What CPU Do You Need? A Quick-Start Guide

April 18, 2021

Sylvia Keller

The processor you select will impact the performance of your entire system. So, what CPU do you actually need?

When building a PC, selecting your CPU is the first step. CPUs are the main processor in your system. They follow instructions from different software programs and executing tasks in real time. Selecting the right CPU will help your system run all your software programs and games.

CPUs impact:

  • Frame Rates
  • Stream Quality
  • Draw distance
  • Crowd animations
  • Destruction physics
  • Editing software performance
  • Much more

Intel or AMD?

Intel and AMD CPU in motherboard sockets
Most people looking to buy a CPU start by comparing the top brand names of CPU producers; Intel, and AMD.
AMD has made major strides in producing high performance CPUs for gamers, content creators, and more. However, Intel has been a leader in making CPUs for a long time, and is still producing top-of-the-line hardware. Either brand is a solid choice for building a system. So, how do you decide what CPU to buy?
Decide what your primary use for your PC will be. From there, consider cost. Finally, look at power usage, and future-proofing decisions (i.e. how long you plan to keep the system before upgrading) .

How To Read CPU Model Names and Numbers

CPU model names can get confusing, but when you understand how they work, it’s easier to make a selection.
Both Intel and AMD base their model numbers and names on a “Good, Better, Best” system. Lower numbers suggest lower performance, Like the Intel i3 or the AMD Ryzen 3. After the i3 or Ryzen 3, series numbers step up to 5, 7, and 9, to name processors with more and more power.
For top of the line performance, Intel’s Core X and AMD’s Threadripper series offer serious power, but the vast majority of users don’t need them. These CPUs also run at high price points, so prepare to spend much more if you’re investing in one of these.

CPU Recommendations by Use Case

When you know what your primary tasks for your PC will be, selecting a CPU becomes much easier. Here are our recommendations by use case:


Gaming relies on CPU performance, , but it doesn’t need the most powerful CPU on the market. For gamers on a budget, a mid-range processor with a great GPU is a good way to go. Collections like the Intel i5 or Ryzen 5 from AMD will give you good gaming performance, and you can save a little more budget for that GPU.

Creative Work

For users who are looking for a CPU to help with video editing, streaming, game design, a higher-end CPU will help complete more complex tasks. If you’re looking for a system that can both game and stream, you’ll also want to invest in a high end CPU, so that your stream quality won’t suffer. The Intel i7 or Ryzen 7 from AMD should suit this purpose well. You can also invest in an overclocked system, if you’re looking to unleash the full power of your CPU.

Top of the Line Power

If you’re looking for the best CPU performance on the market right now, you can’t go wrong with the Intel Core X or Ryzen Threadripper lines. These CPUs offer enough power to adapt to many tasks, and offer good longevity as technology continues to advance.

CPU Clock Speed, Cores, and Threads

Performance numbers for CPUs can be overwhelming if you’re a beginner. If you’re looking for more in-depth information on how CPUs work, check out our Computers and Coffee podcast episode on that topic.

Clock Speed

Generally, you will want to pay attention to CPU clock speed to gauge how responsive your CPU will be. Keep in mind that clock speed comparisons only work within the generation of CPU you are looking at. An older generation CPU with the same clock speed as a modern CPU will perform differently.

Core Counts

With core counts, consider how much multitasking your system might need to be doing. For gaming, 4 to 8 cores is plenty. If you’re looking to stream, or create content, you’ll want to look for a CPU with more cores, since these tasks need more computing power.


CPU threads, and hyper-threading technology, get a lot of hype and marketing. Consider whether the programs you’re using can use these threads. Many popular games still only use thread technology very lightly. Computing tasks like video editing see great performance increases on a hyper-threaded processor, however.

Thermal Design and Overclocking

Processors do a lot of work, and as a result, they produce a lot of heat. Having the correct cooling system in place will help your CPU achieve peak performance.
Many CPUs do well with an air cooling system. For high-performance chips, liquid cooling may offer better efficiency, as well as a quieter system. Research the thermal design of your CPU to determine what cooling system is best, and how much power it will need from your Power Supply.
If you’re hoping to overclock your PC, a robust cooling system of either type will be necessary to help your system perform beyond its limits.


Once you’ve selected your CPU, you’re on your way to building your next dream PC. Check for your motherboard options next, and take a look at the chipsets on each model to see what features they offer. You’ll have a system up and running in no time.
Looking to start building your own system right away? Get started here:
  1. Easy Builder – just pick your games and budget, and customize as needed without worry about compatibility or assembly. We’ll ship you your custom prebuilt PC tested and ready to go. 
  2. Customize – Whether you decide on an Intel or AMD system, we’ll make sure your PC suits your performance needs.  
  3. Signature Series – Take a look at some of our signature products. We think we have good taste. 
  4. Creator Series – If you’re a content creator primarily, or you want a PC that can do it all, start here. 
  5. RDY Systems – Want to avoid this whole deal and just get to gaming? We’ve got systems ready to go, so you can skip the stress and get to the games.  

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