Which CPU is Best for Your System ?

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Which CPU is Best for Your System ?

A computer’s processor is its brain . A faster CPU (central processing unit) lets you crunch spreadsheets, surf web pages faster, play games or edit photos faster, but a higher-wattage processor may also give you worse battery life.

What makes a processor the best? Some would say it’s the price tag, and if money were no object this might hold weight. Others suggest that it’s the number of cores or overclockability that determine how high a particular central processing unit (CPU) ranks in a price/performance chart.

Intel’s Core i chips are a super-strong brand found on the majority of laptops, but how do you know what you’re actually buying? We bust Intel’s jargon.

TLDR; Which CPU Do I Need?

We detail all the different CPU types and their capabilities below, but if you just want the broad strokes, we’ve got a small cheat sheet below.

PurposeRecommended CPUSample SKUsTypical Battery Life
Workstation / GamingCore i5 / i7 HQ SeriesCore i7-7820HK, Core i5-7440HQ3 to 8 hours
Everyday Productivity w/ a BoostCore i7 U SeriesCore i7-7500U, Core i7-8550U5 to 17 hours
Everyday ProductivityCore i5 U SeriesCore i5-7200U, Core i5-8250U5 to 17  hours
Super Thin (Mediocre Performance)Core m / Core i5 / i7 Y SeriesCore m3, Core i5-7Y545 to 9 hours
Budget Laptops, Low PerformanceCeleron, PentiumCeleron N3050, Pentium N42004 to 6 hours
Super Cheap, Worst PerformanceAtom SeriesAtom Z3735F, Atom x3, Atom x57 to 12 hours

 

How to Read a CPU Model Name

When you’re glancing at spec sheets, the name of the processor has a confusing jumble of numbers and letters.

Core i3 vs Core i5 vs Core i7

Most Intel CPUs you’ll see on laptops that cost over $400 are branded as Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7. As the numbering suggests, Core i3 is the slowest, i5 is in the middle and i7 is fastest. Usually, the i5 model is more than adequate for a regular, everyday user who is not doing intensive graphics work, engineering / science or gaming.

7th Gen Core or 8th Gen Core?

In August 2017, Intel announced its latest CPU platform, which is known as 8th Gen Core or “Kaby Lake Refresh.” The new chips promise a 40 percent increase in performance over the the 7th Gen “Kaby Lake” processors that power most laptops today. They also move the most common processor line, the U series, from dual-core to quad-core, which should improve multitasking.


CPU Specs: Cores, Hyper-Threading, Clock Speed

When you read about any individual CPU model, you’ll see that, just like the laptop it powers, it has a complete set of specs. The most important specs are these:

  • Cores:  The processor within a processor, a Core is capable of working on one discrete task while the other core(s) does something else. Most laptop CPUs have two cores, but some of the higher-performance models have four cores. With 8th Gen Core, mainstream Core i5 and Core i7 laptops will now have four cores also.
  • Hyper-Threading: A process where the CPU splits each physical Core into virtual Cores called threads. Most of Intel’s dual-core CPUs use hyper-threading to provide four threads while its quad-core CPUs provide eight threads.
  • Clock Speed: Measured in gigahertz, this is the number of cycles per second that the CPU can execute. A higher number is better, but this is far from the only factor in processor speed.
  • Turbo Boost: Temporarily raises the clock speed from its base frequency to a higher one in order to complete a task more quickly. Most Core i5 and i7 CPUs have this feature, but Core i3 models do not. The default frequency is listed as “processor base frequency” while the highest frequency is listed as “max turbo frequency.”
  • Cache: A small amount of RAM that lives directly on the CPU die, the cache stores frequently used information to speed up repetitive tasks. Most CPUs have between 1 and 4MB of cache.
  • TDP (Thermal Design Power): The amount of watts the CPU uses. More watts means better performance, but higher temperatures and greater power consumption.
  • vPro: A built-in remote management feature that’s designed for corporate IT departments. Many business laptops have CPUs with vPro, but consumer systems do not.

  • AMD Ryzen 7 1800X

Finally! A worth rival to Intel’s best

Processor Cores: 8 |
Thermal Design Power: 95W |
Clock Speed: 3.6GHz |
Processor Socket: AM4 |
Cache: 20.8MB |


  • Intel Core i3-7100

Heavy lifting on the cheap

Processor Cores: 2 |
Thermal Design Power: 51W |
Graphics Controller: Intel HD Graphics 630 |
Clock Speed: 3.9GHz |
Processor Socket: LGA 1151 |
L2 Cache: 3MB |


  • AMD Ryzen 7 1700

The cheapest Ryzen chip around

Processor Cores: 8 |
Thermal Design Power: 65W |
Clock Speed: 3.0GHz |
Processor Socket: AM4 |
Cache: 20.8MB |


  • Intel Pentium G4560

Kabylake on a budget

Processor Cores: 2 |
Thermal Design Power: 54W |
Graphics Controller: Intel HD Graphics 610 |
Clock Speed: 3.5GHz |
Processor Socket: FCLGA1151 |
L2 Cache: 3MB |


  • Intel Core i7-7700K

This quad-core one’s a bit different

Processor Cores: 4 |
Thermal Design Power: 91W |
Graphics Controller: Intel HD Graphics 630 |
Clock Speed: 4.2GHz |
Processor Socket: LGA 1151 |
L2 Cache: 8MB |


  • Intel Core i5-7500

Expect this to be a best seller

Processor Cores: 4 |
Thermal Design Power: 65W |
Graphics Controller: Intel HD Graphics 630 |
Clock Speed: 3.54Hz |
Processor Socket: LGA 1151 |
L2 Cache: 6MB |


  • AMD Athlon x4-860K

Ideal for upgrading an existing AMD rig

Processor Cores: 4 |
Thermal Design Power: 95W |
Graphics Controller: None |
Clock Speed: 3.7GHz |
Processor Socket: FM2+ |
L2 Cache: 4MB |


  • Intel Xeon E5-2660

Best for tinkerers

Processor cores: 8 |
Thermal Design Power: 115W |
Graphics Controller: None |
Clockspeed: 2.2GHz |
Processor socket: FCLGA1011 |
Cache: 20MB |

Conclusion

Intel’s processor line-up is far from simple. Desktop chips are perhaps more logical than laptop processors, but for both you should look beyond the Core i branding and check number of cores, clock speed and Hyper-Threading to truly understand what sort of power you should be expecting.


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