Intel’s processor naming has always been a little bit confusing, they market CPU’s as i3’s, i5’s, i7’s and now even have an i9 branded chip.
These ‘i’ groupings are intended to give an idea of performance, i3’s tend to be fast but not too great at multi-tasking, i5’s are a mixed bag but tend to offer better multi-tasking performance than the i3’s, where as i7’s are classed as the best offering both speed and multi-tasking performance levels.
In theory this ‘i’ branding is a good idea, in practice it is a nightmare, let me explain.
Firstly, Intel offer some chips called Celerons which sit below the i3 level in price and performance, surely if they are going with this ‘i’ branding then should they not be i3’s (or even i1’s??).
At the other end of the scale they offer i7’s that vary in price from £250 up to £1,300, as you can probably guess, there is a massive amount of performance difference between their lowest cost i7 and the highest.
They have recently introduced an i9 branded processor which essentially replaces the £1,300 i7, more i9 releases are scheduled for later on this year.
What does that mean for i7’s then? Are they no longer the best option?
We regularly get calls from customers saying that their friend / colleague / someone in a forum told them they need an i7 processor, unfortunately that’s not particularly helpful as right now, one of our suppliers has 13 different i7 CPU’s listed for sale…
How can this be? Well, pretty much on an annual basis Intel ‘refresh’ their CPU lines. They release a load of new processors, usually offering slightly improved performance and guess what they call them? Yep, i3’s, i5’s and i7’s.
These new generation of chips will have different model numbers indicating which generation they are from, but they go on sale with ‘i’ branding.
If all the retailers selling components and computers immediately stopped selling the old generation and moved to the new ones then things would be a bit clearer for consumers, unfortunately this doesn’t happen.
Retailers and IT distributors tend to have large stocks of the old generation chips which they need to sell, so they keep them listed for sale either separately as components, or used in full computer builds.
We had a customer a few days ago who was looking at a ‘special offer’ on a computer from PC World and asked us if we could offer something similar in a bundle. Looking at the specification they were using a last generation CPU along with an older style hard drive.
The customer had no idea that he wouldn’t have been buying the latest generation of processor.
It is confusing for us at times so we can sympathise with customers looking for a new computer who have little knowledge of the in’s and out’s of Intels confusing naming scheme being told ‘you need an i7’, but which one?
Identifying a CPU’s Generation
To work out whether a CPU is from the current generation of chips you need to look at the 4 numbers that identify the model of the CPU, the first number tells you which generation it is.
For example an i7 6700K is an i7 CPU (obviously) and it is a sixth generation model, these were classed as Skylake chips.
The latest generation at the time of writing (July 2017) is the 7th generation Kaby Lake chips, the 7th generation replacement for the i7 6700K is the i7 7700K which is indicated by the leading 7.
Although they have not been announced yet, I will take a punt that the replacement for this chip will end up being the i7 8700K.
Mainstream and Enthusiast Chips
To confuse things a little bit further, Intel have 2 processor lines, the mainstream series which Skylake and Kaby Lake belong to, and the enthusiast series which Broadwell E and the brand new Skylake X chips make up.
Generally speaking mainstream CPU’s are lower cost and lower powered, however the top Kaby Lake i7 (i7 7700K) is an amazing processor that is both fast and strong at multi-tasking workloads.
The enthusiast chips are more expensive and feature more CPU cores, this basically means they can process more instructions at once making them very strong for workloads that rely on crunching lots of numbers.
Mainstream processors can be i3’, i5’s or i7’s, the enthusiast chips have always been i7’s, until Intel just added an i9 to the line up that is.
How We Deal With Intel CPU’s
With our computers we have a few rules which we live by:
1. We only ever use the latest generation of CPU’s. As soon as a new generation is released we switch across to it entirely, we never sell last generation CPU’s in any of our builds.
2. We only use one i3, one i5 and one i7 in our computers that utilise the mainstream CPU’s. For the i5 and i7 we only use the best / most powerful versions of those chips that the mainstream series offers.
These can be found in our Pro, Ultra and Trader PC builds.
For the Pro PC we also offer an i3, this will generally be the best i3 in terms of performance and price.
We do not list every different option as there is no real need, the best versions of each ‘i’ level offer the best performance and there is often only marginal differences in prices between the best i5 and the second / third best.
3. Enthusiast processors are only used in our Extreme PC’s and we offer every chip option available. There are usually big price and performance jumps between the enthusiast chips so it makes sense to offer a choice between them.
Hopefully this has added a little bit of clarity to something which causes a lot of confusion, if you have any further questions just let us know.
Written by Darren @ Multiple Monitors
Last Updated: July, 2017