One of the fundamental components of a computer is the processor.
If you want to gauge the performance of a computer, one naturally tends to look at its processing speed. This is something that is measured in Gigahertz (GHz). So, this begs the question, how many GHz do I need?
The answer to that question is complicated if you ponder too deep but very simple on the surface. On the surface, there are two parts to that answer. First, the performance does not depend on the sheer clock speed anymore.
Secondly, the processor that you get depends entirely on your use. The more demanding your work on the computer, the better the processor you will need. Usually, tasks like development work, gaming, and editing require a high-end processor.
Let us talk about that a bit in depth. What is the processing speed? Is it really the measure of processor’s performance anymore?
Putting Things in Perspective
Let me recount one of the analogies my friend gave. If you buy a car that has a maximum speed of 300 mph, but you are only able to drive it at 120 mph maximum, then you have essentially wasted your money. We are talking about your decision based purely on speed disregarding the looks and the comfort factor of the car.
Similarly, getting an Intel Quad Core Core i7-6700HQ that has a maximum speed of 3.50 GHz per core merely for word processing or surfing on the internet will be a waste of money and potential.
Anyhow, let’s get a bit technical now.
What is Processing Speed (Frequency)?
Speed in the context of processors refers to the Clock Speed or Clock Rate of the processor. Clock Speed is the measure of how fast the processor executes an instruction. An instruction is any order that is given to the processor by software.
This could be anything like copy and pasting etc. In fact, the order of just copying a file has several instructions that a processor needs to execute. For example, it would need to communicate with the RAM, registers, etc. before it completes the command.
Each one of those instructions takes one clock cycle to complete. 1 Hz is one clock cycle per second. 3.5 GHz is 3.5 billion clock cycles per second.
Therefore, naturally, you would imagine that having a faster clock speed would mean better performance?
Does The Clock Speed Really Matter?
A long time ago, the rule of thumb was that the higher the clock speed, the better the performance. However, now the things have changed quite a bit. Clock speed is not the only measure.
There are multiple cores now, the amount of cache also need to be considered. Support for higher frequency RAM, hyper-threading technology, and an integrated graphics card is also a significant factor. Many things significantly impact the performance.
Let us see an example of this. Let us take Intel Core i3-7100U processor and Intel Pentium N3540 processor for comparison. A simple benchmark report will reveal that Intel Core i3-7100U is faster than Intel Pentium N3540 (Here is the link for benchmarks). This is despite them both having almost the same clock speed. The real question is, why is this the case?
How to Choose the Right Processor?
I think by now you should have realized that “how many GHz do I need?” is not the right question be asking. The real question is, “which processor is suitable for me?”
The best way to choose the processor is to read the reviews and compare the benchmark tests. PassMark is one of the benchmark tests for processors based on their performance. It basically gives score after a rigorous test.
You would expect > 20K score for a very powerful processor and a score of less than 1K for a low-end processor. Intel Xeon E5-2679 is the current leading processor with a score of 25,236. Whereas, one of the latest low-end processors like the Intel Atom Z3735E has a score of 929.
Intel Xeon E5-2679 costs nearly three thousand dollars, whereas, the Intel Atom Z3735E has a price tag of just above one hundred dollars a bit.
Another famous benchmark test to gauge the performance of a laptop is the Cinebench R10.
How Will You Utilize it?
Knowing what you need the processor for is very essential. If you are going to use your computer for just regular home use, then an Intel Pentium processor would do just fine.
If you are remotely going to use the computer for some professional work like designing, coding, editing, or playing, then you will need to look at at least an Intel Core i3 or equivalent processor from AMD.
If you are an average professional, an Intel Core i5 will suffice quite well for you. It is only if you are a hardcore professional or a gamer that I would advise you to get an Intel Core i7.
Rest of the Hardware
When choosing a processor, it is essential to keep the rest of hardware into perspective. If you are getting a Core i7, but you only have 4 GB of RAM and no dedicated graphics, then you probably will never utilize the processor to its full potential. It will get bottlenecked by the rest of the hardware.
Also, it is better to go for a computer with Core i5 processor with a decent amount of RAM and a dedicated graphics card then to go for a computer with powerful Core i7 processor, low amount of memory and no dedicated graphics card.
It’s all about improving the performance/dollar value.
Know Your Budget
This is quite self-explanatory. If you are on a tight budget, don’t spend it all on the processor. Like mentioned earlier, get a well-optimized hardware configuration.
How many GHz do I need? is an outdated question. The clock speed is not the only measure of a processor’s performance. A lot has changed since the old days. One of the best ways to compare the performance of a processor to suit your needs is to look at the various benchmark tests.
Judging a processor by its clock speed can be deceiving. As we had a look in this article, both the Intel Pentium N3540 and the Intel Core i3-7100U have almost the same processing speed, yet the latter is twice as powerful.