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PC Vs CPU: What’s The Difference?

When I was growing up, I’d hear people use PC and CPU interchangeably. However, once I started hanging around with nerdier friends looking for every opportunity to roast me, I quickly found out that these are not the same.

So, what exactly is the difference between PC and CPU, and how do the two relate to each other?

What Is The Difference Between PC And CPU?

A PC is the encapsulation of all of the hardware and components that make up a computer. This includes the case, hard drives, graphics processing unit, and even the CPU (central processing unit). The CPU is one specific component in a PC that processes information and sends signals to every other component.

Many people refer to the computer / PC itself as the CPU, but this is a common misconception. The CPU is a part of the PC, and an extremely important part at that.

The CPU can be thought of as the brain of the computer. It is a tiny chip that is plugged into the motherboard.

Everytime you click a button, launch a game, etc this CPU will take the information, process it, and tell every other part of your PC what it should do. That’s why it is commonly referred to as the brains of the computer.

PC, on the other hand, is just a generic term for computers. PC just stands for “personal computer”.

Some people may use PC to refer to computers that are running the Windows Operating System, but technically Macs, Linux, etc are all PCs as long as they’re computers.

Does A PC Require A CPU?

A PC does require a CPU in order to run and function. The CPU is the brain of a computer and without it, a computer wouldn’t even be able to boot let alone run the complex programs of the modern world. A CPU doesn’t always mean a modern microprocessor, but a CPU is always necessary for a computer to work.

There’s no two ways around it, a CPU is one of the two most important parts of a PC. The other important part being the motherboard.

CPU stands for “Central Processing Unit”, which means it is the place where all data gets processed. If your PC cannot process data, it cannot run. It would be harder than trying to make a human walk around without a brain.

The small CPU chips that almost all modern computers use is called a microprocessor. It is actually possible to build computers that do not require these microprocessors.

However, those computers will still have a CPU, it will just be much different than what we use nowadays.

First Computer (Image via Computer Hope)

For example, take a look at the first ever computer. It’s a giant room full of machines, pipes, and wires. That computer still has a CPU, even if it isn’t as tiny and convenient as the one we use nowadays.

Is CPU Or RAM More Important?

The CPU is more important than RAM since it is practically the brain of the computer. Computers need both RAM and a CPU to work properly, but without the CPU, a computer wouldn’t even boot. However, these two components go hand in hand and one can easily bottleneck the other if it’s significantly worse.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the CPU is the most important part in a PC. It handles literally everything that you do.

With that being said, your CPU relies on having enough RAM to work, so you need both components to be up to par with eachother.

For example, when I was first building my gaming PC, I went all in on a GPU and CPU, while settling for about 4 GB (you read that right) of RAM.

This was a terrible mistake, and caused many games to lag terribly, despite my GPU and CPU being much better than the recommended specs.

The CPU works by reading and writing data to RAM. Think of the CPU as a mad scientist building something great (aka processing a video game).

The scientist needs a big enough desk (RAM) to store all of their tools and materials. Sure, a smarter scientist is going to work better than a dumb one, but there’s only so much they can do when they only have enough room for a couple of tools.

Is A Laptop A PC?

Laptops are technically PCs, since PC just stands for “personal computer”, and can encapsulate literally any kind of computer (yes, even Macs). However there are many people that use the term PC strictly to refer to desktop computers. Despite the technicality, many people do not refer to Macs as PCs.

Since PC means “personal computer”, you can refer to a laptop, Mac, etc as a PC but many people don’t. Generally speaking, if someone says they have a PC, they’re talking about a standard desktop computer, with a tower, external monitors, etc.

However, there are plenty of people out there that will refer to their laptop as a PC, but it’s not as common as just saying laptop.

Is A Mac A PC?

A Mac is technically a PC, but most people prefer to differentiate Mac computers from Linux and Windows computers by not calling Macs PCs. PC just stands for “personal computer”, and Macs are personal computers. Still, if someone says PC, they’re probably talking about a Windows or Linux computer.

I’ll be honest, this all pretty much comes down to marketing. Apple wanted their Macs to stand out from IBM computers, so they called them Macs. IBM wanted the same, so they called their computers PCs. In the end though, both are personal computers and therefore technically PCs.

Best CPUs

Which CPU is best for you will depend on your budget and your motherboard. Remember, motherboards are only compatible with AMD or Intel processors, so make sure you know which one fits in your motherboard before buying.

Here are some good middle-of-the-road CPUs to use in your next build:

Intel Core i5-11400F (Best Intel Processor)

6 Cores is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to processors. You can go bigger, but you shouldn’t really aim for less unless you need to (budget reasons). Intel makes fantastic processors, and the i5 series is amazing. The 11400F is one of the best bang for your buck processors out there. You can get a more powerful processor, but you can expect to pay quite a bit more for diminishing returns.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600 (Best AMD Processor)

The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 has a CPU speed of 4.2 GHz, which is extremely fast for the price. For comparison, the Intel i5-11400F has a CPU speed of 2.6 GHz. This processor also has 6 cores and 12 threads, meaning it can handle just about anything you throw at it. This is my favorite processor, and the best part is that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

👋 Hey There, I'm Eric!

Since 2018, I've been making streams come true.

I like gaming, streaming and watching other people stream. I created this website to help streamers, viewers, and gamers answer questions they have regarding live streaming, gaming, and PCs. I am a Twitch affiliate and currently stream on Twitch 3 days a week. I also have a Youtube channel where I make videos about streaming. I hope you find my content helpful. Feel free to stop by one of my streams to say hi.