Saturday, April 11, 2009

Intel Models Are Out Of Control

Years after microprocessor vendors launched "model numbers" to try and provide buyers with a simpler way of evaluating microprocessor performance, on April 1 Intel began placing point-of-sale placards and other promotional materials in stores displaying between one to five stars. The company has also jazzed up its chip logos, adding a bit of color to the almost-uniform Intel blue.

The problem is threefold: on one hand, it's almost impossible for even experienced enthusiasts to try and distinguish between two nearly identical processors, which now use a dizzying array of features to differentiate themselves: the number of cores, their clock speed, the amount of level-2 and level-3 cache, the speed of the interconnect, the memory interface and speed, as well as other features such as hyperthreading and "turbo boost". Differences can be ascertained by benchmarking both simulated and real-world applications, which sites like ExtremeTech run in spades.

The third issue: the number of processor options companies like Intel and its rival AMD offer; Intel offers a total of 30 desktop processors, and 57 notebook processors, not including the three Atom processors which can appear in either a "nettop" or netbook.

I recently purchased a laptop computer, and trying to figure out what the difference was in performance between microprocessors was almost impossible. It used to be that you tell based on the MHz of the clock speed. But, now with multiple cores, cache and "turbo boost" (sweet, it has been years since I last had a computer with turbo boost, I am glad to see it is making a comeback) all you can go by are a confusing brand name and model number. Quick, which of the following is the fastest?

What a mess. Which is faster a Pentium Dual Core, or a Core 2 Duo? Who knows? Think Core 2 means it has two cores? Think again, as the Core 2 Quad has 4. Which is better, Extreme or vPro? I haven't a clue. If you can save $50 by going with last year's Core 2 Duo over this year's Centrino 2 vPro, is that a good deal? Ahhhh....

At least Intel understands the problem and came up with the obvious solution: fewer brands and models a new 5 star ranking system.

I guess this is helpful, but it still seems complicated and it doesn't even include the popular Atom processors. It also won't let you compare a newer model of a lower powered brand with last year's model of a higher powered brand, which is what you commonly need to do. Personally, I tried to use this Notebook Check Benchmark list but got tired and ultimately made my decision without regard to the processor. Until Intel simplifies this, I think a lot of others are going to be doing the same.

via CNet and PC Mag

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