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by Dan Lhotka

Last month I posted an article discussing how to pick out a new computer. So let’s begin the promised deeper discussions of the various hardware components mentioned in said article.  The first component of significance is the CPU or central processing unit.  Many many people refer to their entire desktop as the “CPU” which is understandable as the actual CPU pretty much drives all the functions of your computer.  It is what allows the operating system to run all your programs.  But in reality the CPU is a small gizmo of silicon and gold (yes there is gold in your computer) that acts like your computer’s brain.  And like our human brain the CPU uses electric signals to tell the other computer components to do things.  It’s pretty cool actually.

But unlike humans who only have one brand of brain – squishy – CPUs have two:  Intel or AMD.  So the question facing most new computer shoppers is “which brand is better?”  Frankly it’s not an easy choice.  Intel has more brand recognition and better performance.  But you pay a lot more for that slight edge.  AMD is more of an underdog – their CPUs come close to matching Intel’s performance but just fall a little short.

And for the average home user that performance difference does not negate the significant price difference.  The AMD CPU will usually save you about $200 over its Intel match.  Yeah that is a lot of savings for a home computer.  But here’s the kicker – Intel CPUs are more efficient at what they do.  This does not mean they run your computer better – it means they take less energy to perform functions and generate less heat.  Which translates to less wear and tear on your computer as whole.  Remember that computer life span I discussed in previous article?  Intel CPUs contribute to a longer life span for your computer.  AMD CPUs run very hot inside your computer which degrades the motherboard, the hard drives, the power supply, and the network/component cards.

Now we’re back to the question of what you do on your computer – if you use your home computer in short bursts then the AMD CPU isn’t going to be much of a problem and you can put those dollars you saved in the bank.  But if you like to spend a couple hours a day taking care of your personal business and surfing the Internet then ultimately the AMD CPU is going to cost you computer life.  Which means another big purchase is closer than you were expecting.

It’s a matter of upfront cost vs. long term cost.  AMD is cheaper up front but more expensive long term.  Intel is more expensive up front but cheaper over the long run.  Let’s break that down a little.  Let’s say you buy a new desktop with an Intel CPU for $1200 that you use for 4 years.  That’s a per day cost of $.82.  Now let’s say you buy a desktop with an AMD CPU for $1000 and try to use it for 4 years.  But in year 3 the motherboard and power supply finally died so you wound up just buying another new computer for $1000.  So to get to 4 years of computer usage – you had to drop $2000 or $1.37 per day.  That’s a difference of $200 per year!  Which is exactly what you thought you were saving yourself with the AMD CPU.

Well let’s end on a positive note.  I’m not saying AMD CPUs are bad – they are very good performers for most of the home computers out there.  Again the best thing you can do for yourself is figure out how you want to use your new computer and then weigh it against the information I’m providing.  In any case I’ll be posting additional articles soon!

Dan Lhotka
About Dan Lhotka