With so many new processors for laptops and desktops coming to the market, people are getting confused about the basic differences between the various models and therefore are also unable to decide which processor suits their need the best. As a result their purchase decision is often made keeping only the cost factor in mind. This article provides a small laptop processor comparison.
The latest processors from Intel are the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7. From these names, most people incorrectly assume that core i7 has the highest performance and is the best processor for a computer. However, in reality, processors within the same category (i3, i5 or i7) have different performance and features, making them suitable for different uses. Some processors are built for use in desktops and others for laptops.
In this article I will try to explain the differences between various models of Intel Core processors used in laptops. But before I go further let us try to first understand the most commonly used concepts in laptop processor comparison.
Thermal Design Power(TDP)
A major difference between desktops and laptops is that desktops have huge heat sinks and are fitted with fans to cool them. Due to size limitations it is practically impossible to fit all these in a laptop and with the size of laptops decreasing by the day the task is not getting any easier. Therefore laptop processors are designed to consume less power so that the laptop remains cooler, allowing the battery to last longer.
So here we learn the first important term – Thermal Design Power or TDP measures the amount of wattage a cooling system of the laptop requires to dissipate the heat generated by the processor. The lower the TDP, lower is the heat generated by the processor and cooler is the laptop.
The other important point to consider is the number of cores(CPUs) a processor has. For the layman, a CPU is the brain behind the computer. The faster is the CPU, faster is the response time of the computer. Technological limitations however do not allow the CPU to go over a speed of 4GHz at which huge amount of heat is generated. Therefore processor manufacturers like Intel and AMD packed more CPUs into the machine(dual core = 2 CPU and quad core = 4 CPU) to increase the performance.
In order to linearly increase the system performance with the number of cores, it is also important to use software applications that can use the multi-core functionality like Adobe Photoshop and many computer games. For traditional applications there will be no noticeable difference in speed even when using a multi core system. So for people who use more of Photoshop, a multi core processor is a must. Operating Systems like Windows 7 have also been modified to fully take advantage of multi core and many applications are being modified to work efficiently with multi-core systems. So it is advisable and better to buy a dual core processor for most users but for users fond of computer games etc. a quad core processor is beneficial.
The other important term that is thrown around is the Cache Memory. One can think of the cache as a substitute for short term memory. Whatever is stored in the short term memory can be easily and speedily recalled without having to make an effort of thinking and retrieving it from the long term memory. The larger the short term memory, better the response time of the system. So higher is the processor cache, better is the processor performance.
TDP, multi-core and cache are general terms which can be used to compare all types of processors. But there are some Intel specific terms which are necessary to compare Intel processors like Turbo Boost and Hyper-threading.
Turbo Boost functionality is a technology improvement from Intel that increases the clock speed of a CPU when the user demands a higher performance and when no electrical and thermal limitation of the system is reached. The clock speed is increased at regular intervals till the maximum performance for all the active cores in the system is reached or a power limitation is achieved. Beware that the processor consumes more power when running at a higher clock speed and therefore the increase in clock speed is capped when the laptop is running on battery mode in order not to drain the battery. So trade-off is maintained between clock speed and power consumption. The higher the clock speed, better is the performance and shorter is the battery life.
Hyper-threading is an Intel specific technology that increases the performance by increasing the number of processors virtually instead of physically. For every processor present physically, the OS assumes 2 virtual processors and the workload is shared between them. Only operating systems supporting hyper threading technology can take full advantage of this technology.
Now that we have learnt about various terms used in laptop processor comparison, lets come back to the original question – which laptop processor should you choose ?
A simpler specification comparison of the various Intel core i3, i5 and i7 processors is provided here.
Tips for Buying:
The core i3 processors are suitable and sufficient for almost all everyday tasks and are also among the cheapest of these Intel core processors. The article here provides a list of the best mini laptops based on core i3 processors.
The ultra low voltage processors although have a lower clock speed leading to excellent battery life of about 6-10 hrs, the Turbo Boost technology compensates for the lower clock speed when the laptop is plugged-in. These processors therefore combine the benefits of longer battery life when on the move and good performance when the laptop is on charge.
The processors in the Extreme series pack the power of desktop processors making it possible to perform every task traditionally reserved only for desktops. But laptops with these processors are extremely costly and will be difficult to find anything below $1000.
I hope the article helps you to make a good choice of the processor in your laptop.