May 192012

Intel manufactures a broad range of laptop processors for all levels of performance. The major brands or mobile series from this company include:

  • Core iSeries
  • Core 2
  • Core
  • Celeron
  • Pentium
  • Atom

The “Core” name covers a few generations of processors based on different micro-architectures which doesn’t help with the already vague model numbers assigned to each mobile processor.

Here’s a rundown from newer to older of what is or was available and their major characteristics.

Intel Core i3, i5, i7 Mobile Processors (~2010 – today)

Intel’s latest Core series is currently the performance king and found in the majority of laptops on the market. The number in the series, such as i3/i5/i7, represent performance expectations with i3 being at the bottom and i7 at the top.

There are also a few generations of processor micro-architecture’s within this series which may add more confusion to the buying process. You may have seen ads showing 2nd Gen Core i7 or 3rd Generation Core i5 and wondered how many generations there are or why do they have 2nd and 3rd gen side by side?

Here is a quick non-programmer overview:

  • 1st Generation – Nehalem Micro-Architecture – released 2008
    • the return of hyper-threading!
    • integrated on-chip memory controller
  • 2nd Generation – Sandy Bridge Micro-Architecture – released January 2011
    • hardware assisted video decode and encode via Intel Quick Sync Video
    • integrated on-chip graphics (HD 3000)
  • 3rd Generation – Ivy Bridge Micro-Architecture – released April 2012
    • die shrink of Sandy Bridge to use less power and run cooler
    • integrated on-chip graphics (HD 4000)

Intel Core 2 Mobile Processors (~2006 – 2009)

The Core 2 line of CPU’s were a step up from the Core Duo and Solo, the major new feature being a 64bit processor instead of 32bit. At this point due to model number ambiguity the feature list of laptops were beginning to look ridiculous (ex: Centrino 2 Mobile Core 2 Duo T7300… what?).

To add to the confusion there were three flavors available which denoted how many processing cores were on the chip:

  • Core 2 Solo (1 core)
  • Core 2 Duo (2 cores)
  • Core 2 Quad (4 cores)

Intel Core Duo and Core Solo Mobile Processors (~2006 – 2007)

The Core Duo is a dual-core 32bit processor based on the Pentium M. The Core Solo is basically the same processor as the duo with one of the cores disabled to provide a broader range products priced for different levels of performance.

Intel Mobile Celeron (~1999 – today)

Celeron as a name spans many generations of processors and indicates low-cost entry level performance. A Celeron processor of today would be much faster than a Celeron from 7 years ago despite running at a similar or lower clock frequency.

The reason for this is because the underlying technology is frequently refreshed with each new major micro-architecture release to keep the performance expectations in line in regards to the other offerings of the generation.

Outdated Series

Intel Pentium M

Part of the Centrino package, this mobile processor from Intel is quite an improvement over the other Mobile Pentium 4 processors.

There are many variations of this Pentium M currently available, the earliest models have 1 MB of level 2 cache, the second generation has 2 MB of level 2 cache, and the latest has added 533 Mhz front side bus support.

Pentium M processors may run at slower GHZ operating speeds than the Pentium 4 counterparts, but they still perform as good or better while providing superior battery life savings.

Before this processor it was common to use desktop CPU’s with optimized power and thermal properties to function effectively in laptops. The 32bit Pentium M was designed from the beginning to be a mobile processor allowing it to have great power saving ability without sacrificing performance.

Mobile Intel Pentium 4 518, 532, 538

Based on the prescott core, these can be considered a small evolutionary step above the below mentioned processor. Besides the new naming convention(532, etc), these processors include SSE3 instruction support and increased level 2 cache of 1 MB (previously 512KB).

Mobile Intel Pentium 4

Laptops with these CPU’s are usually used as replacements for bulkier desktop computers, they’re great for video editing, 3D gaming, or any other task that requires hefty processing power.

The main difference from a desktop Pentium 4 would be somewhat better thermal properties and lower power consumption. The speeds are similar to desktop P4 processors so the easiest way to currently determine if a laptop is using a desktop P4 or the Mobile P4 is to check the FSB(front side bus) speed. 800 MHZ FSB = desktop P4 (currently), 533 MHZ = Mobile P4 (harder to tell at CPU speeds below 2.8 GHZ due to older desktop P4’s not supporting 800 MHZ FSB).

The higher end models above 2.66 GHZ support Intel Hyperthreading technology.

Mobile Intel Pentium 4-M

The Pentium 4-M is available at speeds up to 2.6 GHZ. The difference between Mobile Pentium 4 and the Pentium 4-M is the 4-M does not support Hyperthreading, uses less power, and runs cooler.

Laptops based on this processor perform in the mid-range between the Celeron based laptops and the Centrino and Hyperthreading enabled laptops. The Pentium’s mentioned above are recommended over this one since they offer better performance or battery life at equal or better prices.

Mobile Intel Pentium 3-M

Found mainly in older, used, or refurbished laptop computers, the mobile Pentium 3-M processor is still VERY capable for most users needs. Most laptops based on this CPU are quite small, lightweight, and have a fairly good battery life.

Highest speed is up to 1.33 GHZ but 1.2 GHZ is more common.

Laptop Processor Guide Part 1