When it comes to desktop processors, Intel takes the lion’s share of the market with five processor families covering the low-, mid-, and high-end segments. Ranging from the budget offers to the most expensive, they are Celeron, Pentium, Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7. To help you sort through and understand the differences between these processor lines, we run through them below.
The lowest-cost budget lineup from Intel, Celeron processors primarily compete against AMD’s AM1 APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) offerings. In fact, this may be the one market where Intel is the underdog playing second fiddle to AMD. Compared to other Intel lines, the Celeron family is comprised almost entirely of dual-core processors with less cache memory and slower clock speeds. But they are viable options for embedded PCs that will mostly see basic usage, according to Newegg processor specialist Arthur Viado: “Celeron class computers are generally good for a lot of basic-use scenarios and small businesses tend to go with dual core CPUs because of cost.” Indeed, Celeron CPUs can often be found in embedded and small form factor systems such as this ECS Livia X 2GB/32GB Mini PC.
Ideal Uses: Automation PCs, custom NAS systems, and digital signage.
Not too long ago, Pentium processors used to be Intel’s flagship line. But now, they are the little brother to Intel’s Core series of CPUs. The Pentium family is comprised of mostly dual-core processors positioned above the Celerons and designed for buyers prioritizing cost and value over performance. In terms of performance, they have slightly higher performance specifications than Celeron processors. Pentium processors can be often found in pre-assembled small-form factor PCs as well some touchscreen computers such as the Acer Aspire All-in-One PCs.
Ideal uses: Basic day-to-day office usage (Such as word processing or composing e-mails) and digital signage.
The Core i3 family of CPUs still prioritize value over raw performance, but this segment of the market can be described more as mid-range than low-end. With the Core line, we also begin to see more advanced performance and security features that SMBs can take advantage of. With the i3 series, we still mostly have dual cores like the Celerons and Pentiums. However, i3 processors have Hyper-Threading unlike the latter two. What is Hyper-Threading? Hyper-Threading allows a single physical core to perform as two logical cores. That is, the operating system will see one core with Hyper-Threading as two or more cores. It involves the same basic principle as virtualization, which allows one CPU to act as many. For the end user, Hyper-Threading means better multi-tasking performance.
More importantly for businesses, the Core lineup features Intel’s vPro, a group of technologies aimed at improving security and providing remote management capabilities. vPro presents a real value to IT administrators. For instance, if a computer is experiencing issues, an IT professional can remotely turn on the PC, diagnose the issue, and attempt a fix. vPro allows technicians to keep their network environments much healthier and safer without affecting user productivity. In other words, IT techs can wait for workers to shut down their computers and leave for the day before remotely turning on the computer and performing maintenance. No more having to wait for a technician to service your computer during normal work hours.
Ideal uses: Moderate-duty office usage, such as editing spreadsheets, word processing, and photo editing. vPro technology enables remote management.
Core i5 Intel processors represent the mid- to high-end range, with more features and better specifications than i3 offerings. In addition to Hyper-Threading, the Core i5 processors have Turbo Boost, which is built-in overclocking. When additional processing power is required, the CPU self-adjusts its clock speeds to a preset value. Consider a Core i5 processor for power users that often have multiple programs open at a time. In addition, use i5 Intel processors for systems with multiple monitors, as the greater graphical requirements will warrant it.
Ideal uses: Moderate to heavy office usage requiring a lot of multitasking, such as keeping an e-mail program while browsing the internet or working with large database files. Also a prime choice for graphic designers primarily using image editing programs such as Photoshop.
At the top of the Intel chain, we have Core i7 processors. They have all the features found in the others, including vPro, Hyper-Threading, and Turbo Boost, just to name a few. Basic office tasks won’t put much of a strain on an i7—in fact, the typical mainstream user won’t heavily tax the processor. On the technical side, i7 Intel processors offer much higher memory bandwidths and more PCI express lanes. Arthur recommends that users consider pairing an i7 with a workstation-grade graphics card such as a FirePro or Quadro video card.
Ideal uses: Processor-intensive tasks such as editing, encoding, and animating videos.
So which Intel processor do you need? To recap, Celerons and Pentiums for embedded systems and basic usage, i3s and i5s for most mainstream office tasks, and i7s only for power users. In the comments below, let us know which Intel processor you use in your everyday workstation.