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How powerful does a CPU need to be?


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#1 jaypeecee

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 06:40 AM

Hi Folks,

Well, I'm not sure if I've started this thread in the right forum. It's not specifically about hardware inside my PCs. And it's about hardware plus software. So, here goes...

As software is improved over time (regardless of what it does), it seems to me that it progressively places greater and greater demands on the CPU. No surprises there, then. But, how does an end-user (like me) gauge what CPU will be up to the task in hand? Software companies will generally specify system requirements but I often find that these fall way short of the mark. A quick look at a few products would suggest that software companies only specify the minimum operating frequency of the CPU, e.g. 500MHz - and that's it!

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

JPC

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#2 Baltboy

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 09:33 AM

AS you said it is mostly a judgement call based on the builders experience. Requirements listed by the software makers are the minimum required to run the program......they just don't tell you it will not run it really well or fast. I base my CPU selections on the the OS being used, the programs being used, and what it is used most for. For the average user who does office apps and surfs the web a nice dual core works very well since most of the apps they use aren't multithreaded. For gamers a high end quad core is good since only a few games are really multithreaded clock spped is the most important factor. For the few people that do more intensive things like video, picture, or music editing then the highest clock speed with the most cores if the prefered method since many of the applications are heavily multithreaded a huge performance gain can be obtained by using more cores.

As a side note to this CPU power is only one small aspect of computer performance. If you have insufficent memory and a small outdated hard drive your performance will suffer severly. For 32 bit OS's I recommend 4 GB of memory (and yes I understand it can not address it all) for optimum performance. For 64 bit OS's as much as you can afford :thumbsup:
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#3 hamluis

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 09:58 AM

My two cents :thumbsup:...

Generally speaking...software considerations are not important in deciding what system/components to purchase, except in certain areas (notably, gaming). Unless the hardware is very old (it's usually equal to the task).

Example: The P4 generation of CPUs...can run most software that a current user has installed, with no problem. Some users of XP have it installed on PIII systems and don't seem to have problems with it or the applications they use. PIIIs would fit into that 500mhz you mentioned :flowers:.

The biggest area of difference, IMO, lies in the amount of RAM today's systems have installed. Where some older systems had minimum (256-512MB) RAM installed, we know believe/know that those systems run better with 2GB of RAM. A system purchased today will probably come with at least 3GB of RAM, maybe 4GB.

Although software isn't may not be very important (IMO). the choice of operating system is important. Your observation about systems requiring more CPU cycles...I would amend that by saying that the O/S of choice requires more RAM. For a reason. Today's O/S is asked to do things that any previous O/S was not expected to do, both in terms of security and in terms of entertainment. RAM provides this capability.

When I look at systems in anticipation of purchasing...the first thing I ask myself is..."why do I want a new system?" and the answer has nothing to do with the inability of my current system to do anything that I do on my systems (I have 3). The components still work, just as they did the day before I decided I might want a new system. The answer I come up with...I just want something new because I can afford it and I think it's reasonably priced...is probably done more out of curiosity than anything else. I never buy components/systems when they are initially promoted. I go back as far as 2 years ago...take a look at all the verbiage promoting this or that...say to myself "this is newer than my current system"...and elect to spend the money :trumpet:. I'm not a sucker for the "latest/greatest" hype and I don't game. I already know that all of my software works on a system that is technically interior to any that I anticipate buying. I buy it for the same reason that some prefer to buy new clothes, a new car, new furniture, etc.

The one thing I will say...it's easy to be confused by all the hype...and it takes time to learn to wade through touted specs that really have no meaning for the average user of a computer system. But there is plenty of information available...which is not designed to lead to today's sale...Google or an appropriate search engine can be used to help navigate those waters.

<<A quick look at a few products would suggest that software companies only specify the minimum operating frequency of the CPU, e.g. 500MHz - and that's it!>>

That...just emphasizes my premise...that it's not software that drives the purchase...unless you game or do something truly extraordinary with your system. The typical home user buys a system that can do much more than is asked when purchased...the mistake that I believe many home users make...is that they pretend that this system is supposed to last forever, in a technological space that changes weekly, if not daily, as manufacturers look for new ways...to sell their stock in trade.

Today's systems/components which are being pushed...will be cheaper and less desired by the public...with a year or two...as new products supplant those getting the limelight today. The products will still be good as far as quality is concerned...but something will have come along that's touted to be "better" and many consumers will believe it.

If you don't edit video...if you don't game...if you are not impatient...those minimums set by software developers really work, provided you have the maximum amount of RAM installed which the system/motherboard supports. That's why they are listed as "minimums."

