How Intel names its processors and why it matters [naming convention and generations]

As time moves, the world’s problems get more complex demanding equally complex solutions. These solutions more often than not rely on computers, which as a result are forced to evolve at a much faster rate to outpace the challenges that be.

Computers, on the other hand, are made possible by processor chips, which are the brains behind them. And when it comes to processor chips, there are few better-known brands than Intel and AMD.

For most computers, you will get to interact with the run on an Intel processor. But despite how widespread these processors are, it hasn’t gotten any easier to understand how they are named. Except through the help of benchmarks and reviews, it is almost impossible to tell the difference in performance between processors.

However, to Intel’s defense, they’ve churned out loads of processors in the past… each meant to meet the needs of a unique segment of consumers, and are still churning out more. The vast number of processors and categories of each make finding an easier naming system a daunting task.

Intel processors naming convention

Now, let’s make it a little easier to understand how they go about their naming.

The two main aspects of a CPU naming include its:

  • Processor line
  • Processor Generation (which is determined by its microarchitecture)

Let’s now tackle these two.

1. Processor lines

Most people are to some degree conversant with the Intel Core naming system which includes the Intel Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 series of processors. It’s not so hard to figure out which one performs better than the other as bigger numbers often denote better performance.

However, before the Core naming system came around, there were other lines of processors in existence such as the Pentium/ Celeron and Atom series of processors. These are low-performance processors compared to the Core processors we’ve mentioned above. We’ll leave these for another article.

Note that higher-end Core processors for servers and workstations are sold as Xeon processors

Since Intel churns numerous processors ever so often with each designed to meet the needs of a specific market segment, it was necessary to class these processors in categories otherwise referred to as lines.

You can know the line a processor belongs to by the suffix at the end or middle of its name.

Some of the common suffixes you will likely come across are:

Mobile

  • X – Very High End, Unlocked – Processors in this category have the most number of cores, offer the best performance and are the most costly. Best for Video Rendering, Gaming, servers, etc. Example: Intel Xeon Core i9-7980XE (XE standing for Extreme Edition).
  • K – Unlocked – Processors in this category have an unlocked multiplier and can be overclocked using traditional methods as long as you have a similarly enabled motherboard. Such is good for gamers and power users.
  • H – High-performance graphics – Processors in this category come with high-end graphics in the mobile segment and consume more power.
  • HK – High-performance graphics, Unlocked
  • HQ – High-performance graphics, Quad-Core – Processors in this category offer high-end graphical performance and have four cores.
  • U – Ultra-Low power – Processors in the category
  • Y – Extremely low power –
  • M – Mobile workstation – You’ll only find this suffix in Xeon Processor for mobile workstations.

Desktops

  • T = Power- Optimized Life – Processors in the line are designed to consume less power and thus produce less heat. They fit in a standard LGA Desktop socket and are low power processors. They are ideal for small form factor desktops and all-in-ones designed with smaller power supplies or less aggressive cooling.
  • P – Slow/ Poor Integrated graphics – Example: Intel HD 510
  • G – Features Radeon RX Vega Graphics that are built-in

Legacy suffixes used in the 5th Generation Broadwell (5000 Series) include:

  • R  – High-End Mobile – This is a desktop processor with a similar architecture to a mobile processor. Is soldered onto the motherboard. The suffix R is Similar to H in other generations.
  • C – Unlocked processor with high-end graphics (Desktop processor) – Similar to K in more decent generations.

Now that that’s handled, let’s help you feel at home with the basics of Core processors.

Intel Core i3 Vs i5 Vs i7 vs i9

The Core line of processors is made up of mid to high-end processors and was introduced in 2006 as a replacement of the Pentium lineup. The Pentium, which was formerly enjoyed a high seat, was now posted as an entry-level line, at the same time pushing the Atom to lower down to an entry-level line of processors.

Examples of the core line include the Enhanced Pentium M (Core Solo and Core Duo) and 64-bit microarchitecture (Core 2 Solo, Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Extreme) before entering the 1st to 9th Generation of processors, each with their own Core i3, i5, and i7 processors.

Our main focus is the Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 series of processors.

Core i3

Core i3 processors offer two cores, come with hyperthreading, have a low Thermal Design Point (Meaning they consume less power and produce less heat) and have onboard graphics. They do not feature hyperthreading They offer enough power for users with light computing needs such as content consumption, word processing, browsing, and some light gaming.

Core i5

Core i5 mobile processors equally come with two cores, while their desktop counterparts come with 4 cores. They offer all the features the Core i3 offer in addition to having a larger cache memory, improved onboard graphics, and hyperthreading. A core i3 processor will comfortably meet the needs of any ordinary user with moderate-high demands.

Core i7

The Core i7 processor on the other hand has the largest volume of Cache, better onboard graphics, has two or eight cores (ultrabook and workstation respectively), and supports hyperthreading and virtualization.

