Processor types

The processor in a computer is the brain where most processes are initiated. Some factors must be considered when identifying a good desktop processor. Keep in mind that a faster central processing unit (CPU) will help surf web pages, edit photos faster, and even work on spreadsheets. On the other hand, a high wattage processor will have the downside of poor battery life.

The majority of computers and laptops are powered by an Intel CPU with the name of the processor prominently displayed on the product. The CPU model name will indicate the speed of the machine, but it must have a context. What do you need to do with the laptop or desktop? The requirements for a computer used for simple web surfing and everyday tasks are markedly different from those of a computer used for gaming or video editing.

Understanding CPU Model Name

The confusing mix of numbers and letters actually makes a lot of sense. The brand name of the processor will start such as Intel Core, AMD Ryzen or AMD FX. Following the brand name is the modifier which can be i3, i5, i7, i9, E, N, m5 or x5. For the Intel processors, the number immediately after the hyphen denotes generation such as 7 or 8 for 7th generation and 8th generation. The combination of two or three numbers after that indicates the particular SKU and the single letter (U, H, HK, or Y) will denote the processor line. For AMD processors, AMD Ryzen 5 compares and competes with Intel Core i5U and the same is true for AMD Ryzen 7 and Core i7U processors.

Important Processor Specs

Any processor will have its unique set of characteristics that make it ideal for a specific operating system.

  • Cores: A core is best described as the processor within a processor. Most computers have a dual core, whereas the high performance machines have a quad core. The new 8th generation processors – core i5 and core i7 – have four cores. A core will work on a discrete task while other cores perform other tasks.
  • Hyper-Threading: This refers to the process whereby a CPU will split a physical core into virtual cores called threads. The dual core machines use hyper-threading to offer four threads while quad core provides eight threads.
  • Clock Speed: Refers to the number of cycles that a processor can execute. Clock speed is measured in gigahertz and is one factor considered when evaluating server processor speed.
  • Turbo Boost: Some processors are made available with turbo boost. The turbo boost temporarily increases clock speed to help in faster completion of a task. Intel Core i5 and i7 processors have the GHz turbo boost feature and will have max turbo frequency.
  • Cache: Refers to the small amount of RAM on the CPU that stores frequently used information to aid in speedy completion of tasks. Most processors will have anything between 1 and 4MB of cache.
  • Thermal Design Power (TDP): TDP is the amount of watts a processor uses. More watts are synonymous with better performance but have the downside of greater power consumption and higher temperature.

Intel Core vs AMD Ryzen

The Intel and AMD debate still persists. AMD processors are no longer associated with poor performance and budget systems. The new Ryzen Mobile platform compares very well with the Intel core i5 and i7 processors.

Generations and Processor Lines

Intel will have a new processor generation every 12 to 18 months for faster and power efficient performance. Not all processor lines are migrated into the new generation architecture at the same time. The most recent architectures are the Kaby Lake Refresh, Ice Lake, and Comet Lake that are available across different but not all processor lines.

When picking a processor to build your system, choose the right processor line rather than just picking a core i7 over a core i5 or core i3. Intel processors are available in four main lines under which you get a set of core i3s, i5s, i7s, and i9s. Each line has different TDP ranging from 4.5 to 45 watts. The Y series is the lowest rising to the H series. Towards the top of the range are the Intel Xeon processors with vPro technology for high end workstations used for engineering, professional animation and research.


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