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Gaming Computer Advice

Written on March 11, 2009 by William George

CPU (Central Processing Unit)

The term 'CPU' is often misunderstood - some people think it refers to a whole computer, or at least the "tower" portion, and others just don't realize it is an acronym. It stands for Central Processing Unit, and is synonymous with the term 'processor' when discussing modern computers. Many like to think of it as the brain of a computer, and it is indeed the component responsible for most of the computations done in everyday applications. When it comes to gaming, though, it shares responsibility with the GPU, or Graphics Processing Unit, which is located on the video card. It is important to realize that there is a balance between these two types of processors: if you have far more CPU power then performance will be GPU-limited, and vica-versa.

Since the CPU is responsible for general types of computation, rather than graphics, its role in gaming is to take care of player input, AI, game mechanics, and sometimes physics. The more complex a game is in those areas the more processing power and speed you will want from the CPU - for example, in strategy games having multiple computer-controlled factions will put a strain on AI processing; a faster processor can help with that. Simulation games also tend to be more CPU-limited, since there are a lot of details going into making the simulation as accurate and realistic as possible.

There are a few different characteristics of CPUs to take into account when selecting one for your computer:

1) Brand - Intel and AMD are the traditional major CPU manufacturers, and each has different approaches to CPU design. Furthermore, they use different motherboards which will affect other component choices - so picking a platform on this level is an important choice.

2) Processor family or architecture - Within each brand there are usually two or more CPU types; the Core i7 and Core 2 from Intel are a good example. They use different sockets, and so different motherboards and CPU coolers, and each has its own advantages. If this article were to cover specifics like that it would not stay relevant very long, as new architectures are introduced relatively often - but there are plenty of online resources for getting details and comparisons of the latest options. Hardware review sites in particular are good places to check out, or other articles and blog posts here at Puget.

3) Number of processor cores - In the past, a CPU could only work on one thing at a time and had to constantly alternate back and forth between different active programs. As multitasking (running many applications at once) became popular and software in general needed more processing power this turned into a problem: CPUs could only be run so fast, and development was outrunning advances in pure processor speed. The solution was to begin processors with multiple cores, and we now find that there are dual, triple and quad-core options - with six and eight cores probably not far off. Getting at least a dual-core is easy, and for some uses it may be beneficial to go further. Games traditionally have not been designed with multiple core systems in mind, but that is changing - so look into reviews of the games you want to play, paying special attention to how they perform on different types of hardware, and purchase a processor accordingly.

4) Processor speed - Within a single processor brand and family you can compare clock speeds (often given in MHz or GHz, which are 1000MHz) and use them to help decide what processor offers the best value. Assuming that your game or application is entirely CPU limited, moving up 10% in clock speed (say from 3GHz to 3.3GHz) will result in roughly a 10% gain in performance. If you are not CPU limited, then you might see no difference at all - but all other things being equal a faster processor will at least never result in slower performance. A general rule of thumb is to go for the fastest processor that does not necessitate a massive jump in price, but depending on your exact needs that may be overkill or not enough. Again, there are great resources online to help you determine what exact model will best meet your needs.

In addition to these there are other properties of CPUs: cache, front-side-bus (or other equivalents), etc. Those are generally fixed for any processor family, or at least for subsets of that family, and while they can be useful in helping to decide what processor architecture to go with they are not generally worth looking at on their own. They can also be deceptive, as there are different aspects to many of the specifications of a processor which can make direct comparison across architectures problematic. Looking at actual benchmark performance results is the best way to determine what you need, or what will best fit your budget.

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too basic.

i wish for more information to make those choices. as i prefer to make them. do i differ from most of your customers?

Posted on 2009-03-12 05:24:55

In the interest of being able to better cater to our customers, what additional information would you be looking for? Please note that the intent of this particular article was not to make specific hardware recommendations, since those change with every new release, but to give folks a background in what goes into the hardware choices - with the hopes that they could combine this with up-to-date reviews (either here or elsewhere) and then be able to make decisions on what to order. If we failed in that aim, or if we overlooked things, please let us know!

Posted on 2009-03-12 15:51:21
mike pyne

Hi PCC-Jon,
I referred your link and i found it really interesting, hence there is controversies that using the PC for Gaming purpose even though built for gaming could reduce the life of PC.
How many of you agree with it.


Posted on 2009-05-25 05:26:03

As I mentioned in a previous post - I don't agree that a PC built specifically for gaming has a shorter shelf life than one built for 'standard' use.

Intense heat can be offset with superior cooling. Use of high quality parts (which most gaming systems use) also comes into play.

Will there come a day when the 'boutique' builders are gone? Tough call. I think at some point we will see a merging of console and PC systems.

As I also mentioned in a previous post - PCs lend themselves to ease of upgrading and even building your own. When was the last time you assembled an XBOX or PS3 on your kitchen table? ;)

Posted on 2009-05-25 08:33:56
mike pyne

Hi PCC-Jon,
I referred to your link and found it interesting. Can you please suggest that extreme gaming on standard PC could reduce the life of the PC. Do you agree with it.


Posted on 2009-06-16 04:49:21

Mike -

I don't agree. The chips do not contain moving parts. Higher temperatures outside their spec can reduce the life of a PC, so technically gaming could have an impact, but if the computer is properly cooled the impact of gaming will be insignificant enough to be unmeasurable.