Core i9

Core i9, on the other hand, is the latest entrant with the Intel® Core™ i9-12900K Processor with 16 Cores, and a total of 24 threads, and a massive 30Mb of Cache memory.

Source: https://ark.intel.com/#@PanelLabel122139

2. Intel Processor Generations

Every year or year and a half, Intel releases a new generation of processors. Each succeeding generation comes with improvements in either clock speed, power consumption, die area or some slight microarchitecture optimizations.

For instance, the 1st Generation Westmere chips had were manufactured through 32nm processes. The 11th Gen Intel® Core™ S-series desktop processors (code-named “Rocket Lake-S”) launched earlier this week worldwide led by the flagship Intel® Core™ i9-11900K. Reaching speeds of up to 5.3GHz with Intel® Thermal Velocity Boost1, the Intel Core i9-11900K delivers even more performance to gamers and PC enthusiasts.

There are currently 10 Generations of desktop processors and 12 Generations of laptop processors, each with its own series of Core i3, i5, and i9 processors. The 9th Generation of processors, however, has only Core i5 and i7 processors.

These generations are:

  • Westmere microarchitecture (1st Generation)
  • Sandy Bridge (2nd Gen)
  • Ivy Bridge (3rd Gen)
  • Haswell (4th Gen)
  • Broadwell (5th Gen – For mobile processors only)
  • Sky Lake (6th Gen)
  • Kaby Lake (7th Gen)
  • Coffee Lake (8th Gen)
  • Cannon Lake (9th Gen- Currently for mobile processors only).
  • Comet Lake (10th Gen) Released on August 21, 2019
  • Rocket Lake-S (11th Gen) Released on March 16, 2021 (Read bellow more info)
  • Alder Lake (12th Gen) Released on November 4, 2021

However, it’s not strange to find a processor or two from a previous generation outperforming ones from a more recent generation. This is especially the case when you compare a top-of-the-line processor from one generation against mid-tier chips in the newer generation. That tells you that while going for a newer generation chip is advisable, it’s worth comparing it with older generation chips to find the chip that offers the best cost to performance ratio.

One way to determine how well a processor performs is by checking for processor benchmarks in sites like PassMark. Let’s have a look at an example of what we had mentioned above regarding generations and performance.

12th Gen Intel Core Processor (Alder Lake)

Superior Performance When You Need it*. Multitasking Like You’ve Always Wanted.

12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors a generation like no other before it. With unprecedented new performance hybrid architecture, 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors offer a unique combination of Performance and Efficient-cores (P-core and E-core). And that means real-world performance, intuitively scaled to match whatever you’re doing1.

The Performance-core is Intel’s highest-performing CPU core ever. And it’s designed to maximize single-thread performance and responsiveness for compute-intensive workloads like gaming and 3D design. The Efficient-core delivers multithreaded performance for tasks that can run in parallel (like image rendering), along with efficient offload of background tasks for modern multitasking.

So that Performance-cores and Efficient-cores can work seamlessly with the operating system, Intel built Intel® Thread Director right into the hardware2. Automatically monitoring and analyzing on-the-fly, Intel® Thread Director guides the operating system, helping it place the right thread on the right core, at the right time. And it does it all dynamically, adapting scheduling guidance based on actual computing needs, not on static rules.

12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors support the next wave of discrete graphics cards and storage devices. These devices take advantage of increased throughput coming with PCIe 5.0 as well the higher speeds and bandwidth of DDR5 memory.

Another standard feature of 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors: Intel® Wi-Fi 6E (Gig+). Offering exclusive, high-speed channels that other legacy devices simply can’t, Intel® Wi-Fi 6E lets you experience nearly 3x faster connectivity without interference3. And that means more freedom to work or learn from home—or relax with super-smooth, high-quality streaming.

Features

CPU

  • Golden Cove high-performance CPU cores (P-core)
  • Dedicated floating-point adders
  • New 6-wide instruction decoder (up from 4-wide in Rocket Lake/Tiger Lake) with the ability to fetch up to 32 bytes of instructions per cycle (up from 16)
  • 12 execution ports (up from 10)
  • 512 reorder-buffer entries (up from 384)
  • 6-wide µOP allocations (up from 5)
  • µOP cache size increased to 4K entries (up from 2.25K)
  • AVX-VNNI, a VEX-coded variant of AVX512-VNNI for 256-bit vectors
  • AVX-512 (including FP16) is present but disabled by default to match E-cores. It still can be enabled on some motherboards by disabling the E-cores 
  • ~18% IPC uplift.
  • Gracemont high-efficiency CPU cores (E-core)
  • E-cores are organized in 4-core modules; L2 cache is shared between E-cores within a module
  • 256 reorder-buffer entries (up from 208 in Tremont)
  • 17 execution ports (up from 12)
  • AVX2, FMA and AVX-VNNI to catch up with P-core
  • Skylake-like IPC.
  • New instruction set extensions
  • Up to 1 TB/s interconnect between cores
  • Intel Thread Director (Scalable Hybrid Arch Scheduling), a hardware technology to assist the OS thread scheduler with more efficient load distribution between heterogeneous CPU cores.[2] Enabling this new capability requires support in operating systems. Microsoft added support for Thread Director to Windows 11
  • Up to 30 MB L3 cache
  • Nomenclature:
  • Up to 8 P-core and 8 E-core on desktop
  • Up to 6 P-core and 8 E-core on mobile (UP3 designs)
  • Up to 2 P-core and 8 E-core on ultra mobile (UP4 designs)
  • Only P-cores feature Hyper-threading

