Intel ‘i’ Series Microprocessors – 2010 Core Series

Atom, Celeron, Pentium, Xeon, Core – if I list theses names you definitely know what I am talking about. Yes these are the names of Intel’s some of the most commonly known microprocessor families with Core being Intel’s latest processor family. It is based on Intel’s Core micro-architecture and was introduced in 2006. Intel’s Core micro-architecture is the multi-core processor micro-architecture that allows multiple processor cores to work within an integrated processor circuit. It effectively means that multiple processors work simultaneously in a system increasing the overall processing speed.

By now you must also be aware of the new descendents of the Intel’s Core microprocessor family i.e. Intel Core i series including i3, i5, and i7 which are being marketed as the new 2010 Intel Core processor family. They were introduced with the dawn of the year 2010 and it’s been 3-4 months since they have been around. It will be worth giving a thought to these new born babies understanding what they promise to a range of customers and which of them will be suitable for you if you planning to buy a new machine running on one of these. We will specifically keep in mind the usage habits, preferences, and requirements of local Indian audience while providing the views.

Firstly, we will very briefly touch upon the advertised and bookish technical details of these processors in somewhat simplified way to help a common user understand them. Then we will see what options are available in this lot of processors for you and how you should go about choosing one for yourself. We will also try to look into some of the product ranges for desktops and laptops carrying these processors to make the options more clear.

Let’s just start with an introduction to the family and its members. As mentioned, the 2010 Intel Core processor family currently comprises of three members marketed as i3, i5, and i7 processors. This table will provide a quick look at the available range with some basic technical specifications:

Processor Name Processor Number (Clock Speed in GHz, Cache, Cores/Threads) Silicon Technology Intel Technologies
Hyper Threading Turbo Boost HD Graphics
i3 i3-330M (2.13, 3MB, 2/4),
i3-350M(2.26 3MB, 2/4)
32nm Y N N
i5-520UM(1.06->1.86, 3 MB, 2/4);
i5-430M(2.26->2.53, 3 MB 2/4);
i5-520M(2.40->2.93, 3 MB 2/4);
i5-540M(2.53->3.06, 3 MB 2/4)
32nm/45nm Y Y Y

If you are not able to read too much into this listing as of now, just don’t worry about it. The following discussion will help you clear your mind.
Driving our attention to the right hand side of the table, we are looking at perhaps the most important selling point of this range of processors from Intel namely the Hyper-threading, Turbo-boost and integrated HD graphics technologies. Apart from the commercial introduction of 32nm technology and some routine improvements, these technologies are major enhancements in the Intel processor and promise to greatly enhance user experience. Let’s touch upon them one by one.
Hyper-threading: Hyper-threading is Intel’s terminology for multi-threading methodology. Multi-threading, in the processing terms, refers to parallel execution of multiple tasks on a system that could otherwise handle only a single task at a time. Therefore, two or more tasks can run simultaneously on a single processor such that one task doesn’t have to wait for completion of another task. In terms of usage, it means that your computer can run complex software or even multiple software more smoothly. Multi-threading or Hyper-Threading is not at all new even to Intel. Multi-threading technology had featured in many previous processors especially from Pentium family. I know your next question – “So, why the fuzz about it now?”. Actually, hyper-threading did not feature in the previous members of the Core family as it was based on a different (Core) micro-architecture. Hence, it was effectively out of Intel’s main stream offerings. With this new series of processors the advantage of hyper-threading has been added to the multi-core processors, thereby further enhancing the speed advantage of processors. Hyper-threading is available in all the three members of the family i.e. i3, i5, and i7.
Turbo-boost: This is Intel’s newly introduced technology which is the key feature behind Intel’s marketing tag-line ‘Not just faster. Smarter’. Not much technical or implementation details are available behind this technology but what it promises is substantial boost in performance of processor when specially required by the applications running on the system. When additional processor speed is required, the processor clock speed dynamically increases in steps to some limit for some duration and then goes back down to normal as the demand is met. However, the restriction is that the processor speed will increase only if the processor’s other operating specifications (including temperature, voltage, and current) are within given limits. Therefore, it remains to be seen how often the processor will be able to generate that Turbo-boost. Turbo-boost is present in i5 and i7 version but not in i3.
HD Graphics: This again is not a new technology as such, just that the implementation makes it somewhat interesting. Here, HD graphics processing has been integrated into the processor itself for enhanced viewing and graphical performance without the requirement of external graphics processor. However, this feature has only been provided with the i5 version as of now.
All the three technologies seem to be very promising and exciting to the users. They surely should be, however, just a few things should be kept in mind so that you keep you keep your expectation levels at an optimum level. As already noted, only hyper-threading is available in all the three versions. The other two features are limited to one or two versions which will have to be kept in mind while taking your pick. Moreover, big if’s and but’s are attached with the effectiveness of each of these technologies as it is based on the readiness of the software exploiting them. Specially the hyper-threading and turbo-boost can’t do anything on their own and will be helpful only if the software (both the OS and applications) you are running have been designed to use these technologies. As it happened both with hyper-threading during the Pentium times and multiple-core architecture during the Core times, it may take some time before most (not all) of your favorite operating systems and software are ready to reap the benefits of Intel’s offerings. The good news is that many of the desktop operating systems including Windows and Linux have been providing hyper-threading support which has been an encouragement for most of the application developers to make their software hyper-threading compatible. Turbo-boost may still take some more time to get the lift.
Having said that, Intel’s new processor family provide a great promise towards higher performance from already quite successful Core series with all these features combined in on a single platform.
Now, a question may still be raised in your mind that this family being in its nascent stages, will it be worthwhile for you to put your hand on one now. If I would have had to answer this question this 2-3 months back, I wouldn’t have been so sure. At that time Core 2 Duo series was very much in circulation, may be not from Intel’s side but from notebook and desktop PC vendors. Till now Intel has completely gone to focusing on this new bunch of processors, almost completely discontinuing the previous ones. Moreover, they will definitely be giving cost advantage on the new processors to promote them.
If you look at Indian market, Dell has almost completely moved over to the new Intel processor barring some XPS 13 and 16 models which still offer Core 2 Duo options. Other brands such as HP, Accer, and HCL may still providing a number of Core 2 Duo options. I won’t say Core 2 Duo has anything lacking. It still is a great processor. I still run my system on a Core 2 Duo but you may be tempted to go for the new series just for the sake of keeping up with the latest. However, cost advantage is a big concern for most of Indian customers. So if your vendor is giving you an economical deal on Core 2 Duo, it may not be a bad choice as you will still be able to run your computer very well for years to come.

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