“A computer is like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy”

Thursday, December 10

11. Picking the Right One: Not all CPU's are created equally

I'm not going to discuss speeds here, just types of CPU's. Speeds change so quickly that by the time I finshed typing this sentence, two new generations of processors just came out. I want to discuss current CPU types and what these mean to you. Let's consider families of processors then. For our purposes, there are primarily three: desktop, laptop, and mobile. Desktop processors will have names like “Extreme Edition” and will be generally the fastest for the consumer market. Laptop processors will be similar, but will likely have an entirely different naming convention. They'll generally be a bit slower, but will use a LOT less power, making them much better for laptops, since you spend so much time mobile. Mobile processors will be the bottom of the barrel in terms of speed, but the absolute best in terms of power usage. These processors are used in everything from cell phones to tablets.

There is some differentiation among these, and it mostly has to do with the amount of memory available on the processor that acts like extra RAM storage for speeding up the processor's ability to compute. Also, there is a difference in the computing power of the processors. You'll be able to find these in different grades. Generally speaking, the lower the model number, the less powerful the processor.

For example, I'll make up some model numbers to give you an idea.

Let's say that OfficeProcessors just came out with their new line of CPU's. The top of the line, the one they really want you to buy, will contain their highest number. We'll call this model X97. It runs at a speed of 3.4GHz (Gigahertz). They'll even offer it with more memory on the processor to make it even faster, and will call it their “Intense Edition”. This will be marketed to technophiles and gamers. Next, they'll have the same basic processor, just called X97. It'll be the same thing, just without the extra onboard memory. The one after that however, is called X95. It's the same basic processor, but it's missing even more onboard memory, and it doesn't calculate at quite the same speeds. So, in effect, it's a slower processor, even though it's running at the same speed, clockwise. They'll offer this entire line-up in several variations each, with different levels of speed. You might be able to get the X97 Intense Edition in 2.8GHz, 3.0GHz, 3.2GHz, and the ultimate, 3.4GHz. What's this mean to you? Basically nothing. Unless you are running programs of the type that are used to design space stations, or playing the absolute latest high-end games, that much “horsepower” is basically wasted. It means you can open your internet browser a bit faster, but not enough for you to really notice. You do want to make sure you get the right processor for your function, though. If you just want a computer to surf the Internet and send e-mail with, even the slowest one will be fine. But if you're going to play high-end video games or edit movies, you'll want a bit more. This is another one of the times I'll advise you to buy the best you can afford. Just don't let the hype fool you. Do a bit of research before you plunk down any cash.

Each manufacturer will basically have their own types of processors, and sometimes its hard to relate them to supposedly “equivalent” processors from other manufactuers. So, I'm going to tackle these by discussing each manufacturer separately.