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The Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The processor or CPU is arguably the most important component of your computer. It is the main chip involved in every calculations needed for any electronic device to function. This little bit of genious calculates all the outputs you are expecting a computer to do.
Not only can it calculate Excel spreadsheet results, but it also directs what every other component in the computer does. Therefore, it also connects you to the internet, translates web pages to your screen and makes video game graphics possible. And at all times, it makes the operating system work from boot to shutdown, including the updates.
With all of the CPU choices on the market today, it's not always easy to know what technical specifications too look for in a modern CPU. This is exactly why we wrote this article! We hope to help you maximise your next investment by knowing exactly which aspects to look for. Here is what we will be covering in this article:
- Power consumption
- Integrated graphics
CPU vs GPU Rendering
With all of that, you won't be surprised to know that a CPU is also the single most critical component involved in the rendering of 3D images. Rendering is the final step of producing the final images of a 3D film and it's extremely time-consuming. The CPU almost single handedly determines the rendering speed of most render engines. And most render engines still rely heavily on the CPU for calculations
However, these days you can find a few render engines that are optimized to render on modern video cards (GPU). There are also a few newer hybrid engines using both, which seem very promising.
In any case, a good CPU will always be useful at any step of graphic-intensive work, from smooth operations quick manipulation of media content. Take good care in selecting a quality CPU, because the rest of the components (ram, motherboard) are only there to support it's good operations. You should select the processor first when determining your next computer purchase, as it will guide the rest of the component-selection process.
What to Look?
1. Number of Cores
This one of the main two specs that is clearly advertised and most important. The number of cores is like having multiple processors in one. So you should look for a CPU with as much cores of the highest clock speed as possible.
For 3D renderings, you should definitely go with at least a quad-core or better. There can be up to 32 cores distributed on two processors, in professional systems of today.
2. Speed (in GHz)
The second equally important aspect of a CPU is it's speed. All other factors being equal, speed is as important as the number of cores. In fact, they are mostly communicating vases, because each characteristic compete for the same space on the chip. The real important comparison factor is the multiplication of speed by the number of cores. Read more below.
As long as you have at least 4 cores, you should privilege speed over more cores. For example, an eight-core 2Ghz processor is not as good as a quad core 4Ghz. Additionnally, try to find a CPU with at least 3Ghz or better.
This is because occasionally, the raw speed is more important than the number of cores. Indeed, there are still a few operations that can only be performed only on the first core of a CPU. And it is especially true of older applications, but also in some more recent applications as well. There are often modern simulation operations that cannot be parallelized, because they can only be performed one after the other.
3. L3 Cache (in Mb)
L3 cache is the fastest and most important cache to your processor's rendering power. Even before the RAM memory has to be used for rendering, the L3 can be used for storing small elements with no delay in access time. In fact, it is the closest kind of memory to your CPU, after the L1 and L2. Unfortunately, this setting is also often hidden away in the 'advances specifications' between other numbers. You must absolutely find a CPU with as much L3 cache memory as you can. 8 Mb is the absolute minimum, 12 Mb is better, 16 Mb is ideal, 30Mb is really great!
Remember that the L3 memory is split between the number of cores, so the more core you have, the more L3 you will need. Do not forget to check this technical spec, as it is very, very important, and too often overlooked. It also contributes to varying prices in otherwise similar-looking processors.
Hyper-threading doubles the amount of cores available by splitting each core into two halves. This is a feature specific of the Intel i7 series that you don't necessarily need for 3D rendering, especially if you have already 4 cores. If you're tight on a budget, a i5 series will be just as good in every aspect, except the hyper-thread.
If you decide to use hyper-threading, make sure your speed is at least 3 Ghz. Remember that it will also split the first core, that is often the only used for some processes. You' ll be reassured to know that you can always disable this function in the bios of i7 processors.
5. Power Consumption (in W)
The wattage of your computer is very important as it will determine the heat produced overall. This will influence the size of PSU needed and the CPU fans needed to cool it. The energy consumed will also have an impact on your electricity bill, but not as much as the GPU does.
6. Integrated Video Acceleration
For 3D work, make sure the CPU does not have an integrated video card. Indeed, you will need to have a dedicated GPU one to work properly in a 3D software.
The integrated graphics take valuable space on the CPU that could be used for more processing power. The integrated graphics will also become deactivated once you install a separate graphics card. It also uses part of the internal CPU memory and RAM to allocate ressources for the processing of video graphics. Finally, it may even interfere with the drivers of the dedicated video card.
7. Price ($ USD)
If you're on a tight budget, you shouldn't expect to spend any less than 250$ for a decent processor. Otherwise, you will not be able to make 3D computer graphics with enough speed and quality to be able to do present anything. There is a minimum level of computing power needed to will allow you to create almost anything you can imagine in a believable way. Don't test the limits of human patience, they don't compare to render times.
But for an optimal CPUs at a good price ratio, you should expect to spend between 300$ to 400$. Try to catch them on regular sale, during the times of the year when sellers are fiercely battling for the best deals. The key to finding the right price for a CPU is to aim at the bottom of the mid-to-high range, right before the prices increase exponentially.
More info on our article about finding the best prices in electronics.
More About Processors
These other components are also very influential in how your chosen CPU will perform. You will need a good motherboard, RAM and CPU fan to get the most out of your computer processor. The speed of the motherboard and RAM will limit the speed of the computer and the CPU fan will allow the cooling to maximise performance.
Click on any of our article below for more information on each component that is inter-dependent with the CPU. Or take a look at our complete components guide.
Compare all CPU performances and prices here:
Go to the 'computer hardware' table of contents:
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