How to Choose A Server CPU

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Many businesses identify the critical need for a server or data center as one of their top requirements for their business to grow. This could come in the form of workstations, a data system, a website hosting platform, or any other number of uses.

Before embarking on any new server purchase, the first step is usually choosing a server CPU (Central Processing Unit) based on your tech needs. This decision is important because it impacts a critical performance element of the server and also limits how much memory the server can support.

But what are server CPUs and how do they differ from regular desktop CPUs? Your Central Processing Unit is a chipset on your Motherboard that interprets and executes instructions, processes data, and performs various tasks like running database queries, executing other programs, and processing web page requests.

How a desktop CPU differs from a commercial or enterprise-grade server CPU is important to know. The enterprise versions commonly operate at nearly 100% performance capacity all of the time and typically continue to do so for the life of the unit. Because of this, processors within servers use the very highest quality parts being manufactured at the time.

In this article, we'll outline how to choose the server CPU for your next project.

See Also: Our 5 Step Guide to Choosing the Perfect Server


Why is it important to know about motherboards? If the CPU is your server's brain, the motherboard is your computer's primary circuit board and acts as the heart and soul of your system. It houses the main tech components of your computational architecture, including your ram (L1, L2, L3 cache), your peripheral connectors (PCIe), input/output ports, socket, and other important components.

Every computer, whether desktop or enterprise has a motherboard, and its role is to facilitate communication amongst the various components that reside within its domain; storing and retrieving data, and performing computations necessary to support the software applications.

Among the components is the CPU.


Throughout this article, you will read references to a variety of critical components that make up your server, and one of the most important features is Clock Speed.

Clock Speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz) and the way to measure it is pretty simple, the higher the number, the faster the unit. Your processor will be computing calculations continuously and will process billions of bits of data per second. If you are running resource-intensive applications, you can expect very good responsiveness with higher clock speeds.


A multi-core processor is a computer processor on a single integrated circuit with two or more separate processing units called cores, each of which reads and executes program instructions. Having multiple cores speeds will increase your processing power. You may already be using an Intel core on your home computer.

The cores of the previous generation were relegated to a single core before big tech companies like Intel doubled the capacity with the dual-core (Core i3), then the quad-core (Core i5), then six-to-eight cores (Core i7) and now we have the multi-thread core (Core i9 - eighteen cores, and 35 threads).  In a multithreaded application, the threads share the resources of a single or multiple cores, which include the computing units, the CPU caches, and the translation lookaside buffer (TLB).

This is why in the past, say around the turn of the century (2000) you may recall when a program crashed, the entire computer crashed. One of the reasons was that the operating systems were less stable, but the CPU was also at fault, not having enough resources to process the information. With the processor only having a single core means that you can only run one application at a time. With multiple cores,  you can process multiple applications at a time.


If the core count is the physical number of cores on the chip itself, the thread count is the number of individual application threads that can be executed simultaneously on the CPU itself. Threads are similar to the number of cores.

A system's cache is used by the processor to increase the speed of access to the instructions and data between the processor and the RAM.

Intel Xeon Processors

Intel processors are the most popular on the planet, are used in both desktops and commercial grade servers and they come in a spectrum of models such as Xeon, Pentium, Core I7, Core I9, Celeron and, the x86. Each generation comes with a different name, and Intel happens to really like lakes. Some iterations are called Cascade Lake, Kaby Lake, Ice Lake, and Skylake, just to name a few.

Intel Xeon processors are currently available in a range of models and come in the following series: Xeon E, Xeon W, Xeon D and Xeon Scalable, each of which has been developed to handle varying workloads.

Intel first launched the Xeon processors in 1998 and has since become the defacto industry standard for commercial and military-grade servers, not to mention one of the most reliable series on the market. 

The Xeon Scalable Processors deserve a special mention as they represent a type of architecture that provides a reduced set of computing instructions for microprocessors, allowing for faster processing and a more dispersed data load, providing optimal performance.

Intel Xeon servers are feature-rich, these machines come with high-capacity turbo speeds and a minimum of 32 GB of memory.

What is the cost?

Now that you know your requirements, you can choose your server, understanding that the Xeon processors and servers are more expensive than Core, for the most part.

The lower-speed Intel Xeon E3, for example, is a lower-speed, web server with high energy efficiency. It's as affordable as some of the Core i5 processors, which are regular desktop-grade CPUs, and comes standard with a quad-core and advanced features. This makes it a good choice for some less resource-intensive tasks, such as media servers or e-commerce hosting, and great value for your money.

On the other end of the scale, take the Intel Xeon E5, a high-performance, multi-socket configuration support, and loaded with features. This is part of a family of mid-range commercial level x86 microprocessors, check one out here.

Renting a Xeon processor costs between $45/month and $320/month depending on the processor you select. Renting a processor is typically a much more economical decision for a business due to constantly improving server components and demand for server resources. Instead of buying a server CPU today and replacing it in a year or two, you can rent a server in a data center for a low monthly price and upgrade to a new server whenever your needs change. 

DOWNLOAD NOW: new server deployment checklist

Once you've ordered a new server, it's time to set it up and secure it. Find out each of the steps we recommend you take as soon as you launch a new server.

What factors should I consider when choosing a CPU?

Step by step:


Review Hardware Recommendations of Software

Compile a list of the primary software applications that you plan on running on the server and review the hardware recommendations that each developer presents on their website. This will provide a good starting point and some developers will identify a recommended CPU or clock speed for the software.

If the developer doesn't have any recommendations, use a search engine and forums to see what hardware other users are using.

