In a previous Tech Tip, we gave an overview of the many basic things to look for in a CPU when choosing a computer. While that Tech Tip gave details about the subtle differences to look for with regards to CPUs, in this Tech Tip we will be looking at some of the specific processors offered today, their advantages and disadvantages, as well as clear up some of the confusion surrounding how to pick the right computer processor.
First, you need to know that both AMD and Intel (the “Big Two” in the processor world) segment their processors into three distinct groups: Value, Mainstream and Performance (or Enthusiast). Further, these three groups can be subdivided into their respective laptop and desktop groups. (Note: there is also a server group and even an ultra-value group, however in this Tech Tip; we will be concentrating on the two mainstream end-user groups of processors) It should be noted that there is a lot of cross-over within the groups in the processors core architecture as well as naming conventions.
Value Processor: Spend Wisely / Save Wisely
In the Value group of processors, we find that both Intel and AMD have very similar offerings. These are usually single core, low cache, low bus speed, low performance processors that appeal to the wise spender that is (hopefully) in all of us. These processors get the job done for most basic computer uses (such as e-mail, surfing the web and word processing) and are ideal for when a lot is not asked of the computer. Their major advantage? In a word: PRICE! If you plan to use the computer for these (and similar) basic computing tasks, and want to keep an eye on the pocketbook, then these may well be the perfect processors for you. But, be forewarned, sometimes the slowness of these processors can be maddening (especially with multi-tasking on a computer). In this segment, AMD offers the Sempron and Intel offers the Celeron (this is the same for both notebooks computers and desktop computers). Intel and AMD also offer dual core variants of these processors as well for a small power boost (for those interested on the ultra-value budget processor, the Intel Atom, please see our recent Tech Tip on Netbooks). Both of these processors will be very similar to each other in your overall computer experience.
Intel offers model numbers for their processors, and for Celeron processors, the higher the number, the better (see: Celeron processors and Intel® Processor Numbers and List_of_Intel_Celeron_microprocessors).
AMD rates the Semprons via either a performance index number or a letter-number combination, and (as on the Celeron) the higher the number the better (see AMD Sempron™ Processor for Desktop and Mobile AMD Sempron™ Processors and List_of_AMD_Sempron_microprocessors™).
Mainstream = Best of Both Worlds!
In the Mainstream group of processors, we also find some very fine processors that give you added power, but are still friendly to the pocketbook. Though still not ideal for many high-end gaming applications, they will give you added power when you need it and can handle multiple applications with ease. In this group, Intel makes the Pentium Dual Core and AMD the Athlon 64 X2. Both of these are dual core processors, work very well for everyday applications, and are pretty much equivalent to each other. While in the past, the Pentium and Athlon names were bestowed on the top of the line Intel and AMD processors, just remember that they are now considered their mainstream CPUs. As with the value processors, these names are used both for notebooks and desktop computers.
As with the Celeron, Intel offers model numbers for the Pentium Dual Core processors, and (similar to the Celeron processors), the higher the number, the better.
Intel Desktop Processors
List of Intel Pentium Dual-Core microprocessors
AMD rates the Athlon with either index numbers or letter-number combination model numbers. The higher the number and letter, the faster the processor.
AMD Athlon™ Processor Family
The AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor for Notebook PCs
List of AMD Athlon 64 microprocessors
List of AMD Athlon X2 microprocessors
Performance = POWER!!!
In the Performance (or Enthusiast) group of processors you find some very good and very fast processors that give you boatloads of computing power when you need it. In this group, you find the very well designed Intel Core 2 processors (for desktop and laptops), the just launched Intel Core i7 processors (for desktops), the AMD Turion (for laptops) and the AMD Phenom (for desktops). This group of processors handle games much better, and can also handle many applications that require more computing power (such as video editing and compiling). Unfortunately (for AMD) in this area, Intel almost always out performs AMD. The good news is that you will find the very good Turion and Phenom processors at a better price than Intel’s Core 2 or Core i7 processors. These processors come with two, three or four cores. Intel calls these either Duo (for two cores) or Quad (for four cores). As a side note: with Intel’s Core 2 processor, the two does NOT stand for the number of cores, but for this being the second generation Core processor, thus a two core processor will be called the Core 2 Duo while the four core processor will be called the Core 2 Quad. AMD makes things a little easier, simply having X2 (for dual core), X3 (for triple core) and X4 (for four cores) listed after the processors name. Up until the release of the Core i7, the Core 2 processor was one of the best all around consumer processors to get. The just introduced Core i7 group of processors are all four core with Hyper-threading (giving the processor eight virtual cores) and a totally revamped design. The long and short of this, as the preliminary reviews of this processor have confirmed, is that the Core i7 out performs and out distances itself from all the processors before it.
Core i7 Reviews:
For Core 2 processors, both the desktop and the laptop offer a letter/number model naming scheme. The various models and variants can be difficult to track and it may be worthwhile to have on hand a cheat sheet for checking out the differences between models (in this case, the higher the number is not always the faster processor)
For Core i7, this is currently a desktop only processor, and there are three models. This makes the decision very easy if you’re looking at getting the newest processor on the block. So, basically, depending on how much cash you’re willing to part with will determine which one you’d be getting. Intel will usually also tack an “Extreme Edition” onto the end of one of their premier processors as well to indicate the very best of the best to get.
For AMD, on the laptop, the Turion processor uses letter-number combination model numbers. The higher the letter/number combination, the faster the processor, with the Turion Ultra being the newest processor in the Turion line.
For the Phenom processors, it is usually the core number (X3 or X4) followed by a model number. The higher the cores and the model number, the faster the processor
As you can see, both AMD and Intel offer a variety of excellent processors to fit your various computing needs and budget. So whether you’re looking for a value processor, a mainstream processor, or a performer/enthusiast processor, this Tech Tip arms you with the proper information to go out and find that next AMD or Intel processor for your computing needs.