Louis

#4 jaypeecee

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 10:52 AM

Hi Folks,

Just wanted to quickly say thanks for the thought-provoking replies. I'll get back to you - probably tomorrow - as I have an appointment to attend very shortly and will be away from my PC for a few hours. I'm particularly drawn to the comment about the Pentium 4 as that's the CPU inside the very machine on which I'm now typing. And it appears to be struggling with some applications. More to follow...

I'll be back!

Thanks again.

JPC

#5 jaypeecee

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 05:20 AM

Example: The P4 generation of CPUs...can run most software that a current user has installed, with no problem. Some users of XP have it installed on PIII systems and don't seem to have problems with it or the applications they use. PIIIs would fit into that 500mhz you mentioned :thumbsup:.

Louis

Hi Louis,

As I said above, I have a Pentium 4 1800MHz inside the machine I'm now using. But it doesn't seem to be able to cope with current software. The most notable example is dBpoweramp, which I use for CD ripping and MP3 encoding. On several albums, the CPU temperature has reached 64C. I believe the absolute maximum temperature that the Pentium 4 can sustain is 77C. At low CPU usage (<10%), P4 temperature is around 40C. I also participate in the World Community Grid (WCG), which raises the CPU temperature to around 52C.

I also have a problem when using Skype, which causes the CPU to run at 100% a lot of the time. I have rarely been able to make a reliable audio + video call using Skype. The broadband connection at each end of the link meets Skype's requirements. According to Skype's System Requirements for the CPU, "You'll also need.....and a PC with at least a 1.8 GHz processor". Oh yeah!

So, my conclusion is that this PC with its Pentium 4 has served me well for many years but that an upgrade is essential if I am to reliably run much of the current software.

BTW, OS is Windows XP Pro SP3 and I have 1GB RAM installed.

Any comments would be most welcome.

JPC

#6 jaypeecee

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 05:28 AM

For the average user who does office apps and surfs the web a nice dual core works very well since most of the apps they use aren't multithreaded. For gamers a high end quad core is good since only a few games are really multithreaded clock spped is the most important factor. For the few people that do more intensive things like video, picture, or music editing then the highest clock speed with the most cores if the prefered method since many of the applications are heavily multithreaded a huge performance gain can be obtained by using more cores.

Hi Baltboy,

Many thanks for the feedback.

Would you care to explain what is meant by 'multithreaded'?

JPC

#7 hamluis

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 11:02 AM

Heat issues...are cooling problems, not necessarily an indication that the CPU is working too hard, IMO. I would buy/replace the CPU heatsink/fan before I thought that a new CPU would solve such.

1GB of RAM...is a limitation, I would go to 2GB (if that's the max supported). There should be a noticeable performance difference.

Your conclusions may be valid...I would have drawn different conclusions, based on my limited experience.

Louis

#8 ilikesoldat

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 01:32 PM

Hey, if this offers any help, you can get this 3.0 ghz P4 processor I found on amazon for like 30 bucks with shipping either refurbished or used. If you are worrying about the cost this would be a cheap alternative since you don't need to actually pay for a new motherboard to support that dual or quad core processor, and then buying ram to work with the new motherboard. It would definitely cut down your CPU usage when you're on Skype.

Also, you might think about just adding some RAM because sometimes when you are running many programs your RAM gets used up and the CPU tries to compensate for it wasting CPU usage.. that is if you have slots left, because if they're taken up its not really worth getting rid of the RAM currently in your computer

But you know, that would just be short term since eventually as new software comes out within the course of a few years you will need a better cpu... but hey I think its pretty cheap so if you decide to stay with your old computer you might as well buy the CPU

http://www.amazon.com/Intel-Pentium-3-0GHz...2346&sr=1-1

Edited by ilikesoldat, 19 August 2010 - 01:34 PM.


#9 MrBruce1959

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 02:53 PM

I have read through this thread and find most of the replies here very informational and very useful, this in my opinion has so far created an excellent thread, where many great minds have come together to support the views of the other members. :thumbsup:

Hamluis I read your post above and found your views to agree with mine. So your two cents was well spent.

Baltboy, I have read a lot of your posts in this forum and have always liked your views, opinions and advice. I agree with you regarding multi-threading and upgrading to a better processor.

I will put your quote in quotation marks here "As a side note to this CPU power is only one small aspect of computer performance. If you have sufficient memory and a small outdated hard drive your performance will suffer severely. For 32 bit OS's I recommend 4 GB of memory (and yes I understand it can not address it all) for optimum performance. For 64 bit OS's as much as you can afford"

I agree with this quote and think you are 100% with your recommendations, those do play a major factor in the computer hardware area. Those will increase a computers ability to multitask programs more efficiently, because this is often expected from a computer as well as gaming.