If you are running more than one core application, make sure that your selected CPU has the resources to run all your applications.


Determine Number of Concurrent Users

CPU load will vary greatly depending on the number of concurrent users on the server. While one website may run on cPanel with a single 2.0GHz core, if you plan on hosting a thousand sites on one server, you will need to extrapolate the recommended CPU requirements accordingly.

If you have many users on a server, you may find it to be more economical to split the CPU load between several servers rather than try to fit all of your users on one server.


Consider Future Growth

Based on your current growth rate, you may have some idea how many concurrent users will need to be accommodated by the server in 3-6 months. Make sure to choose a CPU that can handle this growth unless you plan on adding more servers in the future to handle new users. While your decision on which CPU to choose is likely one of the most important, you will also want to look at other components when considering future growth. This includes items such as graphics processor, cache requirement (the L3 cache feeds the L2 cache, which feeds the L1 cache, which feeds the processor), the level of support you will require from your solutions provider, and price.


Speak to An Expert

If the previous steps haven't guided you towards a concrete CPU choice, you should consider booking a free server consultation. Our server experts help personal and business users choose the right server CPU for their needs every day. They will listen to your requirements and help you choose a server that will perform well for you based on your needs, combined with their years of experience. They will help you compare the various models within the series to ensure the right fit for you.

What is the best server CPU?

Since every project is unique, there is no one best server CPU. Review these descriptions of our popular dedicated server CPUs to find one that fits your needs and budget. Each of these systems come with a variety of features and all support ECC Memory.

Compare Intel Xeon Processors

intel xeon processor

Intel Xeon E3 1270 V3

The Xeon 1270v3 is the perfect budget processor. With 4 cores / 8 threads at 3.50 GHz, this processor features a CPU PassMark of 9916. This processor performs well on heavily threaded multi-core operations due to its higher clock speed. Intel Xeon Scalable, 1S only. Also includes 8 MB Intel's Smart Cache and max Turbo Frequency 3.90 GHz.

Ideal Uses: Web / VPN Hosting, Plex Servers

Price: $80.00

Processing Power
intel xeon processor e3 box

Intel Xeon E3 1270 V6

This 4 cores / 8 thread processor has a PassMark of 11184 with a clock speed of 3.80 GHz. It's the perfect modern processor for server requirements that require a high clock-speed and less than 64GB of RAM. Intel Xeon Scalable, 1S only. Also includes 8 MB Intel's Smart Cache and max Turbo Frequency 4.20

Ideal Uses: Web Hosting,  E-Commerce Sites

Price: $125.00

Processing Power
intel xeon processor d

Intel Xeon D-1540

The Xeon-D processor is ideal for applications that require a lower clock speed with a higher number of CPU cores. Featuring eight 2.0GHz cores and 16 threads, this processor has a PassMark of 10573. Intel Xeon Scalable, 1S only. Also includes 12 MB Cache and max Turbo Frequency 2.60 GHz.

Ideal Uses: Storage Servers, Database Hosting

Price: $105.00

Processing Power
intel xeon w processor

Intel Xeon W-2125

This processor has a PassMark of 12350. With 4 cores and 8 threads, this CPU has a high clock frequency of 4.00 GHz. This processor is ideal for memory-intensive applications due to increased memory bandwidth. Also includes 8.25 MB and max Turbo Frequency 4.50 GHz.

Ideal Uses:  Database Servers, Machine Learning

Price: $140

Processing Power
intel xeon blue box

Intel Xeon W-2145

With 8 cores and 16 threads at 3.70 GHz, this processor delivers an impressive PassMark of 19674. It is the perfect match for even the most demanding business analytics tasks. Intel Xeon Scalable, 1S only. Also includes 11 MB and max Turbo Frequency 4.50 GHz.

Ideal Uses: Game Servers, Machine Learning, Big Data

Price: $205

Processing Power
intel xeon e5-2697 server processor

Intel E5 2697 V2

This dual-processor server features two 12 core processors, delivering 24 cores and 48 threads at 2.7GHz. With a whopping passmark of 23323, this server delivers an incredible amount of CPU power to tackle even the most challenging computational loads. These servers were popular with crypto mining due to their immense processing power.
Intel Xeon Scalable, 2S only. Also includes 30 MB of Intel's Smart Cache and max Turbo Frequency 3.50 GHz. 

Ideal Uses: Big Data, Game Servers, Web Hosting

Price: $219

Processing Power
intel xeon silver inside icon

Intel Xeon Silver 4114

This processor is available in a dual-processor server, delivering a PassMark of 19397. With 20 cores at 2.2GHz, you can boost performance for your most demanding computational tasks in applications such as modeling and simulation, data analytics and machine learning, data compression, visualization and digital content creation.
Intel Xeon Scalable, 2S only. Also includes 13.75 MB L3 cache and max Turbo Frequency 3.00 GHz.

Ideal Uses: Modelling and Simulation, Big Data

Price: $295

Processing Power

Now that you are a pro when it comes to choosing a CPU for your server, you can begin your search. Renting a server and CPU can be more economical and avoids costly updates as new and improved tech becomes available.  There is a range of CPUs to choose from based on your requirements, whether you are processing graphics at a workstation, mining crypto, or simply require a gaming system, the brand we often recommend is Intel. You can visit our Xeon W Processor Comparison page here.

Need Help Choosing A CPU?

We hope that this article has helped in your decision-making process.

Our server experts have decades of experience choosing the right server processor for every project. Book a free, no-obligation consultation and we'll prepare a custom quote for your needs and budget.

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