GPU

  • Intel Xe (Gen12.2) GPU
  • Up to 96 EU on mobile and 32 EU on desktop

I/O

  • LGA 1700 socket for desktop processors
  • BGA Type3 and Type4 HDI for mobile processors
  • 20 PCIe lanes from CPU
    • 16 PCIe 5.0 lanes
    • 4 PCIe 4.0 lanes
  • Chipset link – DMI 4.0 x8 link with Intel 600 series PCH chipsets
  • DDR5, DDR4, LPDDR5, and LPDDR4 memory support
    • Up to DDR4-3200
    • Up to DDR5-4800
    • XMP 3.0
    • Dynamic Memory Boost
  • Thunderbolt 4 and WiFi 6E support (integrated for mobile variants)

You can also connect your PC to multiple 4K monitors and other accessories, all with one reversible cable. The 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processor family—our most innovative platform yet—enables Thunderbolt™ 4, the simplest, fastest, most reliable port available4.

With 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors, standard, built-in features enable capabilities like noise suppression, auto-framing, and optimization for bandwidth and video resolution while gaming3. That saves you time and lets you multitask in ways you’ve only ever dreamed of—until now.

From epic gaming to browsing to streaming to creating your next masterpiece, 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors make it all entirely doable.

Desktop processors

  • All the CPUs support up to 128 GB of DDR4-3200 or DDR5-4800 RAM in dual channel mode.
  • Some models feature integrated UHD 770 GPU with 32 EUs and base frequency of 300 MHz.
  • Max Turbo Power: the maximum sustained (>1s) power dissipation of the processor as limited by current and/or temperature controls. Instantaneous power may exceed Maximum Turbo Power for short durations (<=10ms). Maximum Turbo Power is configurable by system vendor and can be system specific.
Processor
branding
ModelCores
(threads)
Base
clock rate
Turbo
Boost 2.0
P-core
Turbo
Max 3.0
Max GPU
clock rate
Smart
cache
Base
power
Turbo
power
Price
(USD)
P-coreE-coreP-coreE-coreP-coreE-core
Core i912900K8 (16)8 (8)3.2 GHz2.4 GHz5.1 GHz3.9 GHz5.2 GHz1.55 GHz30 MB125 W241 W$589
12900KFN/A$564
Core i712700K4 (4)3.6 GHz2.7 GHz4.9 GHz3.8 GHz5.0 GHz1.50 GHz25 MB190 W$409
12700KFN/A$384
Core i512600K6 (12)3.7 GHz2.8 GHz3.6 GHzN/A1.45 GHz20 MB150 W$289
12600KFN/A$264

Intel Processors naming convention

Now that we know about Generations and product lines, let’s find what those letters at the end of processor names mean and why it matters.

Source: https://www.intel.ca/content/www/ca/en/processors/processor-numbers.html

Take for instance this 8th Generation processor. Then after the Intel Core alludes to the fact that the processor comes with integrated graphics.

The first digit after the i7 brand modifier represents the generation of the processor, while the three other digits are the processor SKU number (the processor part number). At the end of the processor, the name is an alpha suffix letter that represents the processor line.

Source: https://www.intel.ca/content/www/ca/en/processors/processor-numbers.html

In this example, however, things are slightly different. The number after the i7 brand modifier shows that it’s a 7th Generation processor. The product line suffix comes next followed by the SKU number.

You can find out more about how Intel names its processors by visiting this site.

You can also compare Intel Processors, one against another by visiting their product page here. As a bonus just in case you were considering an AMD processor, you can compare one AMD processor against another by visiting their product page.

Just in case you need to compare an Intel processor and an AMD processor, you can do so by visiting CPUBoss.

Conclusion

Intel’s processor naming convention isn’t as friendly to its users as it ought to be ideal. Without a doubt, they need to find an easier and more accommodating method of naming to cater to the majority who don’t particularly care to know but wouldn’t mind knowing if it were a tad easier to do so. But all the same, we as users are not absolved from the necessity of knowing how they do it as long as we buy their products and want to get the best out of our money. If you’ve read this far, congratulations!! Welcome to the camp of the initiated.

Bio

Victor R currently covers tech news and gadgets at mogz.tech. Besides being an enthusiastic writer and published author, when not writing he spends his time building computers and practicing guitar.

Must-read related Articles on Gadget-Rumours

3 thoughts on “How Intel names its processors and why it matters [naming convention and generations]”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: