Intel certainly has made an effort by attaching a series of numbers and letters to each of its specific products, such as the Core i7-2630QM. These all mean something – but what? Unfortunately, that’s not well explained.
Basics – The Brands
First, before we go into the numbers and letters affixed to each processor, let’s review the brands.
Mainstream Intel processors are currently branded with the Core name, which is then supplemented by the i3, i5 or i7 brand. Higher is better. The Core i3 processors are the entry level, the i5 is mid-range, and i7 consists of high-end products including quad-cores. The main differences between them center on the Turbo Boost feature. Core i3 processors do not have it, while Core i5 and i7 processors do.
There are other brands, however. These include Pentium, which is a budget brand of scaled-down processors based off the same technology as Intel Core processors, and Celeron, which is a brand of extremely inexpensive processors with low clock speeds meant for ultraportable and budget laptops.
Only the Core processors share a common naming nomenclature, and are the most common, so they are what we’ll address from here on.
I’ve Got Your Number
All of the Core processors have a naming system that operates like below.
Core [brand] + [processor number] + [suffix]
Core i7-2630QM, for example, has the processor number of 2630. Packed in this is more information. The first number represents the generation of the processor. The current Intel Cores are the second iteration since the new branding went into effect. The three numbers thereafter simply serve to tell you where Intel thinks the processor places in terms of performance relative to its other products. The higher, the better.
Intel didn’t provide the first generation with a number representing it, so the first generation Core processors are represented by just three numbers. The Intel Core i3-330M, for example, is a first-generation Core processor relatively low in that generation’s lineup.
Paying attention to the processor number is a simple way to gauge performance, all other things being equal. If you’re examining two laptops, one with a Core i5-2410M and another with a Core i5-2540M, you already know the second is quicker without ever looking at the specifications.
However, Intel added a caveat to this rule by including odd-number processors like the Intel Core i3-2357M. This processor is actually a low-voltage processor, which is to say it has a lower clock speed and lower TDP than normal mobile processors, resulting in worse performance but better battery life.
The Suffix – A Very Important Detail
Although Intel attaches numbers to processors in order to align them in the company’s product line, not all products are easily compared. Quad-core processors are obviously going to have an advantage over dual-core options, and some are built with low power consumption as a goal. To communicate these differences, Intel adds letters to the end of their processors. All of the laptop processors have an M attached to show they are mobile processors, but there are more to be aware of.
One of the most important is Q, which represents a quad-core processor. Most of Intel’s Core i7 products are quads, which leads consumers to think they all are. That’s not true! All modern Intel mobile quads have the Q suffix. An exception is the Extreme Edition processor, which replaces the Q with an X. There’s only one second-generation Extreme Edition processor available at this juncture, however.
The E suffix is one you’ll see on a few products, but as a consumer you don’t particularly need to worry about. The letter stands for embedded, with means the processor can be utilized in embedded systems.
Finally, you should be aware of the U suffix. In the first generation of Intel Core processors this was used to designate a low-voltage product. This was dropped with the second generation in favor of an odd processor number, as was explained in the previous section.
When looking at an Intel powered laptop and judging the processor, do the following :
- Check the brand. Is it Core i3, i5 or i7?
- Look at the processor number, paying attention to the first numeral. Make sure the processor is of the latest generation.
- Examine any suffix that might be attached.
These three bits of information will give you most of what you need to know about a mobile Intel processor. Once you understand how Intel’s laptop processor list is organized, making at-a-glance judgments isn’t difficult. Now let’s just hope Intel keeps this branding, rather than switching to some other scheme!
If you’re looking for more general information about laptops, be sure to check out our laptop buying guide and if you have any questions, leave them below in the comments, or in our helpful tech community.