The CPU, or Central Processing Unit is the most important component that will be installed on the motherboard. CPUs are classified in a certain set of ways. We’ll take two processors and use them to explain the different classifications of each.
Intel Core i7-8700K Coffee Lake 6-Core 3.7 GHz (4.7 GHz Turbo) LGA 1151 (300 Series) 95W BX80684I78700K Desktop Processor Intel UHD Graphics 630
From the top, we have the name of the manufacturer and the name of the processor. Intel is one of the processor manufacturers, alongside AMD and the name Core i7-8700K tells us a few things; first off, Core means that it is a desktop processor and i7 means that it is one of the top-tier chips of that generation. Core processors fall under i3, i5, i7 and as of the latest two generations, i9. Next, we have a four digit number that tells us a bit more. The first number is the generation of processor, so since it is 8XXX, it is an 8th gen i7, the next three are for the particular model. Therefore, we can tell which one is higher tier than another. The last bit of information you get is one or two letters. These tell you what sort of processor you have. A processor with a K suffix means that is unlocked, and therefore capable of overclocking, whereas a HQ or U means that it is a mobile processor and is set up to have a lower power requirement for laptops and some tablets. Ones without a letter suffix are simply desktop processors that are not capable of overclocking.
From here we can now look at the rest of the name. Coffee Lake is the code name of the processor’s architecture, which is shared across all the different platforms supported. This means that a Coffee Lake Celeron processor uses the same basic architecture as a Xeon server processor, and everything in between. This can be a quick and dirty way to tell what approximate generation the processor you’re looking at is from. If it says Coffee Lake, it is newer, as opposed to Skylake or Kaby Lake, which are older architectures, but still used.
Next are the specifications of the particular processor. The 6-core section means that is has six physical processing cores. What this translates to is that it is capable of more simultaneous tasks than a four or two core processor. Many modern chips on both the Intel and AMD side support what is called hyperthreading (Or Multithreading for AMD, basically the same concept) where each physical core is broken into two logical threads and in turn, those threads can be used to maximize the productivity of the processor. Since we can find out that this i7 supports hyperthreading, we know that it also has 12 threads. The next piece of information is the speed the processor runs at. From this, we can tell how fast it is. This is measured in gigahertz, or billions of cycles per second. This measurement is abbreviated GHz. We can see that this processor has two speeds, these are called the base and boost clock of the processor. The base clock is the speed that the processor is always running at, whereas the boost clock is utilized whenever the processor has higher demands placed on it and can run at a higher frequency on a few threads for a limited time. This higher frequency does consume more power, and therefore create more heat. The better your cooling solution, the longer your CPU can run under heavy load, and the faster is can run.
The next bit of information you get is one of the most important. This is called the socket type. Each processor has a certain socket it can fit into, and in this case, it is listed as an LGA 1151 (300) socket, which means that it uses the physical LGA 1151 socket but requires a 300 series chipset. This means that a motherboard that has, for example, a Z370 chipset and an LGA 1151 (300) socket will be able to use this processor. In almost every case, processors are not compatible between different sockets, so you will have to ensure that you have the right socket for your CPU.
From here, the rest of the information provided tells you about the power draw of the chip, 95 Watts, and the integrated graphics of the chip as well. The rest of this isn’t as important, but falls more under the “nice to know” category.
So, if you’ve gotten through all of that, you’re in for smooth sailing with our next section. AMD processors:
AMD is the main competitor to Intel and has a much simpler, but similar looking naming scheme. For this example, we’ll be using the Ryzen 5 1600X.
AMD RYZEN 5 1600X 6-Core 3.6 GHz (4.0 GHz Turbo) Socket AM4 95W YD160XBCAEWOF Desktop Processor
We’ll break this down the same way we did with Intel. First off, we have the company and architecture, AMD and Ryzen. Ryzen is the most current AMD architecture, and the only one you’ll see in a modern build. Next, we have the model of processor. Ryzen 5, same as Intel, the naming convention goes Ryzen 3, 5 and 7. In this case, we see we have a 1600X, unlike Intel, there is not much to this name. All it means is that it is a model above the 1500s, and below the 1700s. The X denotes that it has a higher base and turbo frequency than the normal Ryzen 5 1600. Next, same as Intel, we have the core count. AMD processors have a similar solution as Intel’s hyperthreading called multithreading. Functionally, they are identical to the end-user. This means that we likewise have a 6 core, 12 thread processor. After this, we have the base and turbo frequencies, 3.6 GHz and 4.0Ghz. Similar to Intel, all AMD processors use a particular socket. In this case, it is listed as an AM4 socket and therefore is compatible with any AM4 motherboard. The rest of it is the power requirement, and the part number from AMD.