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Author Topic: How to understand all the Intel chip types?  (Read 6423 times)

superboyac

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How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« on: September 15, 2010, 08:59:10 PM »
In my shopping for laptops and tablets, I am becoming increasingly confused by the chip types and what they mean.  Intel is who i'm talking about, but I'm sure AMD is guilty as well.  I'm sure they are doing this on purpose, but that's not the point right now.  I just want someone to clearly explain all the types and differences.  Either eloqeuntly with words, or maybe there are some cool graphics or matrix-type visual guides out there.

Much of this revolves around the question of "which chip is better"?  It's obvious that quad-core is better than duo-core.  But a bunch of terms are being mixed up and intertwined together.  it's hard to know if a particular laptop is better than another.  Again, if it's like i3 and i7, that's easy.  But there's the "i"s, the cores, Atom, Mobile, Centrino, frequency (Hz), etc.  What's going on here?  What is Core 2 Duo??  Does it have two cores?  Why is there both "2" and the word "Duo"?  Is it version 2 of the "core" model line?  What is the equivalent AMD type?

Profit by confusion seems to be the MO for most of these gadgets and doo-dads these days.  There must be something very profitable about not allowing the consumer to really know what you are getting.  The electronics/computer industry is quickly going the way of mattresses.  Nobody here can look at two mattresses in a store and say what is different about the two.  Nobody.  No matter what the display sign says, you will never know.  Comfort-Plus tells me nothing about what the mattress is made of.  They're so bad, you can't find the info even on the manufacturer's website.  My favorite quote is from a guy who used to work in a mattress manufacturing facility, and it went something like:
Quote
"We could literally hide an entire bicycle inside of a mattress and you would never know."

I think computer parts are moving that way also.  If us geeks weren't so on top of the technology, and if we didn't have a strong PC culture of DIY computers, I can almost guarantee you that the manufacturer's would attempt to blur the detailed information of their components even more than they are trying to now.

Anyway, so who has some good explanations or visuals?

techidave

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2010, 04:37:04 AM »
I am with you superboyac.  While shopping recently for laptops for school I have come across this very thing.  it is very confusing to compare them.


Eóin

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2010, 05:05:32 AM »
The i's are the ones to go for. i3 is entry, i5 for powerusers and i7 mainly aimed at server/HPC.

Core 2 was an older architecture, while the Duo means dual core. There were also Core 2 Quads.

Atoms are for lowpower applications such as netbooks, Centrino's are more powerful and geared towards laptops.

It's a bit confusing alright, but wikipedia is very helpful.

superboyac

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2010, 09:09:48 AM »
It's a bit confusing alright, but wikipedia is very helpful.
I know how to research and how to use Wikipedia.  But isn't there a nice visual explaining all of this somewhere?  There must some simple way to makes sense of it all without having to read pages of stuff and figure it out yourself.

f0dder

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2010, 11:18:01 AM »
It's confusing indeed, but you can't really make a single universally easy to understand rating scheme... gigahertz doesn't tell you much about performance, and using some performance rating instead would just get the companies to focus on getting the highest performance for a synthetic benchmark. There's also stuff like power efficiency to count in.

I'm sure it could all be done less confusing than it is now, though.
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superboyac

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2010, 11:31:54 AM »
It's confusing indeed, but you can't really make a single universally easy to understand rating scheme... gigahertz doesn't tell you much about performance, and using some performance rating instead would just get the companies to focus on getting the highest performance for a synthetic benchmark. There's also stuff like power efficiency to count in.

I'm sure it could all be done less confusing than it is now, though.
I understand.  But there must be some kind of comparison matrix or something out there.  Am I really the first person to ask for something like this?  There must be some guide to choosing chips.

Ampa

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2010, 11:42:52 AM »
It's not quite as user friendly as it could be, but CPU benchmark is a useful guide to CPU processing power taken, I believe, from multiple benchmarks of real systems.

It will not, however, help much beyond that - ie. no info about compatibility, power usage, CPU features etc.

superboyac

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2010, 11:52:10 AM »
It's not quite as user friendly as it could be, but CPU benchmark is a useful guide to CPU processing power taken, I believe, from multiple benchmarks of real systems.

