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CPU Names and Terminology - What Do They Mean?

Use CPU Benchmarks

There are a number of CPU names or brands; compare CPU pros and cons and understand the key CPU benchmarks. For example, processor benchmarks for fans highlights the AMD CPU fan.

In order to understand CPU names, we need to look at a few terms...

  • Architecture
  • Clock Speed
  • Cache
  • Front Side Bus

We will concentrate on desktop processors, and stay away from server CPUs here. The first thing to take into consideration is the number of cores. A core is the actual microprocessor within the CPU. CPUs used to be single cores.

Currently, most are dual (two), or quad (four) cores. This means they have 2 or 4 microprocessors inside. The naming convention (architecture) on these processors is Core 2 Duo, Phenom, or Core 2 Quad. Multi-core is the way of the future, as more and more software is written to take advantage of the processing power of multiple cores.

Next, we want to look at the speed, or clock speed of the processor. It is important when looking at speed that you compare CPU speeds from within the same family, or architecture. It won't do you any good to compare the speed of a Core 2 Duo with the speed of a Pentium 4. The higher the clock speed of the CPU, the faster it is going to perform.

Next up is the cache. This will vary from CPU to CPU, and the more the merrier. The CPU will store important instructions and data in the cache, as it is much faster to access then the system RAM. Dual and Quad core CPUs from Intel will share the level two cache between the cores, and some are starting to add a third level. Most CPUs from AMD do not share L2 cache.

Finally we have the Front Side Bus (FSB). This is what the CPU uses to communicate with the rest of the computer. As a result, it is important when looking at CPUs to make sure you are getting a good FSB speed. These will range from 166 MHz in older CPU's up to 1666 MHz in current top CPU's.


Here's How Intel CPU's Are Named

Let's look at an example. This is typical of the Intel CPU names, and a description will read like this:

Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 Conroe 2.33GHz 4M shared L2 Cache LGA 775 65W

To parse that out and make some sense of it, we have the following:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo - This is the architecture and tells us that it is a Dual Core processor.
  • E6550 - This is the processor number. The E means that the CPU is in the class of CPUs that use over 50 watts, and the 6550 is the numbering scheme. Higher is usually better, but not always.
  • Conroe - This is Intel's codename for the Core 2 desktop processor.
  • 4M shared L2 Cache - This is the amount of level two cache - 4 MB. You can also see here that it is shared between the 2 cores.
  • 2.33 GHz - This is the clock speed of the processor. In a dual or quad core processor, this is the speed of each core. Higher is always better.
  • LGA 775 - This is the chipset of the processor. When buying a motherboard, you will want to make sure that the chipset supports the processor you want (make sure that you do full CPU benchmarks comparison prior to your decison).
  • 65W - This is the amount power that the CPU uses. In this case, 65 watts.


Let's Look At An AMD CPU

AMD's naming convention isn't any easier to understand than Intel's. AMD also has multi-core processors. They go by types of: Single-Core, Dual-Core, Tri-Core, and Quad-Core. These will match up with the CPU names that AMD uses. Semperon is the name for the Single-Core processors. Athlon X2 is the name for the Dual-Cores, and Phenom is the Tri and Quad Cores. AMD processors normally will have 512Kb to 1Mb of cache. However, AMD does not use front side bus ratings. AMD Processors use what is called a Memory Controller. AMD's memory controller is directly on the CPU, and is what AMD uses to manage the flow of data between the CPU and the system memory.

This is typical for the AMD CPU names, and an advertisement will read as such:

AMD Phenom 9600 Agena 2.3GHz 4 x 512KB L2 Cache 2MB L3 Cache Socket AM2+ 95W

Here's the translation:

  • AMD Phenom 9600 - This is the model name of the processor. You can also tell that this will be a Tri or Quad core processor by the Phenom name.
  • Agena - This is the code name of the processor that AMD uses.
  • 2.3GHz - This is the actual speed, measured in Gigahertz of the processor.
  • 4 x 512KB L2 Cache - This is the amount of Level 2 cache on the CPU. The 4x means that it is not shared among the cores - each core gets its own memory.
  • 2MB L3 Cache - This is the amount of Level 3 cache - this is shared among the cores.
  • AM2+ - This is the chipset of the processor.
  • 95W - This is the power consumption of the processor - 95 watts.

As you can see, CPU names, terminology, and even the brands are nowhere near as simple as they used to be. Gone are the days of clear processor benchmarks and of naming the processor with its speed alone. The processor names no longer relate to their speed.


Checkout a full list of Intel's current processors.

Checkout a full list of AMD's current procesors (including AMD CPU fan).

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