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Which CPU , CPU Cooler to buy ? - Guide/Tutorial

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Last updated on 1 August 2013.

Hello Builders and Pros ! This is my guide on how to choose the CPU for a new/old PC , so lets go -

//CPU -
If you take the PC as the body parts of the human body , your CPU along with RAM and HDD is the Brain. Most users will get confused in picking a right and compatible CPU though. There's some things you should note while picking the right CPU for your PC -
1. The CPU should have the same socket , the one your motherboard accepts and you must make sure the motherboard has the BIOS installed which supports the CPU and the maximum TDP should be equal or lower than the max the motherboard can support ( Not really needed but felt should be mentioned ). Checking the Motherboard's compatible CPU guide will be a better way to realise whether the choose CPU is compatible or not.
2. The RAM's speed , voltage and channel type ( optional , only for optimum performance ) should meet the CPU's requirements.
3. The CPU should have a compatible PSU ( Not soo important in most cases , unless you are picking a Haswell or further family CPU having a C6/C7 low power consumption mode )
4. You must have a CPU cooler and thermal compound ( All CPU's come with a CPU cooler and thermal compound pre applied on the cooler , but should be noted as its a vital component helping in cooling the CPU. )
5. The CPU should have Integrated Graphics ( Most CPU's do , except Intel Xeons and some other CPU's ) if your not getting a discrete graphics card.

Overclocking- Some AMD and Intel CPU's have Overclocking capabilities. Overclocking means that increasing the clock or frequency of the CPU. This helps in increasing performance. However this needs - an over clocking capable CPU + a much better cooling solution ( not the stock solution ) + a over clocking capable motherboard + a PSU which can provide the required wattage + compatible RAM ( not really , but yeah ). Also there's a risk of damaging the CPU or any other components of the CPU. Also this voids the warranty in most cases. Therefore OCing is only recommended to be done by a experienced user. Don't just go on messing the CPU's settings in the BIOS , else you might end up damaging or blowing something. For users not planing to OC a lot ( no more than 4.2GHz ) Haswell ( i5 and i7 4xxx "K" ) CPUs are good. If you plan to OC above 4.2GHz , Haswell isn't a good choice as it generates tremendous amount of heat even on lower voltages. Opt for Ivy Bridge ( i5 and i7 3xxx "K" CPUs ) These CPU's OC nicely and don't generate a lot of heat. AMD CPUs' under any circumstances ( especial 8 cores FX CPU's ) are recommended to stay under 65'C in order to avoid any sort go damage to the CPU. Intel CPUs can go unto 100'C , after that they shutdown instantly. Care should be taken to avoid any damage to the CPU.

What is TDP ? - The Thermal Design Power (TDP) is the average maximum power a processor can dissipate while under full load on its max stock settings. TDP is primarily used as a guideline for manufacturers of thermal solutions (heatsinks/fans, etc) which tells them how much heat their solution should dissipate and also helps users to choose the perfect CPU Cooler for their CPU. TDP is not the maximum power the CPU may generate especially when Overclocked - there may be periods of time when the CPU dissipates more power than designed, in which case either the CPU temperature will rise closer to the maximum, or special CPU circuitry will activate and add idle cycles or reduce CPU frequency with the intent of reducing the amount of generated power.
Maximum power dissipation is the maximum power dissipated by the CPU under the worst conditions - at the maximum core voltage, maximum temperature and maximum signal loading conditions. Maximum Power dissipation is always higher than the TDP.
Minimum power dissipation that is mentioned on many CPU pages on this site is the power dissipated by the processor when the processor is switched into one of low-power modes, usually the low power mode that offers best power-savings.

What specs to opt for ? How many cores should my CPU have ? In most cases , a dual core CPU is more than enough for home users , office users , HTPC's , etc which have less power demanding uses. AMD APU's have great integrated GPU's and good CPU performance. They make a great choice for Home PCs , HTPC's , etc where GPU's are needed. Intel's Dual Core Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge Pentium CPU's are great for Office users , who need more CPU power. Intel's i3 CPUs are good for casual gaming and so are AMD's FX 4xxx CPU's. For gaming on higher settings Intel's i5 series have been the pick since their release, If you want some future proofing , opt for a Six Core or Eight Core CPU from AMD's FX Family. They compete with the i5 in today's games , but will probably be a step ahead when games are optimised for Six or Eight Cores.

What is Hyper Threading ? Is it useful ? - Hyper Threading means a CPU core having two threads to each core. For e.g - a dual core CPU having four threads , two thread per core. This enhances performances in more higher performance demanding tasks like Video Editing , Rendering , Photoshop , etc. The extra thread to a CPU helps in higher performance overall as well as per core. Hyper Threading is found in Intel CPUs. Hyper threading is found in Intel's i3 , i7 and Xeon Family CPU's. A HT enabled dual Core CPU CANNOT beat a Quad Core CPU with no HT. Also Hyper-Threading isn't much useful for average tasks and even gaming in most cases ( thats unless we're talking about Metro Last Light or Crysis 3 ). Hyper Threading is therefore only a good to have feature in a CPU for average tasks and most gaming cases and not a must have unless you plan on editing or so.

