web…:

It is usually better to get the CPU with the better performance you can get because you will be able to keep your computer for longer time, and higher number of cores is also good because new programs will make use of them. However, any decent CPU with good performance will work for you.

How to cool down your CPU:

There are two different ways of cooling down your system, the traditional way is to mount a heat sink on top of the microprocessor and add a fan on it, so the heat is distributed through the heat sink and the fan helps to remove it. The second way is using liquid cooling where a pipe system moves a dissolution that distributes the heat to a radiator, maintaining all the system cooled.

In general, liquid cooling is more powerful than a fan and also more difficult to install. On the bad side, a customized liquid cooling loop will take you time and it is difficult plan and install. You may use however buy a self-contained liquid cooler kit, in this case you loose customization but the installation is easy. So for demanding tasks and if you plan to overclock your CPU (increase the speed) to get better performance, you usually go better with liquid cooling.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve the same with traditional fans. A good air-cooling kit will dissipate the heat and keep your CPU fresh, just don’t go for the cheapest. One problem that you may face with bigger fans is the lack of space, so remember your choice when selecting the motherboard and the case to be sure that you can fit all inside.

If you are following my recommendations and using a website that automatically gives you the compatible components, when choosing the cooling system just check them and focus on quality. Reducing heating helps your components to perform better for longer times.