It will not, however, help much beyond that - ie. no info about compatibility, power usage, CPU features etc.
That's actually pretty good!  At least it's a list structured on some kind of quantitative performance.  It doesn't help me understand the nomenclature, but it's very useful nonetheless.  Thanks!

Edvard

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2010, 08:47:18 PM »
Oy, Superboy! You've nailed the most frustrating question I have had to deal with in the last few months.
The last time I went to Best Buy, they had little placards explaining generally where on a scale any given processor was.
Very helpful for my son who had finally saved up the money for a laptop of his very own (and got a pretty good deal, too).
Then, I went shopping online for a laptop for myself, and not only was overwhelmed with all the different choices, but it seems they go to great lengths to hide the facts about lower-end processors.
They'll even making outright contradictory statements like "loaded with the latest high-performance Sempron...".
It took me two hours of searching to find out Sempron is the low-end budget brand.
Ugh.

JavaJones

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #9 on: November 15, 2010, 03:30:04 AM »
UGH. The Intel CPU naming system is pretty much the most f****d it's ever been. If it were just i3, i5, i7 in that order it'd be great. Theoretically it is, actually. But in reality Intel appears to contradict the rules of their own naming schemes constantly. There are i5s that are well faster than i7s, for example. Or dual core i7s when they were all supposed to be quad. It really must be deliberate, but I'm not entirely sure why. But then I'm not a multi-billion dollar company, so I guess I just wouldn't understand. I try though, I do want to understand why it makes economic sense, quite aside from my frustration about it not making *consumer* sense. I don't like that reality, but I feel like it'd be easier to stomach if I understood the business case for it. But inciting consumer confusion doesn't really seem like a solid business plan to me.

Another thing that bugs me. The whole "Ghz doesn't mean anything anymore". Yeah, sorry, that's kind of BS. It still means a lot. You just can't try to compare across CPU architectures. Fortunately there are only 2-4 (maybe 6 at max) different fundamental architectures at a given time, and most of the time there are only 2 in any given price/performance bracket that you'll be looking at anyway. Not coincidentally, these are almost always the different CPU architectures of the major CPU manufacturers in competition: Intel and AMD. So yes, Intel's Ghz is not equivalent to AMDs Ghz as far as *work done per Ghz*, but within the same family Ghz is a pretty clear and consistent measure of *performance*, with a few modifications.

For the most part all you need to do is multiply the speed of the CPU by the number of physical cores. That will give you a pretty darn good idea of actual performance. So an Intel i7 860 at 2.8Ghz with 4 physical cores could be thought of as a "4x2.8Ghz=11.2Ghz" CPU. Accurate in a technical sense? No, not at all. But it does communicate the *amount* of work it can do at once, relative to other chips with the same architecture.

Now 2 things can complicate this, but neither actually has such a huge impact on performance that it really throws off the scale enough to invalidat it. One is "hyperthreading", which effectively allows instructions to be submitted to additional "virtual" cores and does increase performance from 5-15% or so on average. Some i-series CPUs have it, some don't. Those that do are more performant, at least on multithreaded tasks. But again those CPUs with more actual threads and higher actual Ghz will be faster anyway. The other thing is "turboboost", the ability for the CPU to clock itself up under single threaded tasks. This again does not necessarily have a huge impact, though it depends on the user's app mix. Granted many things are still single threaded so A: faster single-core speeds will matter more than more cores, and B: CPUs with turboboost could actually make a difference. But fortunately as a general rule CPUs with turboboost are already higher on the performance scale and the straight Ghz measure should suffice. There are plenty of exceptions to this, but it's still worthwhile paying attention to Ghz, and the idea that processor clock speeds should be totally ignored is rather silly as it's still the main factor in performance.

As I said this doesn't work for comparison between processor architectures, particularly across Intel and AMD. For that you need actual benchmarks anyway because there's no way you'll ever figure it out just looking at spec sheets. For the most part all you need to know these days is that Intel's architectures are more efficient, so generally speaking a given Ghz on an Intel CPU will be more powerful than the same on an AMD CPU. The opposite used to be true back in the days of the original Athlon and P4s, but the tables have turned (and may turn again, but the rule of thumb will probably still be easily deduced).

