• Ben Lake

Deciphering Processors

Shopping for a new computer can be a daunting process, in part because it’s tricky to make apples-to-apples comparisons and decide on the right one for you. Memory and hard drive capacity is relatively easy to compare, but processor names and models are often a mystery to folks. In the days of old, one could compare the “clock” speed or frequency and reasonably decide which of two processors was faster. But multi-core processors and other modern chip technologies have rendered that single metric nearly useless. If we take the very common Intel processors as an example, we can look for several hints to compare. The base model Intel Core processor is an “i3”, with a mid-range “i5” and high-end “i7”. Very high-end (think $2k and up) computers may have a rare “i9” chip. For most home users, I recommend i5 processors and business users i7 processors. You can also look at the first one or two digits after the model tier to determine the generation. For example, a Core i5-10500H is a 10th generation chip. Intel releases a new generation of chips roughly every 12 months, with a ~15-20% bump in speed over the previous generation. For a more quantitative comparison, you can use a site like to distil processors into a single performance number that approximates real-world performance. And of course, if you are in the market for a new computer I’m always happy to provide complimentary buying assistance.

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