Posted on 2009-06-16 16:53:14
mike pyne

So we need to integrate external cooling device because in general it's not available by default. So this is the point that i was proving that unless you don't install cooling device into your PC system then definitely extreme gaming could result in reducing PC's life.


Posted on 2009-06-19 01:49:22

So we need to integrate external cooling device because in general it's not available by default. So this is the point that i was proving that unless you don't install cooling device into your PC system then definitely extreme gaming could result in reducing PC's life.


I don't understand what you mean by a "cooling device."

Any well built PC in a quality enclosure will have proper air flow to pull-in cool air and exhaust hot air from the components.

"Extreme gaming" machines will produce more heat because they tend to have hotter components (overclocked CPUs, powerful GPUs, RAID arrays, SLI or Crossfire, etc). Gaming itself isn't as stressful on a PC's components. Most games are only a single or dual threaded and they don't even come close to 100% utilization on CPU cores.

Posted on 2009-06-19 08:24:24

If you don't install a cooling device, even hitting the power button will dramatically reduce the life of the PC :)

Posted on 2009-06-19 10:44:07
mike pyne

Hi PCC-Jon,
Thanks for giving such awareness. I had never used cooling device for PC. Can you recommend some best PC cooling device.


Posted on 2009-07-06 06:02:56
mike pyne

Hi cccmd,
The design meant for cooling CPU and cooler both are different. According to Jon we need to externally install cooling device or else make the PC environment cool by switching to AC.


Posted on 2009-07-15 01:10:52

Don't know if the poster still comes to the forum, but comparing his question to some of mine and the way I (sometimes don't) think, I think he was unaware that ALL processors are provided with cooling. I think he was confused by the upgrades, and thought for gaming you had to add a cooler.

Posted on 2009-08-30 17:20:27

Actually Mike, it looks like I misunderstood what you meant. I only meant that a CPU cooler needs to be installed, which I'm sure you already knew.

Posted on 2009-07-15 11:03:34

here's a maybe not so quick question.

I'm very close to deciding on a new computer and I'm not sure whether to choose a core i7 or core 2 quad (or duo) build.

I bought my last computer from you guys and have been very satisfied. I've had it for 5 years now and I can't play the new games now so it's upgrade time. I'm looking to keep this new computer for a similar time frame, with a probable gpu upgrade in a few years.

Which CPU would you guys recommend going forward. Sure the Core 2 duo stuff is cheaper right now and performs great but it 3 years, am I gonna be feeling the hurt when all the new games are built to use quad cores?

What's gonna get me the most longevity?

Posted on 2009-08-18 12:04:24

Core i7, hands down (for gaming). Now, here is the second half of that question - which you might not have known about: "Socket 1366 or 1156?"

The current i7s are using the socket 1366 platform, which has come down a lot in price but is still more expensive than the mainstream Core 2 line. However, next month Intel's P55 chipset and socket 1156 are coming - for the price-conscious that might be a better choice, as it will house Core i7 processors (and their little brothers, the i5 and i3). The main difference between the two sockets is going to be the memory setup: 1366 uses triple-channel memory, while 1156 will be dual-channel. For gaming, though, that should make very little difference. If you can wait a few weeks I think I would aim for the upcoming socket to maximize your return on investment and longevity!

Posted on 2009-08-18 12:09:03

And that completes the question I asked about the new chipset in the other thread. Thank you very much for being so fast with that response.

While i'm trying to be price conscious, I don't want to be too stingy. I haven't been able to play a newly released game for a while now and I don't want to have that situation again for a long time. Do you think that the choosing 1366 versus 1156 will make a difference in that regard?

Sorry if I'm asking an incredibly broad question.

Posted on 2009-08-18 12:35:37

It is hard to guess what the next generation of game titles will need, but historically memory bandwidth has not been a limiting factor in that area. Latency can be a bottleneck for some games, so I would make sure to get lower-latency memory if possible (like the HyperX we carry from Kingston), but pure memory speed usually makes little difference.

When socket 1156 gets closer to launch there should be performance comparisons on many of the major hardware websites - AnandTech, TomsHardware, etc - that will shed more light on the new chips and how they work relative to the established socket 1366 models.

Posted on 2009-08-18 12:44:01

I recently entertained such decisions before I placed an order with Puget. Even though I know the p55 chipset and socket 1156 CPus are due in early September, I went ahead and chose the 1366 CPUs. I did so because it is a mature platform these days. The boards have been out for awhile and BIOS revisions are minor. Plus builders are comfortable with these boards and chipsets. The performance between the two should be minor, but it does seem the new CPUs will have a lot of overclocking headroom. Time will tell with that. Certainly you will be able to get a machine with Intel's i7 architecture for a bit cheaper with the new socket as the memory will be dual-channel and the boards less pricey. Intel has stated they will continue support of both sockets.

Posted on 2009-08-18 13:51:37

When socket 1156 gets closer to launch there should be performance comparisons on many of the major hardware websites - AnandTech, TomsHardware, etc - that will shed more light on the new chips and how they work relative to the established socket 1366 models.

I'm gonna have to wait for that then because after a day of reading as much as I can my head is ready to explode.

Though if I'm this conflicted over what I'm going to put in the computer, it probably means that I'm buying too close to the edge and I should take a step back in tech and price.

Posted on 2009-08-19 07:48:52

We don't have pricing info yet, but I'm hoping that the new socket 1156 stuff comes out at the same price as current Core 2 products - so that while you may be buying 'close to the edge' you shouldn't be spending more than you would on older tech.

Posted on 2009-08-19 10:48:30