How to choose the right CPU and GPU?

Intel, AMD and Nvidia: the three big names you could think of when buying or building a computer, informing CPU and GPU technology.

These manufacturers have been in the game for a long time and with the news that Intel is entering the GPU market, it is likely that Intel, AMD and Nvidia will continue to dominate the computing space for a while yet.

But what do these companies and their technology mean? you† Well, we are here to unravel the technology these companies offer.

Explained here Intel, Nvidia and AMD computer components, perfect if you are buying a laptop, PC or planning to build a computer.

We’ve split this breakdown between CPUs and GPUs so it’s easy to follow.

Processor

The CPU (or processor) provides the processing power for your computer. Faster, more expensive processors allow you to perform more tasks at once, often faster. This comes down to the number of cores available and the level of performance offered.

The consumer CPU market is currently locked between AMD and Intel for computers (phone processors are another market).

AMD CPUs

AMD’s Ryzen series is powerful at lower prices than Intel. The argument is usually that AMD’s Ryzen processors make more sense in terms of cost-performance, but there are sometimes exceptions.

If you are interested in buying an AMD CPU, keep the following in mind:

  • The first digit indicates core numbers. Ryzen 3 has four cores, Ryzen 5 has six cores, Ryzen 7 has eight cores and Ryzen 9 has 16 cores. “Threadripper” (for advanced, non-consumer applications) contains up to 64 cores. Cores control how many processes can be executed at any given time.
  • Within each core category, the following four numbers indicate strength. For example, Ryzen 5 5600X is more powerful than Ryzen 5 5500.
  • “X” means it’s a slightly faster model and “G” means it has graphics rendering capabilities.
  • Some Ryzen listings will also indicate generation, which is important to know for continued support.
  • For PC builders: Ryzen processors usually come with a fan in the box, but you should probably check this out.

Intel GPUs

CPU market leader Intel does things a little differently than AMD. Intel’s processors are typically slightly more expensive, but consistently outperform their direct AMD rivals in benchmarking.

If you are interested in buying an Intel CPU, keep the following in mind:

  • The brand prefix indicates the intended use. “Core” processors are the more powerful, premium CPUs on offer, while “Pentium” and “Celeron” models are used in low-cost, economical products. We will focus on Core CPUs as Pentium and Celeron do not have additional modifiers. Intel Xeon is intended for more advanced, mostly non-consumer applications. Cores control how many processes can be executed at any given time.
  • The “brand modifier” is what follows for Core processors. These are i3 (two cores), i5 (four cores), i7 (between four, six or eight) and i9 (between eight and 16 cores), with more cores available for the higher number.
  • The “generation indicator” comes next, being the numbers after the prefix “i3/5/7/i9” excluding the last three digits† This includes the 12th generation, the 11th generation and so on. While a newer generation processor may not outperform a more powerful older generation processor, it is still worth knowing for continued support.
  • SKU numbers are the following. These are the last three digits of the processor and indicate the amount of available computing power.
  • In addition, there are suffixes for product lines. There are many, including G1, E, F, G, H, and HK. Intel has an explanation of what each of these means.
  • For PC builders: Intel processors with the letters K, KF, KS, XE or X do not include coolers. You will have to buy one separately.

GPU

GPUs handle your machine’s graphics processing power, which means how beautiful your games can be or how well you can display high-quality graphics in design applications.

The GPU (graphics card) market is a bit different from the CPU market. While we talk about AMD and Nvidia below, keep in mind that Intel is technically the market leader for GPUs, due to integrated graphics in CPUs. Moreover, while AMD and Nvidia design the GPUs in this market, you will usually buy one from an aftermarket manufacturer (such as Gigabyte, ASUS, or MSI). There is no real “best” manufacturer, but you can make your choice based on aesthetics, price and reviews.

Nvidia GPUs

For gamers, Nvidia is typically the most celebrated graphics card maker, with its stock usually selling out well ahead of rival AMD.

Here’s what you need to know about Nvidia GPUs:

  • Nvidia GPUs are currently up to the RTX 30 series (formerly the 20 and 16 series) and sell the RTX 3050, 3060, 3060Ti, 3070, 3070Ti, 3080, 3080Ti. 3090 and 3090Ti series cards through aftermarket manufacturers. The higher the number, the better the performance.
  • The suffix “Ti” indicates higher performance, but also higher costs.
  • The “VRAM” value (GB) in a card’s name indicates how much RAM the card has onboard for video caching, which translates into smoother gameplay or graphics.
  • For PC builders, GPUs tend to be very power-hungry, so make sure you’re getting a power supply that’s up to the task.

AMD GPUs

AMD, like in the CPU market, is a budget-to-performance choice, although the cards are generally quite well received by reviewers.

Here’s what you need to know about AMD GPUs:

  • AMD is currently working on its RX 6000 series (formerly the 5000, Vega and 500 series) and sells the RX 6700 XT, RX 6800, RX 6800 XT and the RX 6900 XT. The higher the number, the better the performance.
  • The “XT” stands for “Xtreme” and simply identifies a high-performance card.
  • The “VRAM” value (GB) in a card’s name indicates how much RAM the card has onboard for video caching, which translates into smoother gameplay or graphics.
  • For PC builders, GPUs tend to be very power-hungry, so make sure you’re getting a power supply that’s up to the task.

That’s about it

Hopefully this has cleared up some of the confusion surrounding CPUs and GPUs. When I first started PC building I was super confused by this, but 10 years later it’s pretty easy.

If you’re interested in building a computer or have questions about specific parts, we’ve got an explanation for that.

Hope your parts and computer shopping goes smoothly from now on.

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