Recommend CPUs at end of thread.

Please look for the CPU cooler guide BELOW if you can't choose the perfect CPU cooler for your PC. Also check the rest of my guides on how to build a PC.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to use any of the information from my guide to other guides/threads if you wish to do so.

CPU Benchmarks -
PassMark's Daily updated CPU Benchmarks
Tom's Hardware's CPU Benchmarks

CPU Cooler -

Your CPU of course needs some cooling for itself. CPU coolers are the way of cooling your CPU. Now almost every CPU comes with a stock cooler and some thermal compound. Whats a thermal compound ? A thermal compound creates a layer through which the heat gets transferred from the CPU to the CPU cooler. Therefore a thermal compound is just as important as your CPU cooler. There are different types of thermal compounds available in the market. Choosing one isn't that tough , just pick anyone you like. Most aftermarket CPU Coolers come with Thermal Compound pre-applied or in a tube/packet More information below. The stock CPU cooling solution from Intel And AMD is sufficient in most cases for general uses. However if your gaming or doing editing , rendering , etc , I recommend you getting a decent CPU cooler as well.
Now lets dive more into Thermal Compounds -
What are Thermal Compounds/Thermal Insulation Material(s) or Thermal Pad and what to get ?
Like I said before Thermal Compounds/Thermal Pad/Thermal Insulation Materials create a layer from which heat is transferred from your CPU to the CPU cooler. Thermal Compound/Thermal Insulation Material are mostly in semi solid form and are the most preferred material. Thermal Pads are clay type options however they are rather meant for passive cooling ( cooling with no moving parts like heatsinks without fans , etc ) as they provide a good grip compared to TIMs , so I won't recommend to use them for CPU cooling. However these materials aren't an additive , they are needed. Without them the CPU's heat CANNOT BE TRANSFERRED to the cooler. Some CPU cooler's including the one that comes with CPU's have TIM pre-applied while others have included it in the package , but not applied , the user may apply it according to their preferences. Some CPU coolers don't come with TIM at all. Many aftermarket TIMs are available and you can pick one of up of your choice. Just make sure that it is sufficient for your application. Now there's a lot of ways to apply TIMs. Some can be applied on the CPU by the line method , some with the blob method , etc. To know which way to apply your TIM , check out the manufacturer's site or manual if provided. But whichever way you apply , make sure it spreads in such a way that its equally applied everywhere on the CPU and isn't spreading out.
Now lets see take a look at the CPU coolers and their types -

CPU Coolers and their types -
CPU Coolers are of two types -
1. Air Coolers
2. Liquid Coolers

So lets start off with the common things first -
Now which CPU cooler should I buy ? Well , this depends on -
Which socket coolers does your Motherboard accept ,
Maximum CPU cooler height supported by your Cabinet/Chassis ( Air Cooling ) Or Fan Mount and Clearance for Radiators ( Water Coolers )
How much the CPU is used , and desired temps on Full load and OCed Full Load if any ,
And of course your max budget
In most cases obstructions are caused by large air coolers and maybe with a water cooler having a large radiator.
In most Mini/Mid tower chassis , a small Air CPU cooler or water cooler with a small radiator is preferred. Bigger Air coolers and Water coolers with bigger radiators do have better performance , but can also block the RAM slot(s) close to them ( air coolers ) and might ( rarely ) cause obstructions to wiring ( water cooling radiator's ). Depending on what your chassis is and RAM is , buy a CPU cooler which can fit in your case and preferably , not block a nearby RAM slot or anything else. In the recommended CPU coolers I have given all types of CPU coolers according to their size , performance , price , etc.

So lets start with Air cooling now -
Air Cooling means cooling with heatsinks and fans. An average air cooler has its base attached to the CPU , with heat being transferred with the help of some pipes to a heatsink which is cooled by fans. There are some coolers which don't use pipes for transferring , mostly this is seen in low profile coolers , instead they connect the base to the heatsink and heatsink to fan directly. This decreases cooling performances and therefore are not recommended for higher uses. Buying an air cooler with the perfect size which fits in your chassis , has no obstruction and provides ample cooling to the CPU , is therefore recommended. To know the whether the cooler will fit or not , check the maximum CPU cooler height supported by the chassis/cabinet you have/want to buy , than check the manufacturers site of the cooler , than check if the maximum height is LOWER than the cooler height by at least 5mm.If yes , bravo that cooler will fit in the chassis/cabinet. If not , check for other coolers which support your chassis/cabinet. If you aren't using all the RAM slots and not planning to use , then getting a which might cause a RAM slot to block isn't bad at all. Opt for RAM which is thinner like the Corsair Vengeance Pro , G.Skill Ripjaws series , etc. These RAMs at times fit with larger coolers.

