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Help choosing a CPU

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January 8, 2011 10:59:52 AM

Hello,

I'm thinking of getting a new laptop in the next couple of months. I haven't bought a computer in a while (the company always gave me one) and I feel a little lost (hyper-threading vs multi-core, etc).

Let me tell you what I use my computer for:

* Ubuntu Linux.

* No gaming at all. Not interested really.

* Many programs open: 10-30 chrome tabs (each is a different process), 2-6 terminals / consoles, 1 programming text editor, 1 LaTeX editor, 1-4 PDF files, and an instance of MATLAB or similar.

* Most of these programs don't require a lot of CPU individually. Some times I do run non-trivial programs with MATLAB and Fortran 95 for scientific computing. Mostly it's just annoying when I'm trying to explore a problem and I have to wait a couple of seconds every time I want to run my program with different parameters.

* My current computer is a Pentium Dual-Core T4200 @ 2.00GHz with 3 GB of RAM. It works just fine most of the time (so I'm not desperate to upgrade).


I use a laptop instead of a desktop because I like bringing my work home, and I just find laptops convenient for travel.


Based on this information, can anyone offer some guidance? For example, what s the value of hyper-threading or multiple cores in this context? A benchmark on GFLOPS would be relevant for my scientific work (MATLAB + Fortran 95).

Thanks for the help.

Cheers,
Daniel.

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January 8, 2011 1:58:00 PM

That's a very useful site. Thanks.
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January 9, 2011 4:27:58 PM

Budget: I guess about $1300 or so... haven't thought about it. But what I'm looking for is not a "just buy X". I want to better understand the pros and cons of the available features, like multiple cores vs clock.

For example, say I see three offers: One has an Athlon II x2 @ 2.2 GHz, another has an Athlon II x3 @ 1.8 GHz, and the last has a Phenom II x2 @ 1.8 GHz. The first offer has the highest clock, the second has one more core, and the third has the L3 cache. Which one is best? I have no idea.

And my example is simplified because I haven't introduced Intel processors, which I find much more confusing - Do I want Hyper Threading? How about Turbo Boost? At least the AMD CPUs only seem to vary by cores, clock and cache.
January 9, 2011 5:13:33 PM

@Dadiggle:

Thanks. I appreciate the effort. I think perhaps my post wasn't clear. I want to understand enough that I can make an educated decision myself. I like to understand what I buy. For example, I don't know why the two options you suggested would be good options for me.

I have a good idea of how much disk space I need (250 GB will do), as well as RAM (3-4 GB) and graphics card (any card will do). But when it comes to CPU I feel lost. I have to decide between one that has more L2 cache, or another with another core, or another with a higher clock speed. And then you have the Intel ones that also vary in features like Hyper Threading, Turbo Boost (whatever that is), and QuickPath.

I've heard that AMD generally has better bang for the buck, and I do feel less confused with their offerings, so I lean toward AMD. But I will happily consider Intel if I can understand what they offer.

Thank you for your time.

Daniel.
January 9, 2011 9:25:36 PM

@malmental:

Between having a third core and having the 6 MB L3 cache, what would you pick?
Would you rather have 2 cores at 2.2 GHz or 3 cores at 1.8 GHz?


I'm thinking that cache or fast cycles are more important when you have a single threade process going CPU crazy (e.g. a numerical simulation, or Chrome hitting a very nasty website). In turn, I'd guess that the best candidate for multiple cores is a properly multi-threaded process, like a well-designed graphics program or game.

Based on this, I think I lean toward cache or clock speed. But I'm really just guessing.
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