So long story short, don't bother trying to understand every model # and feature. Just look at CPU speed (Ghz) and number of cores and multiply. That's *if* you do multithreaded work (any graphics app, more and more games, and many other apps, even web browsers are increasingly multithreaded). Otherwise the max speed of a single core is the most important figure. And, as I said, Intel is higher performance per Ghz.

Anyway wasn't the Windows Performance Index supposed to help with all this BS? Why don't we see those scores advertised with new PCs at this point? I always figured that was the eventual goal...

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techidave

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #10 on: November 15, 2010, 04:56:41 AM »
Don't you just miss the Pentium structure?  P4 2.8 is faster than a 2.6 etc..   :D

f0dder

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #11 on: November 15, 2010, 05:06:59 AM »
Don't you just miss the Pentium structure?  P4 2.8 is faster than a 2.6 etc..   :D
...but was a P4 2.8 GHz faster than an Athlon64 2.4 GHz? Also, keep in mind that not all chips branded "Pentium 4" are the original P4 core type, afaik.
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superboyac

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #12 on: November 15, 2010, 08:50:26 AM »
JavaJones dropping some epics lately!
Thanks, that's a good way to think about it.  I'll be using that.

rgdot

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #13 on: November 15, 2010, 08:52:38 AM »
Just buy the most expensive one in the shop and be done with it  :P

PS I agree, the naming is confusing. I definitely saw i5s in the market before i3s so it really does have to do with sneaky marketing too.

Stoic Joker

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2010, 11:32:55 AM »
Anyway wasn't the Windows Performance Index supposed to help with all this BS? Why don't we see those scores advertised with new PCs at this point?

I'd love to know that one myself. But if you look at the WPI of most budget (or business) Win7 machines (frequently 3 or less) it's probably too hard to sell/explain why machine X doesn't really totally suck because the slow part (which sets the score...) isn't really relevant/detrimental to the required application/intended usage.

rssapphire

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #15 on: November 15, 2010, 01:04:46 PM »
But if you look at the WPI of most budget (or business) Win7 machines (frequently 3 or less) it's probably too hard to sell/explain why machine X doesn't really totally suck because the slow part (which sets the score...) isn't really relevant/detrimental to the required application/intended usage.

I very carefully selected a budget machine last January as I needed a lot of processing bang for the buck ($400 in this case). The WEI is only 3.2 because the lowest score (Gaming Graphics) is 3.2. I don't do games on this machine. I do work. Its full scores are: Processor: 6.3; Memory: 7.1, Graphics 3.5, Gaming Graphics: 3.2, Disk: 5.9. Average business graphics/poor gaming graphics, but LOTS of power for the buck in what matters to me. Drop out the graphics and the WEI is 5.9. As the biggest graphics stress on this machine on an average day is the aero-stuff on the desktop or occasional use of Photoshop to edit pictures, this is fine by me. However, officially the machine is a lowly 3.2 because it's not a system the average gamer would want.  As you point out, the WEI thing is helpful but only if you know what you want to use the box for and you understand you have to look at the subscores and ignore the single number. How many people in the general computer buying public are going to know to do that?
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Stoic Joker

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #16 on: November 15, 2010, 01:44:56 PM »
How many people in the general computer buying public are going to know to do that?

On an average to good day assuming they all brought their "educated" friends along I'd say about 4.

But seriously...

I spec'ed the business machine I'm using here at work about 3 or so years ago (for the XP->Vista transition) and it's a 3.0. For the same reason as you - I skimped on the video because it wasn't necessary. Next lowest item is the (AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 3800+) CPU at 4.7. Only time it ever lags is if I run 2 VPCs at the same time...But running 3 OSs on 2GB of RAM is a lot to ask of the poor thing.

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #17 on: November 15, 2010, 09:05:30 PM »
The WEI on my Inspiron 15 is 3.4 -- but I love the laptop.  It's responsive.  Never had it show notable lag.

JavaJones

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Re: How to understand all the Intel chip types?
« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2010, 03:35:25 AM »
Yeah, I never quite got the "slowest piece sets the score" thing. Granted your slowest hardware could greatly influence your overall performance, depending on what you use your system for (e.g. if you don't do gaming, a slow graphics card may not matter much, though see recent trends with GPU acceleration of common web browsing for some caveats...). I do think though that the individual scores, particularly CPU, could still be valuable.

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