I just wanted to pop in here and say to those who have contributed to this topic so far that this topic has some very good minds contributing to it so far, very informative. IMO

Keep up the good work guys!

Bruce.

Edited by MrBruce1959, 20 August 2010 - 01:27 PM.

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#10 jaypeecee

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 06:57 AM

Heat issues...are cooling problems, not necessarily an indication that the CPU is working too hard, IMO. I would buy/replace the CPU heatsink/fan before I thought that a new CPU would solve such.

1GB of RAM...is a limitation, I would go to 2GB (if that's the max supported). There should be a noticeable performance difference.

Your conclusions may be valid...I would have drawn different conclusions, based on my limited experience.

Louis

Hi Louis,

Thanks for your comments.

Point taken about heat issues. But the problem with Skype forcing CPU usage frequently to 100% illustrates my concern about the Pentium 4 1800MHz not being up to the job. Another example may be in order. I recently switched to Norton Internet Security (NIS) 2010 and, when I first start my PC, there is one NIS process that uses up typically 96% CPU for several minutes. Trying to start any other applications at the same time is hopeless. Firefox gives up the ghost and even low-load Task Manager takes 20 seconds to start. Again, that suggests my current CPU is past its 'use by date'. Wouldn't a more recent, more powerful CPU do a better job of handling applications like NIS 2010 and Skype? Presumably the CPU load at power-up would be far less than 96% in the case of NIS?

I fully agree with your comment about 1GB RAM being a limitation. Some time ago, I tried to increase it to 1.5GB* (3 x 512MB sticks) but I got lots of memory errors. It came to light when carrying out disk imaging. I ran memtest and, sure enough, there were errors aplenty. I came to the conclusion that my MOBO (Asus P4S333) could not reliably support 1.5GB. So, I was left with 1GB and the errors went away.

* EDIT: This sentence previously read "tried to increase it to 2GB...".

JPC

Edited by jaypeecee, 20 August 2010 - 10:55 AM.


#11 jaypeecee

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 07:07 AM

ilikesoldat & Bruce,

Many thanks for your comments, which are greatly appreciated.

JPC

#12 s1lents0ul

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 09:04 AM

Your Mobo supports more RAM, but is very picky, take a look.

User guide

page 2-11

From my experience, the Processor can only do that which is has resources for, trying to use one core on a multi-threaded application with minimal RAM, will get you nothing but aggrivated.

Multi-Threaded means, Applications which take advantage of the Processors Multiple Cores, using each one seperately for different tasks within its application to greatly increase speed and performance of that application, capable of rendering things much faster then before. Applications are now made with that ability to greatly increase its performance and speed up the heavy end users tasks.

A processor at 100% doesnt mean it has to run at its heat limit, properly cooled, it can run much cooler. Stock heat sinks in older models hardly ever do a proper job when running the CPU at full force.

Upgrading the amount of RAM available will lower the CPU usage and provide your system to act more quickly and effeciently, every time.

Example : I had a system with 256mb of ram with a 1.8ghz procesor, trying to run AIM with a Video chat, my system constantly RAN at 100% CPU and close to max RAM usage. On start up i had it loading with only 63mb of RAM Xp SP2. This was before SP3 came about. I upgraded to the 1GB it could have, and now it was running much faster. I saw the same results in my next system, 512mb RAm with a 1.8ghz processor, upgraded to 2GB that it could handle, and watched the Magic again. CPU usage wasnt as high and speed greatly increased. These were only single -core systems, about 4 years old and 6 years old, but they ran just fine.

I want to build a Gaming Rig so i have something that can power house, i really want to try out Battle Field BC2 on PC and maybe Modern Warfare 2. I play them on X-BOX but ive always been much better at the Pc versions, idk why. Until then, i know the system i have currently can still manage what im currently doing, and dont find it necessary to spend money on something for one purpose when it can be used for so much more.
==]--s1lents0ul-->

#13 jaypeecee

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 11:20 AM

Your Mobo supports more RAM, but is very picky, take a look.

User guide

page 2-11

From my experience, the Processor can only do that which is has resources for, trying to use one core on a multi-threaded application with minimal RAM, will get you nothing but aggrivated.

Multi-Threaded means, Applications which take advantage of the Processors Multiple Cores, using each one seperately for different tasks within its application to greatly increase speed and performance of that application, capable of rendering things much faster then before. Applications are now made with that ability to greatly increase its performance and speed up the heavy end users tasks.

A processor at 100% doesnt mean it has to run at its heat limit, properly cooled, it can run much cooler. Stock heat sinks in older models hardly ever do a proper job when running the CPU at full force.

Upgrading the amount of RAM available will lower the CPU usage and provide your system to act more quickly and effeciently, every time.

