Know the facts about CPUs

Computer CPU (Central Processing Unit) or Processor is the brain of your computer. The CPU does all the processing; converting your data from 1s and 0s to human readable format and back to 1s and 0s. The CPU does NOT control the display and graphics processing. This is handled by the GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) which can be built into the CPU, part of the system board or part of an add-on graphics card. All computers have both a CPU and GPU, without the GPU you would not see anything on the screen.

About Intel Core i Series…
The i Series naming convention can cause confusion due to the many years of production. This can be a big gotcha on lower end computers as they may have an Intel Core i3 processor from 2+ years ago and a higher end computer may also have an Intel Core i3 processor but much newer, with the latter being a much faster processor.

Intel introduced the ‘i series’ CPU line back in 2010. That means an Intel Core i3 from 2010 and an Intel Core i3 from 2017 have the same name, but the speed difference between these two examples is HUGE. The number after is what really counts, the full CPU or processor name should show Intel Core i3-8100. The first number after i3 is the generation 8th generation being the latest as of late 2017. In my example above the 2010 model would be Intel Core i3-370 and the second example from 2017 would be an Intel Core i3-8100, with many models in between and many different models during the specific year. See the full list of Intel CPUs and release date here:

About Intel Atom…

Intel Atom CPUs are low power, low speed CPUs. These are perfect for firewalls, IoT devices, low end computers or battery powered devices since there power usage is much lower than the Core i series. There overall speed is drastically slower then the Intel Core i3. See the full list of Intel Atom CPUs and release date here:

Other Intel Processors…

Intel Pentium – Designed to go between the Celeron and i series. Could be seen as a mid level processor, most older computers used the Pentium style CPU, although still made today, you do not see these used as much.
Core M or Core Mobile – This is a step between the Celeron and i Series. The real benefit to the M series is it’s low voltage, thin design and low heat output. Making this the perfect processor for thin and mobile notebooks.
Intel Celeron – Similar to the Atom but slightly faster, these CPUs are designed for entry Level and portable devices. These processors are substantially slower then the Core i series.
Intel Xeon – Designed for Business and Server systems. Widely used in the server market, like the i series, the Xeon name has been used since 1998 so there are many iterations of this processor.

About AMD…
AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) is the leading competitor to Intel. Both companies are well respected, the primary reason for using one over the other is price. AMD’s latest CPUs have the same features as Intel’s, previous to the latest version hyper-threading was only an option with Intel based CPUs. Otherwise they are mostly the same. Since both companies are the leading competitors you will always find an IT technician that recommends one over the other. We will not get into this debate here.

AMD’s naming scheme is much more complex, with the Zen Core series being the latest. You can see the full list of CPUs and release date here:

More to add to the confusion. The speed in GHz listed (i.e. 3.20 Ghz) is not necessarily indicating one model is faster then another. As an example, you can find a 6th generation Core i3 that runs at about 3 Ghz and an 8th generation Intel Core i3 that runs about 3 Ghz, but the 8th generation Core i3 is about 30% faster and has two more processor cores.

Hyper-threading, HT, SMT? These terms essentially mean the same thing. Although different approaches. I will not get into the argument of which is better in this article. All these refer to using a CPU Core for two processes. In simple terms, if you have two windows open and a single core CPU with hyper-threading enabled, both would be requesting processing power at the same time. Without hyper-threading, one window could load, while the other waits for the processor to become available. Hyper-threading or HT is Intel’s version and Simultaneous multi-threading or SMT is AMD’s version and only available on their latest processors (Ryzen.) AMD did have a few previous processors that attempted to duplicate this but was not a true hyper-threading solution.

Cores? Not to be confused with hyper-threading, a CPU Core is a completely separate CPU processor built on the same chip. You can have a CPU with both cores and hyper-threading and most can run with or without hyper-threading enabled. There are situations where disabling hyper-threading can increase performance. Much longer story. Most recent CPUs have 2-4 cores with hyper-threading giving 4-8 total processes worked at the same time. For high end CPUs the number of cores can jump to over 20.

Still confused?  Need help sizing your next computer?  Contact us to learn more.