A CPU is a most recognizable part of a modern PC. Even someone who is not an expert in hardware is, for sure, aware of the existence of processors. But to compare CPUs, both by performance and power efficiency is a far greater challenge. In this text, we will explain some details about CPU's: their terminology, names, and how to compare them.
First, the easy part. Today, there are only two PC CPU vendors: Intel and AMD, both American companies. They have competed against each other for decades, but for about 10 years now, since the premiere of Intel Core 2 Duo in 2006, Intel is in the lead. That's why we will cover only Intel's CPUs in this text. At the moment, Intel has a few families of processors on the market. Some are only made for mobile use and some for mobile and desktop. Let's look at them, and see what the difference is.
Intel Atom – It's the weakest in Intel’s CPU family, at least as it comes to performance. They are not built for setting records in benchmarks, but to be extremely power-efficient. That's why we can find them in tablets or even smartphones. There are some cheap laptops with Intel’s Atom inside, but the performance of those CPU's is not enough for modern-day computing.
Intel Celeron – Since its premiere in 1998, the Celeron family was always a budget and less-efficient version of the more powerful CPU family– starting with Pentium, of course. Even now, when the Pentium family has been pushed down by newer Core i CPU's, Celerons are still under the Pentium line. They can be found in budget-class laptops, nettops, and even tablets.
Intel Pentium – Probably the most known processor's name of all time. When it came to the market in 1993, the first Pentium processor had, in fact, no real competitor. For many years, it has been a flagship of Intel’s fleet. In 2006, the Pentium line disappeared, to come back later in mid-2007, but not as a high-end CPU, but as a budget processor, a low-cost version of the more powerful Intel Core 2 Duo. Then, 10 years later, in 2017, Core 2 Duo's are history, but Pentiums are still here, as a budget version of Core i3 CPU's. How does the current Pentium differ from Intel Core i3/i5/i7? It mostly depends on the generation of CPU's, which we cover in detail in another text. Modern Pentium CPU's are not efficient enough to be good processors for more advanced use, such as gaming or video editing. However, they are a good choice for office work.
Intel Core i3 – It's the cheapest of the Intel Core family, but also has a quite wide variety of CPU models. We can find a mobile, ultra-low-voltage Core i3, as well as desktop variants, and even a single Core i3-7350K, a CPU with an overclocking potential. Similar to modern Pentium CPU's, the Core i3 CPU’s are dual core processors. Until the premiere of the latest 7th generation Core, the main difference was the lack of Hyper Threading technology in the Pentium family. The main difference between Core i3 and the more expensive Core i5 is the Turbo Boost technology in the Core i5. Turbo Boost is very effective, especially in gaming, that's why we don't really recommend Core i3 to players. We'll explain more about that technology in an article focused on Intel CPU's technologies.
Intel Core i5 – It's the family of CPU's that are the first on the Intel's ladder, which we can describe as “good for gaming”. Similar to i3's, there are a wide range of models. Some of the Core i5’s are much closer in efficiency to Core i7's, especially the mobile, low-voltage CPU's that are only slightly better than Core i3’s. Core i5 can be both mobile and desktop, and come as dual core (mobile, power-efficient variants) and quad core (desktop and more powerful mobile models). There are even overclocking-friendly models of i5's – with unlocked multipliers. All Core i5's have a common link with i7's technology – Turbo Boost. It's no secret that Turbo Boost gives extra power when needed, that's why these CPU's are useful in gaming. So if you're looking for a modern, efficient CPU for gaming, you should start with the Core i5 family.
Intel Core i7 – it is the flagship of Intel's fleet. Since November 2008, when the first Core i7 was introduced, it is a popular choice of users in need of power and efficiency. Most of the modern Core i7's are quad core CPU's, but there are some dual core (mobile), hexa (6) core, octa (8) core and even deca (10) core models. The most popular i7's are technically close to Core i5's quad core with Turbo Boost technology. In addition, the mobile quad core i5's lack the Hyper Threading technology included in the Core i7’s. The i7 family is the best choice for gaming players.
There is another very specific branch of Intel CPU's – Xeon. But those extremely powerful processors are not made for typical users, or even gamers. These are CPUs that we can see mostly in servers or workstations – which need a lot of multitasking power.
Another thing that is noteworthy is that the mobile and desktop CPUs, even though they can be similar in names, are not exactly the same. Desktop processors usually have more performance, but the mobile CPUs are much better in energy-efficiency. When it comes to gaming, the key is performance; so desktop CPU's rule here. Therefore, it is a great idea to have a desktop CPU in a laptop. But, as you may already know, it's not as easy as it sounds. Fortunately, there are some high-end gaming laptops that can handle desktop CPUs.So, which CPU should you choose? It's not an easy question, if you have a limited budget. If you can afford it– the answer is simple – get the desktop Core i7. You'll get a lot of high quality performance, as much as you will ever need in a laptop. If you are buying a computer on a more limited budget, you might consider buying the mobile i7 or i5. For a player buying a laptop with even a slightly less efficient CPU, better, purchasing a more powerful graphics card is usually a good deal. If you want to know more about CPUs for gamers, check out our article in that topic.