Now lets move to liquid/water cooling -
Water Coolers are available in two types -
1. AIOs / Closed Loop Water Coolers
2. DIY Loops / Custom Loops

Lets start with AIOs -
AIO or All-in-One's are water coolers in one piece. These consist of a water block which is attached to the CPU which cools the CPU with the cool coolant , and a Radiator which has a built in Reservoir and Pump as well. The water block and radiator are connected by tubings and fixed with some different types of barbs. These units are very very easy to install.All you have to do is attach the water block to the CPU with the screws and hook the backplate to the backside of the motherboard and hook the radiator to a compatible fan mount. There are two things to be aware of before choosing a water block -
1. Your case should have a fan mount of the radiator's size and there should be enough clearance for the radiator.
2. The mounting kit should have the screws , backplate , fittings , etc required to attach it on you motherboard.
How does the AIO works ? The Pump pulls water from the reservoir and pushes it to the water block which makes contact with the CPU and cools it. Since the water block is in contact with the CPU , the water block gets heated , thus heating the coolant. This heated water is pushed to the radiator which dissipates heats and pushes the water to the reservoir. This cycle continues. AIO's however can't beat Custom Loops as they have weaker pumps , smaller fittings and tubings , cheaper coolants , etc when compared to Custom Loops. Also Custom Loops have the flexibility to add more components like more water blocks ( thus more components like the GPU's , RAM and even your HDD and SSD ! ) , more pumps , more radiators , more reservoirs ,etc. However AIO's are much cheaper , you can find one for as low as 50 USD.

Now lets move on to Custom Loops/DIY Loops-
DIY Loops / Custom Loops have the flexibility to add more components to the loop as mentioned above. They work the same way , the way AIO's do. However you can even adjust the way they work as well. Custom loops are more expensive in comparison to AIO's starting at 150 USD. All you should be careful of choosing what to get while choosing a DIY Loop kit or components is -
1. Your case should have a fan mount of the radiator's size and there should be enough clearance for the radiator and should have screws to mount the radiator. Also include Fans.
2. The mounting kit for water blocks should have the screws , backplate , fittings , tubings , barbs etc required to attach it on your component to be cooled.
3, The tubing , barbs , fittings , clamps should be compatible with the each other and the part they will be connected to.

There's a lot more about DIY loops , but nothing else is needed here to be mentioned.

There's the simplicity of AIO's and performance and flexibility of Custom Loops. What if you can get both in a same package ? Well the CM Eisberg and Swiftech H220 Series. These units come preinstalled with a water block for the CPU but you can add more components to the same loop of the coolers. While Swiftech's H220 has real Custom Loop Parts like a Laing DDC pump , an awesome radiator by Swiftech , bigger and better tubing , barbs , etc , CM's Eisberg has rather the similar closed loop high end parts you are better off finding in a Corsair H100i or NZXT Kraken X60 but yet manages to offers the custom loop flexibility.

Recommended Thermal Compounds/TIMs -
Antec Formula 6
Antec Formula 7
Arctic MX-2
Arctic MX-4
Arctic Silver 5
Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400
Gelid GC-Extreme
Prolimatech PK-3
Tuniq TX-4

Recommended CPU Air Coolers -
Low Profile Coolers for HTPC's -
Akasa LP AMD CPU Cooler
Akasa LP Intel CPU Cooler
Gelid Slim Silent i-Plus LP Intel CPU Cooler
Noctua NH-L9a
Noctua NH-L9i
Thermalright AXP-200 Low Profile Universal CPU Cooler

Small CPU Coolers
Cooler Master Hyper TX3

Medium CPU Coolers
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
Cooler Master TPC 812
NZXT Respire T40

Big Air Coolers
BeQuiet! Dark Rock 2
Cooler Master V8
Noctua NH-D14
Noctua NH-U14S
Phanteks PH-TC14PE

Budget AIO Water Coolers -
Corsair H60
Thermaltake Water 2.0 Performer
Antec Kuhler H2O 620

High Performance AIO Water Coolers -
Antec Kuhler H20 920
Corsair H80i
NZXT Kraken X40
ThermalTake Water 3.0 Pro

Ultimate Performance AIO Water Coolers -
Corsair H100i
NZXT Kraken X60
Silveston Tundra TD02
Swiftech H220
ThermalTake Water 3.0 Extreme

Links to most CPU Coolers ( except some HTPC Coolers , which are available at FrozenCPU ) and TIM's are from PCPartPicker have been provided. Choose any one of your favourite e-tailer to get you thermal compound and CPU Cooler !

There may be a lot of other great CPU Coolers I missed/didn't add to this list. If you feel there is a great CPU Cooler/TIM/CPU I should have added to their respective lists , please let me know. There are many other benchmarks which you might prefer to see as well.

Recommended CPUs for money ( List made on 20-10-13 ) -

50USD or below -
AMD APU A4-5300
Intel Celeron G1620

90USD or below -
AMD A8-5600K
Intel Pentium G2120
AMD Athlon II X4 760K

130USD or below -
AMD FX 6300
Intel i3-3220T
Intel i3-3225
AMD APU A10-5800K

180USD or below -
AMD FX 8320
Intel i5-3330
Intel i5-3350P

230USD or below -
Intel i5-3570k
Intel Xeon E3-1230 V2
Intel i5 4670K

350USD or below -
Intel i7-3770K
Intel i704820K
Intel i7-4770K

350USD+ -
Intel i7-4930K
Intel i7-4960X

Check out my other guides too -
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