Think you're ready to overclock? Wondering what to do with all that excess liquid nitrogen? You need to learn to talk before you can run, so we recommend you start off with our handy guide to everything CPU.
You might just be wondering how to pick a processor suitable for your needs. Understanding the technical terms might mean you won’t buy a processor that doesn’t fit in your motherboard socket, or accidentally drop a couple of grand on a 32-core server chip for your DOTA2 machine.
- CPU: Central processing unit. Also called a processor, or chip.
- Cores: The cores are the actual processing units within a CPU, with multiple cores making up a single processor
- Threads: Cores can often run multiple operations at one time due to a technology called HyperThreading on Intel CPUs and Simultaneous Multi Threading (SMT) on AMD chips.
- Transistor: The transistor is the building block upon which modern technology is built. They are the tiny switches that provide the binary on/off of electricity that is the spine of computer programming.
- Nanometer: In silicon fabrication technology the transistors are now so small they’re measured in nanometers. In general terms the production scale, measured in nm, denotes the smallest transistor used in manufacturing a given chip, where the smaller the transistor, the less power it requires.
- Cache: Very speedy memory built into a CPU design. Different levels of cache can offer varying speeds and sizes, to improve wait times a CPU will store instruction queues and data on the processor rather than relying exclusively on system memory.
- Socket: The socket in which a CPU connects to a motherboard and subsequently other components within a computer. Commonly employed as LGA (land grid array), PGA (pin grid array), or BGA (ball grid array) designs to create the multiple contact points between chip and board.
- PGA, LGA, and BGA: PGA utilises pins on the CPU, LGA forgoes pins on the CPU in favour of pins within the motherboard socket, while BGA uses soldered balls to attach to the system, used within integrated systems so the CPU cannot be removed.
- Heat spreader: The heat spreader is the metal attached to the top of a CPU made to aid in thermal transfer away from the CPU cores to a discrete processor cooling component. It also helps avoid direct strain on the processor die, which are very fragile.
- Thermal compound: Often called thermal paste, chip grease, or CPU gunk (by Dave) this is a substance that aids in heat transfer between a processing unit and a cooler. These are often made of non-conductive materials to avoid shorting components when applied liberally.
- PCIe Lanes: The peripheral component interconnect express is the latest high speed bus connecting peripherals, such as graphics cards, to the CPU. They are made up of multiple lanes allowing simultaneous send and receive signals per lane. Graphics cards often use PCIe connections that make use of 16 lanes for increased bandwidth.
- Clockspeed: The rate in which a processor completes an entire cycle. Processors are often measured in gigahertz (GHz), which is 1,000,000,000 cycles per second. Clockspeeds between different architectures cannot be compared without understanding the IPC, or instructions per clock.
- IPC: Instructions per clock is the average amount of instructions a processor can process per cycle. Different applications and processes will have varying IPC values.
- TDP: Thermal Design Power. The TDP reflects the heat generated by a component that a cooler will be required to dissipate. Measured in watts, although does not directly correlate to power consumption.
- Boost/Turbo clocks: Boost clocks represent the manufacturer’s maximum for clock speeds. Although this is not always the case, and can be exceeded with overclocking. Boost clocks allow a processor to perform better on certain cores while others are not in use and stay within rated TDP.
- Memory Channels: Dual-channel allows for, at least, two memory modules to utilise separate channels for increased bandwidth. These separate channels are often matching colours on a motherboard. Quad-channel allows for, at least, four memory modules to communicate on separate channels. Populating all channels allows for increased bandwidth.
- TJunction: This is the core temperature of your CPU, once this reaches the predefined TJunction Max value, the CPU will shut off to prevent damage. Before shutdown, a CPU will limit performance in an attempt to lower TJunction temps.
- Overclocking: Increasing clockspeeds beyond the initial product specification. Can be applied to graphics cards, memory and CPUs. Overclocked systems perform better, but in turn use more power and generate more heat.
- VRM: Voltage regulator module. Better voltage regulation allows for greater component lifespan and better overclocks.