Example : I had a system with 256mb of ram with a 1.8ghz procesor, trying to run AIM with a Video chat, my system constantly RAN at 100% CPU and close to max RAM usage. On start up i had it loading with only 63mb of RAM Xp SP2. This was before SP3 came about. I upgraded to the 1GB it could have, and now it was running much faster. I saw the same results in my next system, 512mb RAm with a 1.8ghz processor, upgraded to 2GB that it could handle, and watched the Magic again. CPU usage wasnt as high and speed greatly increased. These were only single -core systems, about 4 years old and 6 years old, but they ran just fine.

I want to build a Gaming Rig so i have something that can power house, i really want to try out Battle Field BC2 on PC and maybe Modern Warfare 2. I play them on X-BOX but ive always been much better at the Pc versions, idk why. Until then, i know the system i have currently can still manage what im currently doing, and dont find it necessary to spend money on something for one purpose when it can be used for so much more.

Hi s1lents0ul,

Thanks for the feedback.

I appreciate the link to the P4S333 MOBO User Manual as my hard copy is somewhere in the house but I know not where! Seeing that manual reminded me that I didn't try 2GB but just 1.5GB and that's why I have edited my post above. Also note that, according to the Qualified Vendors List, the most RAM the MOBO will accept is 768MB! At the time of increasing the RAM, I did refer to the ASUS website but there were no other RAM sticks listed. So, I guess I was pushing the boat out with a whole 1GB!

Also, thanks for explaining multithreading very clearly.

So, given that I'm limited to 1GB with a Pentium 4 1800MHz and applications that it struggles with, surely I'd have more joy with a new PC based on an Intel Core i3 or i5 and 4GB RAM or more if I go to 64-bit? It's not that I've got money to throw away but I've had my present machine for (I think) eight years and it's had an awful lot of service during that time.

JPC

#14 s1lents0ul

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 12:56 PM

The recommended time frame of a comuter needing to be replaced to keep up with the current tech, is roughly 3 years, at least thats what best buy suggests. Im a computer sales assoc. there. I dont agree if you arent really using the newest tech all the time, but if you want to get the best experience of the newer software and what not, thats what the sugggest.

If your interested, the difference between I3 and I5, roughly, are as follows:

All Core "i" series CPU enable the HD graphics for screen resolution with at least 720p with the on board GPU.

The i3 series are Dual-Core, and have "Hyper Threading" Technology, which splits each core, Virtually, into two more, for a total of 4 Cores. Essentially giving you quad - core processing with only 2 physical cores.

The i5 series come Dual and Quad-Core, With Hyper Threading, Giveing you either 4 or 8 Cores. The difference between the i-5 and i-7 from the i-3 is that the 5 and 7 have another technology called turbo-boost. This boosts each core of the CPU by .133 mhz, depending on how many idle cores(not being used). A 2.2 ghz CPU with software using only one core, would get boosted to 2.33, 2.46, 2.59. and so on, although im not sure how many times it gets that boost, i believe its for how many inactive cores there are. So you get something similiar to Over Clocking on the Fly with those two series of Processors. so a quad using one core would get 3 boosts, or if using 2 cores of a quad, get one boost each. (Someone please verify...)

The i-7 is the only CPU with up to 6 Cores, and yes it does use hyper threading to make another 6 virtual cores for 12 total. The i7-930 i found to be the most bang for the buck, its about 300$ and its 2.8ghz to start quad core, so 8 really, and its easy to Over clock and i have seen amny reviews on it from newegg of people having it at 4.0ghz, so there are major advantages. FYI the 6 core 980 is about 1000$ so u can see why i think the 930 is a good compromise...

Another FYI..

Only 64bit OS can see more then 4gb of RAM, and many newer MOBO support up to 24gb of RAM so something to think about also.
Hope this helps
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#15 s1lents0ul

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 01:03 PM

I appreciate the link to the P4S333 MOBO User Manual as my hard copy is somewhere in the house but I know not where! Seeing that manual reminded me that I didn't try 2GB but just 1.5GB and that's why I have edited my post above. Also note that, according to the Qualified Vendors List, the most RAM the MOBO will accept is 768MB! At the time of increasing the RAM, I did refer to the ASUS website but there were no other RAM sticks listed. So, I guess I was pushing the boat out with a whole 1GB!


Yes the Tested Vendor Ram was only up to 256, but that doesnt mean other sticks wont work as long as they fit the specs listed right above where you seen that little note. those are just the sticks they tested and KNOW 100% will work. You can have up to 3gb of ram in your setup, look into it. these days 1gb sticks arent that expensive, and much cheaper then a new systemf or sure, if your surrent system is operating fine, perhaps this would be a better solution for you.
==]--s1lents0ul-->




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