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.

Most computers you will get to interact with 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 line up. 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 in 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 8950XE with 6 Cores, 12 threads, and a massive 12Mb 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 10 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)

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.

Note how the 3rd Generation Core i7-3930K processor beats the 4th Generation Core i7-4790K (highlighted pink). And below these are a 6th Gen Core i7-6700K and a 7th Gen Core i7-7700 (highlighted blue), both having received a thrashing from their older generation counterparts.

The 11th Gen Intel® Core™ S-series desktop processors (code-named “Rocket Lake-S”)

Rocket Lake-S
11th Gen Intel Core desktop processors (code-named “Rocket Lake-S”) deliver increased performance and speeds. Intel launched the processors on March 16, 2021. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Engineered on the new Cypress Cove architecture, 11th Gen Intel Core S-series desktop processors are designed to transform hardware and software efficiency and increase raw gaming performance​. The new architecture brings up to 19% gen-over-gen instructions per cycle (IPC) improvement2 for the highest frequency cores and adds Intel® UHD graphics featuring the Intel® Xe graphics architecture for rich media and intelligent graphics capabilities. That matters because games and most applications continue to depend on high-frequency cores to drive high frame rates and low latency.

Designed to Game: With its new 11th Gen desktop processors, Intel continues to push desktop gaming performance to the limits and deliver the most amazing immersive experiences for players everywhere.

At the top of the stack is the 11th Gen Intel Core i9-11900K, featuring unmatched performance with up to 5.3 gigahertz, eight cores, 16 threads and 16 megabytes of Intel® Smart Cache. The unlocked 11th Gen Intel Core desktop processor supports fast memory speeds with DDR4-3200 to help enable smooth gameplay and seamless multitasking on this platform.

Improvements in this generation include:

  • Up to 19% gen-over-gen IPC performance improvement.
  • Up to 50% better integrated graphics performance with Intel UHD graphics featuring Intel Xe graphics architecture.3
  • Intel® Deep Learning Boost and Vector Neural Network Instructions support​ to accelerate artificial intelligence (AI) inference — vastly improving performance for deep learning workloads.
  • Enhanced overclocking tools and features for flexible overclocking and tuning performance and experience.

Through close collaboration with more than 200 of the top game developers, Intel brings a host of game, engine, middleware and rendering optimizations to applications so they can take advantage of 11th Gen Intel® Core™ S-series processors to deliver exciting gaming experiences.

Superior Tuning and Stability: 11th Gen Intel Core desktop processors introduce new overclocking tools and features for more flexible tuning to achieve unmatched speeds and superior game performance. This generation includes real-time memory overclocking which enables changes to DDR4 frequency in real-time, extending memory overclocking support for H570 and B560 chipsets allowing users to experience overclocking, Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) 2  and AVX-512 voltage guard band override, and an all-new integrated memory controller with wider timings and Gear 2 support (in addition to Gear 1 support).

Media and Streaming Features for Days: The new 11th Gen Intel Core S-series delivers rich media experiences, from AAA gaming to high-definition streaming with additional features including DDR4-3200 MHz support, 20 PCIe 4.0 lanes, Intel Quick Sync Video, enhanced media​ (10bit AV1/12bit high-efficiency video coding decode and end-to-end compression), enhanced display (Integrated HDMI 2.0, HBR3), and discrete Thunderbolt™ 4 and Intel Wi-Fi 6E support.

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 I 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 processors SKU number (the processor part number). At the end of the processor, the name is an alpha suffix letter 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.

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