I just purchased a laptop last evening. It's been harder
to do this time than any point since I got my first computer.
There are so many new technologies out that it's a lot to shuffle
through. Consider that in the old days, you could look at a
few specs and know one computer was better than another. Sure
there were quality differences and software packages, but the
hardware was easy to figure out.
Between the Intel 486 and the Pentium 4, one could look at the
frequency (Mhz or Ghz) number for a rough idea that one processor
was faster than another. Then around 2006, they started
shipping multicore CPUs. That makes things a lot more
complicated. Most people didn't know what a core was.
Computer geeks even thought about SMP (symmentric multi-processing)
or multiple processors in a computer, not cores. Without
getting too crazy, a core is like a brain in the processor. A
multicore CPU means it's got more than one brain. The
computer can think about multiple problems at the same time.
It can do two different tasks at once like play a game and record a
To make matters more confusing, a multicore CPU doesn't mean
that it's twice as fast as a single core cpu (old ones). Two
nearly identical CPUs, one with 2 cores and another with 1 will not
mean the 2 core is twice as fast. There's a math formula to
figure out the actual best case performance, but I'll spare you
that. Worse yet, if you don't run two programs at once or you
don't use a multithreaded program (one program that can do more
than one thing at once), you don't get a lot of use out of a
multicore CPU. Windows, Mac OS and Linux can use them for
their own work.
Some consumers figured out sort of what a multicore CPU
was. Intel ran all those fun ads about multiplicity and what
not. Then they made major improvements in chip performance,
yet with lower frequency (mhz again). So the core 2 duo cpu
(a confusing name because the 2 is not the number of cores, but the
generation) seemed slower by numbers, but it was faster than
the pentium D it replaced (multicore stuff).
So consumers couldn't trust numbers anymore. How to tell
what is faster? Intel had this great idea to give them
numbers. Any number within the same range would mean a chip
is faster than the next. That led to other problems. A
350 might be faster than a 610. That's not intuitive.
To make matters worse, Intel would sell chips to computer companies
with some features missing.
As a consumer, I have to search intel's website to find out if
all the features are then when looking for a computer. Many
of them have weird names like hyperthreading or VT or execute
disable bit. Do most people even need these things?
Maybe. Hyperthreading is a hack intel came up with to trick a
processor into thinking it's got 2 brains (cores) when it has
1. This means two programs can run at the same time, but
slower than one program if you didn't have that feature. VT
is for virtualization. If you buy a highend version of
windows and want to use the XP compatibility mode, you need
this. Otherwise, it's only good for IT people. Finally,
execute disable bit is always a yes. It's a security feature
that stops some viruses and other bad programs from
So now the computer industry has found a way to make things even
more complicated. There is new technology where they combine
a graphics card (what makes the picture on the screen) and a
processor together. This is a great thing for people who
don't play games. It means your laptop will have better
battery life. The graphics power in these things is very low
compared to discrete graphics (separate video cards) and so they're
terrible for WoW, starcraft2 or portal 2. They can run these
games, but not fast. The other problem with these integrated
chips is that they are usually slower than chips without this
feature (especially on the AMD side). AMD has decided that
graphics power is more important than CPU power because many people
just watch movies or whatever and don't need CPU power. Intel
did the opposite and made the graphics just barely enough to watch
the latest high def video, but fast CPUs. Intel calls their
CPUs with this feature Sandybridge (the codename of the chip/core)
and AMD calls theirs fusion with 3 series.. A, E, C (fast to
So when buying a new computer, realize that every small laptop
under 14 inches probably has one of these new chips in there.
It's going to be not much faster than a 2 year old computer for CPU
power. If you buy a 15-17 inch laptop and it's intel,
you will probably get a core i3 or core i5 CPU with this feature
now. If it's an AMD, you may get it (A series) or a phenom II
CPU without it. The chips with it might be as slow as
1Ghz. The type of chip matters too.. i3 is <= i5 <= i7
for intel and c < e < a (no overlap)
The other big thing to look out for are solid state drives
(SSD). This is a replacement for hard drives which is what
your data is stored on (windows, your files, games, etc).
Hard drives use magnets and spinning disks to store
information. There are moving parts. You have to wait
for the litle read head to get back to where it needs to be (sort
of like a cassette tape, but faster) before it reads
data. SSD is faster for reading information (usually) because
it can go directly to the place something is rather than having the
moving parts. It's also said to be more reliable because
there are no moving parts. However, I've seen several go bad
so ignore those claims. Solder can go and they can only be
written to a fixed number of times in one spot. They do wear
out. They are expensive and smaller than hard
drives. If you don't need speed and you have a lot of movies,
music, games, etc stick with hard drives. Eventually SSD will
be better, but it's still fairly new technology.