It used to be fairly easy to figure out how good a processor was in relation to another, the main manufacturers (Intel and AMD) had two lines apiece — one budget line (Celeron/Duron) and one performance line (Pentium/Athlon) — and the higher the clock rating (measured in Mhz/Ghz) the better it was. These days the raw clock speed is only one aspect of how fast a processor is and with the chip companies updating their ranges more often, using multiple cores and inventing their own benchmarks, it can be very hard to understand what exactly you’re buying. Now there is an argument to say we don’t need to worry about processors any more. Any chip offers at least enough power to do anything a user wants unless they plan to do lot of video rendering (and even then it’ll just be slower). While that may be true, I still recommend avoiding the budget end of the CPU spectrum when buying a new computer so you have a machine that’ll last as long as possible. The price difference is usually minimal and it’ll be more future-proof (I installed Windows 8 on a six-year-old machine recently, the only upgrade it had received in that time was some more RAM). So knowing what you’re buying is still useful, and it lets you compare apples with apples when it comes to prices.
The Current Market
Intel and AMD are still the big boys in the desktop and laptop markets, if you want to run Windows it’ll be on their chips. If you’re looking at a Mac, they’re powered by Intel chips. The current ranges broadly divide as follows:
To be honest, I spent a lot of time looking at the various chip ranges and ended up more confused than when I started. The Intel i-series chips seem the easiest to follow, which AMD seems to be replicating with an equivalent A-series (the higher the number the more powerful the processor) but there are still some old chip families kicking around to confuse things. Personally, I’d recommend sticking with the newer i-series and A-series/FX chips from the relevant vendor. I get the feeling the others are likely to be phased out over time and they use different physical sockets which makes upgrading problematic. Each range seems to have an equivalent mobile version, so the same applies to laptops. As a rule, Intel chips are more powerful (at least at the upper end) but more expensive while AMD chips are usually usually offer better value for money. So if you want performance, stick with Intel, if you have a budget, look at AMD. Continue reading…