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CPUs are like coconut cream

Central Processing Units, the core of every computer, the things that do most of the heavy lifting, are like coconut cream, sort of. What I mean is, with coconut cream you could buy Solo's Choice, which is $2 a can, but then you look at the label and find it's only 20% actual coconut cream and the rest is emulsifier and junk (sidenote: I always thought of "Solo's Choice" as being between making a good product, or a lot of money. But I digress). Or you could buy Fiafia which costs $4 but is 92% coconut cream. The choice is easy. You don't support Solo's reckless fiscal morality.

CPUs are like that, a little. You can have 2 CPUs, both of which run at 3.6ghz, but one is 5 x faster than the other. Why? Architecture. CPUs in low-cost laptops and all-in-one monitor-computers, are designed to use less power, so they run a bit slower. They also often tend to be defect chips which were tested on the production line and didn't run as fast as the higher-end models, so they get given a difference code number and are set to run at a lower speed, or with a lower number of cores enabled.

Cores are like individual CPU's within a CPU. The more cores you have, the more smoothly multiple tasks can run on your computer at once. Nowadays I tend to recommend something with at least 4 cores, which isn't hard to find. More than 4 cores doesn't impact the average consumer, but the cheaper ones tend to only have 2. Then, some CPUs simply have better internal algorithms than others. More recent CPUs largely outperform older ones on this basis, since we have mostly hit the limits of how fast we can drive electrons through silicon. A CPU from 2008 may run at 3.6ghz and have 4 cores, but it's hideously slow compared to a modern one running 3.6ghz and with 4 cores.

Given this information, how does one choose a CPU? Well, for the Intel brand it's easy grab an i3 or i5 CPU from the current or previous year's lineup. For the AMD brand any Ryzen CPU in their current year's line-up will be fine. If you're gaming or doing anything more intensive, you might want to go for an Intel i7/i9 or one of the AMD Threadripper CPU's, but most people should not bother.

So that's that. Not rocket science, but it is easy to get fooled into buying a slow computer if you don't know what you're looking at. CPUs are the most expensive part of the computer typically, so it's good to get your selection right; these things don't grow on trees, you know.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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