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What’s in a processor? Choosing the right one for your needs

September 19, 2022
Read Time 5 mins

What’s in a processor? Choosing the right one for your needs

Anyone looking to buy a new computer or laptop wants to make sure they buy the perfect machine for their needs - one that is the right size, offers the best performance and promises reliable connectivity. However, this can be a confusing task due to the plethora of offerings on the market, each insisting that they are the best machine that money can buy.

According to Andre Wollheim, Product Manager at Tarsus Distribution, the most critical factor to consider when making any decision about a new PC, is the central processing unit, or CPU. “Without a CPU a computer could not run. Think of it as the brain of a machine, one which contains all the circuitry and wiring needed to process input, store information, carry out commands, and suchlike. The processor is continually following a slew of instructions from computer programs that tell it which data to process and how to process it.”

For anyone with a bit of tech knowledge, Intel’s 12th Generation CPU range is the only way to go, and it’s important to remember that Intel is the leader of the CPU market, and debuted its first processors 16 years ago, and many generations of processors have come and gone during this time.  However, understanding the difference between the chip giant’s core processors can be a pretty daunting task. In a nutshell, the processor determines how fast a machine runs along with its ability to handle multiple tasks at the same time. When choosing which machine to buy, the main factors to take into consideration are the number of cores the processor has, its cache size, hyper-threading (an Intel innovation that enables multiple threads to run on each core, meaning more work can be done in parallel), and Turbo Boost Technology Graphics. All of these factors will help you understand the magnitude of power it can generate. Then, of course, it’s important to consider the job it’s expected to do, and of course naturally the price.

Intel’s new range has the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7, and users need to determine which is the most compatible with their particular needs. So, what is the difference between the three? Is the higher price tag worth owning a CPU with a greater number of cores, a faster clock speed or advanced innovations such as hyper-threading? Putting it in the most simple way, the higher the number, the better the performance, so for the most part, Core i7 CPUs are better than the majority of Core i5 CPUs, which are in turn better than most Core i3 CPUs.

When looking to buy a new PC, the first thing you need to remember, is that the i3, i5, and i7 are indicative of their relative processing power, and the numbers have nothing to do with the number of cores each CPU contains, or the speed of each one, Wollheim explains. The Core i5 does not have five cores, nor the i7, seven. The particular family any Intel Core CPU falls under, is rather based on a range of criteria involving the number of cores in each, the clock speed, and the cache size as mentioned. In addition, its important to consider how many of Intel’s ground-breaking technologies have been integrated into each, as these have a significant impact too. For example, the Core i7 is far more likely to feature hyper-threading and Turbo Boost Graphics than the i3.

At its core level, the 3, 5, or 7 only indicate where each class of processor sits in relation to each other, and give users an idea of the level of performance that can be expected of each. The Intel Core i3 provides the right amount of performance for basic tasks, while the Intel Core i5 offers really good performance for most tasks. The Intel Core i7, on the other hand, provides truly excellent performance for even the most demanding of tasks, he adds.

Another way in which the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 processors can also be grouped, is in terms of the devices they are specifically built for. Some were designed for laptops, others for desktop PCs, and others for the highest-end gaming machines or computers used by high-end graphics users. Wattage is a major differentiator here too, since CPUs inside mobile devices generally have to make do with quite a lot less power. There are cases where the difference in specs and performance for desktop and laptop versions of the i5 and i7 CPUs can be fairly dramatic, but this isn’t always the case.

“As we said earlier, although the number of cores inside each Intel Core CPU isn’t the be-all and end-all, the more cores there are, the more tasks, otherwise known as threads, can be handled at any given time. In this way, a computer with a higher core count is going to be far more effective for tasks where multi-threading is crucial, such as Web servers, Web browsers, and certain games. Although this isn’t set in stone, one is more likely to find fewer cores in a Core i3 than in a Core i5 or i7. There are a couple of exceptions, but for the most part, the majority of Core i3 CPUs only have two cores, because these processors were designed to come in at a lower price point, rather than offer the best performance money can buy. These are the processors that are found inside computers aimed at those with limited budgets, who want an affordable machine, that still offers excellent performance for the average user.”

Naturally, Intel’s Core i5 processors are quite a bit more powerful than their i3 siblings. This is due in part to faster average clock speeds, and in part to extra cores. Having an additional number of cores means these i5 processors are able to handle more threads at once and faster clock speeds, which translates into being able to complete tasks more efficiently. “In the past, the Intel Core i5 processors were built with up to four cores, but Intel has upped its game, and now has up to six cores in many of the i5 range,” Wollheim comments.

Last, but certainly not least, Intel’s Core i7 CPUs also offer faster average clock speeds as well as a higher number of cores, with the top-of-the-range family featuring up to eight cores, and clock speeds of up to 3.6Ghz, which is extremely powerful. Clock speed is what determines how quickly the central processing unit can retrieve and interpret instructions. This helps the PC complete more tasks by getting them done more quickly. However, although a higher clock speed is better, due to thermal factors, processors that feature a higher number of cores, generally operate at a lower clock speed, leaving users to sacrifice one for the other.

“It’s also important to remember that while faster is certainly better, it’s not always necessary, and therefore it is key to understand your real computing needs instead of just jumping on the ‘bigger is better’ bandwagon,” he says. “Faster cores might well be more efficient than slower ones, but they might not actually be better for the jobs you need your machine to excel at. Certain apps run only single threads, and others were built to use many of them, such as gaming and video rendering. Here, having more cores is better than having faster ones. Instead of wasting money needlessly on a CPU with the fastest clock speed, think about the speed you really need to do the job you need to do.”

Either way, Intel has a CPU to meet every need. It sets the industry standard for processor innovation and performance, and is the power behind laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones, workstations, and servers in every industry, and for business and personal use. From immersive gaming, content creation, IoT, artificial intelligence, and more, Tarsus Distribution can help you explore the range of options best suited to your unique needs.

For assistance in choosing the right processor for your business needs, contact us today.


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